Here are some of the best keyboard choices for your new Mac mini

Posted:
in General Discussion edited November 2018
Apple has always expected you to bring your own keyboard, monitor and mouse to the Mac mini. Yet, today there are issues to consider before you even start narrowing down your choice from the many, many dozens of possibilities. And, given as much as we type daily, we have opinions on the matter.

Mac mini with missing keyboard
Mac mini with missing keyboard


If you've got a new Mac mini and you've already got a keyboard that works with it, you're sorted. Plug that in and use it forever -- or until you start to miss some features that you can get in alternatives like backlighting or a numeric keypad. Or until you wear yours out. Or until you just want a change.

Don't underestimate the difference that swapping keyboards makes And definitely don't underestimate the value of a keyboard that you like. Maybe you spend all your time staring at a screen but if you skimp on the keyboard, you'll forever find typing a chore.

So given that there are about three issues to consider and then an impossible number of different keyboards to choose from, here's what you need to think about -- plus some of our favorites as recommendations.

Start with where you'll be typing

If you were getting an iMac then you'd be putting the keyboard right in front of the screen. If you were getting a MacBook then, well, you'd have a keyboard built in but there are still reasons to buy alternatives.

MacBooks can work with the lid closed, like a flatter Mad mini, for instance. If you want to do that or maybe want to elevate your MacBook on a stand, you're still going to position that external keyboard in front of the machine.

In comparison, people can and many do use their Mac mini on their desk or on a shelf somewhere else.

This makes two differences. One is that if your Mac mini is halfway across your office then you're not going to be using a wired keyboard. The odds are, though, that you also just won't be typing on anything all that much. That distant Mac mini is going to be a server more than a machine for general, everyday working.

So if that's you, get a cheap wireless keyboard for occasional use. Many of the same portable keyboards we've recommended for iOS devices would do you for this too.

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard
Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard


When you're going to be doing a lot of typing work on your Mac mini, however, keep that Mac close and the keyboard closer. Keep it close enough that it doesn't make a difference whether you go for wired or wireless.

Wired or wireless

Wired keyboards where you directly connect them to your Mac mini have the obvious advantage that they get their power from the machine so you never have to think about recharging them. Plus you never find that the Bluetooth connection has mysteriously dropped.

They should also be faster that wireless ever can be yet we defy anyone but a gamer to tell the difference in typing between the two sorts. Also, battery power is sufficiently good now that having to recharge every month, every three months or sometimes just every year is a burden we can live with.

Consequently our recommendation is that there's nothing in it -- unless you're going to be travelling. It's not the most practical thing to take your desktop Mac's keyboard with you wherever you go but you can do it and wireless keyboards will typically work with iOS just as well as they do Mac.

Apple Magic Keyboard
Apple Magic Keyboard


Apple's wireless Magic Keyboard ($99) is good for travelling because it's small, flat and has an off-switch to stop the battery being run down through accidental jostling in your bag. That off switch doesn't matter on your Mac mini but being flat can be good because arguably it gives a good typing experience. And the smallness is definitely useful on a crowded or messy desk.

This keyboard would be the one all others are measured against simply because It's what Apple bundles with the iMac but it's also just very good.

We were partial to the Logitech K811 wireless keyboard which is just a little bigger than Apple's but this is now discontinued and only available at inflated prices by secondhand sellers.

Logitech's current closest equivalent is the Logitech K380 which is a very good $22 or so. Where you can only pair Apple's keyboard with one device at a time, the K380 can be paired to three. Which means from the same keyboard you can tap a button and be writing on your Mac mini, the iPhone or your iPad.

These are both wireless keyboards that come without numeric keypads but you can get similar models that have them.

Such as Matias keyboards which like a combination of the old Logitech K811 and Apple's latest space gray Magic Keyboards with numeric keypads.

Numeric keypads

It used to be easy: you got a keyboard with a numeric keypad because there was no other choice. The numeric keypad was always on the right, too, which was a pain if you're left-handed.

