MacBook Drops, Keyboard Irks

Dave Zatz —  May 16, 2006

Let me start by saying I’ve been anxiously awaiting the MacBook — small form factor, dual bootable, reasonable price point! But having spent about 30 minutes exploring it, I may have to pass.

I want to love the MacBook and it suits my purposes perfectly, but the keyboard just isn’t working for me. I realize I didn’t give it a lot of time to grow on me, as an Apple Store clerk insisted it would (How does he know that?). I was also typing at a less than ideal level standing at the Genius Bar. On the other hand, I type hours a day (on various devices, in various positions) and am a graduate of the Thinkpad School of Keyboards. My main complaint is what I want to call a lack of travel followed by a lack of bounce. The stroke just feels too short and too firm — it’s somewhat jarring. The other problem I have is the unfamiliar feel of the keyboard; the keys aren’t very concave and I’m a little too cognizant of the edges or space between them. For comparison, I like the feel of the MacBook Pro keyboard.

Several folks wanted me to report back on the new glossy screen – I can tell you it’s similar to what many PC laptops offer these days. There is more glare/reflection, but the extra contrast is nice and offsets it. (The reflection in the photo is the overhead lights in the Apple Store, my cell phone doesn’t have a flash.) Design-wise, that recessed keyboard allows the closed laptop to have a very sleek form and subtle magnetic closure. The black finish is nice and tasteful, though I was originally afraid it was going to be too glossy.

So what’s the verdict? I want to love it, but I’m not sure I will gamble $1200 on getting used to the keyboard. I see several more visits to the Apple Store in my future…

Those of you in the DC area: Montgomery Mall has both black and white MacBooks in stock (where I conducted my research), while downtown Bethesda told me they just have white. I saw some Flickr photos of a black MacBook purchased at Pentagon City. The Tyson’s Apple Store said they hadn’t received a shipment yet.

33 responses to MacBook Drops, Keyboard Irks

  1. That IBM Modem M has you spoiled rotten. I know, I have one. All other keyboards are junk compared to the M.

  2. does the keyboard have a backlight like the macbook pro does?

    also isn’t purchasing the black macbook a waste of money since it costs an extra $200 and all that is different is that it has a 80GB HDD instead of a 60GB HDD (and its black).

  3. The MacBook keyboard is not backlit. It’s a nice feature to have, but something I could live without.

  4. Apple should have fired that keyboard engineer years ago. Their quality is crap and they have allowed sub-par to be acceptable. EVERYONE should boycott Apple and these horrid keyboards.

  5. its a damn keyboard, get over it!

  6. Get a life Ben Ben.

    It’s a keyboard. Some people will like it, some people will hate it. To me, it reminds me of the PC Jr’s keyboard (now there’s a flashback).

    But recommending a general boycott of Apple because you don’t like the keyboard on one of their notebooks? Overreact much do you?

  7. I used to feel just as you do – over a short period of time (weeks not months) I became acclimated to the Powerbook keyboard and now touch type on it better than the old skool logitech I used prefer on my Windows box.

    Ultimately the Apple engineers do know better and with a little more use I imagine you will feel the same. Apple makes such tightly integrated machines – I feel more productive and create finer/richer content when working on any of my macs versus windows – Ubuntu is a close second for me productivity wise and is a great choice for adding new life to an old machine or laptop and comes pretty close to OS X?s elegance.

  8. I love my 12″ PB keyboard to bits, and if the Macbook Pro keyboard is closer to that than the Macbook (Con? :) ) then my choice is made for me.

  9. In response to Jamie, the Macbook Pro’s keyboard is identicle to that of your PB 12″ I also love those keyboards to bits, although, I guess, maybe not 1000 dollar bits.

  10. I’m sure you could get used to the keyboard : ) – if your typing for hours it’s probally best to use an external one – it’ll help your hands and save on the ware-and-tear of the laptop.

  11. unless you write all your novels on the hoof (in which case why are you considering a machine with such a pokey little display compared to its cousins) why not go crazy and invest in a 15 dollar USB keyboard. Hell, go the whole hog and splash out on a $30 dollar apple USB keyboard.
    it’s like seeing a huge, great value wall mounted TV, that is absolutely perfect for you, then saying ‘nah thanks’ because you don’t like the remote. Next you’ll be saying that the trackpad isn’t as good as a mouse. Well, duh!

  12. dammit soppy, you beat me ;)

  13. OK, I can only confirm that the keyboard of my old 12 powerbook is the second best keyboard on this planet, and of course, the champion title should go to Thinkpad T4x series.

  14. I couldn’t agree with you more. I just picked up a Macbook Pro, LOVE the keyboard of my old TIBook, and the MBP is pretty darn nice.

