Mac Week: Could it be magic, now? The last decade of Mac keyboard evolution

Mac Week: Could it be magic, now? The last decade of Mac keyboard evolution

Making magic takes time, you know

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Some say Apple perfected the keyboard in 2007. We're not one of them, which is why we've spent more money than we care to think about getting my supple digits accustomed to different Mac keyboards throughout the years.

The Cupertino, California-based firm pulled off a one-two sucker punch in 2015 by launching not one, but two new keyboards for the first time in eight years. Both the 12-inch MacBook and the new Magic Keyboard have proved divisive affairs with their low-slung keys, shallower than your average reality TV star.

The question is: are Apple's keyboards getting better, or worse? Let's look back at offerings we've owned in the last decade-plus, in addition to glossing over Apple's latest Magic Keyboard.

This article is part of TechRadar's Mac Week. This year marks not only the 10th anniversary of Apple's unibody MacBook, but the triumphant return of macOS. So, TechRadar looks to celebrate with a week's worth of original features delving back into the Mac's past, predicting the Mac's future and exploring the Mac as it is today.

Apple Wired Keyboard (2003)

Apple Magic Keyboard

You can almost imagine the 2003 version of Apple's Wireless keyboard in a modern art exhibition next to Tracey Emin's bed.

"Here lies a keyboard with the crumbs of a thousand lunches visible though its transparent base", a totally plausible sign could read.

Transparent cases were the norm for Apple back in 2003, following its iMac G3 and PowerMac G3 computers of the era, and this keyboard looked pretty cool at the time. It packed the standard features you'd expect from a full-sized wired keyboard, including two USB ports and full-size number pad.

Although nowhere near as satisfying to type on as today's mechanical keyboards, its spongey keys offered more travel and resistance than your average membrane keyboard and made for a curiously fulfilling typing experience.

  • Comfort rating (5 being most comfortable): 3.5
  • Travel rating (5 being deepest): 5

Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad (2007)

Apple wired keyboard

Like an accountant in a Bugatti, Apple's wired aluminum keyboard both oozes cool and can help you do your tax returns, thanks to its numeric keypad. Flatter, lighter and generally miles better looking than its 2003 predecessor, its 40 centimeters of sturdy metal build quality also make it a formidable weapon in the wrong person's hands.

Perhaps surprisingly, it remains Apple's most recent wired keyboard following the company's decision not to refresh it in 2015. Which is just as well, as its comfortable keys, handily located USB ports (one on either side) and compact nature make it a treat for the fingers and the eyes.

  • Comfort rating (5 being most comfortable): 4
  • Travel rating (5 being deepest): 3

Apple Wireless Keyboard (2007)

Apple wireless keyboard

Toting a similar design to Apple's other 2007 aluminum keyboard (you know – the wired one), Apple's Wireless Keyboard repositioned the arrow keys and removed the number pad to create a compact classic. So good, it was even worth raiding the bottoms of drawers for eight years to find re-chargable batteries with remaining fizz.

The Wireless Keyboard was so popular that early iPad cases literally bent over backwards to accommodate it. In 2012, this editor backed a Kickstarter-funded case called the TypeCover that transported both an iPad and wireless keyboard at the same time. It was expensive and rubbish, but it worked, and showed the lengths people were prepared to go to carry around their favorite hunk of metal.

  • Comfort rating (5 being most comfortable): 4
  • Travel rating (5 being deepest): 3

MacBook Air keyboard (2011)

Apple MacBook keyboard

Call time; we have a winner. For us, the 13-inch MacBook Air remains the king of Apple keyboards. It's hard to put a finger – what's that, a typing pun? – on just what makes it great.

Is it the subtle curvature of the Air's chiclet-spaced keys, which possess a near-perfect amount of just-shallow-enough travel? Or perhaps it's the spacious and comfortable aluminum wrist rest that aids you as you type. It could even be the way the keys wobble like an excited jelly.