Now, though, you need to choose between having a numeric keypad or not. Clearly, though, the chief consideration is whether you need one or not: if you don't enter a lot of numbers, you don't need one.

Only, it's not that clear-cut. For as well as the numbers, a keyboard that has a numeric keypad also has arrow keys that aren't squeezed in around the space bar.

They also have a block of six or nine keys that include the useful Page Up and Page Down ones. They tend to also include Print Screen which does something on Windows but you'll never press it on a Mac. Then there's often a Forward Delete key which you either rely on hourly or you've never been heard of.

Even if it were only for the better position of the arrow keys, a keyboard with numeric keypad would appear to always be the best choice because it gives you options. You can choose to ignore a numeric keypad if you have one, you can't pretend one's there if it isn't.

Take a look at Apple's own Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad, which costs around $120 in silver from Amazon.

Apple Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad
Apple Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad


Except those options take up space on your desk and in the most significant part of it, too.

If you place your trackpad to the right or if you use a mouse with your right hand, then the numeric keypad gets in the way. It's significant enough a difference that when you're used to using a keyboard without keypad it will be difficult to adjust.

Chiclet keys

In theory, you also need to decide between two types of keys on a keyboard. There's the older sort where you have to press down quite far and they make a lot of noise. Or there's the more modern ones known as Chiclet-style which a much shallower depth of travel and tend to be quieter.

In practice, you're going to buy a Chiclet keyboard. The older ones, known as mechanical keyboards are very good and you may well enjoy the feel and the sound. However, they're so outnumbered by the modern style that they're practically a niche product.

CODE mechanical keyboard
CODE mechanical keyboard


If you want a mechanical keyboard, look at the $160 CODE illuminated one from WASD.

This is a niche product within a niche product range, though. Even though we all use keyboards, the giant majority of us stick with whichever one comes with our computer and never change them. You, too, may well never change your Mac mini keyboard but you've got to get one first.

And there is still one more decision to make.

Backlit or not backlit

Easy. You don't need a backlit keyboard for your Mac mini. Where are you planning to work on it? In a basement with no lighting? Backlighting is no aid to typing: if you want to speed up the work you do on your Mac then learn to touch type and you'll never look at the backlit keys again.

However, backlit keys do have one thing in their favor. They look tremendous.

Expense

It does look great having a backlit keyboard. And wireless is appealing too: there is also a certain neatness in having a keyboard without a great big wire stretching out across your desk.

Aesthetics matter: you may spend more time at your Mac than you do sleeping at night so it's worth getting something that is comfortable and looks good to you too.

Which is a quick way of saying if you want a gold keyboard, you go for it. Satechi now sells wired and wireless aluminium keyboards for Macs.

Satechi keyboard in gold
Satechi keyboard in gold


You'll pay from about $60 go $100 for one of these and that's not money you'd casually throw away on a whim.

Yet for the difference a good keyboard makes to your Mac mini, it's a steal. We've spent much more over the years, trying out different keyboards and we still think that was worth it because finding the right keyboard is worth money, time and effort.

If it weren't worth it, if keyboards weren't so important, it would be possible to pick out a single recommendation for absolutely everyone and we can't. No one can.

However, if you think about wired or wireless, if you think about the numeric keypad plus the feel and color of the keys, you're on your way to finding the single best one for you.



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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 27
    I’m really surprised there was no mention of the Matias Tactile Pro keyboards. They’re supposed to be the best Mac keyboards for serious typing available these days. They have the Alps switches, first seen in the legendary, holy grail of typing in a Mac, Apple Extended Keyboard II.

