Body & Keyboard Size
- Portable keyboards are just that, portable. They usually weigh less than 20 lbs. and have a smaller range; 61 and 49-key models are most common. Optional keyboard stands may be offered with the instrument at an additional cost, but they can be played table-top, and are also easily storable.
- Digital pianos are not unstorable, but they’re typically meant to sit atop a custom-fitted stand. They can weigh from 25-60 lbs., and usually come with 61, 76, or 88 keys.
Keys & Sensitivity
- Portable keyboard keys are notoriously light and plasticy compared to acoustic or digital pianos. Touch-sensitivity – which allows for a change in volume depending on how hard a key is pressed – may not be a feature; and polyphony – the ability to play many notes at the same time – is sometimes limited.
- Digital piano keys are usually full-length, and feel more like an acoustic. Some models even mimic the feel of a piano incredibly well with keys that are heavier to the touch in the bass octaves – a feature known as “graded hammer-action.” Polyphony may range from 32 to 64-notes (sometimes more), and touch-sensitivity is standard and may even be adjustable.
Voices & Song Banks
- Portable keyboards come with many, sometimes hundreds, of rhythms, built-in songs, and voices (which often include several varieties of pianos, organs, woodwinds, bells, and percussion; as well as wonderfully random sound-effects). It should be noted, however, that their voices can sound phony and “electric,” and speaker volume may be limited.
- Digital pianos may only offer a few voices, and might not contain any songs or rhythms at all. The voices offered usually sound pretty genuine (depending on brand and quality), and tend to be the staples: Grand piano, harpsichord, strings, and jazz or pipe organ. Abridged sample songs may be included to offer a preview of the voices in action.
- A portable instrument carries a lighter price tag, weighing in between $100 to $500 depending on keyboard size, brand, and features. The Casio WPK-200 is a 76-key option that costs around $200.
- A digital set of keys can be found for as low as $300, but many fall in the $500-$1500 range. The most expensive digital piano – which is actually a grand piano/digital hybrid – will only cost you a mere $20,000!!
Digital pianos are preferred as cost- and space-effective alternatives to an acoustic piano. Portable keyboards are best-suited for beginner or practice instruments, or just for fun.