Because perfection is boring, we'd like to see a new version of the 13-inch MacBook Air's keyboard, one with larger key caps and increased stability (like the Magic Keyboard) but possessing the same amount of travel and style. Apple, if you're listening, I have three words for you: redesigned MacBook Pro.

  • Comfort rating (5 being most comfortable): 5
  • Travel rating (5 being deepest): 3

Retina MacBook Pro keyboard (2013)

Apple MacBook Pro

Like a parent loving both children but having an unconscious preference for one over the other, this editor in particular has always preferred the Air's keyboard over the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro.

Despite offering a similar amount of travel and having the same sized keycaps, there's a subtle, but noticeable rigidity in the Pro's keys that makes typing slightly less fluid than on the Air. It's likely down to the Retina's chunkier profile under the keyboard and overall weightier feel.

Don't get me wrong, the experience isn't a bad one: it's just the Pepsi to the Air's Coke; the McDonalds to its Burger King – the Van Damme to its Schwarzenegger. Likeable and popular, but no classic.

  • Comfort rating (5 being most comfortable): 3.5
  • Travel rating (5 being deepest): 2

12-inch MacBook keyboard (2015)

12-inch MacBook

So this is, er, where things get a bit awkward. As we noted in our review of the 12-inch MacBook, you'll have no trouble typing on it for short-ish periods of time.

Silly (and wrong) people sometimes mock Macs for being "expensive Facebook machines," but in the case of the new MacBook, it's only somewhat justified. This is one of the ultimate laptops for browsing the web and doing social media stuff, bashing out short quips to friends and typing out invites to UV bangle-littered foam parties.

But not so much for serious productivity – the 1mm of travel afforded by the keyboard's Butterfly mechanism is simply too low for comfort when it comes to bashing out long documents. Wrist cramp sets in, inaccuracies creep into work and you'll have a miserable time finding a USB-C keyboard –mainly because few, if any, exist yet.

  • Comfort rating (5 being most comfortable): 2
  • Travel rating (5 being deepest): 1

Apple Magic Keyboard (2015)

Apple magic keyboard

Six keyboards in and we've arrived in the present, as illustrated by Apple's new Magic Keyboard hiding in a plant pot.

What do you mean "why?" Leaf me alone.

It was with some nervousness that we read the release detailing the new accessory, which on the plus side doesn't house Apple's Butterfly mechanisms under its keys. At the same time, its "low-profile scissor mechanism" sounded ominous – would it be as unsuitable as the 12-inch MacBook for blistering typing sessions?

Spoiler: we used the Magic Keyboard to type this very article, and it was a mighty pleasurable (and pain-free) experience. However, Apple's 2007 Wireless Keyboard this is not. The keys are much shallower (around 1mm versus 2007's 2mm), and typing feels somewhere in-between that keyboard and the 12-inch MacBook's. You really have to try it for yourself.

A nice touch over the 2007 Wireless model is its flatter profile. In the absence of a battery compartment, your wrists sit at a lower and more natural angle, which allows them to rest more comfortably on the desk – a bit like they do on the MacBook Air's keyboard.

So, that's that. If you want to check out some foliage-free images of Apple's Magic Keyboard, then click on ahead.

  • Comfort rating (4 being most comfortable): 4.5
  • Travel rating (5 being deepest): 2

Magic Keyboard: packaging

Magic Keyboard packaging

The Magic Keyboard comes in a typically snug packaging set-up from Apple. Would you expect anything less?

Magic Keyboard: size versus 2007 Wireless

Magic Keyboard

It fits snugly into the back of the 2007 Wireless keyboard, too. This is arguably Apple's most portable keyboard yet.

Magic Keyboard: On switch

Power button

Pairing the Magic Keyboard to your Mac is as easy as connecting it via the supplied Lightning cable and turning it on using the button above. Within a few seconds you'll get a message saying that you can disconnect the cable. Wizard-worthy stuff, indeed.

