Satechi Aluminum Bluetooth Keyboard with Numeric Keypad review: Good form, unreliable function

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.

satechi aluminum bluetooth keyboard magic keyboard Leif Johnson/IDG

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.

satechi aluminum bluetooth keyboard ports Leif Johnson/IDG

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.

satechi aluminum bluetooth keyboard keys Leif Johnson/IDG

It comes with the full range of shortcuts you’d expect from
an Apple keyboard.

Connect three

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 keyboard by magic keyboard
Leif Johnson/IDG

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.

Bottom line

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.

satechi aluminum bluetooth keyboard back Leif Johnson/IDG

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.

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