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ATPM 14.05
May 2008




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Hardware Review

by Christopher Turner,

Apple Keyboard


Developer: Apple

Price: $49

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.4.10, Keyboard Software Update.

Trial: None

Could it be that a flat, standard keyboard using rubber membranes could displace the mechanical key switch-using Datadesk Smartboard I had come to know and love? That was the question I set out to answer when I purchased the Apple Keyboard (wired version) a month and a half after its debut in August of last year. I’ve been using Apple’s latest keyboard since mid-September, and I haven’t looked back.

Though it has been termed Apple’s “Aluminum Keyboard” for the purpose of identification, the only aluminum part of it is the slender top surface. The even slimmer bottom surface is made of white plastic, like the keys atop. In a nod to the color of the aluminum, the print on the keys isn’t black, as one might expect, but a grey.


The keys themselves are, of course, inspired by the keyboards of the MacBook line. My only experiences with such a keyboard prior to the purchase of this one, were the few times I’d tapped out lines in TextEdit while on a MacBook in an Apple Store. Not long enough to make a truly informed decision, but at least long enough to know I didn’t totally hate it. As it turned out, not only do I not hate the keys on the Aluminum Keyboard, I love them. So much so, that I’m hoping Apple brings this keyboard style to the next MacBook Pro refresh.

Speaking of the keys, the function keys on the Aluminum Keyboard sport a lot more functions than did those of its predecessors. With the Keyboard Software Update installed, not only do they control the brightness and volume levels of your system, but they can also launch Dashboard and Exposé, and control iTunes. For me, enabling these features meant finding a new capture key for EagleFiler, which by default is F1. Apple has left F5 and F6 “blank,” so F5 was the winner.


A look at some of the special-feature F keys.

Moving from a keyboard like the SmartBoard, which uses mechanical key switches—think of the loud clackety-clack of keyboards of yore; those used mechanical key switches—to one using the now more-common rubber membranes to control key function can take some getting used to, and it was an odd couple of days at first. Now, I can’t imagine going back. You don’t have to press very hard on these keys, meaning less finger travel, which saves wear and strain on your digits’ muscles. Likewise, the low profile and slight angle of the Aluminum Keyboard take the strain off of my wrists just as much as the SmartBoard did with its design. Unlike with the MacBook keyboard, there is no flex to the Aluminum Keyboard when you get into a heavy typing session.


The keyboard is very thin, but very sturdy.

I imagine the wireless version of the Aluminum Keyboard is very similar in operation, though I have no personal experience with it. I have noticed that the arrow keys are smaller on the wireless version, and users should note that keyboard also lacks the numeric keypad and function keys F13–19 found on the wired edition.

If I had my druthers with the Aluminum Keyboard, I would move the two USB ports further out to the edges of the board. The current placement by Apple is more for aesthetics than practicality, and I nearly always have to lift up the keyboard to line up the plug of the device I’m plugging in with the port.

As with many things, using a keyboard is very subjective. I like the reclaimed desktop space due to its smaller size, and the fact that my fingers don’t have to work as hard as before. I really like Apple’s latest keyboard, but there are plenty of folks who do not, and that’s okay. If you’re in the market for a new keyboard for your Mac, though, you could do a lot worse than Apple’s Aluminum Keyboard.

Reader Comments (49)

Chris Ryland · May 1, 2008 - 19:32 EST #1
Agreed. This is probably the best keyboard Apple has made so far (though there are the die-hard "clack lovers" who swear by (the American-made models of) the Extended Keyboard II).
Alejandro Andreotti · May 1, 2008 - 23:31 EST #2
"odd couple of days"? How wonderfully unmathematical...
Harris · May 1, 2008 - 23:33 EST #3
Keys on white Apple keyboards have been printed in gray as long as I can remember, so it's not exactly a specific nod to the aluminum, though I'm sure they fit in better than black would. The change of font and letter placement from previous keyboards is interesting however. (My MacBook keyboard sports the same font and placement. My iMac keyboard--white iMac, intel--however is different.)
Nick Savage · May 1, 2008 - 23:41 EST #4
My aluminum keyboard (wired) was probably the best keyboard I have ever used when I first got it. Much better than the MacBook keyboard I was so fond of. It was never as sturdy as this one is. I say when I first got it because I had an incident with it where I spilt a sticky drink over it. Now a few of the keys stick, but it still works pretty beautifully.