Magic Keyboard: side view


Magic Keyboard side view

The new Magic Keyboard is thinner, shorter and much lighter (0.5 pounds versus 0.7 pounds) than the 2007 Wireless keyboard. It truly is a portable keyboard this time around and would make a fine companion to the iPad Pro or the Mac Pro.

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Mac Week: The 10 best MacBook cases, sleeves and bags around

Mac Week: The 10 best MacBook cases, sleeves and bags around

These cases marry function and form

Introduction

MacBooks are delicate things, and it's a pity that we don't always look after them as best we should. One lapse in concentration and months of work are shattered into shards of unrepeatable swear words.

This is where a good, quality case comes in.

We've got the best in MacBook protection ranging from lightweight neoprene to sturdy watertight casing. We also cover cases that are designed for workers on the move and MacBook owners on a strict budget. And, protection doesn't just have to be functional, it can also be stylish, displaying your own artistic tastes.

So, on we go with ten of the best cases to keep MacBooks and their owners happy.

[Editor's Note: all prices are derived from Amazon, and all options are available for all MacBook models unless otherwise noted.]

This article is part of TechRadar's Mac Week. This year marks not only the 10th anniversary of Apple's unibody MacBook, but the triumphant return of macOS. So, TechRadar looks to celebrate with a week's worth of original features delving back into the Mac's past, predicting the Mac's future and exploring the Mac as it is today.

Image Credit: Etsy; HeebieJeebieMonsters

BookBook

BookBook

Price: $99 or about £65

Ever felt that the word "book" in MacBook should be taken to its literal conclusion? Well, step forward the BookBook. Made by Twelve South, a husband-and-wife company based in South Carolina who specialize in high quality Apple products, the case is available for MacBook Air, Pro and 12-inch models.

Weighing just under 390g or 14 ounces, this leather case is based on an antique hardback book complete with a cushioned spine, reinforced corners and a cozy interior for your machine to nestle in. There are dual zips with leather tags that resemble old fashioned bookmarks. The spine even sports gold decal lettering.

So real is the replication of an old tome that this case should deter would-be laptop thieves into thinking you're brushing up on some Keats, not uploading videos to the cloud. Quill not included.

Brenthaven Collins Backpack

Brenthaven Collins Backpack

Price: $149 or £115

Laptop backpacks don't have to be bulky and ugly. Brenthaven's Collins Backpack has managed to retain the the practicality of the format while remaining fashionable. They've achieved this by keeping the form factor thin and reducing the amount of external zips.

This is not to say that it's lost any of the storage capacity that a normal laptop backpack enjoys, far from it. Check out the two pockets on the outside flap, useful for storing books, accessories, chargers, tablets etc.

In the main laptop chamber, Brenthaven use their own patent-pending HDF Protection System. It's a cradle that keeps the MacBook suspended, therefore preventing damage from drops. Admittedly, it's a little on the pricey side, but there is a lifetime guarantee – so, in theory, you'll never need to buy another laptop bag again.

Caseable

Caseable

Price: about $26 or £22

If you're looking for something a bit different, then Caseable may be the one for you. For a mere little more than a night at the movies, you can turn your MacBook into a portable work of art. The Berlin- and Brooklyn-based company has a team of artists each with their own collection to choose from.

Check out Hipstory AKA Amit Shimoni's take on celebrity. There's JF Kennedy with a Hoxton style quiff, Che Geuvara in a beanie and Hillary Clinton with dip-dyed blue hair. The cases themselves are made of 5mm neoprene with classic YKK zips. And you can add a shoulder strap, too, as each case is made to order.

Speck SeeThru hardshell case

Speck SeeThru hardshell case

Price: $50 or about £35

Hardshell cases are designed to stay on a MacBook permanently to absorb any bumps and scuffs. These cases are suitable for people who need to constantly access their machine in often precarious places.

However, there are so many of these cases on offer, it's difficult to know which one is best. Top sellers are Speck's SeeThru range, and it's easy to see why. Firstly, they come in a rainbow of colors, and secondly, they're a doddle to clip on as many cheaper cases split when attached.

