LOGITECH CRAFT KEYBOARD

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Reviewing a keyboard, that is just a plain old keyboard, is kind of boring.  If it attaches to a tablet, that’s one thing—there’s at least something to talk about there.  Or, if it’s a mechanical keyboard with really awesome, customizable RGB backlighting—that could be interesting too.  But wireless keyboards for your desktop setup…they have to have something special to make them stand out, otherwise they’re, well, just another keyboard.

Much like my love of office supplies, my love of keyboards is deep, and there is a particular style that always grabs my attention—slim keyboards with chiclet style keys.  I’ve been using Kensington keyboards for some time now at my home computer desk, and I think they make a great product.  They are slim, minimalist, and more recently supportive of connections to multiple devices.  And those are exactly the criteria that I use to judge a keyboard, along with (of course) the input experience they provide.

The product here is Logitech’s new Craft Keyboard, described on the packaging as an “Advanced wireless keyboard with creative input dial.”  So, right from the top, I want to focus first on the design of the keyboard.  If you recently purchased the Logitech MX Master 2S, you’ll find the design of this keyboard to complement it well: it’s a largely plastic surface (but rigid), with an aluminum bar across the top which positions at the far left end the “creative input dial.”  The construction is solid; the keyboard barely flexes when pressure is applied and is solid during typing.  Each key is individually backlit and has a concave surface that contours to your fingertips during typing.  The dial (the use of which I will cover later) is “clicky” during use and does not freely spin.  This is not a light keyboard—and I love that; it stays stationary during use.

This keyboard is in its very essence a slim keyboard, but without any built-in means of adjusting pitch.  For me, that works—I like a very flat keyboard experience—but others may find the need to prop up the back-end if the out-of-box experience doesn’t provide the angle you prefer.  The typing experience itself is nearly perfect—the concave, chiclet key caps are extremely comfortable during prolonged use, and the keyboard lets off clicks at a Goldilocks volume.

Some design elements are peculiar—for instance, this keyboard is marketed as a multi-OS device, and the Command key (known as “Alt” by Windows users) contains the iconic Mac clover, however the “Start” key doesn’t have the iconic Windows logo.  Also, depending on your current keyboard—if you are using a single wireless keyboard for devices in multiple OS’s, it may take some getting used to, for instance, that the built-in “Windows” key on your existing keyboard doesn’t double as the “Command” key on Mac OS.

Another peculiarity with this keyboard is how it obviously is designed from a key perspective with Mac users in mind, given the shortcut keys that mimic the older Mac shortcut row with volume controls, brightness controls, Exposé and Launchpad shortcuts—yet from a features perspective doesn’t allow Dial use in the Mac version of the supported Microsoft apps (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) the way it does for the native Windows versions of those programs.

So physically speaking, more so than not, the Logitech Craft keyboard makes for an excellent experience.  But, you wouldn’t pay $200 for a keyboard that is just fine sitting on your desk—additional features would need to justify that kind of price tag.

One of the most sought after features of any keyboard is backlighting.  Again, this isn’t personally my focus when I look at keyboards, as I seldom require any backlighting; even in a dark room the light from a lit screen is enough to see what I’m doing on the rare occasion that I find myself searching for a key.  What makes the backlighting experience on the Craft keyboard just a little bit different is a built-in proximity sensor that knows when your hands are close to the keyboard, lighting the way for your fingers only when needed.  This eliminates the situation where you have to press a key in order for the board to light up, then perhaps undo whatever keypress after you can see what you’re doing.  And, the proximity sensor is one that is constantly working—there is no situation where a pause in your typing will result in the dimming of the backlighting.  I found myself rather entertained in trying to fool the sensor with a piece of paper or by a very non-traditional approach to the keyboard, for instance, from 3 feet above it with my hands in a slow descent.  Every now and then the backlight would stay on even after I moved my hands away, which would definitely impact battery life, but otherwise I found the sensor to be very apt at performing its job well.

