logitech slim combo keyboardLogitech’s Slim Combo for iPad Pro keyboard is a mixed bag. Its good points are excellent. Its less good features are, well, disappointing.

I’m testing the 12.9-inch iPad Pro version. You can buy it nn the New Zealand online Apple store for $250. At the time of writing JB Hi-Fi has it for $230.

This compares with $270 for Apple’s Smart Keyboard. So it’s cheaper than Apple’s keyboard, but not a lot cheaper.

You can’t judge the Slim Combo without reference to the Smart Keyboard. The pair are a head-to-head choice. In some ways they are polar opposites. What one keyboard gets right, the other gets wrong.

Great typing

Let’s start with the keys themselves. Logitech’s Slim Combo feels great when you’re typing. Keys are back-lit. This makes it easier to use in low light conditions.

The keys have positive travel. They move more than on the Smart Keyboard. The keys stretch across 270mm wide and 95mm deep. That’s a little less depth that ideal, but the width is fine.

Each key is about the same size as on a normal keyboard: 15mm square for most keys. The top row of function keys are only half height. They are a little more cramped than on the Smart Keyboard.

In practice this means you can touch type on the Slim Combo without giving it a second thought. There’s no audible click, but enough of a clatter to let you know what’s going on.

If you loves Apple kit, but don’t like the new laptop keyboards, then the Slim Combo and an iPad Pro could meet all your typing-on-the-go needs. It feels better than the keyboard on Apple’s alternative.

The only negative I found with the keyboard is when it comes to reaching up and touching the screen. Somehow that is more comfortable on the Smart Keyboard.

During testing it felt fine. When, after testing, I retried the Smart Keyboard I realised I prefer Apple’s version. There’s not a lot in it and my preference could be a matter of familiarity.

Two parts

Logitech made the Slim Combo in two parts; the keyboard itself and a plastic case. This does two things. First, it turns the Slim Combo into a protective shell when you’re on the move. Second, there’s a Microsoft Surface-Style kickstand.

There is also a nylon loop to store an Apple Pencil. While handy, it looks a little tacky when the Slim Combo is new, I can only imagine it will get worse over time.

This sounds better on paper than the Slim Combo is in practice. While the keyboard is sound, the plastic case has a down-market feel.

It’s not as solid as I’d like. When you use the kickstand on a desk, there’s a disturbing wobble. You can’t use the Slim Combo on your lap — if that’s important to you — because the set up is too flimsy. I also found the Slim Combo doesn’t work as well on an airplane as the Smart Keyboard.

Another negative is the case is a pain to get on and off the iPad. My iPad Pro may be a laptop replacement when I’m on the move, but at home it’s a tablet. The case adds nothing useful at those times. It feels as if the Slim Combo wants you to use the iPad as a laptop all the time.

It adds bulk. While the Slim Combo is light, it is also bulky.

Logitech Slim Combo verdict

Logitech has made great iPad keyboards in the past. This doesn’t live up to the brand’s reputation. There’s not enough here to pull me away from Apple’s keyboard.

That said, the Slim Combo is a welcome alternative to the Smart Keyboard. Some readers might prefer its typing action and there will be others who like the kickstand.

macbook pro keyboard

Apple introduced its butterfly laptop keyboard design for the 2015 12-inch MacBook. It is shallower than previous keyboards.

The key action is less positive than on older Apple laptops like the MacBook Air or earlier MacBook Pros. The 2016 12-inch MacBook uses the same keyboard.

Put aside for one moment the Touch Bar that appears on most 2016 MacBook Pro models. We’ll look at that in-depth in another post. What remains of the keyboard looks like those on Apple’s recent MacBooks.

The Force Touch trackpad on the 15-inch MacBook Pro is huge. Because of its size, the MacBook Pro keyboard sits further up the body, closer to the screen. This doesn’t make any difference to typing in practice.

Flush versus recessed keys

Although it has the same underlying design, it is not identical. On the 12-inch MacBook the keys are flush with the body. The new MacBook Pros have keys recessed a millimetre or so below the body.

