It's been just over 2 months since Apple refreshed their line of input devices alongside this year's new iMacs. I picked up the new Magic Keyboard on launch day, and after using it nearly daily for the two months since then I believe I've come to a conclusion on Apple's modern Bluetooth keyboard. I almost feel like I'm spoiling the piece by saying it this early - but for my uses it's better than the wireless keyboard in every way.
Starting with the Magic Keyboard's build, the most noticeable thing about the device is just how small it's become. With the AA-battery-tube gone Apple was able to slim down the device considerably, and the result is as close to keyboard perfection for me as anything's come yet.
The new closer-to-flat angle is easier on my wrists, the Magic Keyboard fits into my tightly-packed ONA Prince Street better than the wireless keyboard ever did, it's so light it's hard to believe it ends up feeling as rigid as it does, and when laid down on a table or desk in front of my iPad and TwelveSouth Compass stand it feels like the future is here and I'm living it. My iPad is pencil-thin in all it's capability - my keyboard should be like that too.
Take a quick look at the back of the Magic Keyboard and you'll spy what allowed for the device's downsizing. In place of the old AA-batteries is a lithium ion cell coupled to a lightning port and a physical on/off switch. All of which are pluses in my book over the wireless keyboard. To be fair, I only had to replace my wireless keyboard's batteries once in my 10 or so months with the device - but not having to worry about separate batteries and the more streamlined design the lithium cell allows for are both major benefits to me.
To go along with that, the Magic Keyboard seems to be nearly as long-lasting as it's predecessor. I used it for the same one or two hours most days in the past two months, and it's only now down to 88% from it's initial charge. Users with a more intensive daily usage pattern might have to worry about the charge more often, but for me the Magic Keyboard's efficiency means I'll effectively never have to worry about charging it. Which is great.
And as for that on/off switch, it's honestly one of my favorite changes Apple made to the design. I had big problems with the wireless keyboard's on/off button getting bumped while inside of my bag - sometimes leading to me getting locked out of my iPad from multiple bag-induced password attempts. Yes, that was just as infuriating as it sounds.
The new on/off switch mercifully solves that problem. The switch itself has a nice solid click to it, I can near instantaneously tell if the keyboard is on or off - both through sight and by feel - and I'll never have to deal with pulling out my iPad to a "wait 15 minutes" dialogue again. Only a little change, but a big improvement.
The Magic Keyboard still functions primarily as a Bluetooth device. And while there have been some improvements made to the ease of pairing with a Mac, it's still the same easy process it's always been on iOS - where I do the vast majority of my work. Turn on the keyboard, thumb the spacebar a couple of times, and you're good to go.
Coming to look at the face of the device there are both visual and functional updates to discuss. Visually all the keys are a bit larger, they now feature Apple's new San Francisco font and updated glyphs, and in the lower right corner you'll find the same revised arrow key layout from the 12" MacBook.
The look is cleaner in just about every way. Those universally larger keys make it so the spacing is equal both between themselves and at the edges of the device. The tiny bezels around the exterior combine with the slimness of the body to make this feel like a futuristic input device that's made itself available to me in my bag every day. Oh, and especially when I first got it the San Francisco font was one of the Magic Keyboard's best design highlights. The kind of highlight a geek like me smiles at every time I go to use the device. I've really enjoyed San Francisco's march to prevalence across Apple's products, and it's something I still love about the Magic Keyboard in use.
Functionally the Magic Keyboard uses a revised scissor-switch mechanism. Which Apple says - while being shallower - will allow for a more stable and pleasant typing experience. And I'll be damned if I don't agree with them. While offering somewhere around half as much travel as the old wireless keyboard, the Magic Keyboard's keys just feel so much better. Keys press straight down into the device without any wobble or play, and are accompanied by a satisfying staccato sound when bottomed out.
I'd describe the difference in feel with the Magic keyboard to be akin to the feeling of pressing your iPhone's sleep/wake button without any other interference, and then feeling the same thing through a thick third party case. Going back to the wireless keyboard - even for a small work session - felt much less precise and just sloppy in comparison. I'll gladly trade more key travel in return for a nicer feel to those keys. And as a person who regularly types out medium-length pieces on the glass of their iPad's screen, the Magic Keyboard doesn't only satisfy with it's key travel; it feels just right.
Lastly, there has been much ado online about the way that Apple has redesigned their newer keyboard's arrow keys. Where all the arrows used to be half-sized keys, the left and right arrows are now full size. This undoubtedly looks better for the uniformity of spacing on the keyboard, but comes at the price of losing the unique tactile feel of the arrow keys which many relied on to orient their hands.
At first I struggled to get used to the difference, but before long - and without even noticing it - I found a new way of orienting my right hand on the keys. Where before my pointer and ring fingers would search for the space above the left and right keys respectively, now my middle finger feels for the ridge dividing the up and down keys. It probably isn't quite as easy as with the old layout, but since acclimating to the change I haven't had any real issue with the new layout of the keys.
Now, after singing all this praise I imagine there isn't much I can do to convince you all I'm not completely in love with the Magic Keyboard. (I'm not openly denying that either 😉 ) But one can still try, and there are two things Apple could add to the Magic Keyboard in order to make it even closer to being my perfect iPad companion.
First - and I apologize for the lack of originality - is backlighting. It's not often I'm working from the kind of pitch black environment where backlighting would be essential, but I do find myself working out of dim coffee shops or from my single-lamp-lit desk in the evenings often enough to where backlighting would be convenient just for that little bit of added visibility. Especially when factoring in the Magic Keyboard's battery life - which has been far more than enough for me in regular usage - it seems like backlighting will surely come in time. The only question being how much longer we'll have to wait for it.
The second - and still mostly unoriginal - request I'd have of the next Magic Keyboard would be more iOS specific shortcuts. While Apple has come a long way this year by adding system-level shortcuts to the iPad with iOS 9's release, it still would be nice to have some basic action shortcuts - like Spotlight search, Siri, App-Switching, Multitasking, Notification Center, and a shortcut to the homescreen - right on the keyboard itself. If Apple can afford to still put obscure Mac features like the freaking eject key on the Magic Keyboard, then it ought to be able to put some iOS-specific features on there as well.
Both of these suggestions - while definitely warranted - are still pretty nitpick-y at the end of the day, and overall I've been really pleased with the Magic Keyboard. While it is a bit expensive at $99, that's a price I'd gladly pay for the benefits that the Magic Keyboard nets me in a tool that finds itself in the center of my workflow every day. It's lighter and more attractive, will never need batteries or accidentally turn on in my bag, and typing on it feels much better to my fingers. Especially when I look at it that way, $99 seems like a pretty fair price.