What Are Differences Between ANSI and ISO Keyboards?
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What Are Differences Between ANSI and ISO Keyboards?

|May 17, 2024
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The abundance of keyboard options can often be overwhelming. From mechanical to membrane, wireless to ergonomic, there's a keyboard tailored to meet every need and preference. However, one aspect that often confounds consumers is the choice between ANSI and ISO layouts.

In this article, we delve into the nuances of ANSI vs. ISO keyboards to help you make an informed decision. We'll explore the differences and the similarities. Whether you're a seasoned typist looking to upgrade your setup or a newcomer navigating the vast landscape of quiet mechanical keyboards, understanding the distinctions between ANSI and ISO layouts is crucial. We'll discuss the ergonomic advantages of each layout and their compatibility with different operating systems.

By the end of this article, you'll have a clearer understanding of which keyboard layout best suits your typing style, preferences, and ergonomic needs. But, first:

What is an ISO Keyboard?

An ISO keyboard is a standardized keyboard layout primarily used in Europe and other regions. The term "ISO" stands for International Organization for Standardization, reflecting its global acceptance. The defining feature of an ISO keyboard is its distinct layout, characterized by a larger, taller enter key shaped like an upside-down L, covering two rows of the keyboard. This differs from other keyboard layouts, such as ANSI (American National Standards Institute), which is more common in the United States and features a smaller, horizontally oriented enter key.

In addition to the unique enter key, ISO keyboards may have variations in the size and placement of keys like the left shift, backslash, and right alt keys. The inclusion of an AltGr key is another hallmark of ISO keyboards, facilitating the typing of characters with diacritics and symbols commonly used in languages beyond English.

What is an ISO Keyboard?

ISO vs. ANSI Keyboard

The difference between ANSI and ISO keyboard is obvious when you consider the following factors:

Keycap Availability

ANSI keyboards generally have more options for aftermarket keycaps compared to ISO keyboards. This is because the ANSI layout is more prevalent in markets with a wide range of customization options. Users of ANSI keyboards have greater access to various keycap sets in terms of colors, materials, profiles, and legends, facilitating customization and personalization.

Keycap Availability - ANSI vs iso keyboard

Language Support

ISO keyboards often offer better support for languages other than English due to the inclusion of the AltGr key. This key allows users to type characters with diacritics and other symbols commonly used in languages beyond English. As a result, ISO keyboards are more suitable for multilingual users or those who frequently type in languages requiring accent marks or special characters.

Ergonomics

While both ISO and ANSI layouts have their ergonomic considerations, some users may find the ISO layout more comfortable for certain typing tasks. For example, the larger and taller enter key on ISO keyboards is often cited as more ergonomic, as it is easier to reach with the pinky finger. Additionally, the placement of keys like the left shift and backslash may impact typing comfort and efficiency differently between the two layouts.

Market Availability

ANSI keyboards are more readily available in many markets, particularly in regions where the ANSI layout is the standard, such as the United States. This widespread availability means that consumers have a larger selection of ANSI keyboards to choose from in terms of brands, models, and price points. Additionally, ANSI keyboards are often more prominently featured in retail stores and online marketplaces, making them easier to find and purchase compared to ISO keyboards.

Market Availability

Compatibility

While both ISO and ANSI keyboards are compatible with most computer systems, there are some differences to consider. In certain situations, the layout of the keyboard may affect compatibility with specific software or hardware configurations. For example, users who frequently switch between different types of keyboards may encounter issues with shortcuts or key mappings if they transition between ANSI and ISO keyboards. Additionally, some specialized keyboards or accessories may only be designed for one layout or the other, limiting compatibility options for users who prefer the less common layout.

ANSI vs. ISO Keyboard Layout

The ANSI and ISO types of keyboards are two primary standards governing the arrangement of keys on keyboards, each with distinct characteristics and regional prevalence. The ANSI (American National Standards Institute) layout, commonly used in the United States, features a smaller, horizontally oriented enter key positioned in the second row. In contrast, the ISO layout, prevalent in Europe and other regions, incorporates a larger, vertically oriented enter key, often spanning two rows and resembling an upside-down L-shape.

The differences in enter key size and placement are the most notable distinctions between ANSI and ISO layouts. ANSI keyboards typically have a more compact design with a smaller enter key, while ISO keyboards offer a larger enter key that covers additional space on the keyboard. This variance can affect the overall ergonomics and typing experience for users, as the position and size of the enter key may impact finger reach and comfort during typing.

Additionally, other keys, such as the left shift, backslash, and right alt keys, may exhibit variations in size and placement between ANSI and ISO layouts. However, these differences are often secondary to the prominent dissimilarity in entering key design.

ANSI vs. ISO Keyboard Layout

Which Keyboard is The Best When?

Here is a detailed comparison table of ISO vs. ANSI keyboards:

FeatureISO KeyboardANSI Keyboard
Layout StandardInternational Organization for Standardization (ISO)American National Standards Institute (ANSI)
Enter KeyLarger, L-shaped keySmaller, horizontal key
Left Shift KeyShorter, often with an additional key next to itLonger, spans the entire left-hand side
Backslash Key ()Positioned next to the left shift keyPositioned above the Enter key
Total KeysGenerally 105 keysGenerally 104 keys
Keycap Size/ShapeSlightly different sizes and shapes for some keysUniform sizes and shapes for the standard keys
Primary RegionCommonly used in Europe and other regionsPredominantly used in the United States
Enter Key SizeLarger, provides more surface areaSmaller, which can be less prone to accidental hits
Key Count per RowMore keys on the left side due to the extra keyStandard key count without extra keys on the left
AccessibilityMore common in regions using multiple languagesStandard in regions with a single dominant language
Backslash Key LocationNext to the left shiftAbove the Enter key
Return KeyL-shaped, easier to hit with pinky fingerStraight, might require more precise keystroke
CustomizationKeycap sets might be harder to findEasier to find a variety of keycap sets
Preferred byUsers in multilingual regions, typists requiring larger Enter keyUsers in the US, gamers, and typists preferring uniform key sizes

You Have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

For individuals coping with carpal tunnel syndrome, the right keyboard hand placement is paramount but what matters more is ergonomics. Opt for models designed to reduce wrist strain, featuring split layouts, adjustable angles, and integrated wrist rests.

The Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard and Kinesis Freestyle2 are two keyboards for carpal tunnel known for their ergonomic support and comfort.

You Have a Mac

When it comes to ergonomic keyboards for Mac, compatibility and design are key. Look for keyboards tailored for macOS with ergonomic features. The Logitech Ergo K860 and Matias Ergo Pro are stellar options, offering both ergonomic design and seamless integration with macOS functionalities, ensuring a comfortable and efficient typing experience for Mac users.

Which Keyboard is The Best When?

Conclusion

ISO keyboard meaning lies in its larger, vertically oriented enter key and ergonomic design, catering to diverse language needs and typing preferences.

Whether you opt for an ANSI or ISO keyboard, prioritizing ergonomic comfort and compatibility with your setup is key. By understanding the nuances of each layout, you can make an informed decision that enhances your typing experience with each keyboard position.

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