Apple has improved the butterfly key action. There is more click and greater travel when you hit a key. You hit them harder.

The keys sound louder when you type. This audio feedback helps but I can’t articulate or measure how that works. In practice I found it all adds up to make typing and touch typing easier than on the 12-inch MacBooks.

MacBook Pro keyboard for touch typists

When I first used the 12-inch MacBook keyboard it took a while to adjust my touch typing technique. That’s not unusual, this happens every time I use a different machine or keyboard.

After a few hours I was typing with ease. I made a few more errors than before, but there was no performance hit. At that stage I decided the butterfly keyboard was an acceptable change.

Then I returned to the old MacBook Air keyboard. It was like swapping smart new shoes for comfortable slippers.

Although I didn’t get through my work faster, it felt right. There’s a more pleasing bounce to the keys that feels right or maybe it’s a matter of familiarity.

Comfy

There is less of a comfy slippers effect moving back and forth between the 2016 MacBook Pro and the Air. It could be down to what some describe as muscle memory.

My error rate is still higher on the new keyboard, but not as high as it was on the 12-inch MacBooks. Unlike then, this time I’m certain that it will soon be back to normal.

The new keyboard is not without flaws. The up and down arrow keys are too small and close-packed. They are hard to use. There’s a good chance you’ll hit the wrong one by accident. Yet with the trackpad, there is less need for arrow keys.

Flat, less travel keyboards seem to be a feature of 2016 premium laptops.

Surface Book comparison

Microsoft echoes some aspects of the butterfly keyboard in its Surface Book[1]. Both are flat, both keyboards have a hard feel. If anything the Surface Book keyboard has a better layout and spacing. In practice the typing experience is similar.

Some other reviewers are unhappy about the missing esc key. The good news is that it always turns up on the Touch Bar when you need it. This is not a real issue.

You might argue that a MacBook Pro is not the device for someone who spends a lot of time typing so all this is academic. That view is nonsense. A keyboard is why you buy a computer instead of a tablet. It is not an essential component it is the essential component.

There is always a payoff between portability and function with laptop keyboards. Apple has balanced the two well here. You may find better keyboard experiences elsewhere. Yet the MacBook Pro keyboard goes well beyond being an acceptable compromise given the size and weight. It’s a worthy keyboard for a Pro laptop.

There is so much to write about the MacBook Pro that I’ve broken my review down into a few separate stories. Look out for the next part where I look closer at the Touch Bar

  1. The MacBook Pro and Surface Book have a different fundamental design. They come from different philosophies of what modern laptops should be. Yet in many ways they are head to head rivals. I’ll explore this idea in more depth elsewhere.  ↩

iPad Pro Smart Keyboard Cover
iPad Pro Smart Keyboard Cover

Apple’s Smart Keyboard Cover feels like an essential partner for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. That’s not the case with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

Both Smart Keyboard Covers are compact, light and made from a nylon fabric. On the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro the Smart Keyboard Cover adds what amounts to a full keyboard.

It turns the larger iPad into something more like, but the not the same as, a hybrid PC.

While it’s not a perfect keyboard, it doesn’t fall far short of ideal on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

Smart Keyboard Cover misses

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro Smart Keyboard Cover misses ideal by a larger margin. You may think that it is only a matter of size. That’s true up to a point.

Yet the different, smaller size changes the nature of the beast more than you’d expect.

There are two main reasons for this. First, the reduced size of the 9.7-inch Smart Keyboard Cover means it is harder to type on. It’s harder still for touch typists.

Because the smaller keyboard harder to work with, you’re less inclined to use it. It’s not the first port of call when you need to get words into the iPad Pro.

This gets you into a vicious circle. Because the small keys aren’t always where your fingers expect, you are less productive. This means you use it less. Which in turns mean your fingers have less opportunity to learn where the keys are.

On screen typing easier

Second, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is smaller and lighter. This makes it easier to pick up and use in the portrait orientation. Smart Keyboard Covers only use the landscape orientation.

