Requirements: Mac OS X 10.4.10, Keyboard Software Update.
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.