Brief Reviews Of (Nearly) Every Mac Keyboard


Macintosh Keyboard

The original Macintosh keyboard is by far the loudest of the bunch and one of the best to type on. Each key press is not a click nor a clack, but a powerful thunk. That echoes. The case is chunkier than it needs to be in the interest of matching the beveled design of the Macintosh and its mouse. The keys are springy and activate only when fully bottomed out. The Macintosh Plus version, which I have, adds a number pad and arrow keys (albeit not in a T-shape)1.
I rate it 55 stars.

Apple Desktop Bus Keyboard

The Apple Desktop Bus Keyboard2 is first to include a power button, the Snow White design and the ADB port, three welcome additions. The lower key travel makes sustained typing a little easier. The mechanism has a very cleanly defined click, although it feels more brittle than premium.
I rate it 45 stars.

Apple Standard Keyboard

The more modern key switches and plain design of the Apple Standard Keyboard merely strip down what made the earlier keyboards exciting. Boil away the quirks of the Macintosh Keyboard and you have a keyboard that is neither old enough to be fun nor modern enough to be easy to use.
An unenthusiastic 35 stars.

Apple Keyboard II

The Apple Keyboard II is not a win-some-lose-some situation as with the Apple Standard Keyboard; it’s mostly just lose. Give it mushy keys and worse key caps in exchange for a slimmer bezel. Hooray.
I rate it 25 stars.

Apple Extended Keyboard

The legendary Apple Extended Keyboard. The Alps switches are simply superb. Not too loud, not too jarring, not too mushy, not too harsh, not too deep, not too shallow. This is the Goldilocks keyboard. The Extended Keyboard II replaces the flip-down feet for a lever that can adjust to the exact angle you want.
Bulky by modern standards, but not enough to take it down from a perfect 55 stars.

AppleDesign Keyboard

The AppleDesign Keyboard is a cheap cost-cutting imitation of the Extended Keyboard. It doesn’t even have an embedded Apple logo, just its silhouette punched into the mold of plastic. The symbolism that Apple was only a shadow of its former self in the mid-90s could not be any clearer.
I rate it 25 stars.

G3 Notebook Keyboard

Used on the iBook and PowerBook models of the time, the keys are well-sculpted and pleasantly textured. With two fiddly little tabs between the function keys, it can be flipped down to access some internal components, like the AirPort card. It leaves the keyboard a little wobbly in the middle since it is not as structurally sound. Unfortunately, later examples on the white iBook use a different type of adhesive that yellows and develops a bad smell over time.
I rate it 35 stars.

Apple Keyboard

Released alongside the G4 and G5 Macs, the Apple Keyboard epitomizes form-over-function among the desktop keyboards as the butterfly keyboard does for notebooks. The clear plastic era of Apple’s industrial design created gorgeous objects—the keys are suspended in the air. It’s a shame they feel like they’re sitting on a mushy sponge.
I rate it 25 stars.

G4 Notebook Keyboard

Used in the PowerBook G4 and early MacBook Pro. The materials changed from a hard plastic to the softest, nicest plastic keycaps I have ever felt. Combine this with their slightly sculpted form and you have the most comfortable keyboard of the bunch. While most keys are slightly concave, the arrow keys are convex to make them stand out further. With a softer key press than the G3 notebook keyboard, this is the gold standard for notebook typing.
It earns 55 stars.

Aluminum Keyboard

From 2007 to 2016, this keyboard design reigned supreme across all Macs. The flat black keycaps are more attractive and higher contrast, for sure, but at the expense of usability.
I rate it 45 stars.

Butterfly Keyboard

The Butterfly Keyboard, introduced on the MacBook and later brought to the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air of the later 2010s, has nothing going for it. The keys are so stupidly shallow that it is barely any better than typing on glass. Apple marketed the key caps as larger and closer together as though that is supposed to offer some sort of benefit, but I find it challenging to touch type if I can’t feel the gap between the keys—a kinesthetic indicator of the orientation of the keyboard beneath your fingers. The full-height arrow keys are terrible. But worst of all, it utterly fails at a keyboard’s ultimate goal of reliably typing letters. At least the OLPC XO has a terrible keyboard for a good reason; if you so much as introduce the Butterfly Keyboard into a dusty room it will break.
It deserves only 15 stars.

Intel Magic Keyboard

On their way out the door of the Intel era, Apple has successfully made an unremarkable keyboard.
I rate it 45 stars.

Keyboards Absent

Absent from this series are the pre-G3 PowerBook notebook keyboards, the Apple USB Keyboard and Apple Pro Keyboard sold alongside the iMac G3 and the new Magic Keyboard with Touch ID sold alongside the Apple silicon iMac.

UPDATE (8/4/2021): I was reminded of the Apple Adjustable Keyboard, also absent. Looks mighty fragile, no wonder they’re so expensive on eBay in working condition3.

UPDATE (8/15/2021): I, and seemingly all of my readers, have also forgotten to mention the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh with its bizarre combination keyboard/trackpad.

Footnotes

  1. A keyboard released today would have points docked for nonstandard arrow key layouts, incorrectly sized and positioned modifier keys and a missing function row because computers today demand them. The original Macintosh operating system does not require these things. If it did, it would have points taken off for including superfluous keys.
  2. Though technically released alongside the Apple IIGS, this keyboard is fully Mac-compatible.
  3. The NeXT keyboards don’t count on this list, but I’ll tell you what—if anyone sends me a working NeXT computer, I’ll review it. Although, categorically, I would sooner add the Newton keyboard to this particular list than that.