Plus, it's the little things that make this stand out among the crowd, rubberized feet stop slippage and the external casing is scratch and smudge resistant. Oh, and one more thing, contrary to most companies' policies, Speck actively encourage customization. Check its website for images of Etsy sellers who've added attractive paint splatters to their cases.

AmazonBasics laptop sleeve

AmazonBasics laptop sleeve

Price: about $8 or £8.49

AmazonBasics's range covers everything from guitar stands, gym mats, pet beds, batteries, cables and handily for this feature, laptop sleeves. With this budget sheath, Amazon has taken the Henry Ford approach to color choice: black, and that's it.

But, what it lacks in style it more than makes up for in value. For under a tenner, you'll receive a slim, neoprene shell with a neat protective lip that stops the zip from scratching the MacBook. There's also a version with a strap for a few extra bucks.

SubTech Sports Pro DryCase

SubTech Sports Pro-Dry Case

Price: $149 or about £110

For some, protection against the general bumps and bruises of the daily commute isn't enough. for those that demand ultimate protection, enter the SubTech Sports Pro DryCase.

The clue's in the name, it's primarily designed to keep a laptop dry while – as in the case of its video ad – being strapped to a continually submerging canoe. SubTech claims that the insides will stay dry for one hour at a depth of 5 meters. It's lined with silicon memory foam for shock protection. And, because it's going to be thrown around more than usual, the external coating is made of self-healing silicon.

Mission Leather Co. case

Mission Leather Co. case

Price: starting at $69 or about £53

Elegant, hard-wearing and won't break the bank, Mission Leather Company cases are handmade from 3mm of tough leather. Coating the inside is a layer of 100% Merino felt which prevents scratches and feels really pleasing to touch.

There are three styles to choose from: a simple slip case, one with a small clipping strap and a landscape format that looks more like a traditional school satchel. Adding to the academic look are the fastenings, which are large metal poppers that seal together with a satisfying click.

Out of the four colors, our personal favorite is the slightly battered dark brown that looks like something Harry Potter would keep spell books in.

Inateck Felt Case and mouse bag

Inateck Felt Case and mouse bag

Price: $14 or £17

This chic but understated felt slipcase is both functional and beautifully soft to the touch. Each edge is stitched around half a centimeter in, which creates a buffer that absorbs corner and edge knocks.

Upon opening the strong velcro, you'll find a neat pocket for a notepad and tablet. Further inside, the pocket for the laptop itself is lined with mold-resistant microfiber. It also comes bundled with a matching felt pouch for a mouse. All this for less than 20 bucks, you say? Sold!

Etsy for days

Etsy

Price: From about $10 (£10) to over about $3,600 (£2,800) (for a 'bling' case)

There hundreds upon hundreds of handmade MacBook cases on Etsy ranging from the bling to the monstrous.

One of our favorite shops is OhKoey, which features creations from Corri and Vicki who reside in Ocala, Florida. Their sunny location is reflected in their bright and bold fabric choices.

They produce well-made cases that are superbly lined and can be monogrammed with the owner's initials. Starting at just about $21 (about £16), they're a perfect present.

Rickshaw Bagworks Commuter Laptop Bag

Rickshaw Bagworks Commuter Laptop Bag

Price: $200 or about £150

This traditional, if a little pricey, satchel belies a technically advanced shoulder bag that's been created with cyclists in mind. On the front, in between the two sturdy clips, there's a strip of webbing to attach a bike light to.

Need to grab your phone quickly? Pop it in the rear zipped pocket, as it's divided into sections for a phone and stationery items. Inside, the top folds out like a bicycle pannier and works in just the same way.

So, you can increase either water protection by folding it down or storage capacity by unfolding it upwards. The main cavity of the Commuter Laptop Bag can store a notebook, accessories, chargers, books – you name it. Again, it's divided into several sections and includes a removable laptop sleeve for added protection. Considering the combination of function and form, not a bad deal.

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