Possibly one of the most underrated features in laptops today is the backlit keyboard. This is not, and never really was, an issue with desktops for I don’t know many people who enjoy working at a desk in the dark. With a laptop these days, there are very few places people will not try to get work done. The most common useful places for backlit keyboards are darkened lecture halls (for powerpoint presentations) and business meetings with similar settings. Another time I find that the backlit keyboard a godsend is on a night flight. Yeah, you could turn on the crummy yellowish light above you, bothering not only the person next to trying to sleep, but almost making yourself queazy by the gross color cast caused by the light. Instead of having to disrupt a complete stranger that I would be sharing a cramped space with for a few hours, the automatic backlight provides exactly what I need to clearly see every key on my keyboard.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, certain keyboards have a “backlit” function where LED lights behind each key light up when the light sensors deems necessary. This way if you are in the dark, the keys will light up, making it easier to type. While being able to touch type has made looking at the keyboard only a once in a while thing, it is nice to be able to correct a mistake without having to squint at the keys.
This feature was originally targeted towards businessmen,who are the ones most often in dark meeting rooms and dimly lit airline cabins. Today, many jobs require the use of laptops outside of the actual work day. This means the possibility of not working in ideal conditions such as a well lit office. This was the biggest letdown when using a netbook for a weekend a while back, I couldn’t see the keys while on the plane. This feature is typically only on the higher end models, such as the professional or business line. While it comes standard on all Macbook Pros and the Sony Vaio Z series, it is not available on the Macbook. This was seen as such an important feature, that a mod used to be available online for the iBook(it had a translucent keyboard) to add LEDs giving it a backlit keyboard. Lenovo’s ThinkPad line goes about this in a different way. Instead of having LEDs behind each key, it has a light that sits next to the camera above the screen. The light is not automatic, so it has to be turned on and off via the keyboard, but it does light up the keyboard. I believe this is a lower cost option and possibly more robust way of doing it. Though it does the same thing as a backlit keyboard, I do think it is more distracting.
I have not seen this feature standard on any sub $1000 for the most part, but it is un upgradeable option for certain machines such as the Toshiba M645. The 13 inch Macbook Pro and Macbook have identical specs except for a different material for the unibody, and less ports, but this may be a solid reason to step up to the $200 more expensive Macbook Pro. I was very disappointed to see that the Macbook Air no longer has a backlit keyboard. This could honestly be a deal breaker for those looking at it for a lightweight business laptop. While keyboard lights are cheap and available online, it is pretty un-Mac like to have whip out a USB light every time you have to work in the dark.