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How to identify symbols on function keys on a Windows 10 laptop

The function keys, or the Fn keys are standard on any laptop. MacBooks have them, and laptops have them. On MacBooks, the symbols on function keys mean the same thing regardless of model. Rarely is the symbol on a key ever changed. For laptops, it’s different.

Laptops are manufactured by different companies (Dell, HP, Acer, Sony, etc.). All laptops will generally use the function keys as media keys, and brightness control keys but it still leaves a few extra keys left over. Not all laptop manufacturers use the same symbols so, here’s a brief guide to what the symbols on functions keys mean.

Media Keys

The media keys are the easiest to identify: there are usually six of them; the mute key, the volume up key, the volume down key, a play/pause button, a play next button, and a play previous button. The symbols for them look more or less the same and they’re easy enough to identify.

Brightness controls

These too are common symbols you’ll find on the function keys. They normally feature what can best be described as a ‘sun’. They’re in pairs where one decreases the screen brightness while the other one increases it. You’ll have to look a bit closely to see how the manufacturer has distinguished the two.

Airplane mode

If one of your function keys has an Airplane symbol on it, then the button will toggle Airplane mode on Windows 10. Airplane mode disables both the WiFi and Bluetooth on the laptop.

Antenna symbol

Some function keys might have an Antenna symbol which will turn off WiFi. It’s not like the Airplane mode though so your Bluetooth will remain on.

Multiple screens

There are a few different variations of this symbol that you’ll see but anything that looks like a screen is for changing Projection mode. It’s the equivalent of tapping the Win+P keyboard shortcut on Windows 10.

Search icon

On a Windows 10 laptop, the function key with a search icon i.e. a magnifying glass, will open Windows search.

Third-brightness symbol

We mentioned that screen brightness buttons come in pairs but, you may have a function key that carries another brightness control symbol. This is for controlling the backlit keyboard if your laptop has one. It will turn on, or dim, or turn off the light for the keyboard.

Question mark

This symbol denotes ‘Help’, and when tapped will open Microsoft’s help page. It will do this regardless which app is open on your screen.

The function keys are mostly harmless so if you can’t figure out what a symbol means, tapping the key might be the easiest way to figure it out if you can’t guess it and this guide doesn’t cover the symbol you’re looking at.

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