Typing on the glass from the portrait orientation is easy and comfortable. At least it is in my hands. I found myself doing this all the time.

In the end I took the Smart Keyboard Cover off the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, swapping it for a Silicon case and a Smart Cover without a keyboard.

The plan was to see how long I’d go before I needed to go back to the Smart Keyboard Cover. That was six weeks ago. Today I packed the Smart Keyboard Cover back in its case ready to return to Apple.

If you need a keyboard to go with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, this is a good choice. For some people it will be an occasional option. For others it will be a permanent fixture, in effect turning the iPad Pro into a small light laptop or hybrid.

It’s worth remembering the 9.7-inch iPad Pro can also work with many of the third party Bluetooth keyboards on the market. But for me, I’m sticking with the screen keyboard. I find it suits how I work.

BlackBerry Classic qwerty phoneAt the New York Times Ian Austin writes:

…struggling Canadian smartphone maker BlackBerry made a sharp detour from its history on Tuesday when it announced it was discontinuing the last phone to have the traditional version of the company’s iconic physical keyboard and trackpad.

BlackBerry qwerty keyboard phones were essential business tools back when most other so-called smartphones were toys. You could handle mail while on the move, write memos and short notes.

While a few journalists typed news reports using the tiny keys, the ergonomics bordered on criminal.

As everyone knows, BlackBerry fell from favour as Apple’s iPhone and Android climbed to success. It’s amazing the business has lasted this long, Nokia did not.

When, last year, BlackBerry returned to the qwerty keyboard design with the BlackBerry Classic phone, it was so retro I described it as a Steampunk phone.

BlackBerry claimed typing on a tiny keyboard was more productive than using a screen keyboard. My testing found that wasn’t true. While it was satisfying to feel keys move, it did nothing for my writing speed. In fact, the tiny screen made me less productive.

It looks odd, but the Truly Ergonomic Mechanical Keyboard delivers on its promise of pain-free typing

The keyboard has its frustrations, but it works.

It’s now several weeks since I took on the Tek, and, yes, I can report it keeps RSI at bay — just as it promises.

I have minor RSI problems and, although I still find the Tek’s unusual layout strange, my arms and fingers feel much less stressed.

The Truly Ergonomic Keyboard, to give it its full name, has a couple of ergonomic things going for it — it’s strange, but effective layout and the fact it is a mechanical keyboard.

Mechanical keys

But let’s start with first impressions. While it wasn’t love at first sight — it’s not a very pretty keyboard — I immediately took to the Tek’s mechanical keys. You get a satisfying tactile feedback when you strike them.

It is like using a typewriter. I also like the Tek’s small footprint. It compares well with that of the Microsoft ergonomic keyboard I had been using. A big beast, it dominated my desk. The Tek is 60 percent the size of Microsoft’s keyboard. I really noticed the difference — much more desk working space.

The other first impression concerned the weirdness of the keyboard’s layout, which does, however, start to make sense after a while. For instance, the Enter/Return key is in the middle of the keyboard, rather than on the outer right (which requires you have to use your weak pinkie to strike it). I have always found this forced use-of-the-pinkie nonsensical.

Using one’s much stronger thumb, to strike the Enter key when it is placed in the middle of the keyboard makes a lot more sense. The only problem is getting used to a different keyboard layout, especially if you still use other keyboards.

I haven’t been able to touch-type properly on the Tek during my several weeks of use and still find myself having to look at the keys. But the increased comfort of use and the lessening of my mild but sometimes painful RSI symptoms make it worth it. Having to switch between keyboards is the main issue for me.

However, the need for ergonomic keyboards is not going to go away. We now have a generation of children growing up who are using keyboards from their earliest days and will likely use them for decades. And touch pads and voice recognition software are unlikely to replace keyboards completely.

Split_Symmetrical_Ergonomic_Keyboard_227 Staggered_ergonomic_keyboards

What we liked

The Tek keyboard’s pluses are that it is a mechanical keyboard and that it has an unusual and symmetrical layout (see images). Commonly used keys, like the Enter, Delete, Backspace and Dash keys, are placed in the middle of the keyboard, so you use your stronger thumbs – or, in my case, index fingers – to strike them. No stretching delicate pinkies to the far reaches of the keyboard. However, there is a second Backspace key in the top right-hand corner, which I found useful.

