Logitech MX Keys Review

Logitech MX Keys Review

The Logitech MX Keys is my current favorite desktop keyboard, and it's a brilliant keyboard for me during the great work from home adventure of 2020. Even if you're switching between a Mac and an iPad in your normal day-to-day, this is a great keyboard.

Compatibility

The MX Keys works great with macOS, Windows, and iPadOS, and acts like a first class citizen on each platform. The modifier keys are all printed with Mac and Windows symbols, so pairing with either system is intuitive, and the special function buttons at the top right for taking screenshots, opening the calculator, and locking the screen all do exactly what you'd expect on each platform.

Logitech makes this multi-device support a breeze too, as you can have it paired with up to 3 devices at once. It will only connect to one at a time, but you can toggle between your devices in literally a second by using the 1, 2, and 3 buttons on the top of the keyboard. The change takes no time at all, and it's really a matter of how quickly your new device sees the new Bluetooth signal, which for me has been a second or less almost every time.

My current working situation has me at home and I'm using the same monitor for work as I am for my gaming PC. So at night my keyboard is paired with a Windows computer and does all the Windows things you'd expect, and then I work in the morning and all I have to do is tap the "2" button to switch to my Mac and I'm immediately switched over and all the keys work like they should on a Mac. At the end of the work day, just press "1" and I'm back to the PC.

Feel and Layout

Alright, this is not a mechanical keyboard, nor will it trick you into thinking it's mechanical. That said, it feels quite nice to type on and there is more than enough key depth here. For context, the keys go down a little more than the Magic Keyboard. Apple's excellent Magic Keyboard has about 1mm of travel, and the MX Keys has 1.8mm, which is solid. Which you prefer will be a matter of taste, of course.

And these keys feel excellent! The keyboard is surprisingly heavy and acts as a solid base for these keys to plunk down into. They're less "sharp" than the Magic Keyboard, but I actually find that to be a little easier on my finger tips. The concave key caps were a concern going in, but I'm happy to report that they actually feel really nice and help me know where on each key I'm pressing so I can more easily find the center of each key. I just love it.

In terms of sound, it's a very quiet keyboard, so while I get a little tactile bump when I press a key, my office-mates (well, my one day office-mates) don't have to be bothered. This is a membrane keyboard, yes, but it's not a mushy one.

And the layout is pretty much just what you'd expect, which is a good thing. The only real complaint I have is that the top right of the keyboard is devoted to special function buttons. I made great use of the F13-19 keys on my Magic Keyboard using Keyboard Maestro, and I can't do the same thing with this keyboard. I lose F13-15 to the device switching buttons, and F16-19 turn into special functions.

Software

This is something that bothers a few people, but I like the Logi Options app, and it's what helps me make the keyboard (and mouse) behave more how I'd like. While I can't customize every key, I can change all of the function keys, as well as the 4 special action keys to do other things. You can change them to open specific applications or to simulate any keyboard combination you want.

I mapped mine to Ctrl+Opt+Cmd+Q and a few other letters which I then mapped to automations in Keyboard Maestro. This is a bit of a hack, and I suspect the vast majority of users will just stick with the default behavior, but I like that I had an easy-to-use UI to change these my way. I would love it if Logitech updated this app to let me map these to simply F16-19, but I doubt they'll do that.

Lights and Power

The MX Keys uses Bluetooth (awesome) and USB-C to charge (double awesome). You can also pair it via Logitech's classic(?) USB dongle if you'd prefer. As far as I can tell, it does not have a wired mode, and pluggin in the USB-C cable only charges it, it does not actually set up a wired connection to your computer. This is slightly frustrating for those times you need to press a button during boot up as this keyboard simply will not do.

If you use it unplugged, it will last for a couple weeks on a charge, which is actually very short. I have the backlight on and I get about 2 weeks of power out of it, so I have been charging it over the weekend. When the Magic Keyboard (which is what this replaced for me, if you were curious why it keeps being my reference point) lasts for months, this feels like a big downgrade.

The keyboard also has some sensors to turn the backlight on when you bring your hands towards the keyboard, and turn them off when you take your hands away. It's pretty clever, and is a way to save battery life, but my 2 week number is when using this power-saving feature. I have to think it's even shorter with it off.

Oh, and those backlights? They're fine. They are not RGB and just come in a nice white, and they immuninate the keyboard well. I don't know what else to say here, they're backlights that don't suck.

Buying Advice

The MX Keys is $99 which is objectively expensive for an accessory that comes for free with the computer you're using this with. But considering the nice key feel, great construction, good software integration, and easy device switching, it makes a really compelling case for that price tag.

