Why is an ergonomic keyboard very expensive

Alternative keyboards for the Mac: It doesn't always have to be Magic

Christian Rentrop

If you use your Mac with an external monitor, you of course also need a suitable keyboard. Apple's Magic Keyboard is not for everyone: too expensive, too flat or simply too impractical are the criteria that disqualify the recognized good Mac keyboard. We took a look at the alternatives.

EnlargeIt doesn't always have to be Apple's Magic Keyboard.

No matter which Mac you have: sooner or later the question of an external keyboard arises. While Apple includes the Magic Keyboard with the iMac, users of the Mac Mini and the entire Macbook lineup have to dig deep into their pockets for the Apple keyboard. IPad users who don't like the smart keyboard are also looking for alternatives. There are so many of them - and there is a simple reason for that.

Actually every keyboard on the Mac does it ...

Like every PC, all Macs have long been equipped with standard technology: USB and Bluetooth are the dominant connection technologies today, and they in turn allow any keyboard to be connected to the Mac: Mac users can use the keyboard of their Windows PC at any time via USB or Bluetooth connect. And simple USB keyboards with the German QWERTZ layout are not infrequently available from major online retailers for very little money. For emergencies - for example if the Magic Keyboard is defective or the internal keyboard of the Macbook is on strike - this variant is completely sufficient. However, PC keyboards have different key labeling than Mac keyboards, which is why the fun is limited when using them: Although all characters are accessible, the constant rethinking does not cause much joy.

EnlargeApple's Magic Keyboard is a fine keyboard. The price is obscene, however, especially since many users do not like the feel.

... but the special keys should be

Especially since typical Windows keyboards neither optically nor functionally match the Mac: Windows keyboards are often clunky and unattractive, although this is of course in the eye of the beholder. However, the lack of Mac-specific special keys weighs more heavily: Alt and Command (cmd) are swapped, the cmd key is the Windows key and so on. The @ -sign is also different on the Mac keyboard, but this is only a question of labeling, the key combination works like on the Mac keyboard. Nevertheless, this is annoying in everyday life, which is why it makes sense to buy a keyboard with a Mac layout. Many third-party providers have now recognized this need - and offer either keyboards with double labeling (Mac and Windows) or pure Mac keyboards. Dedicated Mac keyboards can always be identified by the Command key (⌘).

Third-party keyboards are not always perfect

With some third-party keyboards, the layouts are not 100 percent identical to that of the regular Apple keyboard. Often there are no buttons for controlling the brightness of the monitor - and even if they do, they only work with external Apple monitors or some LG models. Or one of the special keys was saved for reasons of space. Fortunately, with Karabiner-Elements there is powerful free software to adapt the individual keys of a keyboard to your own needs. Especially with the slightly changed keyboard layout of the Apple Silicon Macs, this is a practical option to either equip a third-party keyboard with an emoji key - or to get other functions directly on the keyboard.

EnlargeIf the layout is not right, it can be adjusted with a carabiner.

The advantage of alternative Mac keyboards

Despite this (small) restriction, there are now a number of keyboards that can be used on the Mac. Many of them are even developed in such a way that they can also be used as iOS keyboards. And some keyboards have a "double layout" with key labels that are suitable for Windows, iOS and MacOS.

Many of them are significantly cheaper than Apple's Magic Keyboard without conveying a significantly worse typing experience. However, since the typing experience of the Apple keyboard is also not ideal for some users, it can be worthwhile to take a look at the alternatives. Especially since some Macbook owners are still struggling with the unloved butterfly keyboard that Apple installed in many Macbooks between 2016 and 2020. At the desk, a good additional keyboard can do wonders for the typing experience and productivity.

Mac keyboards are ergonomic and gentle on materials

The use of an external keyboard with a mouse and monitor is ergonomically preferable to using it as a notebook, especially on the Macbook: If you don't want to live with a stiff neck and back pain, you should make sure not to hang over the Macbook screen for hours. A good keyboard does its part, not only protecting the user's wrists, but also the vulnerable internal keyboard of Macbooks. But it can also be worthwhile to use a different keyboard on the Mac desktop, for example because you need a different layout. On stationary Macs, a third-party keyboard is more economical than the device, but it can of course also be a good alternative to Apple's Magic Keyboard for ergonomic reasons.

