Apple Magic Keyboard review: Should have called it basic

It's a standard Bluetooth keyboard—where's the magic, again?

slide 12 apple magic keyboard
Credit: Roman Loyola
At a Glance
  • Apple Magic Keyboard

    Macworld Rating

    It's a nice enough keyboard, with no magic whatsoever.

Apple’s keyboard isn’t magic. It’s not writing this review for me while I sip a margarita and play Two Dots, and I feel like that would be magic. What the Magic Keyboard is, is a pretty nice Bluetooth keyboard that charges with a Lightning cable. Whether that’s worth Apple’s somewhat steep $99 asking price is up to you (keep in mind Apple’s older, now-defunct Wireless Keyboard was only $69), but the Magic Keyboard is slim, compact, and pleasant to type on.

Lightning strikes

My Magic Keyboard arrived fully charged, and it comes with a Lightning cable, which you’ll use to charge it from a USB port on your Mac. A switch on the back turns the keyboard on or off—any good Bluetooth keyboard should have this, so you can easily power it down before you shove it in your laptop bag. At 11 by 4.5 by 0.4 inches and 0.5 pounds, the Magic Keyboard is highly portable.

slide 13 apple magic keyboard Roman Loyola

Now you can charge your keyboard, iPad, iPhone, mouse and trackpad all with one cable. (Soon your Apple TV remote and Apple Pencil too.)

I connected the keyboard to my MacBook Air with the Lightning cable, just to make sure it was charged all the way, and that had the bonus effect of auto-pairing the keyboard with the Mac over Bluetooth. I didn’t have to go to the Bluetooth preferences to set the keyboard up, and when I disconnected the Lightning cable, the keyboard stayed paired.

Charging with a Lightning cable instead of using AA batteries seems like a small thing—pretty much every Bluetooth keyboard has a built-in battery these days, mostly charging with a micro-USB cable. But I love having the extra Lightning cable that came with the Magic Keyboard. I already tend to keep a Lightning cable in every workspace and laptop bag for topping off my iPhone and iPad anyway, so it’s nice to not have to worry about toting spare AA batteries or a micro-USB cable.

Shorter travel, snappy feel

The Magic Keyboard uses scissor-switch keys, like its predecessors the wired Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad ($49) and Apple Wireless Keyboard, which Apple has discontinued but is still available for $49 from Other World Computing. The keyboard is a little bit shorter top to bottom, and the travel of the keys is shortened as a result, but I didn’t feel much of a difference between it and my laptop, a late 2013 MacBook Air.

slide 14 apple magic keyboard Roman Loyola

The Magic Keyboard (bottom) is nearly the same size as the wireless Apple Keyboard it replaces. 

Going back and forth, I started to feel like I was hitting the laptop keys harder, while typing on the Magic Keyboard felt like it took slightly less effort. But the difference didn’t seem striking to me (if you’ll excuse the terrible pun). The keys on the Magic Keyboard are large and flat and stark white; they don’t wobble at all; and they’re generally pleasing to type on.

magic keyboard arrows Roman Loyola

The biggest change to the keys is the new full-height left and right arrows on the Magic Keyboard (left). I have to retrain my fingers to find them without looking. 

More magic than the competition?

Before getting the Magic Keyboard, I primarily used Apple’s wired keyboard, and occasionally dabbled with Logitech’s excellent Bluetooth Easy-Switch Keyboard ($99.99), which we reviewed very favorably in 2013.

The Logitech Bluetooth Easy-Switch Keyboard costs about the same as the Magic Keyboard, while including extra features like easy pairing of multiple devices, and backlit keys.

Besides its smaller size and lack of a wire, the Magic Keyboard doesn’t improve on the Wired Keyboard in any significant way. Like Jason Snell, I find the full-size right and left arrows a bit harder to find with my fingers than the half-size arrow keys on my MacBook Air and Wired Keyboard. But I can adjust to that. I don’t miss the dedicated number pad on the Wired Keyboard, but I did like having the Page Up and Down buttons. (On the Magic Keyboard, I can replicate that by holding Fn while pressing the up and down arrows, but that’s a two-handed job.)

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The Magic Keyboard’s slightly larger keys have shorter travel, but remain pleasant to type on.

Compared to the Logitech Easy-Switch Keyboard, which costs only ninety-nine cents more, the Magic Keyboard loses a little of its sparkle. I prefer the clickier scissor-switch mechanism in Apple’s keyboard over the mushier-feeling keys on Logitech’s, but only slightly. The Logitech keyboard does have backlighting, which is a great feature if you like to work in dim rooms. The keyboard even kills the backlighting when you’re not typing, and brings it back when it detects your hands over the keyboard again.

Logitech’s keys don’t feel cheap, either—the company says its PerfectStroke keys distribute force evenly across the keys even if you strike the edge. The Easy-Switch Keyboard’s keys don’t wiggle much if you don’t hit them straight-on (neither do Apple’s keys), and I like how each key is indented slightly to help your fingers find the center, rather than the much-flatter keys on the Magic Keyboard. Logitech’s keyboard is a little quieter too.

magic keyboard lightning Roman Loyola

Along with the Lightning connector, Apple included an easy on-and-off switch so you can save battery life and prevent accidental input while the keyboard is in your bag.

But the Easy Switch Keyboard’s trump card is how you can set it up with up to three devices (say, two Macs and an iPad) and switch between them when you press F1, F2, and F3. While the Magic Keyboard can pair to my iPad as well as my Mac, I have to first turn the Magic Keyboard off and then on again, and manually pair it to the iPad in Settings. When I wanted to switch back, the Mac refused to pair with the keyboard, even after I told the iPad to “forget this device.” Luckily I had a trump card too: Reconnect the Lightning cable, which forced the pairing instantly.

Bottom line

If you want to use one keyboard with multiple devices, the Magic Keyboard should do the trick, but I had issues switching the pairing back and forth, while the Logitech Bluetooth Easy-Switch Keyboard more than lived up to its name.

If you’re purchasing a new iMac that comes with the Magic Keyboard, the smaller size and slightly reduced key travel shouldn’t be too jarring a change from previous Apple keyboards. If your old keyboard is on its last legs and you want to replace it with an Apple model that matches the rest of your gear and never needs AA batteries, the Magic Keyboard is a decent purchase. Just don’t expect much extra bang for the extra bucks.

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    It's a nice enough keyboard, with no magic whatsoever.

    Pros

    • Charges with Lightning instead of using AA batteries.
    • Includes a Lightning cable.

    Cons

    • Fewer features than third-party keyboards at the same price point.
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