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ATPM 11.06
June 2005

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Review: iceKey

by Michael Tsai, mtsai@atpm.com

excellent

Developer: Macally

Price: $59 (list); $43 (street)

Requirements: Mac with USB, Mac OS 9.2 or Mac OS X 10.1

Trial: None

Readers of my recent reviews know that I like keyboards with mechanical keyswitches, but that few such keyboards are available to Mac users today. My USB keyboard of choice has long been the MicroConnectors “flavored” keyboard, but it’s louder than I’d like, is designed to match Mac styling from the late 90s, and has been discontinued. The Tactile Pro has good key action, but I found it annoyingly loud, and wasn’t quite happy with its looks or the feel of its keys. The StudioBoard types well, but I also found it loud, and I didn’t like its non-standard key layout. Also, both the Tactile Pro and the StudioBoard cost $80 or more. A good keyboard is certainly worth that expense, but it does seem like a hefty premium over Apple’s own standard keyboard, which costs just $29.

Several ATPM readers came to the rescue and suggested that I try Macally’s iceKey. I had tried many of Macally’s keyboards when I first got a USB Mac, and this had convinced me that Macally and I had totally different ideas about how a keyboard should feel. I’d been pretty much ignoring Macally’s input devices ever since, so without this push I probably would not have tried the iceKey—and I would have missed out on a great keyboard.

icekey-side-flat

The iceKey is a low-profile keyboard with laptop-style scissor-action keys. The default angle is nearly flat, and there are also risers that can slant the back up to the height of a normal keyboard. Since the front of the keyboard is lower than normal, this makes for what feels like a slightly greater than normal slant when the risers are in use. I found this uncomfortable, but then I’ve always preferred my keyboard to be flat; I think the iceKey’s default incline is excellent.

icekey-side-raised

I like the keyboard’s understated flat-white styling, although I could do without the glowing green light that indicates that it’s receiving power. Each side of the keyboard has a horizontal USB port, and a lengthy solid-white cable connects it to the Mac.

The top row of function keys are half-size, yet the keyboard as a whole is deeper than most other USB keyboards. It should easily fit on most desks, though, and it’s much smaller than Apple’s old extended keyboards.

icekey-flash

The keys are arranged in a standard US layout. Unlike some other keyboards, the iceKey requires a driver (which is still in beta, but which gave me no problems) in order to use the volume and Eject keys. As with Apple’s newer keyboards, there is no power key, although you can restart, sleep, or shut down your Mac by holding down the Control key and pressing Eject.

The layout of the modifier keys on the right side of the main part of the keyboard is odd. The right Command and Control keys are narrower than the left, while the right Option key is wider. In the corner between the right Control and Shift keys is an extra blank key that has no apparent function. These oddities didn’t seem to affect my typing.

icekey-keys-flash

The iceKey does not use standard mechanical keyswitches like the Tactile Pro, nor does it use membranes like most other USB keyboards. Instead, it has mechanical scissor keys like on a laptop keyboard. This works surprisingly well.

The keys are mechanical, so the action is good. You can feel them click down, and they spring back up nicely. The travel is much shorter than with most non-laptop keyboards. This felt odd at first, but it really grew on me. Now it feels like I’m typing faster, and that my fingers are moving less. Because of the laptop-style mechanism, the keys are quiet, though not silent.

The similarity to a laptop keyboard may make it easier to switch back and forth between a desktop Mac and a portable, but this is not a laptop keyboard. There’s no fn key. The keyboard doesn’t bend and buckle as you type. Though the keys require less pressure than on the Tactile Pro and StudioBoard, they’re comfortably stiffer than on a laptop. This, along with the more spacious layout, makes the iceKey less tiring to type on than a laptop because you don’t have to worry about accidentally pressing keys. The keys also feel more springy and solid than on a laptop. They press down squarely even if you hit them off-center, and my finger never catches the corner of an adjacent key on the way up, as sometimes happens on my iBook.

Never having been a fan of laptop keyboards, I didn’t expect to like the iceKey—yet I do. After several months of use, I now prefer it to my trusty MicroConnectors keyboard. I like the look, the price, the action, and the quiet. This is my new favorite keyboard.

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