Requiem for a keyboard

For almost six years now, my favorite Mac keyboard—the one I’ve chosen to use when I’m not required to type on something else for a review or the like—has been Logitech’s long-discontinued diNovo Keyboard Mac Edition1. (That’s a link to my 2009 Macworld review.)

If you don’t remember the diNovo, that’s not surprising. Plenty of keyboard geeks have never even tried it, because it looks like many other low-profile keyboards and doesn’t use big, clacky keys. That’s a shame, because the diNovo Mac Edition is the best Mac keyboard ever made.

(I know, I know. Mechanical-keyboard aficionados, you can wipe the spit-take off your desks now. If you’re a fan of Cherry keyswitches and other mechanical-keyboard fare, you think I’m crazy. That’s okay. Because while you’ve been unnecessarily bulking up your finger muscles, and annoying everyone within earshot with clicks and clacks, I’ve been using the Best Keyboard Ever.)

The diNovo Keyboard Mac Edition

The diNovo Keyboard Mac Edition

You can read my original review, but here are the—ahem—key reasons why this keyboard is so great:

  • It has truly fantastic keys. No, they aren’t Apple Extended Keyboard great—they’re a different kind of great. As I wrote back in 2009, “The diNovo uses Logitech’s PerfectStroke keys, which have a unique mechanism that’s somewhere between the dome-style keys traditionally found on desktop keyboards and the scissor-style keys used by most laptops. The result is low-profile keys that are a bit thicker than laptop keys but require less travel (the distance you have to push a key for it to be recognized) than desktop keys. The keys are among the best I’ve used on any keyboard, providing a near-perfect combination of initial resistance, key travel, and tactile response, with slightly concave tops adding a good tactile feel.”
  • It offers the complete array of keys, including a standard numeric keypad; a separate, inverted-T pod of arrow keys; and the standard group of Home/End/Page Up/Page Down/Delete/Fn keys. And everything is in the right place. I’m not a fan of the recent trend toward compact keyboards that lack numeric keypads, and I absolutely despise keyboards that change the locations of standard keys. Keyboard vendors: Give your prototypes to a few touch-typists; if they complain, rethink your design.2 It’s that simple.
  • It includes 19 F-keys, instead of the usual 12 or 15, and most of those keys are customizable using Logitech’s software3. The keys come pre-programmed to perform standard Mac F-key functions, but I’ve remapped most of them to special functions, app launches, and key combinations.4 (Surprisingly, whenever I have to use a different keyboard, this is the thing I miss the most. I haven’t found another keyboard with as many F-keys that can be as easily programmed, even if I use the excellent Keyboard Maestro.)
  • It has a near-flat profile, which is ergonomically much better for your hands and wrists than thicker keyboards that rise in the back.5
  • A minor touch that I’ve really grown to appreciate over the years is that the bottom row (the modifier keys and space bar) uses keys that are slightly thicker (taller) than others. A touch-typist presses these keys with the thumbs or (in the case of Control) the pinkies, using motions that are more awkward than typing on other keys. The raised design of these keys on the diNovo means they’re easier to press, reducing strain on the thumbs and pinkies, especially when pressing keyboard shortcuts. It’s a subtle design detail that really enhances the experience of using the keyboard.

In other words, while a few keyboards may have slightly better keys (especially if you’re a fan of mechanical keyswitches), the diNovo Mac Edition has an overall combination of great keys, very good ergonomics, and programmability that I’ve yet to see matched.

My only real beef is that the F-keys, along with the Escape and Eject keys, are mashed together in a single, uninterrupted row that itself sits flush with the number row. Most touch-typists I know prefer the traditional layout, which splits the F-keys into groups of four, and separates that F-key row from the main keyboard area, making it easy to find and press any of those keys by touch. To be fair, without the diNovo’s approach, I probably wouldn’t get the extra F-keys, F13 through F196.

Goodbye old friend(s)

I bring my love for the diNovo Mac up because mine apparently died last week. The Logitech software sees it, as it still shows up in Logitech Control Center, but keypresses are no longer recognized (or maybe it’s that they’re no longer being transmitted—the effect is the same).

I’ve been here before, actually. When Logitech discontinued the diNovo a few years back, I bought several extras—I had four in all. Each of them met a similar fate: After about two years of heavy use, it just stopped working. I’d put the dead one back in its box, pull out a new one, and pick up where I’d left off.

My stack of (dead) diNovo keyboards

My stack of (dead) diNovo keyboards

“But wait a minute,” you might be thinking. “If you had four, and each lasts for two years, you should have one left—you should be good for two more years!”

Oh, if only. Last week’s keyboard death was immediately followed by another unexpected tragedy—this one much worse.