    And also no mention of the Azio mechanical backlit keyboard. 
    netroxrazorpitmillerond_2
  • Reply 2 of 27
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,864member
    If Apple built a keyboard with just the middle part of the extended layout, like the CODE keyboard shown above, I would be thrilled. I like having the arrows and extra navigation keys but I never use the numeric keypad, and haven't since Gold key days. My accountant on the other hand wears the tops off of the numeric keypad. 
    ascii
  • Reply 3 of 27
    This topic is so subjective… but I wanna give a shout-out to this mechanical keyboard that I bought last weekend. It's so freaking nice to type on that I almost want to just work from home all day.

     https://www.anandtech.com/show/11632/havit-kb395l-rgb-mech-keyboard-review
    https://techreport.com/review/33708/havit-hv-kb390l-low-profile-keyboard-reviewed

     The Havit KB395-L is a compact mechanical keyboard with an unusually shallow key depth. It's basically a mechanical keyboard for people who prefer laptop keyboards, the best of both worlds. My fingers feel like they're dancing across the damn thing. Slim, short height, but solid — feels like it's going to last a decade. (oh yeah, removable/replaceable cable! no bluetooth, but I loathe wireless keyboards)

     It does have the goofy gaudy backlights of your typical "gamer" keyboard, can be turned off by holding fn-minus for a few seconds. And you have to go into System Settings to remap the command keys to Mac-like… but no drivers are necessary. My goodness this thing makes me happy.
    edited November 2018 GeorgeBMaccgWerks
  • Reply 4 of 27
    Good article -- but I'm surprised that there was almost no mention of travel or feel which has been a major item of debate within the ai community.

    I am one who touch types and not only prefers but pretty much demands a keyboard with both travel and feel.   It is one of the reasons why I love my Lenovo T410 -- it has one of, if not THE, best laptop keyboards ever.  And I continue to use the old style mechanical keyboard on my financial laptop which works mostly as a desktop.

    Yesterday I did a little test and compared the keyboards on the 2018 MacBook Air to the 2017 version:
    I found the 2017 version tolerable but far inferior to that on my Lenovo - I was making errors than I do not make on my Lenovo keyboard.  The 2018 version was, in my opinion, garbage:   I could not care less about the technology underneath the keys.  I do care about how well it does its job -- and the 2018 keyboard sucked at that -- in addition to being awkward my error rate was far too high.  The keyboard, to me, seems to be made for a hunt & peck typist.

    I wish I had also tested the external keyboards discussed here.  But I hope they are better than the ones on the 2018 MacBooks.
  • Reply 5 of 27
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 2,424member
    ThinkPad Compact Bluetooth Keyboard with TrackPoint FTW!
    https://www.amazon.com/ThinkPad-Compact-Bluetooth-Keyboard-TrackPoint/dp/B00C32FWJC/
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 6 of 27
    cpsro said:
    ThinkPad Compact Bluetooth Keyboard with TrackPoint FTW!
    https://www.amazon.com/ThinkPad-Compact-Bluetooth-Keyboard-TrackPoint/dp/B00C32FWJC/
    Thinkpads derived their keyboards from the original IBM laptops -- which were the gold standard in laptop keyboards.   And they in turn were derived from IBM's Selectric typewriters -- which were the gold standard for typewriters prior to the personal computer age.

    I am glad that they are modernizing but still continuing their tradition of excellence.
  • Reply 7 of 27
    The wife uses this Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard for Mac and absolutely loves it. 

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005L38VRU/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    She's had it for over two years, it never needs charging and has been flawless. It's full-sized for desktops (with numerical keypad) so not for travel. The only downside is that it uses one USB port for Logitech's unifying receiver rather than Bluetooth.

    Keystrokes are nice and smooth, very similar to my Apple Magic Keyboard.
  • Reply 8 of 27
    Apple Magic Keyboard w/ Numeric Keypad, here. Space Gray. It's great for work but a little less so for FPS gaming.
  • Reply 9 of 27
    The wife uses this Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard for Mac and absolutely loves it. 

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005L38VRU/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    She's had it for over two years, it never needs charging and has been flawless. It's full-sized for desktops (with numerical keypad) so not for travel. The only downside is that it uses one USB port for Logitech's unifying receiver rather than Bluetooth.

