Review: Apple Aluminum Keyboard
A few months back, Apple introduced a new set of iMacs and with them, we got two new keyboards. A tiny, Bluetooth keyboard was available that looked like it was ripped off of a MacBook. Also available was a new wired keyboard, featuring the same flat keys, but a more stationary purpose.
We managed to get our hands on Apple’s new wired keyboard (it really doesn’t have a name since it’s a stock product with new machines), a $50 product that functions much like any other keyboard. The actual design is a repackaging of Apple’s previous keyboard in a sleek, aluminum shell, with a few exceptions. With the lower price tag, it makes the idea of the Moshi Celesta a bit unnecessary.
First, the keys are identical to a MacBook—flat, little travel, and with space in between each key. Second, the Help key has been replaced with “fn”, which functions much like its notebook equivalent—the function keys now have other primary purposes, such as volume, brightness (if your machine supports that), and more. Third, the function keys go up to F19, allowing you to program just a bit more. Finally, our friend, the Apple key is now simply “Command” with the cloverleaf logo—this should end some confusion, and make third-party keyboards match a bit more.
Using the keyboard is simple, plug it in. An extension is provided to use it with towers or other hard-to-reach locations. Unfortunately, the extension can only be used with the keyboard, as the USB port has an extra notch in it. If you have Mac OS X 10.4, update it to 10.4.10 and the keyboard software update to get all the functionality. The keyboard works on other Macs (we tried it on a 10.4.7-equipped iMac) and PCs (Windows XP), but certain keys don’t do their special functions. Also, on PCs, Command becomes the Windows key and Option becomes Alt.
If your computer has USB 2.0, the keyboard will support such devices plugged into the USB ports on each end. However, only on certain computers (new iMacs), will the ports have enough juice to power/charge things like iPods or self-powered hard drives. Furthermore, the USB ports don’t provide much clearance, so don’t expect to use the keyboard with many flash drives.
This keyboard does have some improvements over its “let’s see all the crumbs, dust, hair, and anything else that was near the computer in the last few months” modern art sculpture of a keyboard that it replaced. First, it’s nearly impossible to get the keyboard dirty, except for the surface of the keys (which is easily wiped off). Other than that, it’s a solid aluminum slab with a fixed typing angle. The aforementioned special keys give the function keys extra uses, including brightness (F1, F2), Exposé (F3), Dashboard (F4), iTunes (F7-F9), volume (F10-F12). It’s worth noting that the iTunes controls can also be used on QuickTime, iPhoto, or other applications that support this feature. Eject is still its own key just next to F12. Using the keyboard does take some getting used to, but after about a half hour, it seemed quite natural. In fact, since it it almost flat, you can ditch the wrist rest and stop worrying about carpal tunnel. As we’ve often suggested, try out a keyboard or other input device before you buy it to make sure you like it.
Raving about a keyboard is a bit silly, since it is such a “boring” piece of technology, but it is one of those things you use every day to interact with your computer. If you’re happy with your current keyboard, this might not be one of those knock-your-socks-off purchases, but if it’s time for a new one, Apple-official might be the way to go.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
Apple’s new keyboard is a radical departure from previous incarnations, but is priced reasonably and is a joy to use.
Pros: Thin, lightweight, solid construction, special function keys, USB 2.0 capability
Cons: Typing takes some getting used to, no height adjustment