I have never been a connoisseur of keyboards, but I can say from my very limited experience of the previous Apple keyboard and a few Windows keyboards that this is my favourite.
Christian Gwizdala · May 1, 2008 - 23:44 EST #5
Good news as I am in the market for a new keyboard. I have the bluetooth white keyboard that came with my Mac Pro and I'm not very happy with it. The keys stick (more correctly, the plastic grabs when pressing a key at an angle as i often do with the Command key) and they move around too much.

I'd much rather have a cheap ADB keyboard and get USB converter than use this even though I very much like the wireless aspect.
Christopher Bowns · May 1, 2008 - 23:50 EST #6
After months of a Apple Extended Keyboard (white with numpad and the clear, dirt-revealing plastic), then a brief stint with a Dell USB keyboard (ugly, but at least those keys didn't randomly not depress), I borrowed an Alu kbd from a friend who just got a new iMac.

It took me 10 minutes to go from, "Hm, weird. Don't know if I like this…" to looking online for a cheap price and quick shipping on one for myself.
Shin Wachi · May 1, 2008 - 23:54 EST #7
I highly recommend the bluetooth version. With small size and the ability to tuck it away without cables snagging thing on the table, it more than doubled the free space on my desk! I really wonder why people want the ten keys so much (unless you use Excel all day long). Battery lasts a very long time, too.
Jeremy Roush · May 2, 2008 - 00:17 EST #8
I absolutely love this keyboard; I love it so much every other keyboard feels like a monkey-spunked finger-waster straight from Dell. I now find it difficult to use other keyboards, due to the awareness of having to push those keys a pointlessly far distance.

I didn't "get used" to the Aluminum Keyboard, I instead immediately found it to be the purest form of keyboard yet devised.
Andrew Witte · May 2, 2008 - 00:24 EST #9
This iteration of the Apple Keyboard does not have rubber dome keyswitches (the previous, plastic-bodied one did). It has scissor keyswitches similar to the ones on modern laptop keyboards. This accounts for the better feel compared to other desktop keyboards that do use rubber dome switches.
Darren · May 2, 2008 - 01:37 EST #10
Finally, Apple have released a decent keyboard. Those late-90s iMac-era keyboards were junk in terms of both feel and build quality. IMO, they couldn't even compete with those cheap $10 PC keyboards. Clearly they were trying for something different, but it just didn't work.

The aluminum keyboard isn't just decent, it's rock solid, and it definitely benefits from its thin form factor. I think it's now the most compelling keyboard from any of the big-name computer manufacturers. (and all this without messing with the keyboard layout, which is something both Logitech and Microsoft can't seem to help themselves from doing. Grr.)

I was worried that the (brilliant) Caps-lock delay would impact those who (smartly) remap Caps Lock to another key. Thankfully, that isn't the case. When the Caps key is remapped the delay doesn't take effect.

Next up for Apple, a new mouse? (I actually like the feel of the Mighty Mouse, but the build quality is poor. Our school has a few general-purpose computer labs stocked with new iMacs and the scroll ball on every single Mighty Mouse died within a few months of use.)
Steve Lang · May 2, 2008 - 01:44 EST #11
I'm a die hard 'clack lover' who still has a couple of old Apple Extended ADB keyboards, and I really like the new Apple aluminum keyboard. It feels identical to the new MacBook Air keyboard, both have very solid frames that contribute substantially to the feel. The keys are easy to press down with no hesitation, and are not mushy or stiff at all. I can type very fast on this keyboard. The MacBook keyboard is somewhat similar but does not feel nearly as good.

The other advantage is that this keyboard is silent, nice for typing in the bedroom, etc. (that's why I bought it).
Aaron Walker · May 2, 2008 - 01:48 EST #12
I have one of these on my new iMac at work and I can't stand it. The caps lock key doesn't work correctly (as documented elsewhere online) and it's slowly driving me insane. I'll probably switch back to my old G4 tower keyboard or bite the bullet and buy an iMate so I can hook up one of my old Extended Keyboard IIs.
oomu · May 2, 2008 - 02:07 EST #13
the caps lock is deliberately not too much easy to activate.

You need just to press a little longer than others keys.

It's done to prevent to activate caps because you miss the right touch when you type. It's really smart.
michael mckee · May 2, 2008 - 02:18 EST #14
I too like the new wired keyboard, though as someone who does his bookkeeping on a Mac, the lack of numeric keypad on the Bluetooth version is a deal killer.

My wife absolutely fell in love with the keyboard and it now lives plugged into her older white plastic model iMac.

