Best compact Bluetooth keyboards for Mac
What's better than wireless keyboards? Wireless keyboards that don't take up a lot of space on your desk.
Wires are ugly; they create clutter and can get tangled and generally are just a nuisance. Fortunately all Macs have had Bluetooth for a long time, so you have wireless alternatives. "Tenkeyless" keyboards eschew a numeric keypad; many people don't need them, so keypads take up extra space that you just don't need on your desk. Few companies produce Mac-specific Bluetooth keyboards; fewer still have keyboards we can recommend. Here are three that I think are excellent choices for a wireless desktop setup.
Apple Wireless Keyboard
Apple's own Wireless Keyboard is included with new iMacs, but if you don't have one, you can buy it separately for $69. Of all the keyboards I tested, this one goes with the form and design of Macs the best, and it's no wonder, given its pedigree. Its layout is also the de facto template for any other Mac-specific keyboard you're bound to find.
Crafted in aluminum and white plastic, the Apple Wireless Keyboard complements the Mac well. It has a low-profile design, Apple's classic minimalistic flair, with the rear edge of the keyboard raised for a more ergonomic position. That raised rear edge house two AA batteries that are held in place using a stopper that can be screwed in place with a coin. On the other side is a power button. A small green LED in the upper right of the keyboard is almost invisible when it's (ordinarily) off, but lights up when the keyboard is powered up or needs to be synced. The only other illumination is a green LED on the Caps Lock key.
Apple includes a pair of disposable alkaline batteries in the package, but sells rechargeable batteries separately. That makes Apple the only vendor on this list not to incorporate recharging into the keyboard. Batteries will last weeks through regular use, which makes picking up rechargeables both economical, environmentally responsible, more convenient and practically necessary.
Half-height keys grace the top of the keyboard; an escape key, 12 function keys, and an eject button. The entire function row with the exception of the F5 and F6 keys also have OS X-specific commands mapped to them (and screened on the keys), including brightness adjustment, Mission Control and Launchpad activation, media control and volume.
The keys are screened with grey characters. They hold up well to constant use but they're white-colored, so they show dirt and grime quickly. Fortunately, they clean up easily using a soft cloth sprayed with electronics cleaner (I often just use screen cleaner; it gets the job done). Inside the keyboard are "scissor" style keys mechanisms. They provide crisp, quiet and reliable key response.
Apple's had wireless Bluetooth keyboards for 10 years. The originals were bulky, demanding four AA batteries - Apple redesigned the keyboard completely in 2007, introducing its current form factor. It's been updated since then with better power efficiency and some changes to the keys, but otherwise it's the same keyboard.
I find the white keys on the Apple Wireless Keyboard to be particularly out of place. Apple is moving away from white cues - its laptops have black keys and polished black and aluminum is the current design language used throughout the product line - iMacs, laptops, even the new Mac Pro. It's ironic that Logitech and Matias have released keyboards that more closely model Apple's current design language than Apple itself.
- $69 - Buy now
Logitech Bluetooth Easy-Switch K811 Keyboard
Logitech's K811 is a slim, sleek offering that stands apart for a couple of reasons: It's the only keyboard on this list that is backlit, and it's also the only one that's expressly designed to work with up to three devices at the same time.
The K811 borrows some design cues from the Mac - it combines a brushed aluminum top case with glossy black plastic accents, matching design cues found in Macs and iOS devices - arguably better than Apple's Wireless Keyboard. The black keys are beveled with more rounded edges than the keys on Apple's Wireless Keyboard. Keyfeel is crisp and light.
Like the Apple Wireless Keyboard, the top row of function keys are half-height. Mapping is a bit different - the first three are reserved for Bluetooth syncing (more on that later); F4 activates Mission Control; F5 will activate Launchpad on a Mac or acts as a Home button on an iPad; F6 and F7 adjust brightness on a Mac; F8 and F9 adjust the keyboard's backlighting (more on that below); and F10-F13 are media keys. The Eject key does double duty as an Eject key in OS X and as an on-screen keyboard toggle in iOS.
The K811 has backlit keys - the only keyboard in this roundup with that feature. That makes it easy to use in low light conditions, just like the keyboards on MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros. The backlighting adjusts automatically based on ambient light, though you can adjust it using function keys. The K811 also incorporates a hand proximity detector, so the backlighting only activates when your hands are near the keyboard.
The K811 is very low-profile - it doesn't have the angled back edge that Apple's keyboard does, so it rests flatter on the desktop. That's arguably a poorer ergonomic angle, but the keyboard is comfortable to use and is very easy to slip into a bag or backpack.