And if you're looking for a good Mac keyboard, this $99 price tag isn't that crazy. The Magic Keyboard, which I've referenced all over this review, goes for $30-50 more than this, and mechanical offerings like the Keychron line are only $10-20 cheaper. From what I have used, this is the best balance of features, price, and delight.

Birch Bark Public Issue #2

Birch Bark has been going strong for 7 issues now, and I wanted to share another issue here to give everyone a better idea of what it entails since it's changed style a bit since launching in February. Head on over here if you'd like to see this in your inbox every Friday morning!

Art
Videos
Music
This album is pop excellence! Don't Start Now, Cool, and Levitating are on a hard repeat for me right now.
I'd never heard of Waxahatchee before, but after this record she is permanently on my radar. I get sort of Kacey Musgraves vibes from this, if that helps you get an idea of if you want to listen to this or not.
Links
I've only seen 18 of these, and most of them are the newer ones, but this list was a nice reminder than indies can be so successful that we forget they were indies in the first place.
Almost all of these cars find a new and interesting way to be ugly.
I never left RSS, even when all the cool kids were getting their news from Twitter (I think I won the long game on that one), and this article is a good primer on getting back into it in 2020. Only omission is that they didn't mention Inoreader, my favorite web reader and sync service.
I love hearing (reading) everything Bill Gates has to say these days. He's incredibly sharp, and communicates extremely well. Oh, and the advice in here is good too!
This dad is a good sport.
This graph of IMDB ratings for tons of TV shows is fascinating. The Game of Thrones one is particularly distinctive.

The Keychron K4 is Not for Me

The Keychron K4 is Not for Me

I got this keyboard from work, and fully expected to love it. After all, tons of YouTubers and tech bloggers out there seem to love it, so it had to be good, right? Well, it may be good for some people, but it's not the right keyboard for me. Here's why.

The Left

Things start out so promising on the left side of the keyboard. The bown and gray keys look fantastic, and the orange accent on the escape key is perfection. The function row also defaults to things like screen brightness, volume, and media controls, which this Mac fan likes. And the keys on this model are Gateron Yellows, which are not my favorite feeling (browns by a mile) but they are pretty decent.

So far so good.

The Middle

Then we get to the middle of the keyboard and things fall down a bit. The scrunched Command and Control keys are a bit annoying, but not the end of the world, but the space bar is a real chonker and takes a lot of effort to press down. I know these are yellow key switches and that may be expected, but I didn't love how this felt.

But still, nothing to kill it for me.

The Right

As is so often the case in my life, the right is where all things just go crazy ;)

I hate everything about this side of the keyboard. The killer here is the positioning of the arrow keys. They feel like every other key on the board and they are wedged in there so it's impossible to know where they are by touch, you need to just know. I don't want to think about my hand placement when it comes to arrowing around my computer, and this made me have to think and look down every time.

I also could not get on board with the placement of the delete key, the home/end layout, or the small zero on the number pad.

The Height

Which finally brings us to the wrist killer: the height of this keyboard. It sits so freaking high that I needed to get a tall wrist rest to type on it. I tend to prefer flatter keyboards and while I knew this was teller going in, my wrist pain tells me I either need to adapt to this or go back to something a lot shallower.

As you can see in the comparison above, by mechanical keyboard I use at home is just over half as high as this one and I find it way more comfortable to type on.

The Verdict

This keyboard may be perfect for some people, and that's totally fine by me. It's an $80 mechanical keyboard that looks nice, has good switches, is lit for dark rooms, comes in an RGB version (for $10 more), uses Bluetooth, and works great with a Mac. But sadly for me, the layout and height of this keyboard make it a no-go for me.

Check it out on Amazon if you want to give it a go.

I sheepishly had to ask my IT department to let me return this one and get what I use at home: the Logitech MX Keys, which is definitively not a mechanical keyboard, but works so much better for what I like in a keyboard.

Save Today’s New York Times Front Page with Shortcuts

Save Today’s New York Times Front Page with Shortcuts

Okay, so this one requires some credits before anything else.

  1. I modified Brian Renshaw’s shortcut which saves the page as a JPEG to Day One.
  2. His was modified from one by Matthew Cassinelli.
  3. His was modified from this one on Reddit.

The Shortcut

Download it here.

Before anything else, make a folder called "nytimes" inside your Shortcuts iCloud folder. Otherwise the shortcut will error out because it doesnt know where to save the file.