I'm actually using a Microsoft Natural Elite ergonomic model that is easier on my wrist. It has keys that I never use and I had to remap the bottom row keys to Mac standards (easy), but it is well made. That and a trackball help a lot to relieve repetitive use pain.
anonymous · May 2, 2008 - 02:36 EST #15
@Darren: On my wireless aluminum keyboard, the Caps Lock delay appears to be built-in to the hardware or the keyboard firmware: remapping Caps Lock to Control in System Preferences doesn't eliminate the delay. Are you certain that you're getting different behavior?

I suppose it's possible that this is only a problem with the wireless version, or maybe Apple has updated the behavior in a recent update (I stopped using my keyboard on day one as I'm a heavy Emacs user who always remaps Caps Lock to Ctrl), but you're the first person I've seen who says that the delay is dependent on the key's mapping.
Craig Morgan · May 2, 2008 - 03:12 EST #16
So, are both the wired and wireless models fitted with the scissor keyswitches or in terms of feel is the bluetooth model a poor relation?

My partner has the bluetooth model on her desk and loves it so much that I've never got a look-in ... maybe I ought to snaffle it one evening. Looking for a replacement for my ailing Matias Pro ...
Greg Turner · May 2, 2008 - 03:53 EST #17
@Craig: The wired and wireless models are identical in feel, as far as I can tell.
Mark Fig · May 2, 2008 - 03:59 EST #18
I got the bluetooth version. So tragically beautiful -- it dramatically decreased my typing accuracy. It was just weird. It was like I was drunk. I could type nothing. The keyboard was so beautiful I stuck with it for WEEKS. I was so determined to like it.

And I LOVED not having the numeric keypad -- it meant I could keep my mouse right next to my keyboard.

But the typing -- it was awful. So in the end I had to give up and buy some $40 USB thing.

Now I still have the bluetooth aluminum on my desk. It haunts me with its beauty. But "slowly driving me insane" is not putting it too strongly. I cannot use it.

A sad tale.
Scott Perry · May 2, 2008 - 06:45 EST #19
not to put too fine a point on things, but the "clickety clack" keyboards of yore were not all keyswitched.

notably the IBM Model M keyboards (easily the loudest and most popular old keyboard you can still find today) used buckling springs on top of two membranes with circuits printed.
same as your cheapo OEM keyboard, but with buckling springs on top instead of rubber domes. that was the part that made all the difference.

they're still hardy, they still last forever, and you can still defend your family against invaders with one, but they are not keyswitched devices.
John · May 2, 2008 - 06:47 EST #20
I bought the bluetooth, mini-version for use with my G5 tower. Previously, I had used the AEII under the desk on a keyboard tray, using the ADB-USB Converter.

I love my AEII, but it was too big, and the drawer... awkward. So, now I type with the new keyboard, but the small keyboard now lives on the upper level of my desk.

I don't really miss not having the extra keys. So, I echo the other positives here on the Aluminum keyboards. The size, the "small key travel," and the extra cool function keys (control iTunes), are all pluses for me.
Scott Perry · May 2, 2008 - 06:48 EST #21
@anon, @Darren: the caps lock delay is in the keyboard's firmware. it is a feature, not a bug.

the change shipped while I was drinking the kool aid.
Crai · May 2, 2008 - 06:59 EST #22
With regards to the buckling spring designs, Unicomp still manufacture a full range ... and generally offer scissor type is most of the same styles.
David Benson · May 2, 2008 - 07:07 EST #23
I grew up with a Selectric typewriter in the house and I took it to college with me, saying goodbye to it only after buying my first computer. Every keyboard I've owned has been judged by its standard. Apple's old style Pro came very very close as did the first IBM computer keyboards. I've thrown away a lot of keyboards over the years and hated more than a couple notebooks because the keys were shaped wrong, they felt mushy or the throw was too short, too long, too soft or too hard.

When the ADB port was killed off I tried a few USB to ADB adaptors and eventually accepted keyboard mediocrity. Then Matias brought out a keyboard that very nearly replicated my beloved Selectric. I bought three of them and just recently gave the first its burial. Two days prior to that a new iMac had been delivered to my desk so with a grown, I grabbed that tiny thin aluminum keyboard and plugged it in. Amazing!

Of all the notebooks I've owned, my MacBook has the least lousy keyboard and this new Apple keyboard is its twin. Once I stopped moving between the low profile keyboard on the MacBook and the clacky long throw of the Matias board, I realized that it wasn't just a not bad keyboard, it was a quite good keyboard. I wound up not pulling out a new Matias board - I quite like this thin little keyboard.
Ged Maheux · May 2, 2008 - 08:13 EST #24
Your review is dead on. It only took me a couple of hours to know I had found my favorite keyboard of all time. I soon snapped one up for work as well as home and have never looked back. I do wish the surface of the keys had a slight convex well for your finger to help with hand placement, but other than that, it's pretty much perfect.