But what sets the K811 apart is the presence of three function keys that enable it to sync with three separate Bluetooth devices. Switching between them is as easy as pressing the function key. Obviously, you can resync any other Bluetooth keyboards with multiple devices, but doing so involves extra steps. This makes it quick and convenient to switch between devices and keep working.
This makes the K811 ideal if you have a Mac, iPad, iPhone or other Bluetooth device you want to use a wireless keyboard with. In my case, I've paired with my MacBook Pro, my iPad and my Apple TV, as I much prefer to use a keyboard with the Apple TV to do searches in YouTube and other applications. (The keyboard is also easier to find than the damnable Apple TV remote, which gets lost in my living room with alarming frequency.)
The K811 sports an internal, non-replaceable battery that's rechargeable using an included USB cable. A power switch on the right side of the keyboard conserves juice when it's not in use. A battery indicator turns red when the charge is low; Logitech claims you can use a single charge for up to a year if you turn off illumination (I tested it for about a week on a single charge, with its illumination set to the default most of the time).
As an iPad accessory, the K811 doesn't have any way of propping up an iPad when it's in use, unlike some other iPad-specific keyboards that are equipped with grooves or other accoutrements to attach an iPad directly, but if you use a folio-style case that can stand the iPad on edge like I do, it's not a big issue. The flexibility of the keyboard to sync with three different devices easily outweighs any shortcoming in that department, however.
- $99.99 - Buy now
Matias Laptop Pro
I'm a huge fan of mechanical keyboards - keyboards that eschew the scissor/membrane arrangement found in so many of today's keyboards for actual key switches that harken back to the "good old days" of personal computers. It's a much more tactile and direct key response that feels better for many users and is also less prone to errors for very fast typists.
Matias is the king of Mac-compatible mechanical keyboards; their Tactile Pro line has long dominated the market, but it's taken knocks for actually being too loud. Their solution to that problem was the Quiet Pro, which felt the same but dampened the noise considerably. But the Quiet Pro is wired and it's a full-sized keyboard, complete with num pad.
Now Matias has taken what it's learned from the Quiet Pro and adapted it to a tenkeyless Bluetooth keyboard that it sells as the Laptop Pro. The result is stunning. It feels great and sounds marvelous - using it is a complete sensory experience, and my typing precision increased considerably every time I used it.
The Laptop Pro features adjustable feet on the bottom that give the keyboard a bit more rise if you want. It also has three USB ports. One of the ports can be connected to a Mac to charge the capacious internal battery (Matias says it should last for about six months per charge); the other two can be used to charge other devices like iPhones while the keyboard is charging as well. When the keyboard is working wirelessly, those ports don't do anything - you can't use them to sync your iPhone, for example.
The Laptop Pro uses sculpted key tops that are etched with not only the standard alphanumeric values you find on a regular keyboard, but something that's a bit of a Matias trademark - you can also see all of the extended keymappings used when you press the option and shift buttons. This makes finding those infrequently-accessed but still necessary characters (trademark symbol, copyright mark, etc.) that much easier to find.
Unlike Apple and Logitech's offerings, the function key row on the Laptop Pro are full-sized keys. There are 12 function keys split into three groups of four; F1-F4 adjust brightness, activate Mission Control and Launchpad; F7-F12 are media control keys, so the setup is identical to Apple's keyboard. Matias has also built in Page Up and Page Down keys on the right hand side of the keyboard.
The Laptop Pro's mechanical switch design necessitates a bulkier design than Apple's or Logitech's products. It's still easy enough to put into a laptop bag, but it'll weigh you down and bulk you up more more than an Apple Wireless Keyboard or the K811. It weighs about two pounds, easily outmassing both of the other keyboards combined.
A power button on the back of the keyboard conserves power when not in use; a blue LED tells you when the keyboard is powered up and synced to a host device.
Without question, the Laptop Pro provided the best keyfeel of any keyboard I tested. It's considerably smaller and lighter than other Matias keyboards I've tried, but it's still weightier and larger than others in this roundup. I don't think I'd travel with it as frequently as I might with, say, the K811.
It's also the most expensive of the lot, but as with many things, you get what you pay for. I have no compunction recommending this keyboard to anyone looking for a precision tactile response, though I recognize that not everyone will like either the feel or the design, so as in all things, your mileage may vary.
- $169.95 - Buy now
Each of the keyboards on this list suits a different purpose - the Apple Wireless Keyboard is a "straight from the factory" product that is well suited for users who feel more comfortable with brand consistency. The K811 is a versatile, slim keyboard that's an excellent choice for users who want the ability to maintain connections with multiple devices. And the Laptop Pro is a terrific choice for fast typists and others looking for maximum precision out of a smaller keyboard. I'm curious to know what features you find important in a keyboard. So please speak up in the comments and let me know!
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