You can run this from the Shortcuts app, or you could run it from the home screen widget, or you could even set it up on an automation to run every day automatically. iOS still requires you to confirm you want it to happen, but it gives you a persistent notification on your iOS devices to make it happen.

What it Does

  1. Downloads today’s front page of the New York Times
  2. Saves the file to iCloud Drive (/Shortcuts/nytimes/2020-03-29.pdf, for example)

And that’s it…it’s pretty darn simple. My contribution was simply to make this a little cleaner and save the file named nicely with no usr input: simply tap the shortcut and it will be done in a second. Forgot if you ran it already today? No worries, just run it again and it will overwrite today’s PDF if it exists already.

Saving the file as a PDF takes up a little more space than the JPEG version in Brian’s version, but it also means you get high quality, indexable text you can use to find things at a later date. I don’t use Day One anymore, but I suspect the reason for the JPEG was because Day One doesn’t support PDFs for diary entries, but I’m not sure.

Bonus Shortcut

This one is embarrassingly hacky, but I used it to get all of the 2020 covers in one go.

Download the Jan 1 - Mar 29 covers with this shortcut.

If you know of a better way to do this, please let me know! Better yet, update it yourself and share it so more people can enjoy it.

UPDATE: Jimmy Little improved this version of the shortcut to return however many days of results you'd like. This is way better, so use it instead! Download here.

watchOS 7/iOS 14 Wish: Better Notification Behavior

Ok, so this is a kinda vague request, but it’s something that’s bothered me more since I’ve adjusted my watch notifications while going through this COVID-19 mess. Let me try to explain…

Default Notification Behavior

All notifications are mirrored to your watch. This means that everything that buzzes your phone will now tap your wrist. Effectively, you will never feel your phone vibrate because your watch is doing it all for you.

I like this because it makes it so that when I’m wearing my watch, I have one place to get notifications, and when I take it off to charge, my phone seamlessly takes over.

Getting Watch and Phone out of Sync

In order to stay a little more disconnected, I’ve turned off watch notifications for a bunch of apps. Twitter notifications, for example, are not important enough to tap my wrist, but I still want to get them, so I show them on my phone.

The problem here is that now my watch taps me for some things and my phone buzzes for other things. This is not what I personally want, as this introduces two devices that are trying to get my attention.

What I Want

What I would love is for any app that I do not have sending notifications to my watch to switch to “deliver quietly” while I’m wearing my watch. Still send them to my phone and let me see them on the lock screen, but don’t buzz for each one. Then when I take off my watch, start buzzing for all notifications again.

I could accomplish this by making all the notifications I don’t put on my watch deliver quietly, but that’s a decent amount of up front effort and ultimately isn’t what I want all the time, so I don’t think it’s quite right.


This is not a fully formed idea, and there are surely complexities around this, not to mention people who like the current behavior just fine, but for me this is something that annoys me and I wish I could improve more easily.

My Apple Watch is Making Social Distancing and Work-from-Home Easier

My Apple Watch is Making Social Distancing and Work-from-Home Easier

I’ve been home more in the past 2 weeks than any point in my adult life, and in that time, I’ve come to appreciate the Apple Watch more than ever.

I love the activity tracking for helping me make sure I maintain a healthy amount of activity throughout the day.

I love the stand notifications, yes the stand notifications, for letting me know how much less I get up from my desk chair while working from home. Office work is not very aerobic, but apparently it’s a workout compared to sitting in one’s office all day.

I appreciate the breath notifications because yeah, despite being pretty darn calm most of the time, there have been a a few times these weeks where a couple minutes to collect my thoughts was a welcome reminder.

I love having weather on my wrist and being able to see a t a glance that “hey, it’s pretty nice out now, I should take a walk to get some air and maybe fill those rings.”

I love being able to partially disconnect from Twitter and the news more easily by leaving my phone in the bedroom while I go about other things around the house. If an important notification comes through, I get it on my wrist and can reply either right away or go get the phone if it’s going to be more than a quick reply.

I love being able to have a productivity-based watch face that I can look at at any time and see my next task in Things available if I just need a reminder of what I can work on next.

I love that if I don’t want to have all that productivity stuff front and center then I’m a simple swipe away from my numerals duo watch face that just tells me the time in the most beautiful digital numbers I’ve ever seen on a watch.

Maybe this isn’t fair, but I love seeing notifications of messages from friends and family on my watch. I know, they’re also on my phone, but there’s something about seeing them on my wrist that makes them feel more personal somehow. I can’t logically explain this one, but it’s a thing.