Anyone sticking with older types of mechanical keyswitch keyboards are not seeing the big picture. Plus its like 1000x easier to keep clean and sanitary. Spread the word!
David Zatz · May 2, 2008 - 09:04 EST #25
All I can say is, test it out first. I absolutely hated this keyboard and ended up, on the advice of Macintouch readers, getting a USB MacAlly iKey instead. I had to get it used, but it had the feel I was looking for. I like a lot of laptop keyboards - the classic Vaios and the G4 iBooks, for example - but not this aluminum thing, as lovely as it was.

It's all very well to say "Anyone sticking with older types of mechanical keyswitch keyboards are not seeing the big picture" (that's a comment, not part of the review) but the fact is not everyone has the same fingers, and there's a reason why there are hundreds of different keyboards for sale, and not two.
ratchetcat · May 2, 2008 - 09:40 EST #26
I just replaced one of the clear Apple keyboards and a rather nice Saitek with one of these. The key feel is great and I probably maintain a faster typing speed on it than any previous keyboard I've used.
Christopher Turner (ATPM Staff) · May 2, 2008 - 15:10 EST #27
Shin: I was tempted by the Bluetooth version, but I went with the wired one for two reasons. (1) I really like having a full-size numeric keypad on a desktop keyboard (echoing Michael McKee above), and (2) I'm on my iMac so much, that I would likely be going through batteries, even rechargeables, at an alarming rate.

Darren: Thanks for mentioning the Caps Lock delay. I should have brought that up in the review, and failed to do so. It was disconcerting at first, but now, I'm glad it's there.

A better mouse from Apple would be nice, but probably wouldn't make any difference to me personally. I roll with a Logitech Trackman Wheel and love it.

Steve: My wife was very pleased by the quiet aspect of this keyboard, as compared to the loudness of the SmartBoard, especially when I get on a typing roll.

Mark Fig: If you're looking for a good home for your wireless keyboard, I happily accept donations. :-)

Ged: Thanks for bringing up the cleanliness issue. It's certainly true!

Thanks to others for clarifying technical details, and to everyone for reading!
Kevin Purcell · May 2, 2008 - 15:20 EST #28
I have this keyboard and I do like it but it isn't used on my main setup because it and the IOgear USB DVI 4 port KVM do not get along (unless you make the keyboard a switched peripheral rather than plugging it into the keyboard port).

It doesn't seem to agree with the internal emulation of the KVM.

Quite a few others have had problems with other emulation KVMs too so a caveat is in order if you are a KVM user.

Not sure why this is the case. EVERY other keyboard has worked with this KVM. But I guess this isn't a test case for Apple (even if all the devices on the KVM are Macs!).
Shin Wachi · May 2, 2008 - 18:19 EST #29
I'm sure you know this already, but this articles has been linked/cited by DF.
Andrew Vit · May 4, 2008 - 01:03 EST #30
I find that these new laptop-ish "short travel" keys feel fine for regular typing, but they're a real shortcoming when it comes to chording two keys, for instance Command-Option.

With the classic "deep" keys, it was enough to slap the thumb over the gap between the keys and you could be reasonably certain that you're holding both of them down together.

With the aluminum keyboard it's a bit more of a balancing act to get both keys down correctly, and it gets especially awkward when adding Shift into the mix (pinky on shift, thumb on Cmd-Option), since this contorted hand position makes it very hard to hold both keys with the side of the thumb.

I think that's my only annoyance with the Aluminum keyboard. Has anyone else found this to be a problem?
Michael Tsai (ATPM Staff) · May 4, 2008 - 19:44 EST #31
Andrew Vit: I found that to be a big problem at first, but I got used to it within a week.
Jason Painter · May 5, 2008 - 00:53 EST #32
I didn't realise the MacBook flexed under stress. I guess because it's plastic. The Bluetooth aluminium is a lovely feeling keyboard and the compactness is fantastic.