    I’m typing this on my wife’s iBook, and I can really tell the difference. If I had to make do . .. .ah well. . .but gotta be honest, after typing on it for a while, I’d save the $ for the better keyboard, it’s where you do all your work!

  15. Booo! Such harsh criticism for a product that you barely touched! Whose payroll are you on, PC-fanboy?

  16. Thank you for posting this. I’m a huge fan of the ThinkPad keyboards as well and my first comment about the new Mac’s was “what is up with the keyboard.” Appreciate your post and I look forward to giving one of these a spin soon.

  17. I tried the MacBook in both black and white yesterday at the Pasadena Apple Store, and I must say that I am impressed. The glossy screen would take some getting used to, and I see it as having both advantages and disadvantages, but the keyboard was a far bigger change from past iBooks and PowerBooks.

    Like a few of the commenters here, I own and love a 12″ PowerBook (and a 15″ PowerBook). To me, the big questions were about size, shape and build quality.

    With the display open, the MacBook is only a milimeter or two taller than the 12″ PowerBook, which is great news for this frequent flyer. The computer is also significantly thinner, though more than half a pound heavier.

    The white casing looks cheap, like the iBooks before them, but the black looks terrific, so good that I would pay extra for it. It is a totally different material and looks every bit as professional as the aluminum on the PowerBooks and MacBook Pro.

    The keyboard also felt pretty good, though very different from what I am used to. As I said before, I have the 12″ and 15″ PowerBooks and absolutely love the keyboards on them. I also just sold my IBM ThinkPad T42p (to buy the 15″ PB) and can back up whats been said previously; the ThinkPad T4x (Thai keyboard, anyway) is the best I’ve ever used, followed by the aluminum PowerBook/MacBook Pro. PowerBook keyboards are THAT good. The MacBook keyboard looks and feels very different, but when I tried typing fast on it, I was delighted to see a general lack of typos and no significant drop in speed despite being a totally unfamiliar keyboard. That bodes well, at least for me.

    The one thing that kept me from taking a new black MacBook home with me was something that I expected Apple would do on a “consumer” laptop, and that is the integrated graphics.

    For a productivity machine I have no problem with integrated graphics. My 15″ PowerBook sits on my office desk all the time (I just don’t like desktops), and if it was that machine that I was looking to replace, then the MacBook’s integrated graphics would be no problem. On my travel machine, however, I require a dedicated video card.

    My travel machine is not just used for productivity, but is an entertainment system as well. I play games on my 12″ PowerBook and enjoy the 64MB nVidia card on games as demanding as Doom3 and knights of the Old Republic.

    With a MacBook, I would install Apple’s Boot Camp software and Windows XP, finally allowing me to play WIndows games on my Mac (gaming is the reason I used to have the ThinkPad). Integrated graphics dashed my hopes for playing games in my hotel room.

    Yes, the MacBook Pro has high end graphics, but 15″ is just too large for travel, for me anyway. So for now, I’ll remain solidly in the PowerPC era.

  18. Dave,
    I’m interested in getting a MacBook however, after reading this post I don’t know if I would be happy. I guess I’ll just have to stop by my local Apple store and try it out for myself. In any case, nice review.

  19. Oh, I don’t know. I have a T42 ThinkPad and a 12″ G4 PowerBook (both items 2005) and I really like the keyboard on the PowerBook — just a touch better. They are both best in class, though. Frankly, on the PC side of things, I really love the thoughtful engineering on the T42. Pity it has to look so ugly, and pity IBM sold their ThinkPad division.

  20. There is a lot of production variance on both Apple and IBM keyboards. My old T42p had the “Thai NMB” keyboard, which is widely regarded in the ThinkPad community as the best, while a friend of mine has a T42 with the “Chinese Chicony” keyboard, which is much stiffer action and more flex in the base plate.

    Likewise, my 12″ PowerBook keyboard feels much better than the supposedly identical keyboard on my 15″ PowerBook. I call both cases of production variance. Put simply, my T42p felt much better than my 15″ PowerBook and a little better than my 12″. My 12″ PowerBook, on the other hand, feels a lot better than the Chinese T42 keyboard, which is still a bit better than my 15″ PowerBook, which is a bit mushy for my taste.

    As for looks, I think that the T42 is a great-looking machine, and find the new replacement T60 models lacking in comparison. The Apple laptops are more stylish, but the IBMs have an understated class about them. Like comparing a Ferrari to a Mercedes, both are gorgeous, but one (the IBM) is just a lot more subtle.

