Be More Productive: Try a Different Keyboard

2 minute read
| Dr. Mac's Rants & Raves
“If you’re not typing at least 40 words per minute, you’re wasting time. Possibly the easiest way to get more done in less time is to become a better typist.”

I said those words in my first book, Dr. Macintosh, back in1989, and I said them again in Working Smarter for Mac Users (shipping this Friday).

Last week I showed you how you could improve your typing skills for free at www.typingtest.com. But that’s only half the story. I also type significantly faster on a third-party keyboard than on any keyboard Apple has made in the last decade…

I Like Travel

The problem is key travel. In its quest to produce the thinnest notebook computers, Apple has made keyboards thinner and thinner; today the keys travel a fraction of the distance they used to travel when pressed. The result is that the keys bounce less and are easier to press by accident.

If you’re already a decent touch typist, you might want to try a third-party keyboard to see if it can improve your typing speed and/or accuracy even further.

My Third-Party Keyboard has Gigantic Keys

My current keyboard of choice is the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, a relic I’ve relied upon for over a decade.

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It’s not even a Mac keyboard, but the key travel and bounce are superb. And the angle of the keyboard and spacing and size of its keys are the most comfortable I’ve ever found for my admittedly larger-than-average hands. I prefer it by a landslide over any Apple keyboard produced in the 21st century, which feel squished and cramped and un-bouncy to my fingers.

I also like that the Microsoft keyboard is cheap; you can pick one up at Amazon.com for around $40. I’m on my third one in 10 years. But I’m rough on keyboards and put a lot of miles on mine each year. I like it so much that I recently ordered two spares, just in case it goes out of production like my previous favorite, the Apple Extended Keyboard II (circa 1989).

The Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4000’s key travel and bounce are reminiscent of that old Apple Extended Keyboard II. Shown below, we lovingly referred to as the Aircraft Carrier Saratoga back in the day, because it looked kind of like an aircraft carrier.

The aircraft carrier-like Apple Extended Keyboard II (long discontinued) is a classic remembered fondly by many.

The aircraft carrier-like Apple Extended Keyboard II (long discontinued) is a classic remembered fondly by many.

The point is that I know I can type noticeably faster on my Microsoft keyboard (and before that, my Apple Extended Keyboard II) than any modern Apple keyboard. I’m not saying a different keyboard will magically make you type faster, but it could.

Matias Tactile One

There is one more thing: The Matias Tactile One is a keyboard engineered to feel like the old Apple Extended Keyboard II. That’s because they use key switches identical (or almost identical) to the ones in Apple’s old keyboards. It’s pricey ($149), but you may find it easier to get used to than the oddly-shaped, Windows-oriented Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4000.

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10 Comments Add a comment

  1. I need to try the Matias. All of the “ergonomic” keyboards are out as they have the 6 key on the wrong side. (Typing classes teach using the right index finger for the 6 key, not the left.)

  2. YES!!
    A good keyboard is essential. My iMac came with the Apple Magic Keyboard. I’ve tried to like it. It’s good-ish. But I’ve been thinking more and more of replacing it.
    First it’s not extended. Seriously a desktop computer keyboard that’s not extended? What the heck was Apple thinking?
    Second, is the key travel issue you mention. I want a keyboard where I feel like I’m pushing keys, not stroking a cat.

    I will keep using the Magic Keyboard. I’m looking at pairing it with my iPad for work on the road. I had a Belkin keyboard case a year or so ago. I was just garbage, so bad that I swore off Bluetooth keyboards. The Magic Keyboard has restored my faith in the technology. It’s got good battery life, measured in weeks, not hours like the Belkin, and does not drop pairing every time you type a word with a vowel in it. I’m expecting it to work much better.

    Thanks for the keyboard suggestions.

  3. furbies

    Did anyone ever make an ADB to USB adapter that support the Apple Extended Keyboard II ?

    I ask, as I have a couple of the Apple Extended Keyboard II lurking in the garage……

  4. Bob thanks for these great articles. These are all bigger/better alternatives but another more zenlike approach is the upcoming Textblade by Waytools. It was originally positioned as a great keyboard for mobile devices but most of the testers, myself included, have found it to be a game changer even at your desk.

    My own first impressions using the Textblade (but be sure to search the forum for many more recent posts from testers who wax poetically about their experiences much better than me).

    Sadly this product has been delayed from general release several times over, but I have my fingers crossed that it will be out soon. There are hundreds of testers and the feedback seems uniform.

  5. vr8ce: You get used to the 6 key’s placement (and left-handedness) pretty quickly with the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4K…

    Idea2go: the Textblade looks intriguing. I’ll have to check it out when/if it ships.

    furbies: I’m pretty sure I had something that converted ADB to USB and used the Saratoga for a long time after ADB ceased to be.

    Everyone else: Thanks for the comments! Keep ’em coming!

  6. Ironically, I have an Apple extended keyboard and really like it a lot. The apple keyboard feels faster to me. I am a pretty fast typist in my own right, but my work has a mix of older Dell and HP keyboards. I find that my fingers have to lift higher on those keyboards and often I strike 2 keys at the same time, as my finger hasn’t ‘traveled’ far enough before I start pressing down for the next character. I think that’s why my ‘delete’ key is worn. (the ‘texture’ is rubbing off that key)

    I really wish I could use my apple extended at work, as I can really press into 80 wpm if I am well caffeinated! 🙂 — if you have kids, urge them to take a typing class or use typing software to improve key strike and position. Helps a lot.

    Thanks for the great writing!

  7. Oh no!!! I’ve been using the same keyboard at work for probably 5 years, the Microsoft 4000. I’ve been looking at WASD keyboards for home use due to their potential custom beauty, but maybe I should just grab a 4k for home. :/ Currently using a solar keyboard at home with low profile keys–spilled wine on it and now the keys don’t press evenly and I can’t clean under the keys. since I’m already used to the 4000, that behemoth might be more practical all around.

  8. lydiaolivier: Andy Ihnatko once recussitated a keyboard that had Coke® spilled on it by washing it in a dishwasher (no soap) and letting it dry for a few days before trying to use it again.

    And, I think it worked. 🙂 YMMV

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