I was reading these days John Gruber’s great review of the new MacBook Air M2. An equally great laptop except for its tremendous price increase. In any case, Gruber commented that one more year, Apple resorts to ABS plastic for the construction of the keyboard, which leads to keys that acquire a horrible zonal shine and wear that is impossible to reverse. Who has a MacBook with a few months of use is already beginning to experience it.
This plastic, ABS, is used for laptop keyboards because it is cheap to produce, stealthy in keystrokes, thin, resistant to impacts and soft to the touch, ideal conditions for this purpose… with the counterpart of that its durability is reduced: soon those gloss spots start to appear that can’t be removed. Maybe it’s time to ask the manufacturers for something better.
This phenomenon, not to use a word that rhymes with “smeared”, is especially noticeable on black keys, which most manufacturers choose for their laptop keyboards.
We can often find references to this problem online using words like “shiny” (bright) or “oily” (oily), but the problem has nothing to do with the oiliness of our skin: even with rigorous washing prior to chopping the keys, this problem ends up appearing. Let’s look at some examples:
Actually it has to do with what our skin, no matter how clean it is, erodes the talk of the keys. And in the case of ABS plastic, that means that the texture layer is eaten away and that ugly shine is exposed in areas. There are more expensive ABS keys that offer higher quality, but the canon for manufacturers is the cheap version.
The natural alternative, PBT plastic, is too thick and expensive for most laptops, so a tougher ABS might be a better choice
The natural alternative to ABS, as any mechanical keyboard lover knows, is the PBT (polybutylene terephthalate), an insulating plastic much stronger than ABS in terms of maintaining its appearance, but also more expensive to produce due to its much higher melting point; noisier and less impact resistant. However, if the user cleans it in any way, they could be damaging the plastic with the use of certain chemicals.
In cheap laptops it is more than understandable that the manufacturer has to reduce costs on any front, we naturally assume that the keyboard is of lower quality if, thanks to cuts like that, the bill does not go up too much.
By contrast, it is less and less understandable that high-end laptops, especially that have risen by 40% in price from one generation to another (I’m looking at you, MacBook Air), keep equipping keys of such poor quality.
The alternative in which the manufacturers are encouraged to switch to a better material is to choose white keys, where the wear is much less noticeable than in the case of the black ones. But those with black keyboards prevail. We will continue to wait for better material.
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