Even still, a backlit keyboard with a good sensor is far from worth $200.  So Logitech added their “creative input dial” in hopes that it would close that gap.  It is clear that this device is strictly intended for creative users, which I am not—so consider that when reading.  I am what I deem an office power user, and when I say “office” I’m referring to the location, not the Microsoft suite of applications.  I use Mac’s Notes program along with the host of Microsoft Office applications, but not Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Premier, or anything along those lines.  Still, I was interested in how this dial might augment my current user experience for the more basic applications, and even OS-level operations.

First and foremost, who doesn’t love a giant volume knob?  Out of the box, with no application in mind, that is this dial’s job, and it does it well in Mac, iOS and Windows environments.  A press of the dial provides Play/Pause functionality, and a dual-action press/turn of the dial provides additional functionality.  Furthermore, these functions can be customized, along with the top row of keys, using Logitech’s Options software, much like many of its other devices.  It wouldn’t make sense to buy this keyboard without also intending to download the customization software; and what you can do with the software is certainly a great feature of the keyboard.

For app specific gestures, I was disappointed that the dial didn’t support the Mac versions of Word and Excel.  But, customizing the dial for those applications in Windows was good, albeit a bit limited; fortunately keyboard shortcuts are in no short supply for Word and Excel, and key combinations can be selected as customizations for the dial and the keys.  As a Mac user, I tend to avoid Google Chrome, but the customization is there in both Windows and Mac environments.  Another note about the dial customization—there is a “ratchet” component to the turn control, so that a clicky feedback is felt during operation; when customizing the app-specific use of this control, sometimes you can enable or disable the ratchet so that the dial can be turned more freely.

This is all great—but I think that customization is more limited than it should be; for instance, it shouldn’t be that hard to allow programming of most (if not all) keys, or additional options for the dial.  Over time, I imagine (and hope) that Logitech will partner with software creators to enhance the already good experience with customization.

As far as multi-device control is concerned, I paired the keyboard easily with my MacBook Pro, iPad and Surface Pro 3—and easily moved between those devices during use.  Logitech’s Flow software enabled for the MX Master 2S can also link the keyboard, so that when the mouse passes from device to device the keyboard “follows” it without any additional required keypresses.  The Flow software performance has improved considerably since I first tested it with the 2S, which is promising.

As far as a second generation product is concerned for the Craft keyboard, it is worth noting that this model has a dial that only has three input options: press, turn and press+turn.  With some of Logitech’s other devices that are touch and gesture capable, I would be interested in expanding these 3 options to significantly more with the use of touch gestures and a glass surface; there is certainly space along the top of the keyboard to incorporate some additional sensors.  And, at the price point, I’ll admit that excluding those options here is a bit of a disappointment.  Also, I would love to see the on/off ratchet capability of the dial to be similar to the MX Master 2S speed-adaptive scroll wheel, which automatically enables or disables the ratchet component based upon use.

It is also worth nothing that some of the keys are “squeaky” based upon where they are pressed, which I admit could be unit-specific for the device I received; for me the space bar and left shift key tended to squeak when pressed in certain (but not all) areas of the key.

Something that I’ve overlooked up to this point, and honestly didn’t even realize until well into reviewing the device, is the inclusion of a USB-C charging port.  Considering the MX Master 2S was just released a few months ago with an older micro-USB port, it is a relief that the type C connector was included with this latest Logitech product.  To Logitech, from all of us: THANK YOU.

When it all comes down to it, a $200 price tag is a bit on the steep side for a device that is marginally better than the next best device by the same manufacturer, which comes in at half the price.  What you’re paying for here is the dial and the customization, and to some degree the design; that said, I don’t know that it’s quite enough to justify the price.  Still, if you like the look of it and are a creative professional looking to tap into the extra capabilities afforded by the dial, or just want something that does a great job complementing your MX Master 2S, you’d be hard pressed to find something better from Logitech. Personally, I’d look to pick this up on sale from Logitech directly or after it has been on the market for a few months, in order to save a couple bucks in the process.

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