Review: Apple Wireless Keyboard (aluminum)

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
In addition to the ultra-thin aluminum keyboard Apple unveiled for the iMac last month, a similarly proportioned Bluetooth wireless version was also introduced. Here's a setup and unpacking tour, paired with a look at its features, an operational mystery, and a tantalizing future potential.











The simple box opens up to reveal the plastic wrapped keyboard, a thin user guide pamphlet, and the included pack of three AA batteries.











Physical Features and Setup







The entire keyboard is ultra thin apart from the cylindrical battery compartment (above), which also serves to raise the top end of the keyboard so that it lays at a comfortable typing angle. A metal plug unscrews from the left end of the battery compartment (below top) with a coin or the edge of a key. Drop in the batteries as indicated (below bottom) and it screws back into place and locks into position.











There's a power button on the opposite end of the battery compartment (below) for turning the keyboard off in order to save your batteries while it's not in use.







After you put the batteries in, it turns on automatically and a green LED begins blinking (below top) through an otherwise invisible window (below bottom) in the keyboard's upper right corner, indicating that it's ready to be set up with a Bluetooth enabled computer.











Comparison to Previous Wireless Keyboard



Like the previous version of Apple's Bluetooth keyboard (and every other Bluetooth keyboard), the new version doesn't have any USB ports for attaching other peripherals. The new version also drops the numeric keypad, inverted T arrow keys and other extra keys on Apple's previous wireless model to deliver a smaller profile device that is nearly two thirds the width (below), and ultra light.







Also missing from the previous model is the bagel bits, dust bunny, and stray hair museum that Apple built into its previous keyboards. If you want a crystal terrarium menagerie for collecting gross things around your work area, you'll have to go out and buy one separately. Getting rid of that allows the new keyboards to be much thinner and lighter. Compare the side views (below top), the top edge that's half as high in the air (below middle), and the bottom edge that is about half as thick as a single key (below bottom)















Keyboard Design



Despite the fact that the new keyboard's keys are a fraction of the height of standard keyboards and have a throw action (how far they depress when hit) that is similarly much shorter, it does not have a "Chicklet" feel. Key presses still feel solidly mechanical and responsive, there's just less finger travel involved. I also found the keyboard angle comfortable. The typing angle is actually surprisingly similar to earlier keyboard, despite being much thinner. The keyboard also has a ruggedly durable feel, and is rigid enough to be impossible to flex. It's built like a solid piece of metal.



The new Bluetooth keyboard is the same size as a MacBook Pro's (below), and has a nearly identical key layout, apart from putting an option key on both sides of the space bar, rather than an Enter key on the right end, as the MacBook Pro does. The actual key design matches those found on the consumer MacBooks; it sports white keys with rounded square edges rather than the Pro's beveled, metallic colored keys. In addition to the unique look, the white keys have a bit more of an audible tap to them, while the MacBook Pro keyboard is softer and has a nearly silent key action. Besides noticing the differences, I don't have a preference for either key style, and didn't really notice the differences while using them.







The back of the keyboard is glossy white plastic (below), with two nub feed on the front edge. The cylindrical portion has two rubberized edges on either end. That means the keyboard rests on plastic and rubber bumps, making it unlikely for the metal edges to scuff up your desk surface as it slides around.







On page 2 of 2: Bluetooth Pairing; The F Key Mystery; What's Missing?; and Rating.



Bluetooth Pairing



With the green light flashing, the keyboard is paired the same as any other standard Bluetooth keyboard. Under Mac OS X, the keyboard shows up as a device under the "Setup Bluetooth Device" assistant (below top), and you are prompted to type in a pairing number (below bottom). Once pairing is completed, the keyboard just works. It can be turned off by holding the power button down, which lights the LED for about four seconds and then turns off the LED to indicate the keyboard is now off. Turn it back on, and it automatically begins working without having to pair it again.











