HP TECH TAKES /...
Exploring today's technology for tomorrow's possibilities
Why Do I Need a Backlit Keyboard Laptop?
January 14, 2019
You’re shopping for a new laptop. Only a few minutes have passed, and you’re already overwhelmed. So many specs! There are hard drives to consider. Processors to gauge. Displays to evaluate.
And that’s not even the aesthetic stuff - remember, if you’re going to impress the shareholders at your next presentation (or that barista who works at the coffee shop), you’re going to need a laptop that looks professional.
When you’re shopping for a new laptop, you might be so concerned with the key specs that you forget to consider the keyboard specs. And that’s a real shame, because you’ll shake hands with the keyboard more than any other laptop component. It’s the face of your laptop; the bridge between human command and computer processing. A good keyboard is vital to your comfort and success.
So what makes a good keyboard? In part, a backlit keyboard.
What is a backlit keyboard?
A backlit keyboard is a keyboard that contains a light underneath the keys. The backlight illuminates the letters and symbols on the keys to make them visible in low light environments. The print on the keys is semi-transparent, so the light underneath will shine through it like a window.
Oftentimes, the backlight also illuminates the tiny space that surrounds the key, which further enhances the visibility of the keyboard. Most backlit keyboards allow you to adjust the brightness levels.
Most backlights emit white light. While there are backlights that emit other colors, too, these backlights are found mostly in gaming laptops - we’ll get to that.
Backlit keyboard versus standard keyboard
There’s little difference between a backlit keyboard and a standard keyboard except for the fact that the backlit keyboard will light up in the dark.
Keyboards do come in a variety of different sizes, configurations, and builds, but these don’t influence whether the keyboard has a backlight. Both membrane keyboards and mechanical keyboards may be built with backlights. Also, backlights are integrated into both desktop keyboards and laptop keyboards.
The quality of a keyboard’s build is not determined by whether or not it has a backlight. For example, there are different keyboard styles and builds like mechanical keyboards for specific applications or tasks.
Benefits of a backlit keyboard
A backlit keyboard is an important function on a laptop because of a laptop’s mobile nature. If you choose to use your laptop outside of an office environment, you might unexpectedly lose access to light, which may render the backlight necessary.
Here are our favorite situations that warrant a backlit keyboard:
1. Home use
Imagine it’s a beautiful midsummer’s night. The blistering sun has gone, but the air snuggly blankets you at a delightful 71 degrees. Crickets are chirping. The family’s roasting s’mores on a backyard bonfire.
All the while, you’ve got some stuff to do on your laptop. Perhaps you’re trying to get ahead of next week’s work, or maybe you’re just sifting through your family vacation photos. Either way, it’s too nice to sit indoors, so you bring your laptop out with you so you can enjoy the festivities.
Unfortunately, it’s dark outside. You don’t want to spoil the bonfire by turning on the porch light. But the bonfire isn’t much help - your laptop screen is blocking all the incoming light. If only you had a backlit keyboard.
Hopefully, all that imagery buttered you up a little. But, summer pleasantry aside, there are many home uses for a backlit keyboard that you might not ever think about. If there’s a power outage and you lose electric light, you’ll still be able to type away at your laptop keyboard if it’s backlit.
If you’re tucked in bed watching a movie on Netflix, a backlight can help you type your desired title into the search bar. A backlight is, above all else, a convenience. And sometimes convenience alone is worth investing in.
2. Public transit
You’re on a red-eye flight. Everyone’s asleep, even the little boy sitting behind you. About time! He’d been kicking your chair since takeoff.
Unfortunately, you’re not going to sleep anytime soon. The airport coffee was strong - you’re wired. So you decide to pass the time playing a PC game, and you whip out your laptop.
Uh-oh. How are you supposed to try out the demo for Anthem when you can’t see a single key? At first, you turn on the overhead light. But that won’t do - the little boy is stirring. And you’d rather do nothing for seven straight hours then spend all night getting kicked. Oh, well. Anthem will have to wait.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. A backlit keyboard is helpful when you’re on a red-eye flight or when you’re night traveling by car or train. It gives you just enough light to do what you need to do, without disturbing anyone nearby.
3. Field work
Backlit keyboards are helpful if you work in the field - especially if you work at night. Astronomers, for example, may spend all night surveying the stars at dark observation sites. Astronomers use their laptops to record observations or operate equipment. A backlit keyboard may be an absolute necessity for their work.
4. Dark rooms
Some rooms are darker than others. Perhaps you’re using your laptop to take notes in class, but the professor dimmed the lights so the PowerPoint is more visible. Or maybe you’re doing work at a coffee shop, and they’ve dimmed the lights to create an evening ambience.
If you’re working in a dark space, or if your vision isn’t great in dimmer settings, a backlit keyboard may come in handy.
Backlit gaming keyboards
You’ll find that gaming laptops have less-than-ordinary keyboard backlights. The HP OMEN gaming laptops, for example, have red keyboard backlights. This is mostly for style - after all, the HP OMEN laptops have that commanding, futuristic style with a red-and-black color palette. The red backlight fits the aesthetic.
You’ll find a variety of gaming keyboards that are backlit by other colors, like blue or green. Some keyboards have several different backlight colors all in one - this is called zoned backlighting.
Zoned backlighting means you’re able to assign different backlight colors to specific keys. A PC gamer uses a plethora of keys to do virtual combat, so zoned backlighting helps to simplify the keyboard interface through visual segmentation.
