After giving Windows users a taste of what a solar keyboard is like, Logitech has swung its attention to Mac users with a native version of the Wireless Solar Keyboard K750. It still promises to forever eliminate charging, but it now has a new Mac-oriented design and a fresh look. We'll see in our K750 for Mac review how well it works on Apple computers, including apps, and whether some earlier quirks have been sorted out.
Looks and the Unifying adapter
Of all the things to change for the Mac version of the K750, the change that users might like the most is just the palette swap. You can still get the conservative black of the Windows version we reviewed, but you can now get any one of four extra colors. One is an all-silver hue that arguably looks the most coordinated with the aesthetic of an iMac, Mac mini, or MacBook, but the remaining three are two-tone models that mix a white base with a bright blue, green, or pink.
Our tester came in green, and while it's not a perfect match for the iMac it was attached to, it's a refreshing break from the tendency of the industry to go with drab black. There are some upsides, too: dust isn't as much of an issue on white, and it's easier to see in low light. Not much has changed for the key design itself apart from the necessary swaps for Apple-native keys, although the indented Windows key is obviously absent. Overall, it's just slightly more attractive; the keys aren't backlit, but that doesn't matter as much on the desktop.
If you haven't used one before, one of the most striking elements will be just how thin it is. Technically, Apple's official keyboards are thinner across most of the design, but the K750 is much more consistently flat. Because you don't need removable batteries and you're using scissor-motion notebook keys, it's just one thin slab that needs only two small but quite sturdy props to lift it up. As a full-length keyboard it's not truly portable, but it's thin enough that you could put it in a large enough bag without straining the contents.
As with other Logitech input hardware, the keyboard links up through a wireless RF-based USB connector known as the Unifying adapter. Apart from taking up very little space -- the connector is just barely larger than its plug -- its advantage is supporting as many as five extra Logitech devices at once. It's a boon if you're on a Mac mini and don't have an existing Apple mouse, or if you just prefer to live in an all-Logitech world; we'd like if it supported third-party hardware too, but in the absence of a universal 2.4GHz RF wireless standard (Bluetooth doesn't count), it cuts down on the clutter.
Typing and special keys
Simply typing with the keyboard is a pleasure. The feel is much the same as in the Windows version: the 'chiclet' keys are easy to hit and have a quick travel but yet don't feel cheap or hollow. While not ergonomic, they're comfortable over long periods. They're quiet, too. If you're used to keyboards with tall traditional keys and their constant clacking, you'll like the much softer (though not completely silent) sound. Certainly anyone else in the room will appreciate it.
Some users, such as gamers, might want the keyboard for the full-size layout. Apple doesn't make a wireless keyboard with a number pad and dedicated keys for tasks like the page up/down or home keys, so if you tend to use apps that either require or greatly benefit from these secondary keys, you'll like the K750 immediately. It does create the problem of being noticeably larger, though, so if you have little desktop space or aren't comfortable with the mouse as far away, keep that in mind.
As you'd expect, all the special functions on the top row of keys have been altered to fit the Mac and include everything you'd need. You can tell that Logitech didn't have the inside knowledge that Apple did when it made the new MacBook Air's keyboard, though: instead of Mission Control and Launchpad from Mac OS X Lion, they're still the Expos? and Dashboard shortcuts for Snow Leopard and earlier. It's not a huge issue as the keys remap properly; you also have five blank function keys to program to your own ends. Either way, it still feels at home in the Mac world.
Solar charging and the Solar App
The selling points are no doubt the two solar panels at the top. They charge both from natural and artificial lighting, and you could in theory never need to even think about the keyboard's power. It could work for at least three months in pure darkness, Logitech says, making it unlikely that its power levels will be a danger.
To at least some extent, that's true. Even at night when only lamps are providing power, we could tell that the K750 was still drawing a charge. If your computer is near a window that gets significant sunlight, having to consider the power is almost an afterthought. Battery drain when it does happen is a gradual process where it can take a week just to drop 10 percent, which we checked over the long term test.
Helping with that is Solar App, a largely direct port of the Windows app that checks the power of the keyboard. It's basic but covers all you really need to know: how much sun the solar panels are getting in lux (lumen per square meter), what charge the battery holds, and long-term trends. The app is cued to a light check button on the keyboard, which itself gives a quick glimpse. and will warn you if it notices a long-term trend of a draining battery that could pose a problem in several weeks.
It's getting a charge that's the K750's only real issue, but it's a real one and a problem not solved since the Windows version. Our desk is in a position which depends on a balance of lamp and natural light for most of the day, with a good but not extensive amount of light at night. In our experience, leaving the keyboard in its static position could lead to that gradual decline in battery life we were afraid of, and that's during the summer when sunlight is available for longer; fall and winter will likely accelerate that process. Recharging in these condition meant often deliberately moving the keyboard to a place with better light for a few hours, such as a balcony window or directly under a lamp. Based on Solar App, the tipping point when the battery will drain is around 50 lux, or just over the conditions we could manage at night, where it was only truly happy and recharging quickly at 100 lux or more.
As such, you could still end up paying a small amount to recharge the keyboard simply by having to leave a light on for longer, not to mention possible downtime if the keyboard's battery gets low enough. We have to wonder why Logitech didn't make the panels larger or more efficient; there's some significant unused space in that area, and the quarter or so more of extra solar panel cells could make it easier to collect energy in borderline conditions. Still, having to just move the keyboard is a better alternative than replacing batteries every three weeks, even with good rechargeables. As anyone with a Bluetooth keyboard can attest, they need complete charges more frequently and don't necessarily gain anything besides saving a USB port.
If it weren't for the significant challenge of getting a steady supply of light to the keyboard, it would be tempting to give the K750 for the Mac a near-perfect score. As it is, it's still a very good design; it respects what makes Apple's official keyboards work well while adding some features Apple doesn't have. If your lighting environment is brighter than ours, it's possible that you may have found your ideal keyboard.
Three things would have to change for the design to be ideal. We've already talked about solar efficiency, but we'd also like to see a smaller version of this keyboard for those who like Apple's compact keyboards but not the rapid drain of Bluetooth. Logitech is somewhat limited by solar cell technology itself; we're far away from recovering all the energy that hits a panel. A USB port for hardwired recharging would also be valuable in case you're not willing to wait on the sun.
At $60, the price is surprisingly competitive. It's somewhat less expensive than most wireless keyboards, including Apple's $69 example. The real edge, though, is in long-term costs. Even if you use good rechargeables, a typical RF- or Bluetooth-based keyboard may need new batteries every one to two years, in addition to the charger. Factor that into a typical keyboard and you may spend $20, $30, or more on top of the keyboard just to keep it running. For a Mac mini owner already watching costs, that could clinch the sale -- not to mention lead to a genuinely eco-friendly keyboard that doesn't have to take disposables. For that reason, it's hard not to at least put the K750 on the short list of alternative keyboards.