New Macs, Len­ovo lap­top make key­boards touchy

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

Can the ven­er­a­ble lap­top key­board get more touchy-feely - and in a good way? We’re about to find out. Higher-end mod­els of Ap­ple’s MacBook Pro now come with a nar­row touch screen above the reg­u­lar key­board for quick ac­cess to com­mon set­tings and tasks, while Len­ovo’s Yoga Book lap­top loses the phys­i­cal key­board en­tirely. The tra­di­tional key­board has never struck me as need­ing much im­prove­ment, although peo­ple who’ve grown up on touch screens might well feel dif­fer­ently. These touch in­no­va­tions, in fact, may mostly be aimed at lur­ing such users to lap­tops. So how do the new touch fea­tures im­prove typ­ing and com­put­ing?

Touch Screens, Not Key­boards

Many Win­dows lap­tops and tablets with phys­i­cal key­board ac­ces­sories have long had touch screens. You still type pri­mar­ily on a tra­di­tional key­board, but you can poke screen icons and menus di­rectly with your fin­ger in­stead of nav­i­gat­ing with a mouse or track­pad. This can be use­ful for ba­sic tasks such as open­ing apps, mov­ing the cur­sor to the search bar and re­boot­ing the ma­chine. But when fix­ing ty­pos in doc­u­ments, select­ing email to delete and even edit­ing photos, my track­pad is gen­er­ally more pre­cise than my fat fin­gers on the screen. A sty­lus helps, but I’m prone to mis­plac­ing it. It’s also gen­er­ally faster to just keep your fin­gers on the keys.

Touch Keys

Largely for these rea­sons, Ap­ple has shunned touch screens on its note­books. But its high-end MacBooks are get­ting a sep­a­rate, nar­row strip that re­places the top row of func­tion keys you’ll find on most key­boards. This Touch Bar of­fers the same func­tions, but in­stead of hit­ting F11 or F12 to change vol­ume, for in­stance, you tap the speaker icon to bring up a vol­ume slider. You can fix up to four icons in place; the ini­tial de­faults are bright­ness, vol­ume, mute and the Siri voice as­sis­tant. The rest of the strip changes based on con­text.

When you’re us­ing the Sa­fari browser, for in­stance, you typ­i­cally get thumb­nails of in­di­vid­ual tabs for easy switch­ing be­tween web­sites. But that changes to play and pause if you’re watch­ing Net­flix, while your name and ad­dress pop up as choices when fill­ing out on­line forms. Ap­ple’s Maps app of­fers one-touch ac­cess to nearby busi­nesses or di­rec­tions. Mail and Mes­sages of­fer auto-com­plete sug­ges­tions as you type, plus a but­ton for emo­jis, sim­i­lar to what you’d find on iPhones and iPads. You get touch ac­cess to sys­tem con­trols, such as “can­cel” and “save,” so you don’t have to move your cur­sor. Third-party apps can add their own func­tion­al­ity, too, though the ones I use reg­u­larly have yet to do so.

Habits and Dis­cov­er­ies

The new vol­ume and bright­ness slid­ers are much eas­ier to use than tap­ping the ap­pro­pri­ate func­tion key mul­ti­ple times to get the level I want. In Photos, I can scroll through my li­brary more quickly than us­ing ar­row keys. And the Touch Bar does make it easy to in­clude emo­jis in mes­sages. Be­cause I use it fre­quently, I made the screenshot func­tion a de­fault icon. No more open­ing Grab, nav­i­gat­ing a menu and re­turn­ing to the win­dow I’m try­ing to pre­serve. I’ve also dis­cov­ered func­tions I never knew ex­isted, such as the abil­ity to high­light text in Pre­view with dif­fer­ent col­ors. This may mat­ter less if, like me, you’re a pretty good typ­ist with a com­mand of key­board short­cuts. The Touch Bar will be more use­ful for those who look down at the keys when typ­ing. One sug­ges­tion: The mute icon stays the same re­gard­less of whether the Mac is al­ready on mute. How about a dis­tinct icon to un­mute, now that the op­tions are dy­namic?

The Mac now turns on au­to­mat­i­cally when you open the lid. In place of a power but­ton is a fin­ger­print scan­ner, sim­i­lar to what’s found on mo­bile de­vices. You still have to type in my pass­word oc­ca­sion­ally as a se­cu­rity mea­sure, but you can avoid do­ing so most of the time when re­sum­ing a ses­sion or in­stalling new soft­ware. Peo­ple shar­ing a com­puter can in­stantly switch pro­files with their own fin­ger­prints.

The MacBook Pro has a larger track­pad and is lighter and thin­ner than pre­vi­ous mod­els, thanks in part to shorter keys that don’t feel awk­ward. You no longer get reg­u­lar USB ports or an SD mem­ory card slot for photos. That means buy­ing adapters to con­nect older print­ers, scan­ners and your iPhone to the new USBC ports. On the plus side, you can now con­nect the power charger on ei­ther side, de­pend­ing on where the out­let is.

And the MacBook re­tains a head­phone jack, some­thing the lat­est iPhones dropped. If you don’t need the Touch Bar or the fin­ger­print scan­ner, you can save $300 with an en­try-level MacBook Pro, but it is slower and has ports only on one side. The Touch Bar mod­els start at about $1,800 for a 13-inch screen and $2,400 for 15 inches.

Mean­while, the 10-inch Yoga Book (about $500 for An­droid, $600 for Win­dows) re­tains the clamshell de­sign of a lap­top but has a se­cond touch screen where the key­board nor­mally goes. Un­like pop-up touch key­board in tablets, this one doesn’t block the main dis­play as you type. With­out phys­i­cal keys, the de­vice is just 0.38 inch thick, or about two-thirds the thick­ness of the new MacBooks.

The Yoga pro­vides both tac­tile and au­dio feed­back when you hit the keys, although it’s still easy to miss the ones you’re aim­ing for. It takes longer to type be­cause of all the ty­pos, which gets an­noy­ing very quickly. You would think that with a touch key­board, the Yoga could re­con­fig­ure the keys to tog­gle be­tween up­per and lower cases and switch lan­guages, much the way a touch key­board on a phone or tablet does on the screen. But the keys them­selves al­ways ap­pear in stan­dard English and in up­per case, even when you’re typ­ing in Thai. Call it a missed op­por­tu­nity. An Aus­tralian startup called Son­der is al­ready plan­ning to ship such a key­board for $199 this year, but who wants to carry around an ex­tra ac­ces­sory? If it makes it onto a fu­ture lap­top, it could mark a true rev­o­lu­tion that goes well be­yond the mi­nor changes the Touch Bar and the se­cond touch screen of­fer. — AP

CUPERTINO, Cal­i­for­nia: This Oct 27, 2016 photo shows MacBook com­put­ers in a demo room fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment of new prod­ucts at Ap­ple head­quar­ters. —AP

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