I pulled out the last of my diNovo keyboards, feeling pretty good about myself for having the foresight to buy so many extra. I unsealed the box, which had never even been opened. I pulled out the little battery tabs that keep the factory-installed batteries from draining while the product is in storage. I connected the RF dongle. I slid the keyboard’s power switch to On…and nothing happened. The keyboard’s power LED didn’t light up, the Logitech software didn’t see the keyboard, and keypresses weren’t recognized.

Thinking that perhaps the preinstalled batteries were dead—it’s been three or four years since I bought the fourth (and last) diNovo—I flipped the keyboard over and opened the battery compartment. That’s when I discovered, to my horror, the problem: The batteries had leaked. Worse, the leak had destroyed the keyboard itself, as no amount of cleaning and tweaking could revive it. (Related: I was up far too late that night trying to revive a dead keyboard.)

It’s a sad, sad week in my office.

I admit that it may seem silly to get bent out of shape over a broken keyboard, but consider: I spend 8 to 12 hours a day standing at my computer using the keyboard. Few things in my work environment affect my comfort and efficiency more. A fantastic keyboard with comfortable keys, good ergonomics, and lots of useful shortcuts dramatically improves my computing experience. (This is why I’m such a fanatic about—and advocate for—great keyboards, whether for the Mac or for iOS.)

So I’m actually quite sad today. An era of my computing life—the one where, every single day, I actively appreciated how great my keyboard was—has apparently come to an end7.

Of course, there are other good Mac keyboards out there, including a couple very good ones from Logitech: the excellent Bluetooth Easy-Switch Keyboard K811 (which my Wirecutter colleagues also like) and the very good Wireless Solar Keyboard K750 for Mac. But their keys aren’t as good as those on the diNovo Mac, neither has as many F-keys, and the F-keys each does have aren’t easily programmable. I’ll likely end up using the K750 going forward, because I need a numeric keypad, but I’ll miss the diNovo Mac every day.

By the way, if you have a Logitech diNovo Mac Edition sitting around that’s in good, working condition, let me know. I’m in the market.

  1. Not to be confused with the also-good-but-not-as-good diNovo Edge Mac Edition.
  2. People buying third-party keyboards are either replacing a broken stock keyboard or looking for something better. In either case, your offerings need to be at least just as good as what they’ve been using: A keyboard is used so much, and people are so familiar with their current keyboard, that they’ll immediately notice ways in which a new one is inferior. Unless you’re aiming for the “Oh, that works, and it’s cheap” people, make the effort to create a keyboard people will love, not one they’ll just put up with.
  3. I’ve heard a good number of complaints over the years about Logitech Control Center, but I’ve apparently been very lucky, as it’s always worked great for me.
  4. From my review: “With Logitech’s software installed, these keys (from left to right) adjust brightness down and up; invoke Expose; activate Dashboard; control media playback (back, play/pause, forward); mute/unmute volume; adjust volume down and up; activate Cover Flow; activate Quick Look; invoke Spaces; and open iTunes, Mail, Safari, and Calculator. As with Apple’s keyboards, you can choose whether or not these actions require the use of the fn key, which is located just to the right of the delete key….Each can be configured as a keystroke, a modifier key, any of the special functions listed above, or one of a number of other options: opening a program, document, folder, or URL; taking a screenshot; switching applications; or zooming the screen. If you’d like keys to do different things in different programs, you can set up program-specific settings.”
  5. Don’t get me started about those flip-out kickstands that raise the back edge of the keyboard so that it’s higher than the front. Unless you have a very specific setup where your wrists are below the front edge of the keyboard and your forearms are angling up—so the angled keyboard keeps your wrist and arm aligned—using those kickstands is a terrible thing to do.
  6. Some people have also complained that the diNovo uses an RF dongle instead of Bluetooth, but as I’ve written many times over the years, I think that’s mostly a marketing-induced complaint—these days, RF seems inferior. In my experience, as long as you have a spare USB port, RF is great for a desktop keyboard. The range and reliability are as good as (and sometimes better than) with Bluetooth, and RF keyboards never experience the “Bluetooth pause” where you have to wait for the device to reconnect when it’s been sleeping.
  7. It’s disappointing how few good aftermarket Mac keyboards are out there these days. There are a decent number of expensive mechanical models available, but for those of us partial to “normal” keyboards, the options are limited. Part of the decline in the third-party Mac-keyboard market is surely that Apple’s keyboards are now good enough for many people (and much better than the mushy-keyed monsters from the 90s and 2000s). Also, a huge proportion of people have laptops and don’t use standalone keyboards. Still, there were a few years in the late 2000s when Mac users were spoiled by a plethora of options for great, full-size, low-profile keyboards.