Backlit keyboards have been in the news for a little while now, but it has only been in the last couple of weeks that we have been able to get our hands on the latest production models of the Pro Tools backlit keyboards from both LogicKeyboard and Editors Keys. In this review keyboard shortcut guru, Mike Thornton takes both of these keyboards for a spin to see what they have to offer.
Why Backlit Keyboards?
In a dimly lit room, you may be hunched over a keyboard, straining to see the keyboard could also be causing, not only eye strain, but back pain and neck pain as well.
Backlit keyboards are designed to work well in darkened rooms, and are ideal where you don't have or want a high level of ambient light, like film dubbing theatres. Add the benefits of application-specific keyboards and for some user groups in the creative sector, like Pro Tools, backlit keyboards have a lot going for them, so let's take a closer look at the offerings from LogicKeyboard and Editors Keys. To give them a good and fair test I have been using both keyboards for a couple of weeks now, regularly swapping between them.
LogicKeyboard Astra Pro Tools Backlit Keyboard
This was the keyboard I tried first, instead of my genuine Apple keyboard. Although I would say the action is a little heavier and the key press travel is slightly greater, I was very pleasantly surprised that I didn't need to adapt my style to use the Astra keyboard, in fact, I just didn't notice it for quite a while.
There aren't any gaps between the keyboard, and I had problems where my finger overhangs the Shift key enough so that on the Astra I catch the Shift Lock key. Because I am not a touch typist, by the time that I look up to see what I have typed, I found I had typed a line or two in caps. As my previous genuine Apple keyboard, which I have pretty well worn out, has a light on the Shift Lock button on the rarer occasions I do miss the Shift key and hit the shift lock key because I am looking down at the keyboard I become aware the issue much quicker.
As to keyboard shortcuts and muscle memory, that didn't seem to be a problem and my use of shortcuts in muscle memory is clearly more accurate that my typing ability and so all the shortcuts I use in Pro Tools were fine. Even the fact the F keys are grouped in blocks of 4 didn't seem to matter.
As I have a Mac Pro cheese-grater, I was very pleased to see the Eject button on the keyboard so I can still open my DVD drive from the keyboard.
The LogicKeyboard F keys only go up to F12, then there are 3 dedicated keys, where the F13 to F15 keys would normally be. The first is a shortcut for taking screenshots and is the same as pressing Command+Shift+4. The second one allows you to switch between manually selecting part of the screen to capture, a particular window or the whole screen and the last one is the DVD Eject button. It's a shame the instructions don't explain the function of these 3 keys; I had to work it out. However, the instructions do refer to the ability to adjust the level of the backlight but do not explain how to do it. I had to find a demo video on YouTube that shows by holding down the fn button you can use the F5 key to reduce the backlight and the fn and F6 keys to increase the backlight level.
The LogicKeyboard lead unusually has 2 USB leads, one which is the keyboard and the second is just for the inbuilt USB hub, so unlike the genuine Apple keyboard where the keyboard is fed from the hub, the hub is accessible separately on the Astra keyboard. They explain that the reason for having a separate cable for the USB hub, is to avoid problems with installations, that require a KVM extender.
LogicKeyboard Astra Pricing And Options
The Pro Tools Astra keyboard is available in Mac or Windows formats and in English US, English UK and German layouts and is priced at £89.90 excl vat. There is also a French Windows version available at the same price.
Editors Keys Pro Tools Backlit Keyboard
This is the latest version of their backlit keyboard and Editors Keys have made a number of improvements to the first version including to the way the light shines through the keys rather than around the keys. Also, the earlier models were combined PC and Mac keyboards which brought some challenges and issues that also required you to install special software. Now they are plug and play and no longer requires software. It is interesting to see that they have dropped the hybrid approach and gone for dedicated Windows and Apple keyboards, and I am happy to report that the challenges and issues with the first version are all resolved with the latest version.
Again the action on the Editors Keys keyboard is slightly different than my genuine Apple keyboard. I would have to be honest and say it doesn't quite feel the same but the difference is small, and with my ham-fisted typing style I appreciate the gaps between the keys. I would have to say that after half an hour I had completely forgotten above the difference of the feel and only spotted it when I switched back,
Because the Editors Keys keyboard is similar to the Apple keyboard and has gaps between the keys, I found I was much less prone to clipping the Shift Lock key. However I have discovered that there is a Shift Lock light on the Editors Keys backlit keyboard, but rather than it is in the Shift Lock key, as it is on the genuine Apple keyboards, it is a blue LED just above the F10 key.
Just as I had no problems with muscle memory on the Astra keyboard, the slight difference in action had no impact in my keyboard shortcuts using the Editors Keys unit. I deliberately swapped keyboards in the middle of a regular job to get a real sense of the differences between the two backlit Pro Tools keyboards. Although the action is different, it doesn't have an impact especially when it comes to Pro Tools shortcuts.
Unfortunately, there doesn't seem that there is an Eject button on the Editors Keys keyboard. There is a Power button in a similar position and pressing that put the computer straight to sleep with no warning, which I wasn't expecting so initially I thought I had turned off the computer with a 'hard-off. But when I pressed the button again back it all came so clearly the button is more of a Sleep button rather than an on/off button.
Unlike the Astra keyboard, the Editors Keys one has extra F keys from F13 up to F17 and then two dedicated backlight level buttons.
The Editors Keys keyboard is just a keyboard, there is no hub at all, separate or integrated, so if you have other items plugged into your keyboard like iLoks or a mouse, you will need to find an alternative solution if you plump for the Editors Keys back keyboard.
Editors Keys Pricing And Options
The Pro Tools Editors Keys keyboard is available in Mac or Windows formats and in English US, English UK and is priced at £83.32 excl vat. There is also a German Windows version available at the same price.
The two keyboards have a different feel with the LogicKeyboard one having a slightly heavier feel which will suit some users. The Editors Keys one is slightly closer to the genuine Apple keyboard although it doesn't quite have the same quality feel like an Apple keyboard, but with the latest version, Editors Keys have got very close to it. The Editors Keys one, like the genuine Apple keyboard, does have gaps between the keys, and if your typing is clumsy like mine, you may find that a benefit.
For me using a Mac Pro cheese-grater with a DVD drive, having the Eject button on the Astra keyboard is a very useful feature, but I am going to have to improve my typing skills so that I am more accurate where I put my fingers as the Astra doesn't have gaps between the keys.
Subtle Differences In Layout
There are a number of small but subtle differences in the layouts of the two UK layout keyboards under review.
The first is that the LogicKeyboard Astra unit has a double height + key on the numeric keypad which I noticed when nudging in Pro Tools, whereas the Editors Keys one has the same layout as my beloved genuine Apple keyboard. This means that the Star, Backslash and Equals keys are displaced one key to the right on the LogicKeyboard unit.
Secondly, the fn key is in a different location on each keyboard. On the Editors Keys unit, it is below the F13 key in the block of keys including Page Up and Page Down whereas on the LogicKeyboard unit it is to the right of the right-hand Control key
Frankly the 2 backlit keyboards are very close, to the extent that I have to declare there is no overall winner, As I swapped back and forth between the 2 keyboards I seemed to prefer the one I was using at the time, in fact it is a dead heat, especially once you take the various differences I have highlighted above into account. I would recommend that you read through this review carefully and use it to help you decide which features are most important to you and go for that keyboard. But whichever keyboard you choose, I don't think you will disappointed.