    Keystrokes are nice and smooth, very similar to my Apple Magic Keyboard.
    I had that previously, but after some years it fell apart. Keys got stuck, and when I removed the key caps to clean the plastic mechanism underneath was flimsy and broke on multiple keys. Also the charging was sub-optimal in my study which can be dim during parts of the year, went dead on occasions. 
  • Reply 10 of 27
    Eric_WVGG said:
    This topic is so subjective… but I wanna give a shout-out to this mechanical keyboard that I bought last weekend. It's so freaking nice to type on that I almost want to just work from home all day.

     https://www.anandtech.com/show/11632/havit-kb395l-rgb-mech-keyboard-review
    https://techreport.com/review/33708/havit-hv-kb390l-low-profile-keyboard-reviewed

     The Havit KB395-L is a compact mechanical keyboard with an unusually shallow key depth. It's basically a mechanical keyboard for people who prefer laptop keyboards, the best of both worlds. My fingers feel like they're dancing across the damn thing. Slim, short height, but solid — feels like it's going to last a decade. (oh yeah, removable/replaceable cable! no bluetooth, but I loathe wireless keyboards)

     It does have the goofy gaudy backlights of your typical "gamer" keyboard, can be turned off by holding fn-minus for a few seconds. And you have to go into System Settings to remap the command keys to Mac-like… but no drivers are necessary. My goodness this thing makes me happy.
    That Havit keyboard looks great and appears to be worth the money. However, I don't want to use a Windows keyboard on a Mac Mini. It may not be a big deal to many, but it's something that I, personally, choose not to do. So I have two questions:
    1. Does the software allow remapping of keys?
    2. Can the physical keys, themselves, be removed and repositioned -- namely, can the "ALT" and "Windows" keys be swapped with each other after remapping via software?

    cgWerks
  • Reply 11 of 27
    The wife uses this Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard for Mac and absolutely loves it. 

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005L38VRU/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    She's had it for over two years, it never needs charging and has been flawless. It's full-sized for desktops (with numerical keypad) so not for travel. The only downside is that it uses one USB port for Logitech's unifying receiver rather than Bluetooth.

    Keystrokes are nice and smooth, very similar to my Apple Magic Keyboard.
    I had that previously, but after some years it fell apart. Keys got stuck, and when I removed the key caps to clean the plastic mechanism underneath was flimsy and broke on multiple keys. Also the charging was sub-optimal in my study which can be dim during parts of the year, went dead on occasions. 
    I've used a K750 daily on my iMac for the last four years and found it to be trouper. It seems strange that it keeps itself charged to 100% on ambient light, but it certainly does. Tactile feel is a personal choice, but to me it's pretty good. It's flat, ergo, ergonomic, as opposed to so very many keyboards, including the original Apple wireless keyboards that are actually anti-ergonomic inasmuch as they're raised at the back like an old-fashioned mechanical typewriter. It's been very reliable for me -- no key sticking that you mention. I don't see how you can fault a solar keyboard for not charging well in the dark.
    In addition, this K750 is aesthetically pleasing. With white keys on an aluminum frame, it matches the Apple keyboards in design and blends in very well.
  • Reply 12 of 27
  • Reply 13 of 27
    The keyboard is one of the parts of a computer that you physically touch most often, so getting a good one that you like will go a long way. I highly recommend the Cherry MX switch sampler from http://www.wasdkeyboards.com/index.php/products/sampler-kit/wasd-6-key-cherry-mx-switch-tester.html ($15) so that you can see what kind of keyswitch you like: the clicky Blue (which is very similar to the old ALPS switches), the gaming-friendly Black or Red, or the Brown which compromises by offering a little bit of resistance halfway down so that touch-typists can know when the keyboard senses the keypress? Once you choose a switch, you can build a custom keyboard at wasdkeyboards.com with the exact key arrangement, printing, and colors you'd like. They also offer tenkeyless keyboards, which omit the numeric keypad which I never use - this makes it much easier for a keyboard to share my desk with my mouse.

    Of course, if you want to go really old-school, get a buckling-spring keyboard from https://www.pckeyboard.com. These are modern USB replicas of the old IBM Model M keyboard. They are a joy to type on, and they are LOUD.