For example, a PC gamer might assign a white backlight to the movement keys (the WASD keys and arrow keys), and a red light to the item keys (perhaps the ZXC keys). When the keys are backlit by different colors, the PC gamer can locate them much faster.
Some zoned keyboards come with predetermined backlight configurations. Others let you assign the backlights to whichever keys you like.
Backlit keyboards for creative professionals
You can use backlit keyboards for creative applications, like video editing software. In the same way that PC gamers use backlights to highlight their gaming controls, video editors may use backlights to highlight keyboard shortcuts.
Creative industries require a fast turnaround, so having an organized, backlit keyboard helps the creative professional maintain a fast workflow.
Can I install a backlit keyboard on my laptop?
If your laptop doesn’t have a backlit keyboard, it’s nearly impossible to install one unless you’re a computer engineer. To operate a backlit keyboard, your laptop not only needs to have the right components, but the right programming, as well.
It’s also difficult to take apart laptop components. Most tower desktops are built to be easily disassembled - you’ve only got to loosen a few screws here and there, and you’re in. But laptops have a more compact build. It may be difficult to get underneath the keyboard plate without having special equipment to do so. You could seriously damage your computer if you don’t know what you’re doing.
If a backlit keyboard is a must-have for you, we recommend you either buy a laptop with a backlit keyboard or that you buy an external backlit keyboard.
Great HP laptops with backlit keyboards
HP® produces a solid line of laptops with backlit keyboards. These are just a few of our tremendous models:
1. HP EliteBook x360 1020 G2 convertible laptop
Have you ever thought about trying a 2-in-1 laptop? A 2-in-1 is a hybrid between a laptop and a tablet. The HP EliteBook x360 1020 has a touch screen, and you can fold away the keyboard behind the screen to operate the device like a tablet. A 2-in-1 is optimal for note-taking, digital illustration, and doing field work.
When your tasks require laptop capabilities, you’ve got a full-sized backlit keyboard at your command.
2. HP ENVY 17-inch laptop
The HP ENVY 17t laptop is a powerful computer with a strong processor and top-notch graphics card. The HP ENVY has a full-sized, island-style keyboard with a backlight. What’s great about this keyboard is the wide palm rest.
The palm rest is the area below the keys. Your hands can rest comfortably on this area when you’re typing. This is a great feature because keyboards with these specific rests cause less stress on your wrists and hands.
3. HP OMEN 15-inch laptop
The HP OMEN 15t laptop is built for gaming, with its powerful processing components and hotshot style. But those aren’t the only gaming-optimized components - the HP OMEN keyboard is designed to help gamers boost their reflexivity. The keyboard incorporates zoned backlighting.
There are 4 color-coded zones:
- Blue Zone: Arrow Keys, Number Pad, Shift/Enter/Backspace
- Violet Zone: Middle Keys
- White Zone: WASD Keys
- Orange Zone: Leftmost Keys
The keyboard strikes the right balance between flashy and functional.
Even if you’re not a gamer, you might like these colored backlights because they’re easier on your eyes. If you’re working in the dark, you might find that a bright, white light is a little bit too stressful on your vision. You may prefer backlights that are red, green, or another softer color.
For colored backlights, try the HP Pavilion 15-inch gaming laptop, which has a violet backlight (there’s also one with a green backlight), or the HP OMEN 17t gaming laptop, which has a red backlight.
Great external HP backlit keyboards
What if you want a backlit keyboard for your desktop computer? Or maybe you’re looking for an external keyboard for your laptop?
After all, using an external keyboard on a laptop has its advantages:
- An external keyboard is less cramped, which causes less stress on your wrists and hands.
- You can position your keyboard in a comfortable position that’s not dependent on where your laptop is sitting.
- You can use a wireless keyboard.
It might be difficult to find an external keyboard that has a backlight. External keyboards are meant to be used in home office settings. Thus, it’s less likely that you’ll be without an ample light source, and for that reason, manufacturers don’t incorporate backlights into external keyboards very often.
However, there are a few great backlit keyboards that you can use on either your laptop or your tower desktop.
1. HP OMEN Sequencer mechanical keyboard
The HP OMEN Sequencer is a punchy mechanical keyboard that’s built primarily for gamers. This is one of the more advanced backlit keyboards on the market. Each key is individually lit, and you’re able to customize the keys with up to 16.8 million RGB colors.
You’re able to assign a unique color to each individual key, allowing you to customize the color configuration as much as you want. The customizability makes this a great keyboard for creative professionals.
There’s a great aesthetic feature, too: you can set color effects, like a rainbow strobe that sweeps across the keyboard. This might be a fun keyboard to have at a rave.
2. HP OMEN 1100 gaming keyboard
The HP OMEN 1100 keyboard has keys that are individually illuminated by red LED lights. It’s a mechanical keyboard that’s springy and responsive.
3. HP Pavilion 500 gaming keyboard
The HP Pavilion 500 gaming keyboard is a mechanical keyboard that has keys that are individually lit by green LED lights. Unlike the HP OMEN 1100, the WASD keys are not painted red, so it won’t be as distracting to non-gamers.
Backlit keyboard may sway the laptop decision
If you’re having a difficult time choosing between two similar laptops, you might want to choose the one that has a backlit keyboard. Remember - it’s next to impossible to add backlighting to a standard keyboard.
You’ll never know what you might need to use the backlight for, but it’s better to have it just in case than to need it and not have it. And, when it’s not necessary, you can always just power it off.
About the Author: Zach Cabading is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Zach is a content creation specialist based in Southern California, and creates a variety of content for the tech industry.