Keyboard cords are innocuous enough when you're working at your desk, but they only get in the way when you're giving a presentation on your Mac. The MacAirKey, a new cordless keyboard from Digital Creations, lets you type without being tethered. Instead of using a cable, the MacAirKey sends infrared signals to a compact receiver that plugs into the computer's ADB port. (If you want to use the MacAirKey with USB-only models such as the iMac, you'll have to buy a third-party ADB adapter such as Griffin Technology's $49 iMate.) Although it's not perfect, the MacAirKey is a good solution for those times when a corded keyboard simply won't do.
Because of its small footprintit's about 2 inches narrower than Apple's USB keyboardthe MacAirKey doesn't have room for a numeric keypad. To compensate, 17 of the keys have secondary functions that you access by pressing a special key in the bottom row. Unlike with most keyboards, you can't use the MacAirKey to turn the Mac on, because the receiver draws power from the ADB port. Two feet on the bottom of the keyboard fold down to angle it upward, but they have a tendency to slip.
The MacAirKey sports a built-in pointing device, so you don't need a separate mouse or trackball. You control the cursor by pressing a small, rubberized disk with your thumb or forefinger; the harder you push, the faster the cursor moves. Unfortunately, the disk is hard to press, and you have to use your right hand to reach it. A centrally located pointing device would be much more convenient. Two small push buttons on the left side of the keyboard function like standard mouse buttons, but you can't customize their operation the way you can with many multiple-button mice.
Even without documentationthe early shipping version we tested didn't come with a manualsetting up the keyboard was a snap. We popped the two supplied AA batteries into the keyboard's battery compartment, plugged in the receiver, and were ready to go. The MacAirKey is rated for distances up to 30 feet, but I used it at 40 feet without any problems. The only requirement is that you maintain an unobstructed line of sight between the receiver and the transmitter at the rear of the keyboard. On my desktop, the keyboard was usually reliable, although it occasionally behaved erratically. Operation was much smoother when I separated the receiver and keyboard by at least a few feet.
If all you want to do is lean way back in your chair, a standard ADB or USB keyboard with a long cord will do the job more reliably and for less money. Although I wouldn't want to use the MacAirKey as my primary keyboard, it's worth considering if you have to do stand-up presentations with a desktop Macintosh.
RATING: PROS: Easy to set up; built-in pointing device. CONS: No power key; pointing device is hard to press. COMPANY: Digital Creations of Kansas (316/262-8419, http://www.dcinetwork.com ). LIST PRICE: $130.
August 1999 page: 52