    (I have no connection with either company. I just like good keyboards.)
    edited November 2018 d_2pscooter63cgWerks
  • Reply 14 of 27
    milleron said:
    Eric_WVGG said:
    ...The Havit KB395-L 
    That Havit keyboard looks great and appears to be worth the money. However, I don't want to use a Windows keyboard on a Mac Mini. It may not be a big deal to many, but it's something that I, personally, choose not to do. So I have two questions:
    1. Does the software allow remapping of keys?
    2. Can the physical keys, themselves, be removed and repositioned -- namely, can the "ALT" and "Windows" keys be swapped with each other after remapping via software?
    1. OS X does it natively, no drivers necessary. System Preferences / Keyboard / Modifier Keys. Pick the USB keyboard, then remap Option to Command and Command to Option.
    2. Yes, they pop right off.

    This is also useful for remapping Caps Lock to Escape on Touchbar Macbooks, btw. 

    oh, that reminds me of one ding against this keyboard, none of the F keys work as media keys out of the box. Easy to set up via BetterTouchTool, as well as any personalized shortcuts like "show desktop" and "terminal" etc. 

    I would definitely recommend this keyboard to anyone who fetishizes the early 2000's Thinkpad keyboards. I was looking at those externals with built in Trackpoints, but the reports on quality are iffy, and I don't trust bluetooth input devices.
    edited November 2018
  • Reply 15 of 27
    That Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard is ridiculously good; and with two hotkeys allowing it to easily be used with two computers/tablets/phones.

    It’s actually become my favorite keyboard for typing longer texts (as in “not text messages”).
  • Reply 16 of 27
    For Europeans fund of backlit keyboards, a French company makes an awesome one (at least, according to my taste), available as UK Qwerty as well as a few other european layouts: https://www.bleujour.com/en/54-keyboard-mac-backlight. Up to 1 year on battery (without backlighting), backlighting uses a secondary battery so you can still go on typing while not being in the mood to grab a USB cable to charge, Bluetooth to 4 different devices, Apple like aluminium casing.

    EDIT: English URL and Bluetooth to 4 different devices.
    edited November 2018
  • Reply 17 of 27
    tempted by some of the RGB keyboards on massdrop.com . Finding Apples own keyboards a bit conservative these days. They are very light though, probably a good choice as a travel keyboard. I used to love the Apple keyboards in 2010 onwards when I first bought macs, but I have grown bored with them since.
  • Reply 18 of 27
    Just remember that wireless can be both Bluetooth and radio types.  The radio type jams Apples WiFi networking, and makes the mouse very sluggish.
  • Reply 19 of 27
    macguimacgui Posts: 1,020member
    I have the Logitech K811 keyboard for a few reasons, and none of them are quality.

    Having used Logictech keyboards for years, it's because they've been cheap and or have features I want. But none feel particularly good.

    I like the Apple chiclet keyboards ok, but they work with only one device at a time and aren't illuminated. And I prefer more key travel. I put up with the Apple keyboards with their included.

    The Matais Tactile Pro is an excellent keyboard, but not illuminated, and noisy. It sounds cool with all the clicky-clacky, but that gets old quick. I like Micro-Soft ergo keyboards and my old Adesso ergo was very comfortable. They no longer make Mac specific versions, but I may still try one out. There's a version with a trackball and one with a track pad, if your a savage. But— not illuminated.

    A BT, ergo, Mac keyboard with illumination and a pointing device, switchable between 2 or better, 3 devices, and mechanical keys would be my perfect trackpad.
    GeorgeBMacpscooter63
  • Reply 20 of 27
    milleron said:
    [...] I don't see how you can fault a solar keyboard for not charging well in the dark.
    He wasn't faulting it, he was pointing out a purchase decision consideration people may not think of. I was going to mention it if he didn't. It worked well in our dimly lit control room, but did occasionally need to be left under a lamp for an hour or two. As someone else mentioned it also ties up a USB port on the computer because it uses Logitech's Universal Receiver instead of Bluetooth, which is a bit of a nuisance, especially if you plan to use it with a late model Apple laptop that has only USB-C ports.

    For typing and control it seemed just fine to me too. Similar to Apple's wired keyboard.
    williamlondonpscooter63
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