EnlargeAnyone who works a lot stationary on the Macbook should think of an external keyboard and monitor for reasons of material conservation and ergonomics.

Mechanical or film technology?

In addition to the layout, it is of course important to take a look at the keyboard technology: there are keyboard technologies that are preferred differently depending on the user. On the one hand there is the foil technology, recognizable by its very flat construction. The buttons are used to press buttons on a foil, which in turn transfer the symbol to the computer. In the case of very inexpensive models, a rubber buffer ensures the typing experience, higher quality keyboards have mechanical systems such as the scissor mechanism known from Apple's Magic Keyboard.

On the other hand, there are also real mechanical keyboards for the Mac: Here each key is its own switch. This creates a typing experience that corresponds to an ancient computer or typewriter. These keyboards are bulky for technical reasons, but have the advantage of being able to press the keys very precisely and are therefore often preferred by professional writers and gamers. Such keyboards are expensive and the selection of corresponding devices with a QWERTY layout for the Mac is unfortunately still quite small. Using so-called keycap sets, however, keys can be exchanged and Mac layouts “built in”.

QWERTZ selection restricted

But regardless of whether mechanical or foil: In the English-speaking world there are significantly more keyboards with a Mac layout, but also with American key assignments (QWERTY). Unfortunately, these small keyboard editions often do not make it into the German-speaking area. If you are not afraid of the English or American layout, you have a significantly larger selection of possible keyboard alternatives. Most Otto normal users should feel most comfortable with the German keyboard layout, which is why, with one excellent exception, we have refrained from introducing it.

Keychron K2, K4 & K8

There aren't many mechanical keyboards with a German Mac layout right now. The Chinese manufacturer Keychron has recognized this gap in the market and offers its K, K4 and K8 keyboards with "German ISO-DE layout". The special thing about all three keyboards: They have both an integrated battery and a USB-C interface and can therefore be wired as well as operated wirelessly. Up to three devices can be connected via Bluetooth, the switch between the connection methods is done using a slide switch. They can also be ordered with both white and colored LED lighting. Buyers can also choose between blue, red, and brown Gateron switches (identical to Cherry switches). Practical: Keycaps for both Mac and Windows operation are included. So if you plan to switch to Mac or Windows, you can keep the keyboard. All three Keychron models are strongly reminiscent of the keyboards of the 1980s in terms of color and feel and are accordingly solidly built. The different models differ only in the position of the cursor keys (K2 & K8) and the numblock (K4). Unfortunately, the low price is somewhat relativized by shipping from Hong Kong, which costs 15 US dollars.

Layout: QWERTZ, Mac, Windows via keycap

RRP: $ 69 (+ $ 15 shipping)

Manufacturer:Key chron

EnlargeWith the K2, K4 and K8, Keychron offers three mechanical keyboards with a German Mac layout.

Satechi Bluetooth Keyboard for Mac

The Satechi company has been drawing attention to itself for some time with interesting Mac accessories. This includes a whole range of different keyboards, of which three models with a QWERTZ layout are currently available in Germany: the Satechi Bluetooth keyboard with num block, the Bluetooth compact keyboard with num block and a variant with a USB port. The two Bluetooth keyboards can couple up to three devices and can be charged and connected via USB-C. Thanks to the scissor mechanism and indentations in the keys, the Satechi keyboard design is on par with Apple's devices, especially since the chic aluminum housing in black-gray goes perfectly with Apple's Pro devices. The full-size Mac keyboard from Satechi is also available in white.