  21. Sebhelyesfarku May 27, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    Overpriced junk from Apple. CD Writer in 2006? LOL

  22. Dave,
    I sympathize. I’ve been a ThinkPad user for 14 years and had a need for a new laptop last week (all chronicled on my blog). At the end, due to a price/functionality tradeoff, I decided to get a $1,299 MacBook. I really miss my old T40 keyboard and the MacBook keyboard does take some getting used to. It’s a personal choice and for the price, this is the first time EVER I decided to buy a laptop other than a ThinkPad.

    Would I do it again? If Apple continues to innovate and Lenovo keeps comparable ThinkPads almost $750 more, I probably will do it again and get a MacBook. The MacBook Pro would be too much of a gamble for me right now.

    Pankaj

  23. About 2 years ago, I decided to go for a 12 inch Ibook. I simply found it an elegant compact machine. and was fed-up with 15 inch “portables”.

    On a trip to London I tried it in a store and I must admit; the keyboars scared me. Or should I say the difference in tactility with other keyboards.

    I had to have the computer anyway, and I must admit, just before the Macbook I decided to get the last of the 12″ 1,33Mhz ones.

    It is the best portable experience I had, but what’s more: I just developed a new “hack” with this keyboard. My fingertips stay closer to to the keys as I work and I suppose I’m a better typist now than ever. That said, I usually have to adjust my stroke on other computers, ATM machines and such. I just suppose most machines are built to “hammer away” on…

  24. Thanks for the post. As another long-term Thinkpad user (with the now-ancient X21), I was quite disturbed to see “chiclet keys” on the new Macbook. I guess I’ll have to try it out, but honestly I probably wouldn’t be able to stand a notebook without Trackpoint, anyways.

    Also, like one of the commenters above, I was shocked to see a CD writer on a 2006 notebook. Yeah, I know the more expensive models have a DVD writer, but come on, Apple, don’t play us like that…

  25. Totally agree with you on the keyboard issue. I want to switch back to Mac from my Thinkpad, but the lousy keyboard on the MacBook is stopping me as 15″ and above (Pro models) is simply too large for laptop.

  26. Hello!
    How are you?

  27. just use a sledge hammer to press the keys- always remember to pound twice on the first keyed entry and everything will be fine.

  28. Agreed, there exists what I would call a serious flaw in mac typing.

    I am referring to a Macbook 13.

    I have hooked up an external mac keyboard and experience the same intermittent typing of letters on the external as attached… its not a factor of striking the keys hard, its a matter of outright missed characters, not a manufacturing defect but somehow the strokes are not recorded. Often, the first key pressed is missed, however, it happens mid-sentence as well, typically two or three characters in a sentence.

    I’ve disabled all power saving, and typeamatic delays, etc. to no avail.

    Two keyboards, same problem tells me there is something inherently amiss in software- perhaps a buffer?

    I would concur that this is a terrible oversight to those of us who are on the computer all day, which is basically the entire business community.

    Please fix me.

  29. From what I gather I must be one of the few who enjoys the MacBook keyboard. It’s actually my favorite keyboard to type on, and I use a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 with my peecee, and one of those crappy Apple USB keyboards from the iMac G3 days with my Power Mac G4. (And then there’s the crappier Dell keyboard at work, but let’s not go there.)

    I used to have a Compaq laptop and I despised its keyboard. It lacked solidity; it felt too springy. The MacBook’s keyboard, OTOH, is reassuringly solid, and I can type for hours on end (I know because I have) without it bothering me. That’s a feat I can’t pull off with any of the external keyboards I have, the Microsoft one excluded. Now if they’d get around to fixing the one-button trackpad at Apple (it’s a real PITA to have that one button in Windows, even with the Boot Camp drivers), I’d be looking into buying another Mac laptop, but as it stands now, I’m looking at a Thinkpad T-series to replace it with.

    I’m actually so used to the feel of my MacBook’s keyboard that I’m considering replacing the long-in-the-tooth crappy Apple keyboard on my Power Mac with one of those new aluminum keyboards.

  30. I loved my powerbook’s keyboard…Then i upgraded to my macbook, and hated the keyboard. 5 days later i loved it. much better strokes, and the keys are very nice. I dont see where you are coming from with this one

  31. I AM A DIE HARD MAC LOVER!!! BUT… The MacBook keyboard IS, in fact, very STIFF in comparison to the iBook G4 keyboard (which I had for 3 years). I feel like I have to BEAT UP the keyboard to type a sentence. I’ve had it sense May 9 and I STILL can’t break it in. I don’t know, maybe I have to use it more? But I use it for hours pretty much EVERYDAY; how much more can I possibly use it?

  32. how do you see the keys in the dark if there is no backlight?

    coz… u no its black so seeing the keys in the dark must be hard?

  33. yousef Alduailij August 13, 2010 at 9:05 am

    how to use the * in same program, i know shift and * put i would like to know other way