The Search for the Night Owl’s Ultimate Keyboard Resumes

January 1st, 2016

As many of you know, the Night Owl is pretty sensitive about keyboards, perhaps a bit obsessive. Spending hours typing every single day means that I want to be careful about what I choose. I’m not sure about my readers, but I know that the wrong keyboard — or at least the one that’s wrong for me — can cause discomfort. Poor touch can mean more errors, slower typing speeds, less productivity. You get the picture.

Well, in recent years, I’ve settled on an old fashioned keyboard with mechanical switches, the Matias Quiet Pro. Similar to the Tactile Pro, it uses specially designed “Quiet Pro” switches that mostly match the feel and action of the original Apple Extended Keyboard II. But the Tactile Pro is quite noisy, whereas the Quiet Pro isn’t silent, but gets close, but at a slight decrease in precision.

A few days ago, my Quiet Pro began to exhibit a peculiar symptom, causing my iMac to display a message about using too much USB power. Company CEO Edgar Matias says they’re sending along  the smaller, lighter Laptop Pro as a replacement, per my request.

Meantime, I’ve examined the alternatives I have accumulated over the years. One was the original Apple Wireless Keyboard that came with the iMac. I’ve barely used it. It’s not so bad, but there’s a subtle stiffness to it that seems to slow down my typing speed just a trifle. This is no doubt highly subjective, and I’ll grant that I’ve developed a few bad habits over the decades that doesn’t help matters. My ideal keyboard was once an IBM Selectric II typewriter.

Well, my next candidate was the Apple Magic Keyboard, which debuted this past fall at $99, a $30 increase over its predecessor. It offers lightning cable support for charging, and slightly larger keycaps with a shorter travel, reminiscent of the MacBook. In general use, I found it a somewhat better experience than the Wireless Keyboard, but I still kept returning to the Matias.

Now the newest Apple keyboard is a temporary visitor, and must be returned to apple soon. I also wonder whether it would be worth the extra expense over the Wireless Keyboard that I already own if I decided to buy one.

So I went to the bookshelf in search of alternatives. I came upon one possibility that I received a couple of years back as a review prospect, without the requirement for its return. It offers at least one cool idea that Apple should have considered long ago, since a variation of that feature is available on Mac note-books. That’s illuminated keys.

The keyboard I’m referring to is the Logitech Wireless Illuminated Keyboard K800, which lists for $99.99. For the same price as the Magic Keyboard, you get a full-sized device, with something referred to as a “hand-proximity backlight,” which means the lights switch on when your fingers come less than an inch from the keys. That makes sense, since the light vanishes a few seconds after you move your fingers away, thus extending battery life. In the spirit of the Apple note-book keyboards, brightness is adjusted automatically depending on ambient light. Or you can manually raise or lower the brightness via two keyboard switches.

It’s compatible with Logitech’s Unifying wireless receiver, which means that, if you don’t already have one of those small USB dongles, you’ll only need one to support any Logitech input device that supports this scheme.

The manufacture’s ad page claims that “every stroke you make is comfortable, fluid, and whisper-quiet with the PerfectStroke key system.”

Quiet it is, but it’s also a tad springy. I hope I’ll get used to it, as it has its charms. In addition to the proximity lights, it’s full-sized. You get all the keys, including the numeric keypad, which mens it’s pretty large. On the downside, it’s also technically a Windows keyboard, since the keycaps show a Windows symbol and an Alt label, and there’s no Command key. However, you can easily configure it to work on a Mac by reversing the Windows and Alt keys in the Keyboard preference pane, so they thus serve the functions of Command and Option. After a while you’ll never notice. If you’re used to working on a PC, you may not even bother.

There’s also a handy FN key to access some of the same options as a Mac keyboard, which means it works just fine, at least in terms of keyboard layout and features.

If only I can get used to the feel. But as I write this article, I’ve been using it less than a day, and I suppose I might become accustomed to it after a few days. It did take a while to take to the Magic Keyboard.

Logitech claims up to ten days battery life with the supplied micro-USB cable. That remains to be seen, but I might just put it on the charging cable once a week to make sure it’s always ready, if I decide to continue to use it. Again, the key action is a tad springy, which means it requires a little extra effort to type as quickly as I can on other keyboards.

The replacement Matias keyboard should be here in a week or so. Then we’ll see.

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