My MacBook Air, to me, feels identical to the aluminium. A great advantage here is the fact that the keyboards match key for key, so there is no relearning or adjusting to go from one to the other.
Michael Tsai (ATPM Staff) · May 5, 2008 - 09:04 EST #33
Jason Painter: They don't quite match, because the notebooks have the fn key in the lower-left, which changes the sizes and positions of the other modifier keys.
Tina Geng · May 27, 2008 - 18:20 EST #34
can anyone please tell me when this review is written?
ATPM Staff · May 27, 2008 - 22:19 EST #35
Tina - it was written for this month's issue, as indicated by the date up at the top.
Robert Leitao (ATPM Staff) · May 31, 2008 - 18:49 EST #36
I've needed to replace an iMac keyboard for a few months now. This looks like a worthy replacement. I'm intrigued by your comments on the benefits of the keyboard's angle.
Jason Painter · June 1, 2008 - 21:18 EST #37
I believe both the wired and wireless versions have the same angle, even though the stand design is different. It's a bit shallow, I guess, but I find it comfortable to type on. I've got the wireless version and come to think of it, it's a similar angle to my MacBook Air keyboard.
Sajaki · July 20, 2008 - 06:40 EST #38
well im typing this on the alu keyboard but i really hate it.
Its unergonomic, awful for typing, gaming and any activity where you need not watch the keyboard but your screen.
i'll be replacing this asap with something proper.
Marc Durant · October 28, 2008 - 19:48 EST #39
It sure looks good, and feels like a slightly stretched version of the laptop keyboards.

Which is why I'll never use it, because my tendonitis flares up like a bonfire when I use a keyboard that's so flagrantly flat and square.
gene Reffkin · November 3, 2008 - 14:56 EST #40
I wonder if you can assign Function Keys on this one. I have use a program called Alias Keys to assign, for example, F1 to Safari, F2 Entourage, F3 Word, and so on all the way thru F8. When I went to the local Apple Store the Genius said he wasn't aware of any way to do this. We tried the System Preferences_Keyboard but couldn't figure out how to do it.
john morton · December 13, 2008 - 14:27 EST #41
Fujitsu 4725. best metallic-switched keyboard.

I tried the aluminum keyboard but it had two issues:
a ) too flat -- I couldn't get use to the angle
b ) it seemed i was typing with my fingernails or the keys were coated with teflon.
Kon Manos · March 9, 2009 - 06:16 EST #42
I was visiting an apple mac store and for the first time in my life - after 20 years in the industry - decided to see what is an apple mac - that people are so attached to. I tapped away on the keyboard and thought - WOW - this is a keyboard. 5 minutes later - i had bought the wired version and attached it to my PC. I must say that this keyboard is amazing - anyone considering a new keyboard - need to look at this... I never thought that a keyboard could make such a difference.
Kevin Bradley · June 5, 2009 - 17:40 EST #43
Not sure what all this talk about "clicky" keyboards is about, unless they came from a third party. To my knowledge Apple's never mad a "clicky" keyboard. At least not in the sense that many PC keyboards have a "clack" sound when their keys are pushed. While you do make noise with an older Apple keyboard, it's not the loud "clickety-clack" of, say, an IBM PC.

I love my Apple Pro Kbd (black keys w/ keypad that includes eject key, mute, and sound up and down keys) and wouldn't trade it for anything. This is the best kbd Apple ever made, IMO.
Abhishek Nandakumar · June 21, 2009 - 10:12 EST #44
Looks like Apple listened. The new MacBook Pro does have a similar keyboard. Ye!
Wayne Turner · December 18, 2009 - 08:37 EST #45
I just converted to this keyboard from the original one on my PowerMac G5 (hard disk recording setup), and my fingers are still rejoicing two days later. The only thing I can think of that would improve this keyboard would be possibly a cupholder, or a GPS unit or something like that. (BTW, I brought this thing to work with me today, and it works flawlessly with the DELL OptiPlex PC that I use here...)
Kevin Bradley · December 19, 2009 - 01:06 EST #46
After saying that I'd never trade my Apple Pro keyboard, I find myself now with a Macally Bluetooth keyboard. What sold me on it is the fact that it has the exact same keyboard layout as the Apple Pro keyboard. It's such a shame that Apple is forcing that tiny keyboard on people that want Bluetooth. If the full-size keyboard had been available as a Bluetooth model I would've bought it. As it is, my money went to Macally instead.
Chuck Colclasure · February 19, 2010 - 19:24 EST #47
On the Apple keyboard I replaced, the f11 key took me directly to the desktop. How do you do that from this keyboard?
ATPM Staff · February 21, 2010 - 15:57 EST #48
Chuck - same command. There's an F11 on this keyboard as well. You can also go to the Expose pane of System Preferences and choose a different key if desired.
anonymous · August 4, 2010 - 17:37 EST #49
Yeah, me too, I love this keyboard. I've liked it so much that I actually bought some for my family! I knew they'd be convinced. As good as a good old mechanical keyboard, but much less noisy...

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