And as an odd thing, I of course enjoy seeing the time on my Series 5 model without raising my wrist. You can lose track of the day when you’re outside your normal rhythm and while many devices in my life have clocks on them, none as as readily accessible as the one on my wrist.

The currently world is a mess, and we don’t know when things will get back to normal. There are also so many things more important than a watch going on right now, from doctors, nurses, other medical professionals, scientists, couriers, mailmen/women, delivery drivers, grocers, pharmacists, police, firefighters, retail workers, and more all making sure that the world keep functioning. These people are doing more than my watch will ever do for me, but my niche is the Apple Watch, and even with all this going on, my appreciation for it continues to grow.

8 Hours of Animal Cross New Horizons for Your Daily Grind

8 Hours of Animal Cross New Horizons for Your Daily Grind

Ok, so let’s all agree not to make this post reach too far and wide and let the powers that be know about it, but if you ever wanted your work day to feel more like Animal Crossing and less like…well, normal work, this is just the ticket for you.

Animal Crossing New Horizons has 24 tracks of music that play throughout the day, one song per hour. My compilation plays all 24 tracks for 20-ish minutes each, clocking in at almost exactly 8 hours. Start this when you log on for the day and hopefully you’ll be wrapping up work as soon as it finishes.

The best flow seemed to be to start at the 6AM track, which feels very warm and welcoming, and concludes all the way around at 5AM with some very chill night time music to wrap up the day.

Download the 8 hour MP3 here (462 MB) and put it on in the background while you work. Just make sure to turn it off before jumping on a conference call.

And if you would prefer them as individual tracks in the music player of your choice, there is also a 24 track version you can download here (80 MB).

PS5's Disappointing Backwards Compatibility

From the official PlayStation blog

A quick update on backward compatibility – With all of the amazing games in PS4’s catalog, we’ve devoted significant efforts to enable our fans to play their favorites on PS5. We believe that the overwhelming majority of the 4,000+ PS4 titles will be playable on PS5.

The fact that PS5 will not have full backwards compatibility with PS4 games is a disappointment, even though I've seen some people express joy in this update. I'm sure most big games will still run, and that's great, but it feels like they should have done better here.

What's really disappointing is that as far as we know, there is zero PS1, PS2, or PS3 compatibility. With all this power at their disposal, emulating PS1 and PS2 games should be a breeze. The PS3 was notoriously complicated, but PCs are able to do this really well today, so it seems like it should be there too.

Sony has a remarkable collection of games on their 4 major consoles, and it's a shame that it currently looks like you will only be able to enjoy PS4 and 5 games on this new machine. Unleashing that libraary of games on the new console would make this The PlayStation and would help them get the gamers who want the new, as well as those who want to relive the classics. Maybe Sony has a summer announcement where they'll reveal expanded compatibility, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

I should mention that PlayStation Now lets you play some PS2 and PS3 games, but only via streaming and it is only an average experience in my time with it.

The iPad Gets Serious (insert eye roll emoji here)

Apple's iPad Pro becomes more like a Surface, and that's a problem for Microsoft | Windows Central

I'd argue – and many of you would too – that Windows 10 is still a more "serious" OS built for doing "real" work.

It bothers me more than it probably should that people use this language to talk about computing platforms. What this statement usually boils down to is “the iPad doesn’t do what I do all the time,” which is a fine position to take, but that’s a very different thing.

For example, I started this blog post by selecting that line of text in Windows Central, and with 2 taps had this fully formatted blog post open in Ulysses. Once it’s done, I’ll post to my Ghost blog with literally 2 taps as well. I don’t know how I would automate that on Windows, Ulysses doesn’t exist on Windows, and I certainly don’t know how I’d post to Ghost, short of manually pasting in the article and adding the metadata in the Ghost web UI. Does that mean Windows isn’t as serious as iPadOS?

The good news is while Apple is just now catching up to Microsoft's 2012 vision of a 2-in-1 tablet PC, Microsoft is already on to the next thing: foldable and dual-screen devices.

This bit from later in the article made me raise an eyebrow as well, because while Daniel (who I should note I find really interesting and has turned into my go-to Windows writer) appears to be saying Microsoft is pulling ahead with this new tech, is almost surely writing what John Gruber would affectionately call “claim chowder.”

