Review: the Magic Keyboard

I’ve used Apple keyboards for as long as I’ve had a Mac. While I never owned one of 2000’s Apple Pro Keyboards when it was new, the keys felt way better to me than the keyboards that shipped with the iMac G3 family of machines. The 108-key keyboard shipped in both black and white, and featured a foot that could adjust the height of the keyboard.

It looked super cool in black with the G4 Cube:

The next keyboard was released in 2003 alongside the eMac and shipped more famously with the iMac G4. It only came in white, and lacked the adjustable foot from the previous model. In its place, Apple put a large slab of clear plastic that would show off the little bits of junk that would work their way into the keyboard over years of usage. I used one of these in college, but never fell in love with it, mostly due to the height and pitch of the keyboard. A subsequent wireless model didn’t address these issues, however.

In 2007, alongside the first aluminum-clad iMacs, Apple released its first aluminum keyboard. With a low profile and low-travel keys, I quickly became a fan, despite my love-affair with the Apple Extended II keyboard that ended after an operation on my elbow made it uncomfortable to use.

The Magic Keyboard is the smallest change we’ve seen between keyboard generations in a long time, and that’s okay by me.

As you’ve no doubt read by now, all three of Apple’s new input devices use Bluetooth and charge via Lightning port. They can also be paired with a Lightning cable, bypassing OS X’s clunky Bluetooth Setup Assistant. Plug a new keyboard in and boom it’s paired instantly. I can’t believe we used to pair things manually.

Equally old-fashioned is the pile of dead AA batteries left in the wake of the old Bluetooth keyboard. Having an internal, rechargeable battery makes a ton of sense.

I do wish the thing had a backlight. I assume that didn’t make it due height and power constraints, so I’ll keep holding to that hope for the next keyboard.

The body is slightly smaller than the old keyboard, taking up less space on the desk. I like to have my mouse as close to the keyboard as possible, so any saved width is welcome here. I ditched keyboards with numberpads years ago for this exact reason.

More importantly, the new keyboard is both shorter and flatter now. This means I don’t have to hover my hands as high to type comfortably, which is a win for my wrists.

The keycaps are a little bit larger than last time around, and with noticeably less travel. Word on the street is that these keys have 1 mm of travel. That’s not as extreme as the keyboard found on the 12-inch MacBook with Retina display, but it’s inching in that direction big time.

The traditional scissor mechanism under each key are still there; the butterfly subframe from the MacBook is still relegated to just that machine. That said, the keys do feel more precise than the older model; bottoming out with a louder, nicer click than before.

In my few days of using the keyboard full-time, I’ve already learned to back off the pressure with which I type. That’s a good thing, as smashing these keys into the aluminum beneath them is going to be hard on me and the keyboard long term.

I’m enjoying the new keyboard. I feel like I’m still in the learning curve of how much pressure I need to use, but I haven’t had any pain while getting adjusted to it. I like the clicky, precise nature of it; even using the built-in keyboard on my MacBook Pro feels sloppier, somehow. Coupled with the new built-in battery, refreshed form factor and clever pairing system, I’m looking forward to using this thing for years to come.