I go through keyboards at a fairly hefty rate. As a full time writer and developer keyboards really do get a pounding on my desk. I guess I average a new keyboard every year or so, although it’s difficult to be sure. Basically, to me, keyboards are a consumable :)
My favourite keyboard of all time is the Apple Adjustable Keyboard (AAK). It was expensive here in the UK (about $350), but the most comfortable keyboard I have ever used. I had three of them (I obtained a few before the official supply dried up), but since they were ADB only I stopped using them once one or two of the keys stopped working and my machines had migrated to USB only.
Since then, I’ve been using Microsoft keyboards, in their elite/professional revision with the split distance/angle and built in wrist rest, much like my favorite AAK but with the adjustability. These have been fine, they are comfortable to use and with the supplied Microsoft software still work well with the Apple platform.
Right up until a few months ago I was using a Microsoft Wireless unit, but it had some really annoying issues. I use wireless not because I like to work miles from where I can plug, but just because it makes the desk look tidy and prevents the issues of dragging a cable across the desk that can be uncomfortable.
With the Microsoft unit I was getting terrible response – sometimes the mouse just didn’t move properly and the keyboard would just refuse to type specific characters on occasion. Right in the middle of an article that can be a real pain. At no time was the receiver ever more than about a foot from the mouse or keyboard – not exactly stretching the multiple-foot limits described in the literature.
Move the receiver closer though – within a foot – and the problems would disappear. Finally, it got to the point where I simply couldn’t stand the fact that if I moved the keyboard to a slightly more comfortable position, the response would disappear and typing coherently would be a problem.
I decided my next replacement would be non-MS, not because of the problems I’d experienced, but just because the current MS offerings are not impressive.
I plumped for the Logitech Cordless Comfort Duo Black. It’s the same basic deal as my old Microsoft unit – ‘comfort’ keyboard and mouse married to wireless technology with a few additional keys for controlling iTunes and opening some specific applications.
One of the nice things is that out of the box the keyboard works well with the Mac – the keyboard has it’s keys in familiar places, the Apple/Command key is right next to the space bar, for example, and conveniently there are duplicate Apple/Command, Option and Control keys on the right of the spacebar as well as the left.
Logitech have coped well with the cross-platform environment needs too – particularly through a switch – and the keyboard nicely switches between ‘Mac’ and ‘PC’ layouts, so you don’t have to rethink the special key locations.
In use, the keyboard is excellent – I sometimes feel the keys are a little bit close together – I find myself pressing Caps Lock more than I used to, for example, but otherwise the layout and size is fine. The keyboard has a nice feel; the keys don’t have that ‘dead flesh’ feel, but have a softer feedback than the heavy ‘clack’ of the Apple keyboards. Actually, thinking about it, consider it more like the feel of the Apple PowerBook/iBook keyboards – albeit with a longer travel.
The special keys include a range of ‘audio control’, the usual play/pause, stop, forward/reverse track and volume/mute buttons. Through the supplied software they can control iTunes for you regardless of the application you are currently using. Unfortunately the response on these is not brilliant; sometimes it takes a few seconds for the mute button to have an effect for example, even if there are no other applications running.
A set of application buttons up the top middle of the main keyboard provide direct access to whatever applications you like, although they have icons showing ‘home’, ‘email’, ‘search’ and a running man (‘go’, I presume for Web). Unfortunately these are the only keys you can adjust in anyway, and even then you are limited to opening folders, or applications, or emulating one of the audio control buttons (which seems pointless, since you can’t change the response of the audio control buttons in any way).
They’ve also made the strange decision to put a sleep button on the top left of the keyboard. I know top right is the Mac norm, but many PC notebooks have power buttons top right. Unfortunately this puts it right near the escape key.
Similarly annoying is a Logitech key at the top right of the numeric keypad. This goes to the Logitech Website. There’s no choice about this, and not even any facility for disabling it either.
My only other complaint with the keyboard is one common to nearly all of the third party units. The keyboard layout doesn’t match the layout of the Apple keyboards, even here in the UK, and worse, doesn’t adjust.
I can live with the different layout – especially since the layout follows the UK PC standard that I’ve been using for years, but why not provide a keyboard driver that makes the keyboard do what the keys say?
For example, here in the UK, Apple keyboards use a layout that means Shift-2 types the @ sign. But PC keyboards in the UK have Shift-2 typing a double quote. The Logitech keyboard (and the MS one before it) work on the Mac fine, but Shift-2 though labelled double-quote, types @.
Other keys are similarly affected; backslash, pipe, hash and others all type differently to what their keytop describes. To make matters worse, for some reason my brain automatically switches between a PowerBook and a PC notebook layout, but automatically assumes the UK PC keyboard layout when using a separate keyboard on my PowerBook. That can make typing email addresses difficult until I realize the problem.
I fix it by using Quickeys to remap those keys to type something different, but it seems a stupid situation not to have a simple keymap developed that makes the keys type what the keytops say they do.
Best of all though, the wireless response is excellent. With the Microsoft unit, even the slightest non-metallic element in front of the receiver would completely obliterate the signal. The Logitech receiver sites underneath a 20” CRT monitor and behind a metal letter rack and it still works fine over three feet away.
If I had one, not easily fixable fault it would be the supports which angle the keyboard. They run front to back on the underside of the keyboard, instead of the little struts at the back you get on many. This is more stable, less prone to a minor misplacement causing a wobble and, best of all, doesn’t collapse when you push the keyboard back to make room for some papers.
However, they collapse all too easily when you move the keyboard side to side, and this is a real pain. All that’s needed is a small brace to hold them in place, and it wont be long before I glue a matchstick in place for exactly this purpose.
The mouse is simple but effective, slight styled, and right hand specific, it has a wheel and three buttons (one is on the base, near where your thumb would be located). I wish there were more – I used to use the additional buttons on the MS unit to flip between pages – but it’s a minor thing that I can live without.
Otherwise, there’s little to say – it’s an optical mouse and moves the pointer when I move the mouse. What more do you want?
All in all, I’m very happy with the Logitech unit. Annoyances aside – for which I’ve now developed fixes – I don’t really have any serious faults with the unit. Even the battery life is reasonable; according to the software, both keyboard and mouse battery levels are near maximum and I’m still on the same set fitted when first received.
If you are in the market for a new keyboard and like the ‘comfort’ units, I can heartily recommend the Logitech Cordless Comfort Duo Black. If you’re not, try one of their standard wireless units.