Using third-party input devices with your Mac, and why you might want to

Sections: Features, Keyboards, Macintosh/Apple Hardware, Mice, Opinions and Editorials, Originals, Peripherals

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Reading an excellent tutorial on using non-Apple input devices with your Mac by MacTuts+’s Jordan Merrick got me thinking about my own input device usage over the years, noting that my enthusiasm for Apple system hardware hasn’t generally extended to Apple input devices—either keyboards or mice.

Apple currently makes some pretty good keyboards. I was checking one out on an iMac recently, and I think I could be happy using it, but I don’t have one. On the other hand, I can’t think of an Apple mouse I ever really liked, going back to the clunky mouse that came with my ancient Mac Plus (although I don’t have much experience with recent Apple Mouse designs). Except for my very first Macs, and the built-in keyboards on my laptops, I’ve rarely used Apple input devices. The newest Apple keyboard I own is a long-retired Blueberry iMac USB keyboard, while my only current use of Apple mice is a collection of iMac era “hockey’s puck” units I’ve found make great foot-clickers with the ball removed and the ball aperture taped over. However, for general purpose mousing, Apple lost me a long time ago with their dogged refusal to go with a multi-button mouse, and their typically clunky action.

I’ve battled chronic polyneuritis and fibromyalgia for the last 15 years, and I have to be very picky about input devices. I simply can’t use a lot of computer keyboards for more than a paragraph or two (literally) without experiencing non-trivial pain from fingertips to shoulders that doesn’t resolve for a long time after typing activity ceases. However, there are also a few I can go on for hours without significant discomfort. I certainly haven’t used every keyboard on the market, and there are probably many that would be fine. That said, I’ve found that input devices from Logitech and Kensington seem to work well for me. My current keyboard favorites are the Logitech K-750 Solar Wireless Keyboard for Mac, and Kensington’s SlimType keyboard, the Mac version of which is no longer available.

I also have a couple of Logitech DiNovo Bluetooth keyboards that I use on rare occasions when I connect an external keyboard to my iPad, but I don’t find their relatively longer-travel key action as comfortable as the K750 ‘board.

Philosophically, the mechanical keyswitches Das Keyboard, the Matias Tactile Pro keyboard, and indeed Apple’s legendary Extended Keyboard 2 appeal to me, but in practice the over center clicking and hard landings of these ‘boards are a horror to anyone with neurological pain issues.

As for laptop keyboards, my hands-down favorites, so to speak, are the superb ‘boards in Apple’s late-’90s / early ’00s G3 Series PowerBooks. I’ve never been able to decide best whether the black keyboards in the WallStreet or the bronze Lombard/Pismo versions are the better ‘board. Both are excellent and cause me no typing discomfort even in long sessions, as well as being fast and accurate.

Many veteran Apple laptop fans cite the keyboard in the PowerBook 1400 as their standard of excellence in laptop keyboards. I find it very good too, but still like the lighter, softer action of the G3 Series ‘boards best. The “Chiclet” ‘board in my current unibody MacBook is good as well, but not up to the standard of comfort of those old PowerBook ‘boards.

Laptop trackpads? I’m not a big fan, although I can get along with them when it’s inconvenient to hook up a mouse. The big glass trackpad in my MacBook is outstanding, and I found the trackpads in the old Pismo PowerBooks serviceable.On the other hand, the trackpad in my 17-inch PowerBook G4 was horrible.

Turning to mice, I find that in conventional mice, my favorites include Logitech units with their light, smooth action and weighted, freewheeling scroll wheels, typified by the V-550 laptop unit that I use at my workstation excellent.

I also use a Kensington laptop mouse that I like a lot with my Pismo PowerBooks. The Targus for Mac wireless and Bluetooth mice are very comfortable as well, and their scroll pad feature in lieu of a scroll wheel a pleasure. However, my primary workstation point/click/drag device is a Contour RollerMouse Free rollerbar, which I found quickly became addictive, and is tops for both low stress and speedy action. I also have one of the Logitech K570 thumb-actuated trackballs Merrick prefers, but while it’s good, I like the rollerbar/mouse tandem better. As noted above, I use one of my hoard of Apple “hockey puck” USB mice for foot clicking at my workstation, which helps spread the stress.

Incidentally, Logitech’s Unify system deserves honorable mention here in that it lets you connect up to 6 supported wireless devices at once with the same single USB wireless receiver dongle—especially desirable for laptop users with Apple’s typically stingy allotment of USB ports.

As Jordan Merrick observes, there is no such thing as a keyboard or mouse that everyone can use comfortably, so it’s not a question of “better” or right and wrong choices. If you suffer from neurological disorders or Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), what you find works for you will be right for you, and happily, most USB and Bluetooth input devices work just fine on the Mac, especially if you can live with Windows key mapping on PC ‘boards, or it’s possible to remap the ‘board if you wish. I’ve never bothered with the latter, as I find it easy to adapt to the Windows keys, and I switch keyboards relatively often. I actually like the way the F-keys work on the PC K750 than the way the Mac version is configured.

How about you? Do you just opt to stick with Apple input devices, or do you have third-party favorites?

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  • keyboard mouse

    Thank you,
    The information you have shared is very informative.