Products like the Satechi Aluminum Bluetooth Keyboard grant us a peek at the Apple that could be—in this case, an Apple that remains enamored with space gray aluminum but also committed to keyboards with generous key travel. And the Satechi keyboard is a decent effort, weighty and pleasant for typing, and it lets you pair it with up to three different Bluetooth devices. Viewed from across the room, it readily looks like it spawned in the mind of Jony Ive.
Yet I never felt a strong connection to the Satechi keyboard, mainly because it always struggled to connect with my Mac.
Maybe we can see this as a reminder that an Apple logo really does translate into quality, but first it’s also important to keep in mind that the logo’s absence lets you pick up what essentially amounts to a passable cousin of the Apple Magic Keyboard 2 with a keypad for a mere $79.99. If that sounds expensive, remember that Apple sells its own space gray version for a stunning $149. You could almost buy two Satechi keyboards for that price.
Both the Apple Magic Keyboard 2.(top) the Satechi Aluminum Bluetooth Keyboard have a caps lock light, but Satechi put its light in the upper-right corner where it’s less likely to be hidden by your fingers.
The Satechi’s 17-inch aluminum panel feels weighty and luxurious. At a little less than half an inch high, it sits about as far off my writing surfaces as the Magic Keyboard. Unlike Apple’s model, it’s also in both gold and rose gold along with the expected white and space gray variations. Battery life isn’t all that impressive—Satechi claims it’ll go through 80 hours of active use and 100 of inactive before it needs to be charged through its USB-C port—but after I left it in the office for almost two weeks over the holiday, I was pleased to find it greeted me with almost a full charge.
On the back, you’ll find a power slider that resembles Apple’s own and a USB-C charging port.
You’d be wrong to dismiss the Satechi as a cheap imitation of Apple’s keyboard. This keyboard is aimed at Apple fans who crave better typing experiences than what Apple offers as of late, and as such this board features longer key travel than you’ll find on the Magic Keyboard. There’s just enough resistance to capture that feeling of creating, something that gets lost on Apple’s nearly flat boards. The keys aren’t backlit, but I find I like the way Satechi carved a barely perceptible cup for each fingertip into the crown of each key. There’s also a playfulness to the keys’ rounded corners that I miss in Apple’s own work. I’d never call this one of the best Bluetooth keyboards I’ve ever typed on, but it’s a significant enough improvement over Apple’s keyboard that I increasingly found myself reaching for it when diving into long writing sessions.
It comes with the full range of shortcuts you’d expect from an Apple keyboard.
The other big reason to buy Satechi’s keyboard over Apple’s is that it allows you to connect up to three different Bluetooth devices. Not everyone needs this feature, but I find it’s particularly well suited to my screwball workflow: Sometimes I’ll start a draft on my iPhone with a Bluetooth keyboard (where I’m less likely to get distracted with nitpicking each sentence in the drafting process) and then I’ll move over to the Mac to edit. With this keyboard, the means of input never changes.
I’d forgotten how liberating this can be. Apple’s own Magic Keyboards don’t allow you to pair with multiple devices; in fact, they resist all attempts to pair with an iPhone while they remain wedded to their parent Macs. The only way to divorce the two is to go into the Mac’s settings and “Forget” the keyboard, and that’s impossible if you’ve stuffed it in your bag for use with your iPad or iPhone over a long trip. With the Satechi, it’s just a matter of holding down a button.
Satechi’s keyboard (left) has a slightly more steeper incline than Apple’s Magic Keyboard.
If only everything else worked so well. On tight deadlines, I’d end up shoving the Satechi aside in frustration when it refused to reawaken with a simple key press after a few minutes of rest. Holding down a random key for several seconds often sufficed to wake it up, but it wasn’t guaranteed. Worse, wiring it to the Mac doesn’t improve the responsiveness as the Satechi keyboard continues to work through Bluetooth even while charging.
At one point I couldn’t even get the Satechi keyboard to work even though it showed as connected in my Mac’s Bluetooth panel and I’d fiddled with all three connection keys. I tried charging it for an hour. Nothing. Even a restart didn’t help. I simply unpaired it and started over.
This happened three times. I was tempted to blame it on the crazy number of Bluetooth devices we keep running in the office, but the problem persisted even when I took the Satechi home. There were also times when Bluetooth lag would cause letters to repeat themselves or simply not appear.
When the Satechi works, it works great, The words flow from my fingers over keys that are punchy and weighty. I’d even go so far as to say that I prefer its design over Apple’s own.
Even in the underside is pretty sleek.
But the key feature of any Bluetooth keyboard should be its ability to spring to life on demand. If it fails at that, the comfort of the keys barely matters.
I’ve long scoffed at the name of the Magic Keyboards, but after a couple of weeks with the Satechi Aluminum Bluetooth Keyboard I see where Apple is coming from. Apple’s keyboards are so magically responsive that I sometimes feel as though I could breathe on them and they’d be ready for typing.
With the Satechi? I’m usually just holding my breath.