Microsoft was first to smartphones, but they were too early, didn’t nail the execution, and lost hard in the smartphone market when it took off post-iPhone. They were much earlier to touch screen tablet as well, but again they goofed the software and the hardware was not nearly ready for consumer products, and they lost hard to the iPad. Now they’re getting to dual-screen laptops and tablets today, but if I zoom out to the long view, this really feels like something that’s going to be a big old nothing thing for a long time before a real use case comes up.

My last point on this is that when Microsoft demoed their Surface Duo and Neo, I thought they looked like cool tech, but didn’t see how they fit into my life, nor how they would make my life better. Microsoft still has time to make that case, but this feels a lot like deja vu to me.

First Impressions of Mouse Support in iPadOS 13.4

Apple made a lot of iPad users very happy yesterday where they unveiled mouse and trackpad support in iPadOS 13.4. A someone who has been asking for more full featured mouse support for a while, this got me really excited and I immediately installed the update and tried it out.

Pairing Process

Pairing your mouse is super simple. Just hold down the pairing button on the mouse, open the Bluetooth settings page on the iPad, and tap your mouse that appears in the list of available devices.

That’s it, the next time you move the mouse at all, the new cursor will show up on screen.

Movement and Scrolling

Basic mouse support was added in an accessibility feature last year, and that was okay, but it was clearly a hack on top of iPadOS. It was aimed at simulating the same touch events you did with your fingers. This mouse support is much different, and it’s absolutely not a tacked on feature.

First, the cursor itself looks much nicer, and it adjusts its form depending on what you’re hovering over. The way it animates from circle to cursor to buttons is really slick, and immediately made the Mac/Windows style of moue feel a little old to me.

And moving the mouse feels perfectly normal, which is that say it feels like using this mouse on my Mac. Additionally, scrolling with Logitech’s awesome scroll wheel is a delight. This all feels more fluid and more natural than doing these same things with the accessibility version of mouse support.

And if you prefer different settings, there are options to change the tracking speed, the scroll direction, and what the right click button does. Interestingly, there are no options to configure the other buttons on the mouse to do anything. So my back, forward, and scroll wheel buttons all are now left-click buttons, which is weird. Right-click does indeed work as you’d expect.

Where Did the Cursor Go?!

This first implementation is not perfect though. The first thing that throws me is that when you hover over certain elements, the cursor goes away and the thing you’re hovering over gets highlighted. It’s not always obvious what you’re hovered over, especially on things like home screen icons because the difference between the hovered icon and all the rest is super slight. Can you tell where the mouse is in this screenshot?

You might have been able to tell it was Deliveries, but you had to think about it.

Also, because the cursor turns into the thing you’re hovered over, you lose some context on excactly where inside that item the cursor is. This made moving the mouse elsewhere a little odd because I didn’t know exactly where I was starting from. One of the things that’s great about the mouse is how accurate you can be with it and this makes it so you feel less accurate than you’re used to being. Conveniently, you can turn this behavior off by going to Settings > Accessibility > Pointer Control and turning off pointer animations.

I’m leaving it on for now because this is how Apple thinks it should be and I may get used to it and come to love it, but I’m keeping this escape hatch in the back of my mind just in case I never come around.

Unexpected Behavior

iPadOS has always been a touch-first operating system, and over the past decade of using iPads, I’m very used to how things work with my fingers and Apple Pencil. I know how to drag files around, pull up multitasking, and do all the little things with the iPad.

The mouse doesn’t simulate touch interactions, so you kind of have to figure out how to do everything with the mouse. For example, I wanted to select multiple items from the Files app this morning and drag them into Safari. With touch this is incredibly simple. but I could not figure it out with the mouse. I tried CMD+clicking around and could not do it, and eventually gave up and used my meaty fingers in 2 seconds.

Also, things like bringing up multitasking is a little tricky, as are pulling down notifications or accessing Control Center. You can do them, but the actions you perform with the mouse are a bit different and are taking a little time to get used to.

Overall

I think using a mouse with the iPad on its own is nice, but is not something I’m going to do all the time. I did find using Working Copy to edit code and Affinity Designer to edit images to be a little nicer with the mouse, but most things are either the same or more difficult. The iPad’s touch-first UI is really fantastic and I often felt like direct manipulation of the stuff on screen was easier than using an old fashioned mouse to do the same thing. After all, this is one of the things that makes me love the iPad in the first place!

I do think this makes the use case for a larger, desktop iPad (or even an iPad hooked up to an external monitor) to be a much more compelling use case going forward. I also wish I had a track pad to try this out with. I think a track pad + keyboard + touch would be really nice, and I look forward to trying that out in May when the very expensive, but very cool looking iPad Magic Keyboard comes out.