Layout: QWERTY, Mac

RRP: 69.99 - 79.99 euros

Manufacturer:Satechi

Cherry KC 6000

Cherry is the epitome of classic keyboards with mechanical switches. However, there is currently no QWERTZ model of this type for the Mac. For this, Cherry has an illuminated slim keyboard with scissor mechanism and numblock and 111-key layout on offer, which shines above all with its simplicity: The keyboard is a simple USB keyboard with a Mac layout and is therefore ideal for users who use can do without integrated batteries and radio frills. The built-in metal plate also gives the KC 6000 a solid weight of 660 grams (Magic Keyboard with num block: 390 grams!), Which significantly increases ergonomics for prolific writers. The low price makes the Cherry keyboard a good alternative for Mac users who do not need a num block but do not need the wireless features of a Magic keyboard.

Layout: QWERTY, Mac

RRP: 40 euros

Manufacturer:Cherry

EnlargeThe KC 6000 is a simple USB keyboard with a full Mac layout.

Logitech MX Keys for Mac

If you are looking for a good alternative to Apple's Magic Keyboard with number pad, you will find an excellent companion in the MX keyboard from Logitech: The manufacturer's MX series shines with metal finish, the Mac version also has the Mac-specific keyboard layout. The keyboard can be used wirelessly and can be used via Bluetooth, USB-C or Logitech's Unify receiver on the USB port. The USB-C to USB-C connection not only enables charging, but also adapter-free wired operation on modern Macbooks. The keyboard goes very well with Apple's gray devices such as the Macbook Pro, Air or the iMac Pro, but can of course also be used with other Macs and iOS devices. The possibility of coupling up to three devices via Bluetooth is practical. This gives users a highly flexible keyboard that they can use with all of their Apple devices. Compared to the Magic keyboard, the biggest advantage is the integrated lighting: Apple has not built it into its desktop keyboards to this day.

Layout: QWERTY, Mac

RRP: 109 euros (106.03 euros on Amazon)

Manufacturer:Logitech

EnlargeOne keyboard for multiple Macs, iPads, iPhones

Logitech K380

Logitech and Apple have been closely linked for quite some time. Also because Logitech is one of the few brand manufacturers that offers high-quality Mac and iPad keyboards on a large scale. The Logitech K-Series with Bluetooth connection is becoming "multi-device capable" with more and more models, which means that the layout is valid for several devices. This is also the case with the inexpensive K380, which not only shines with a pleasant keystroke, but also has the Windows key lettering in addition to the Mac. The handy keyboard, which is operated with two AAA batteries, has three Bluetooth slots that allow up to three devices to be connected. The function keys F1, F2 and F3 can be used to switch between the devices. Ideal when it comes to supplying a Mac, an iPad and perhaps a Windows PC with a single keyboard, for example. The keyboard can be fine-tuned under MacOS and Windows using the Logitech Options software, but the keyboard also works without the driver.

Layout: QWERTZ, Mac & Windows

RRP: 49.99 euros (36.96 euros at Amazon)

Manufacturer:Logitech

Logitech K375s

Anyone who likes more classic keyboards and is a friend of old iMac or Cherry keyboards with the large key strokes should be delighted with the K375s: The multi-device Bluetooth keyboard has a complete layout including num block and is therefore one ideal alternative to standard office keyboards. Especially since, like its siblings, it can also be paired with up to three devices. Like the K380, the K375s is powered by two AAA batteries, but supports Bluetooth Smart, part of the Bluetooth 4.0 specification. This means that it cannot be paired with older Bluetooth standards. Logitech offers a solution here: The so-called Unify adapter is a USB Bluetooth dongle that allows retrofitting - and also connects the manufacturer's Bluetooth mice with the (older) Mac. Since modern Macs, iPads and PCs all support Bluetooth 4.0, this should only be necessary in very few cases. Practical: The keyboard is supplied with a holder for smartphones or smaller tablets, which makes it even easier to use in the office area. One of the big pluses of this Mac keyboard is its robustness: It is protected against splashing water and therefore also suitable for use in somewhat harsher environments, for example.

Layout: QWERTZ, Mac & Windows

RRP: 44.99 euros (34.29 euros on Amazon)

Manufacturer:Logitech

Logitech K480