Keyboard range appeared to be limited to about 20 feet in my testing, although Apple says 30 feet on its website. As with any Bluetooth device, usable range will depend upon sources of interference such as metal objects or other wireless devices, including cordless phones and WiFi. When trying to type from a distance, keys seem to stick down like thiiisssss before it loses signal completely. In normal operation, the keyboard worked well, but Bluetooth does not work for long distance wireless, such as typing to a presentation PC from across a large auditorium.



The F Key Mystery



The new keyboard also sports a series of new key assignments. Rather than using the default F9 thru F12 keys for Exposé functions, the new keyboard assigns Exposé's "all windows" hotkey to F3 (it is F9 by default), and similarly maps the Dashboard trigger (usually F12) to F4. Both keys have unique icons that haven't appeared on any keyboards before (below). F1 and F2 are assigned to screen brightness, as they commonly are on Apple's notebooks.







F3 thru F5 are commonly mapped to volume controls on Apple's notebooks, but the thin new aluminum models remap audio controls to the other end of the keyboard. It also adds playback controls for back, play/pause, and forward to F7, F8, F9 (below). These playback controls work for the foreground application. That means if you're listening to music but working in iPhoto, hitting the advance forward button doesn't skip to the next song, but rather advanced to the next photo. Hitting the play icon starts an iPhoto slideshow, and other applications can interpret these keys to mean whatever they wish.



Depending on whether you expect them to only control audio playback (as similar keys on Windows keyboards typically do), or whether you like the idea of having a multifunction set of buttons that work in different applications, this is either a frustrating problem or a great feature.







F5 and F6 have no icons, while audio volume controls are mapped to F10, F11, and F12 (below), next to an eject button.







These controls seemed to work inconsistently. When I paired the keyboard to a MacBook Pro, the keys worked as labeled (for example, F4 brought up Dashboard), while the MacBook Pro's own F4 continued to work as a volume key. The wireless keyboard's actions therefore did not match keyboard settings in Mac OS X. Holding down the Function key on the keyboard had no effect on how the F keys worked either.



When I paired the keyboard to a different desktop system using a Belkin USB Bluetooth dongle, the keyboard paired properly, but the keys did not work as marked; instead, the F keys all worked as they were assigned by Mac OS X. That system also failed to properly display the keyboard under System Preferences' Keyboard section, which is supposed to indicate its battery level. The keyboard worked, it just failed to show up (below).







This puzzle was only solved by consulting the user manual, which indicated that new software needed to be installed. The keyboard does not ship with a CD (it also requires Mac OS X 10.4.10, so you'll have to have an updated version of Tiger running to use it). Instead, the manual tells you to run Software Update. Unfortunately, my system did not find any updates when I did this. I had to search for the update on Apple's site. Sure enough, Apple released a Keyboard Software Update 1.2 in early September. I had to manually install it.



Once installed (it requires a reboot) my battery level indicator worked correctly (below top), the translucent Bezel Services "keyboard disconnect" graphic was updated to match the thin keyboard outline (below middle), and a new check box appeared in System Preferences (below bottom).















The new control in the Keyboard & Mouse settings allows you to choose between using the keyboard keys as they are marked, or to use the default F key settings, which can be configured as desired. Mystery solved.



The other change on the new aluminum keyboards is the departure of the Apple logo from the command key, which now features the word "command" along with the Mac propeller icon (below) used for command in menu listings. The story behind that change was related in the article, "How Apple Keyboards Lost a Logo and Windows PCs Gained One."



Somewhat oddly, the Option, Shift and Esc keys are not labeled with their menu icons. Apple only puts some of these icons on foreign keyboard layouts, leaving new users to guess at what the glyphs might mean.







What's Missing?



One feature I'd like to see added requires new software support on the iPhone: the ability to pair the phone to the Bluetooth keyboard. Imagine using the duo (below) as a hyper thin traveling companion for taping out notes. Unfortunately, while the iPhone now supports Bluetooth pairing with a computer, it does not yet advertise support for any Bluetooth profiles apart from hands free, which used for the Apple Headset Adapter we reviewed in July: AppleInsider | Review: Apple iPhone Bluetooth Headset.







