Jul 22, 2023
Satechi Aluminum Bluetooth Keyboard Review
The Apple iMac comes with a wireless keyboard by default, but it's a compact model without a numeric keypad. For an additional $30, you can step up to the bigger Magic Keyboard With Numeric Keypad,
The Apple iMac comes with a wireless keyboard by default, but it's a compact model without a numeric keypad. For an additional $30, you can step up to the bigger Magic Keyboard With Numeric Keypad, which will make data entry and other tasks that require inputting lots of numbers infinitely easier. Problem is, if you spill coffee on this board or otherwise damage it beyond repair, it will cost you $130 to replace. Instead, you could pick up Satechi's new Aluminum Bluetooth Keyboard for a lot less ($79), and you might like the typing experience even better. Ultimately, neither keyboard is as comfortable as a decent mechanical keyboard, but if you're searching for the Apple aesthetic on the (relative) cheap, this Satechi alternative is hard to beat.
Satechi makes tons of peripherals, everything from USB hubs and headphones to mice and keyboards. They're typically design-forward products—the USB Type-C hubs match the aluminium of the Apple MacBook Pro, for instance, and much of the company's marketing strategy appears to consist of slick Instagram photos in place of deals or traditional online advertising.
The design-forward elements are certainly present on the Aluminum Bluetooth Keyboard, which is clearly designed to mimic the Apple board with which it competes. The review unit I have in hand, with white keycaps and an aluminum base, is nearly a dead ringer for Apple's product, from the layout of the function keys—including shortcuts for showing all open windows and switching apps—to the tiny on/off switch along the top edge. That also means using it with a Windows machine will be tricky, since the keyboard has Command and Option keys, but not a dedicated Windows key. Command does bring up the Windows Start menu, but it's not in the usual spot. You'll have to untrain the muscle memory.
But Satechi has modified the Apple keyboard design in a few interesting ways, and after typing on the board for two days straight, it appears that these modifications were born out of careful attention to detail rather than—or at least as much as—the desire to avoid provoking Apple's attorney army into drafting a patent-infringement lawsuit. The most obvious difference is the design of the keycaps themselves. They're rounded instead of square like Apple's keycaps, and they're almost imperceptibly sculpted in the middle. The sculpting is not so subtle, though, that your fingertips don't notice where they're supposed to strike.
In fact, finding your place on the keys by feel is a problem with the Apple keyboard. Despite that board's stylish industrial design, typing on it just feels unremarkable, like you're typing on a cheap, albeit sturdy, laptop keyboard. To my fingers, Satechi's subtle keycap changes are actually improvements.
That said, both the Satechi and Apple boards are extremely thin for a desktop keyboard—the Satechi's maximum height is 0.4 inch, while the Apple's is 0.43 inch. Both boards slope slightly from back to front, like most other keyboards do, but their slim design means that the keys are extremely shallow. This makes for an unpleasant typing experience if you mash keys in a first-person shooter—or if you write all day long, like I do. In these situations, a mechanical keyboard, whose keys offer pleasing tactile clicks and have a much greater travel distance, is far preferable to any Apple board or Apple-inspired board.
However, plenty of Apple users don't type all day long. That's especially true of graphic designers and video editors, two professions that most lend themselves toward using the Apple iMac or iMac Pro ($4,249.99 at Best Buy) as a main computer. If that's you, then you might value a great-looking desktop keyboard over a luxurious long-haul typing experience. And if that's the case, you might also be frustrated that Apple's desktop keyboards have looked the same for years. Even the option to order a board in Space Gray is only a recent phenomenon, meaning that your keyboard can only match your iMac, not the color of your walls, your phone, or whatever else is on your desk.
That's another key area where Satechi offers an interesting alternative. In addition to our review unit, which has a silver chassis with white keycaps, Satechi offers Apple-complementary Gold, Rose Gold, and Space Gray options. This should be of particular interest if you've got a Rose Gold iPhone.
A final design improvement that Satechi boasts over Apple's keyboard is a trio of dedicated Cut, Copy, and Paste keys. They take the place of the rarely used F16, F17, and F18 keys that reside above the numeric keypad.
Other than keys and color options, the rest of the Aluminum Bluetooth Keyboard is very similar to pretty much any Bluetooth board you might have used in the past. Connecting is dead simple—you just power the keyboard on and pair it using the Bluetooth pane of Apple's System Preferences app. The process took me less than a minute when I connected it to an Apple MacBook Pro, even in the crowded warren of competing wireless signals that is PC Labs.
There's no software to install, which means that any customization you want to do has to be accomplished using the Keyboard preferences pane of the System Preferences app, or inside of a program or game.
A USB Type-C port on the top edge allows for recharging the internal battery. Satechi includes a USB Type-C-to-A cable in the box, so you can plug it directly into an available USB port on your iMac or other computer. If you're using the keyboard with a MacBook or a MacBook Pro ($605.30 at Amazon) , you can instead connect the laptop's power cable to avoid having to use a dongle.
A full charge took me less than two hours. (An indicator tells you when charging is complete.) Alas, Satechi estimates that battery life is a rather unimpressive 80 hours of active use and 100 days of standby. That's on par with the "about a month" that Apple claims its battery will last, but it's far less than the runtime estimates for many 2.4GHz wireless keyboards I've used from Logitech, some of which have lasted for more than a year of daily use without needing to be plugged in.
In fact, battery life is one of the major downsides of using a Bluetooth connection instead of a dedicated dongle that plugs into a USB port and communicates over the 2.4GHz frequency. The other—intermittent signal interruption—is less common, and I didn't experience it at all during my time testing the Aluminum Bluetooth Keyboard.
The board allows you to save pairing information for up to three devices at a time, which means you can easily use it to type on your iPad or laptop in addition to your desktop. You switch among the connections by pressing one of three keys located in the top row, above the directional arrow keys. (You hold down one of the keys to perform the initial pairing.) I tested the keyboard's iOS compatibility using an Apple iPad ($329.00 at Amazon) running iOS 12, and I especially appreciated that the brightness and volume controls worked just as well as they did on the Mac. Unfortunately, the app-switcher key (F6) did not work as well in iOS, requiring deft maneuvering with the arrow keys to keep it from automatically selecting the next running app.
Satechi offers a one-year warranty for the Aluminum Bluetooth Keyboard.
Don't get me wrong: Although the Satechi keyboard's keys are ever-so-slightly more comfortable than the ones Apple uses, they're still uninspiring at best to type on. If you write thousands of words each day or enjoy marathon first-person-shooter sessions, this is not the keyboard for you. After two days of heavy use, my fingers ached. They also ached for the comfort of mechanical key switches.
But not everyone types all day long, and many people who don't would give up a luxurious typing experience for a clean-lined and spare-looking keyboard that matches the Apple products on their desk. If that's you, the Satechi Aluminum Wireless Keyboard is a worthy contender to replace your Apple keyboard if it gets damaged. A palatable price and some small improvements over Apple's design make it one of the best Apple-alternative keyboards you can buy.
The Satechi Aluminum Bluetooth Keyboard is a fine alternative to Apple's full-size Magic Keyboard, packing many of the same features, plus a slightly more comfortable typing experience and more color options.
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