Regular readers will know that I’m a sucker for wooden products. I’ll take hardwood flooring over any other surface, a real wood desk over glass, metal or anything else you can offer me. Decking over a lawn. And so on.
Over the years, I’ve tested quite a few wooden products, including a Mac dock, a number of iPhone cases, Watch charger, Airplay speaker, USB charger and even an iPad sleeve. So when I was offered the chance to try out a wooden keyboard and trackpad, no surprise that I accepted …
Oree is a French company that offers a number of wooden products, including the Board Essential keyboard, and the Touch Slab trackpad. They are each hand-made from a single piece of wood.
With both products, you get a choice of Maple or Walnut, and macOS/iOS or Windows. For the keyboard, you get a choice of 21 country layouts, including the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Arabic and Hebrew – and there’s even a Dvorak option.
The trackpad has the option of doubling up as a numeric keyboard – you can choose whether or not you want this engraved on the Touch Slab when you order. But we’ll get back to that later.
Look & feel
When you buy a wooden keyboard or trackpad, it’s of course all about the look & feel, so this is something Oree has to get right.
Fortunately, it does. Both products look absolutely gorgeous. You get the beauty of a natural wood grain, and as the keys are cut from the same piece of wood, you get a truly beautiful effect with the grain running across the keys. And the keycaps are engraved, not printed. Ten out of ten for aesthetics.
It’s the same with feel. The wood is beautifully finished with a matte varnish that preserves the natural look of the wood but feels delightfully silky to the touch – though read on …
In use: keyboard
The keyboard looks something like an older-generation Apple Wireless keyboard, back in the days when it had space above the keys and a more steeply-angled slope to it. It is, though, notably thicker – and looks quite chunky by the standards of the ultra-minimalist current-generation Magic Keyboard.
The same is true of the keys, which sit much taller than an Apple keyboard. But in wood, none of that matters: it still looks great.
From the height of the keys, you’d probably guess that they have significantly longer travel than an Apple keyboard, and that’s absolutely the case. I’d estimate that there’s about 5mm of travel, and they have quite a soft-sprung feel. They also feel slightly unstable when compared to a butterfly-action keyboard, but not when compared to an older-generation one.
Keyboard feel is an intensely personal thing. Some people prefer short travel, others long. Some people like clicky keyboards, others like soft-touch ones. Me, I seem to be pretty adaptable. I started out loving the old IBM-style long-travel clicky keyboards, adapted very well to the first-generation Apple chiclet keyboard and have since done so with the shorter-travel versions.
So the Oree keyboard felt very bouncy when I first started using it, and I missed the positive click sound and feel, but quickly adapted. I was soon able to type as quickly and as reliably as on an Apple keyboard. Your mileage may vary – but I suspect everyone has by this stage used enough keyboards to know their own tastes and adaptability.
There is one small design flaw: the deeply-recessed indicator lights are not visible from a normal viewing angle. You can only see whether they are on by leaning over the keyboard. However, you don’t get any indicator lights with a Magic Keyboard, so that isn’t a deal-breaker.
Like Apple’s keyboard, the Oree Essential has a rechargeable battery – though with a microUSB port rather than a Lightning one. A cable is included.
In use: trackpad
Beautiful as the Touch Slab is, I very quickly concluded that – sadly – it’s not fit for purpose.
First, it doesn’t support all the gestures of the Magic Trackpad, and that in itself is a major failing. Once you’re used to the macOS gestures, they become completely intuitive. Failing to support all of these is enough to make it a non-starter. You can’t, for example, use a two-finger swipe to go back a page in Safari.
But there’s a second, more fundamental, problem. While the wood feels silky-smooth to the touch, and works well with a single finger, that isn’t the case when you try to scroll. Sliding two fingers down and (especially) up the Touch Slab isn’t a smooth action. So instead of the lovely smooth scrolling you get with the Magic Trackpad, it’s horribly jerky and unreliable with the Touch Slab.
The Touch Slab also doubles as a touch-sensitive numeric keypad. Slide one finger up from the bottom of the trackpad and a green light comes on. You can now use the engraved numbers and symbols as a keypad.
Sadly, this is more of a gimmick than a useful feature. The whole point of a separate numeric keypad is to enter lots of numbers rapidly, and a touch surface simply doesn’t cut it. It works well, but you can’t do it quickly or reliably enough to make it useful.
The Touch Slab, then, is a truly beautiful object that badly fails the usability test.
Price & conclusions
Both products are beautiful, and I really wanted to love them. They looked fantastic on my oak desk, and if their functionality matched their aesthetics, I’d be recommending them unreservedly.
But the trackpad is simply a non-starter for a Mac user. Maybe it’s good enough for a Windows machine – when used with a single finger, it’s lovely. But it’s hopeless with more than one finger at a time, even with the limited number of gestures it supports.
The keyboard is definitely worth considering if you like, or can adapt to, a softer keyboard with longer key travel than current Apple ones. If the trackpad had worked well, I may well have made the switch. But a wooden keyboard next to a white Magic Trackpad doesn’t have quite the same aesthetic appeal, so I’ve returned to my Magic Keyboard.
But then I’m famously OCD: I like things to match. Others may be happy with a wooden keyboard and metal-and-glass trackpad.
Each product costs $149. That’s not cheap, but in the case of the keyboard I think it’s a reasonable price. This is, after all, a handmade product – and you can easily pay more for a mass-produced one. Whether it’s worth the cash to you is a very personal decision.
The Board Essential wooden keyboard and Touch Slab trackpad are available from Oree’s website.
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