That means no keyboard input for the iPhone, no stereo Bluetooth headphones for music, no Bluetooth sync, support for printers, nor any other features, at least not yet. Until then, Apple's Bluetooth keyboard makes for a stylish way to work without cords, or to control a PC or Mac from across the room.



With a cheap USB - Bluetooth dongle, the Apple TV would also make a keyboard candidate, particularly if Apple expands upon the device with other applications beyond wireless iTunes access. The ultra thin, ultralight keyboard would pair well with the unit to turn a living room widescreen HDTV into a web browsing, iChatting new general purpose Internet device.



Apart from asking more of systems that might make use of this keyboard, it's hard to find faults with anything in the keyboard itself. It's nearly identical to the MacBook's keyboard, which is quickly becoming one of the most popular notebooks available. Unless you're looking for something big and heavy or cheap and flimsy, the $79 Apple Bluetooth Keyboard represents a very well built, attractive wireless keyboard at a reasonable price.



Rating: 5 of 5





Pros:Ultra thin, ultra light, highly portable design.Ruggedly solid and rigid construction.Elegantly attractive design.Comfortable typing angle and key action.Easy to set up and use.Functional even without installing any software.Batteries not excluded; reasonable price.Â*

Cons:Had to self-search for applicable software update.
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Comments

  • irelandireland Posts: 15,704member
    Goes without saying; "For people who really want that number pad, it's not there." should have been added as a con. It is a con whatever way you look at it, still it wouldn't put me off getting the keyboard. It would put some people off though.
  • dumboddumbod Posts: 1member
    I really like the way the keyboard looks and am willing to to forego my bagel bit collection



    HOWEVER,



    the lack of a numeric keypad makes it an absolue non-starter. I realize that you guys are writers/geeks and I'm sure that you've never input more than three different numbers at a time but there's a reason why all those office suites include a spreadsheet. Mac users aren't just graphic artists or writers anymore. Some of us make our living working with numbers and for us, the numeric keypad is absolutely indispensable.



    PS. Ireland posted while I was writing. I obviously agree 100%
  • yaphiyaphi Posts: 1member
    Quote:

    Depending on whether you expect them to only control audio playback (as similar keys on Windows keyboards typically do), or whether you like the idea of having a multifunction set of buttons that work in different applications, this is either a frustrating problem or a great feature.



    This is kind of misleading. I have the wired aluminum keyboard from Apple and the audio controls work from any app. If I am in photoshop, Firefox, Mail, wherever, and hit Play/Pause or next track, iTunes will do what it is supposed to.



    The controls are different for some media apps like iPhoto, but if you're not in one of them the keys work as they should for iTunes
  • freenyfreeny Posts: 128member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by DumboD View Post


    I really like the way the keyboard looks and am willing to to forego my bagel bit collection



    HOWEVER,

    Mac users aren't just graphic artists or writers anymore. Some of us make our living working with numbers and for us, the numeric keypad is absolutely indispensable.




    Graphic users also need the numeric keypad for some apps. After Effects and Maya to name a few. Actually Maya is almost unusable without the home key readily available.

    Definitely a negative not having the numeric.
  • umijinumijin Posts: 133member
    AppleInsider reviews have now gotten worse than MacWorld reviews.



    This product certainly has some benefits and looks slick, but the lack if a numeric keypad is glaring enough for a large number of us to find this product next to useless.



    It's stunning you would give a perfect rating to a product that isn't perfect. Absolutely ridiculous. I suppose we should be surprised at AI's slide to mediocracy. The number of posts per day have increased, while the amount of useful, unbiased information in news posts has plummeted.



    Please stick with Apple product release prognosticating, and dump the fanboy, MacSheep approach of MacNN and MacWorld.
  • sequitursequitur Posts: 1,884member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Ireland View Post


    Goes without saying; "For people who really want that number pad, it's not there." should have been added as a con. It is a con whatever way you look at it, still it wouldn't put me off getting the keyboard. It wouldn't put some people off though.



