THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
I’m sure it wasn’t meant as a silly joke, but the other day, I caught yet another article about the “turkeys” of 2015, when I noticed a banner ad for Windows 10 on the right side of the page. Surely it must be a coincidence, I thought, a possibly accidental placement by an ad server.
I mean it’s not that Windows 10 is necessarily a turkey, although it debuted in rather rough shape, with some features not fully formed. With lots of updates, it has improved, but it’s a huge question mark whether users of Windows 7 are inclined to upgrade. It may be more about attracting disappointed users of Windows 8/8.1, where the real problems lay.
While Microsoft has reverted to a more traditional look and feel with Windows 10, it’s hard to say there are compelling reasons for Windows 7 users to change. It’s not that the new features are necessarily so compelling as to make it a must-have. It does appear the migration rate has slowed since the initial early-adopter rush. More to the point, Microsoft didn’t exactly endear itself to some customers by having the new OS download in the background whether you wanted it or not. It also seems that the installer has also started for others unwanted. That’s no way to encourage people to upgrade.
The lifestyle ads that Microsoft is running on TV stations just aren’t appropriate for an OS that really caters more to the business world. It’s not that being able to jot notes on web sites is something that young people will magically embrace. Or even care about.
In any case, on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented columnist and frequent guest Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” He returned this week to discuss Black Friday sales, and how he recently had his Internet connection upgraded so he finally receives speeds that are appropriate to the power user (36 megabits downloads, 9 megabits uploads). He also talked about the possible failure of the Mac Pro that received a major upgrade in late 2013 and hasn’t been upgraded since. Kirk has moved on to a 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display. There was also a brief discussion of the ongoing VW emissions scandal.
You’ll also heard from Jeff Carlson, Senior Editor for TidBITS, who offered a lengthy discussion about Apple Watch, partly in response to one tech pundit’s claim, in a major newspaper, that this gadget was a turkey. Jeff explained why he disagrees. He also talked about the use case of the new iPad Pro, about Tim Cook’s claims that this, and an iPhone, are his only computers when traveling. Jeff also responded to the question of whether he’d buy an Apple Car, assuming one appears and the price is reasonably affordable.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a nuanced view of the controversial subject of UFO abductions with noted researcher Kathleen Marden. She’ll focus heavily on investigative methods that include forensic hypnosis of those who claim to have been abducted, and she will also talk about the mistakes made by some investigators, who are untrained in the proper techniques of retrieving information, which may contaminate the results. Madden is a professional ufologist known around the world for her work as an alien abduction/ET contact researcher, author and lecturer. She is associated with the Mutual UFO Network, as Director of Experiencer Research, and the Foundation for Research into Extraterrestrial Encounters.
REVISITING THE APPLE MAGIC KEYBOARD
Before I get started, I really wonder what Apple means by “Magic Keyboard.” I mean, what’s magic about it anyway? Is it any more “magical” than the Wireless Keyboard that it replaced for $30 more? What’s so different to demand a higher price? Will your keyboarding experience be so much better? Or is it all about the embedded lithium-ion battery, charged with a lighting cable, which pairs when it’s charging for the very first time?
In my initial review, published earlier this month, I was skeptical. I couldn’t see much of an advantage. But I was also coming from a totally different sort of keyboard, the Matias Quiet Pro, which uses a traditional mechanical switch close in feel to the original Apple Extended Keyboard II. The keys have a long travel, and feel fairly similar to the electronic typewriters of old. It helps that Matias has managed to managed to tame the noise, so the incessant clacking is mostly subdued.
Indeed, it was sufficiently quiet as to not qualify in a movie or TV product placement, since computers, Mac or PC, must always have loud keyboards to draw attention to themselves when used as a plot device. It’s also curious that the onscreen interfaces seem largely to descend from DOS and the early graphical operating systems. I suppose it’s intended to drive home the point that this is a computer doing computer-type things. Take a look at the visuals in the CBS crime drama, “CSI: Cyber.” In that show, instead of cutting up dead bodies — and that is still done on occasion — they cut up computer code to catch nasty online criminals.
In any case, Apple ditched old style keyboards and went to slim, trim, with keys that had limited travel. They were quiet enough, of course. The Wireless Keyboard, first released in 2007, connected via Bluetooth, and eschewed the numeric keypad to save space. If it was wireless, it had to be slimmer. The basic feel was extremely similar to Apple notebooks, and I can see the wisdom. It meant that you didn’t have to waste precious minutes to adapt when moving from one to the other and back again.
This is no doubt part of Apple’s tight ecosystem ethic. Everything must work smoothy together, even though iOS remains very different from OS X. And, no, I don’t see that changing at any time in the near future.
That takes us to the Magic Keyboard, where there are actually several changes that may not be apparent unless you take a moment to do some comparisons with its predecessor. Indeed, when I dismissed it so readily, I had been using a Matias keyboard for several years, so beyond occasionally switching over to my aging MacBook Pro, and an occasional foray to a client’s home or office, where variations of an Apple aluminum keyboard were used, I was set in my ways.
