Amazon Basics Low
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Amazon Basics Low

May 09, 2024

The best productivity keyboard PCMag has tested is the Razer Pro Type Ultra, closely followed by the Logitech MX Mechanical. I wrote those reviews, so I can't help but feel I've been demoted with the subject of this one: the Amazon Basics Low-Profile Wired USB Keyboard ($11.09). It won't last as long in daily use as the Razer, but you can buy 14 of them and still save money compared with that far-superior model. This is PC hardware for bus fare, or perhaps more accurately, for express-lane fare: Amazon changes its price by a few percent up or down almost daily. When PCMag bought the sample, it was $10.78; when I turned in the review, it was $11.09; when it was edited, it had risen to $17.06. (Expect it somewhere in that range by the time you read this.) To be honest, this dirt-cheap keyboard isn't as bad as you might expect, though Amazon's customers are too kind in giving it 4.5 stars.

Made of matte black plastic, the Amazon Basics keyboard—part of a thrifty family that includes a $7.17 mouse and a $22.99 wireless keyboard and mouse set, whose prices also change frequently—is so no-frills it's one of the few PC keyboards without prop-up feet for typists who prefer an upward tilt. There are four nubbins on its underside, but they're not rubbery enough to compensate for surfaces that are infinitesimally off-level like my old desk—it's the only keyboard I've used there where one corner wobbled slightly when tapped. To be fair, the Amazon sat solidly on my kitchen counter.

The Basics is a bona fide, full-sized, 105-key keyboard, measuring 1.06 by 17.4 by 5 inches (HWD), though at 0.98 pound it's only half the weight of sturdier models. You'll smile to see the ancient operating system specifications on its Amazon page—"Vista, Windows 2000"—but you won't have to download or install any utility software, as there's nothing customizable about it.

Nor is there a wireless dongle to worry about, just a USB Type-A connector at the end of a thin 70-inch cable. Plug it in and it works, as you can tell by the glowing Num Lock LED above the numeric keypad; there are Caps Lock and Scroll Lock indicators too.

If you haven't guessed, the keyboard does not come with a wrist rest. The three LED lights aren't its only extras, however: Three keys above the cursor cluster mute, decrease, and increase audio volume. Hold one of the Fn keys on either side of the space bar, and the F11 key serves as a play/pause button with F10 and F12 for previous and next track in a media player. Fn+F9 opens a search window and Fn+F1 puts your PC to sleep. If you want the F1 and F9 through F12 functions to be always available, Fn+Esc toggles a function lock, as on many laptop keyboards.

Other popular shortcuts such as a calculator or screen snip key or programmable macros are missing.

If it was white instead of black, the Amazon Basics would epitomize a plain vanilla keyboard. The keys aren't backlit, and they don't use fancy, precise mechanical or scissor switches; Amazon doesn't specify what the switches are, but the unit feels like a generic budget keyboard with old-fashioned rubber-dome technology.

The square keys are slightly curved, or indented, to cradle your fingertips. They have a plasticky, almost-but-not-quite-smooth texture. You can barely see home-key markers or underscores on the F and J keys where your index fingers go, but you can't feel them; either they're imperceptible to the touch or I'm confusing them with the bottom edges of the keys a nanometer below them.

As for typing feel, it's not great but frankly better than I anticipated—shallow, a little mushy, and a little rattly, but the keys press downward cleanly without wobbling from side to side. Tactile feedback is minimal, but it's not difficult to type quickly. The keyboard isn't silent, but is far quieter than a clicky mechanical keyboard; a faint clatter or rattle is all you hear.

All in all, the Amazon Basics is not the worst keyboard I've ever used—I've reviewed a few extremely cheap laptops, and I'm not even going to mention tablet keyboard covers and on-screen virtual keyboards. I could write a novel on it; I wouldn't love it, but I could write a novel on it.

If it weren't bad for the environment, we'd call the Amazon Basics Wired Keyboard a disposable keyboard, since it costs less than a typical movie ticket, but in truth it's a mildly pleasant surprise. It's not fabulous, but it's functional and competes with keyboards twice its price. PC users will be much happier if they treat themselves to one five or 10 times its price (or our $29.99 budget favorite, the Cherry Stream Keyboard), but that's not a knock on the Amazon.

You don't expect the supercheap Amazon Basics Keyboard to be an ergonomic or productivity showpiece, and it isn't. It's a competent, functional tool for times when you need to pay the very minimum.

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