    Targus and Toshiba (maybe others) make stand-alone numeric keypads. Both USB connected and wireless. In yesterdays paper, I saw an ad (Circuit City, I think) for a wireless Targus numeric pad for $19.00.



    I like that idea. Because it's not attached to the keyboard, I would be able to use it in any position I wanted.

    For long term number crunching, it would be less tiring.
  • spindriftspindrift Posts: 674member
    I have the new wireless keyboard on our new family iMac and I love it. I'm glad that it doesn't have a number pad, the compact size is perfect. What's wrong with the number keys along the top anyway? Most touch typists will use these rather than the number pad anyway. I do prefer to use a number pad when entering numbers, but I'm the only one out of my touch typing friends that does. When using the keyboard on my wife's/family iMac, I've never found the lack of number pad a problem.



    The only grumble that I do have is that I wish the LED power light would stay lit so that we know when it has been left on!
  • palex9palex9 Posts: 105member
    ok, no numeric i could live with, but no arrow keys? give me a break. plus this keyboard is so short you cant keep it on top of your legs when you are at home and legs are on the desk...
  • shaun, ukshaun, uk Posts: 1,050member
    Personally I like the fact that it doesn't have the numeric keyboard. At least this way we have a solution for both groups (those who need the numeric keyboard and those who don't) rather than Apple's traditional one size fits all approach to peripherals.



    The only wish I have is that Apple would bring out an ergonomic version as well (preferably wireless) for people like me who type a lot. Currently the only solution is to buy a third party product from Microsoft or Logitech. An ugly Microsoft keyboard with my lovely new iMac doesn't look right somehow.
  • jay contoniojay contonio Posts: 101member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by umijin View Post


    AppleInsider reviews have now gotten worse than MacWorld reviews.



    This product certainly has some benefits and looks slick, but the lack if a numeric keypad is glaring enough for a large number of us to find this product next to useless.



    It's stunning you would give a perfect rating to a product that isn't perfect. Absolutely ridiculous. I suppose we should be surprised at AI's slide to mediocracy. The number of posts per day have increased, while the amount of useful, unbiased information in news posts has plummeted.



    Please stick with Apple product release prognosticating, and dump the fanboy, MacSheep approach of MacNN and MacWorld.



    For all of you complaining about no keypad, this is for mobile computing. While a full bluetooth keyboard is a big want for me (and I hope Apple is hearing that), this keyboard is obviously created for the mobile crowd who need to throw a keyboard in their backpack.
  • jonrojonro Posts: 42member
    I have one on order and plan to use it, but it's a flawed product. Like others, I really miss the numeric keypad. The lack of an Enter key is also a major oversight. I do a lot of work with FileMaker. Typically, the Return key creates new paragraphs in text fields and the Enter key commits a record.



    The keyboard is next to useless for a a home media system because it has no mouse-type device. I have an old B&W G3 hidden inside some home theater cabinetry that I use for listening to iTunes and surfing the Internet on the big screen. I use an RF keyboard with a built-in mouse pointer. Without that, you need the keyboard and a separate mouse, which is nearly unusable from your sofa.



    In the review, nothing was mentioned about an auto power off mode. If you have to manually turn off the keyboard when you're not using it, that's a major inconvenience.



    I wanted Apple's Bluetooth keyboard, and while it looks great, its utility is not very impressive. The "Mighty Mouse" is even less functional, with its lack of buttons.
  • irelandireland Posts: 15,704member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by sequitur View Post


    Targus and Toshiba (maybe others) make stand-alone numeric keypads. Both USB connected and wireless. In yesterdays paper, I saw an ad (Circuit City, I think) for a wireless Targus numeric pad for $19.00.



    I like that idea. Because it's not attached to the keyboard, I would be able to use it in any position I wanted.

    For long term number crunching, it would be less tiring.



    As I said it wouldn't put me off the keyboard, but for many people it's a con, whatever way you look at it.
  • tyrihanstyrihans Posts: 60member
    Big question (for me, atleast):



    What about the other former functions of Expose?