The standard QWERTY keyboard has been in use since the 1860s. It requires you to splay your elbows and twist your wrists out slightly too, causing strain. The Tek seeks to overcome this and keep your arms and wrists straight by placing the commonly used keys in the middle of the keyboard. This makes for more width in the keyboard overall (despite the smaller footprint) so you do, indeed, hold your arms straighter, as it makes the keys symmetrical – see image. The only problem is your fingers don’t know quite where to go if you’re used to touch-typing on a conventional keyboard, and especially if you use both.

This symmetrical key alignment is the Tek’s big point of difference – it’s not the only mechanical keyboard out there. And it’s a valuable difference as it cuts back on hand and arm strain when typing.

Less tiring

But the Tek’s mechanical action is also important. Keyboards that use mechanical switches require less effort to press down the keys, so are less tiring on the hands. I found this to be true.

The clicking sound and tactile feel of the dish-shaped keys also help you not press too hard. Ideally, says the Tek brochure, you should “float” your hands above the keyboard for maximum comfort. But getting to this nirvana is hard if you are accustomed to the kind of membrane keyboards used on laptops and tablets, and still need to use them. These keyboards give much less physical feedback, so you tend to hit the keys harder. It seems necessary too. I want to “float” with the Tek because it really does cut back on finger and hand strain. But I’m not there yet.

As a check, I did a conscious comparison of the Tek with my excellent Logitech iPad keyboard and I definitely found I had to hit the Logitech’s flat membrane keys harder. My Mac PowerBook laptop proved better but still not as good as the Tek, especially for prolonged typing.

Using the Tek got me thinking about that other ergonomic problem – the mouse. Stretching for the mouse also causes strain. There is still some stretch with the Tek keyboard, so I went googling and found the Roller mouse. This could sit well with the Tek if mouse fatigue is also an issue.

What’s not so good

It’s noisy – all that clicking. Lots of people like the sound, including me, but it could annoy others if you share office space.

The Caps-lock position. The key for this is above the number keys, which is a bit odd, although I can live with it.

There is also a Gmail problem – the two space bar keys (another unusual Tek feature) seem to get stuck sometimes and either won’t work at all or you need to click the mouse to activate them. Alternatively, they act as the ‘Enter’ key and take you to the next line in the email. Again, clicking on the mouse sorts this out, although it’s not ideal. This is a Gmail issue, not a Tek one though.

Re-programmable keys are another special aspect of the Tek. This sounds good, but we are getting into seriously geeky territory here. I’m not sure many people want to play with their keys this way. However, it makes sense if you have an IT department, or just like tinkering. It means the keys can be optimised for other languages, for example. Also, one keyboard reviewer complained about thumb strain, so re-mapping some keys could make sense for some users.

Cost – there have been some complaints about the cost – US$249. However, mechanical keyboards tend to have a long life and other mechanical keyboards are also pricey. Much cheaper is my Microsoft ‘natural’ ergonomic keyboard, at about NZ$60 nowadays, but it comes with cheap membrane keys.

Conclusion

Yes, the Tek is worth it. It’s not very pretty, but it is comfortable and non-pain inducing to use. I won’t be able to touch-type properly on it so long as I continue to use other keyboards, but I can live with this because of the other benefits.

Keyboard strain issues tend not to be taken as seriously as other industrial injuries, but they are quite as real. So it’s good to see an effective keyboard that doesn’t look like an ugly medical device – announcing your problem to the world – or doesn’t take over your desk it’s so big.

USEFUL EXTRA: Researching this article took me to some useful places. This website on RSI and keyboard issues might be helpful for some as it features some anti-RSI exercises – stretches are known to help.

Bill Bennett writes: I asked Johanna to review the Truly Ergonomic Keyboard as she has experienced RSI pains with everyday keyboards.