I thought about this for a while and decided I hadn’t really given the Magic Keyboard its due. I pronounced it mostly the same as the Wireless Keyboard and gave up on it after a few days, when I wrote the mostly negative review.
While most of you probably don’t pay much attention to which keyboard you use, it is a very acquired taste, and your preferences are apt to vary from mine. I also had a very limited window of opportunity, since the Magic Keyboard, the Magic Mouse 2 and the Magic Trackpad 2 had to be returned to Apple.
The Magic Mouse 2, aside from having a lightning charging port underneath, didn’t seem much different from its predecessor, which I had used, happily, since buying the 27-inch iMac in 2009. I never took to the original Magic Trackpad, and found the successor worse in a key respect. Click action, which uses a Taptic Engine, felt soft and springy and was thus awkward to use. Apple’s Force Touch, which debuted on the Apple Watch, expanded to some Mac notebooks, and was morphed into 3D Touch on the iPhone, didn’t really appeal to me. A right click to deliver a context menu was all I needed.
Well, I asked Apple to extend the deadline on the Magic Keyboard loan, while returning the other input devices. I set about to again compare it to the Wireless Keyboard. Although superficially similar at first glance, the surface differences are obvious. The function keys on the new keyboard are full-height rather than half-height. The left and right navigation keys, which double, with “fn,” as Page Up and Page Down, are also full-height.
The rear isn’t elevated quite as much (it’s also not adjustable), and that took some getting used to. I’m accustomed to raising the rear of the Matias keyboard, but I’m told that it’s better to leave it flat from an ergonomic standpoint. But so long as I’m not suffering any ill effects either way, I suppose it’s not doing any noticeable damage. You don’t want to know how long I’ve been using keyboards, sometimes for extended day/night sessions, and my wrists are in pretty good shape for my advanced age.
The other significant difference between the two is key travel. It’s fairly short on the Wireless Keyboard, and it appears to be half that on the Magic Keyboard, which is closer to the one on the MacBook, but still not quite as short. Short travel is said to be a negative. But that’s not necessarily true.
First, I worked on the Wireless Keyboard for a few days, noticing that the keyboard feel wasn’t exactly smooth. The keys seemed a tad stiff. Maybe it’s a sample defect, but I found it all-too-easy to miss the spacebar. I just couldn’t type quite as fast as I managed on the Matias.
So I returned to the Magic Keyboard and worked on it for a couple of more days. Despite the shorter key travel, my fingers managed the typing process in a more spirited fashion. Accuracy remained high, and I didn’t miss the spacebar near as much. It just felt more comfortable.
Will I feel disappointed when it’s returned? That’s a good question. The things that bothered me on the Wireless Keyboard are mostly absent. Either way, my fingers do not ache, and the fact that the rear is only slightly elevated doesn’t seem to be a negative factor. Is it possible Apple really tested this thing and found that its customers could type comfortably, more rapidly, and more accurately, without suffering wrist discomfort? I do not pretend to know what sort of testing was done, or why some of the design decisions were made other than for appearance sake.
It would be unfortunate if minimalist looks rule above convenience, accuracy and comfort. But I can say that the Magic Keyboard definitely does not feel the same as the Wireless Keyboard, and it’s very much a polar opposite to the Matias Quiet Pro, or any Matias keyboard.
If you get one free with your new iMac, you probably won’t have reason to change. If it becomes an optional purchase, you can probably find something perfectly usable for less. Logitech offers the K380 Multi Device Bluetooth Keyboard for $39.99. It’s said to be compatible with Mac, Windows, Chrome OS, iOS and Android. Keycaps are circular, and it uses half-height oval keys for the function and navigation. Since I’ve never used one, I can’t tell you if it’s any better than Apple’s. Maybe you’ll find it on display at a local consumer electronics store, such as Best Buy, so you can try one out.
I also brought out an old Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard, stored for several years, as a comparison. It’s powered by ambient light, so you don’t have to worry about recharging or replacing batteries, and pairs with Logitech’s Unifying receiver. It’s a mostly full-sized keyboard, with a numeric keypad, but the function keys are about a third smaller. Keyboard feel is also a tad stiff, similar to the Wireless Keyboard but with greater travel, but I can raise it at the rear. The fluorescent light in my home office was sufficient to power it up after a few seconds of exposure.
The current K750 is black (mine is white), and it sells for about $50.
Regardless of what choice you make, you’ll want to be sure you have a money-back guarantee. If you have a chance, try it out at a local store to see if it’s really suited for your needs. However, it may take a few days to be certain that it’ll remain comfortable and fluid under regular use. Or maybe you just don’t care, so long as it’s cheap. I still cannot see why Apple priced the Magic Keyboard at $99.
THE FINAL WORD
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