    F10 - other windows in same app

    F11 - desktop



    I use them all the time, F9 not so much
  • gongon Posts: 2,437member
    I honestly don't understand the bitching that has went on from the start with this keyboard. If you put a numpad on it, not only would that screw the ergonomic placement of the mouse but it would actually make it worse to use on your lap which *is* a major expected capability for many wireless keyboards. If a person wants a fixed numpad and they are going to be working on the desk, then the USB version should be strictly better since it has downstream ports.



    Not to mention people looking for a numpad will be well served by almost any keyboard on the market. It is curious behavior to complain because the last 5% of keyboards are not the same way, too. How dare someone prefer a different hardware setup?

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Ireland View Post


    Goes without saying; "For people who really want that number pad, it's not there." should have been added as a con. It is a con whatever way you look at it



    No numpad is a pro for me and for loads of other people. I can type numbers faster with the numpad, but practically refuse to use keyboards with one because the benefit I can get from it for miscellanous typing and programming is near zero, and I value my mouse ergonomics. If a numpad ever grows important enough to me, I'll grab a separate one.
  • spindriftspindrift Posts: 674member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by palex9 View Post


    ok, no numeric i could live with, but no arrow keys? give me a break. plus this keyboard is so short you cant keep it on top of your legs when you are at home and legs are on the desk...



    What are you talking about, it does have arrow keys.
  • jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,933member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Jay Contonio View Post


    For all of you complaining about no keypad, this is for mobile computing. While a full bluetooth keyboard is a big want for me (and I hope Apple is hearing that), this keyboard is obviously created for the mobile crowd who need to throw a keyboard in their backpack.



    I am curious now. Why would you throw a keyboard in your backpack? Doesn't your notebook have a keyboard?



    I really don't think it's about mobility, I think it's about not making everyone have buttons that aren't that necessary for most users. Wireless gives people the option of getting rid of a couple wires on their desk. For mobile computing, most notebooks include a built-in keyboard, I'd think that bringing along a separate keyboard is a niche use.



    For me, no num pad is fine for my use on my HTPC. It replaced a Logitech bluetooth surfboard. I do input a LOT of numbers at my desktop, so it's a non-starter at my desktop.



    I wish it had a backspace key though.
  • jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,933member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by sequitur View Post


    Targus and Toshiba (maybe others) make stand-alone numeric keypads. Both USB connected and wireless. In yesterdays paper, I saw an ad (Circuit City, I think) for a wireless Targus numeric pad for $19.00.



    I like that idea. Because it's not attached to the keyboard, I would be able to use it in any position I wanted.

    For long term number crunching, it would be less tiring.



    Has anyone here tried a separate num pad? Last I heard someone trying it, I think last year, they ran into problems with OS X insisting that the user press the keys next to the shift keys to tell what language it is - but those keys don't exist.
  • npiwnpiw Posts: 1member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by palex9 View Post


    ok, no numeric i could live with, but no arrow keys? give me a break.



    The review says no inverted-T arrow keys, but what are those 4 keys at lower right of kbd in the shape of an inverted T with arrows on them?
  • jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,933member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SpinDrift View Post


    The only grumble that I do have is that I wish the LED power light would stay lit so that we know when it has been left on!



    Why? See below.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by jonro View Post


    In the review, nothing was mentioned about an auto power off mode. If you have to manually turn off the keyboard when you're not using it, that's a major inconvenience.



    It's there. I've never turned off a wireless keyboard. My logitech didn't even feature a switch for that and it lasted over a year on batteries.



    "Intelligent power management conserves battery life by automatically powering down the keyboard when you’re not using it and turning it on the instant you start typing."



    http://www.apple.com/keyboard/
  • jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,933member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by npiw View Post


    The review says no inverted-T arrow keys, but what are those 4 keys at lower right of kbd in the shape of an inverted T with arrows on them?



    I'd call that a gaffe, it really does have a working set of inverted-T set of arrow keys. They are a bit on the small side though.
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