Logitech Craft hands-on: This keyboard's mini-Surface Dial is truly innovative
- 31 August, 2017 17:05
The Logitech Craft keyboard is what happens when a keyboard engineer glimpses Microsoft’s Surface Dial hockey-puck peripheral and decides: We can do that, too. Pairing a small, Dial-like keyboard knob with software templates pre-configured for popular apps makes the Craft a useful tool for almost any application. When it ships in October, however, it'll come with a hefty $200 price tag attached.
Nevertheless, as a productivity tool, the Craft (for both Macs and Windows PCs) is worth serious consideration. Logitech dubs its version of the Dial the Crown, and you can tap it, spin it, or push-and-turn it to perform various functions on an app-by-app basis. Logitech’s approach feels much more like something everyone could use, while the Surface Dial still feels like a specialized instrument for digital illustrators and artists.
Aesthetically, though, there’s room for improvement. The Craft weighs a ponderous 2.08 pounds, anchored by a broad metal bar that runs across the top of the keyboard and houses the 1,500mAh battery, plus the electronics driving the crown. You can't adjust the Craft's slope. And personally, I found the Craft’s scalloped keys to have a shallower travel than I'd like.
Unfortunately, the beta software that controls the Craft sometimes became confused about what application I was working within. Even a few updates hadn’t solved all of its problems by the end of my time with it. Partly for that reason, we’re holding back from presenting a formal review. But for now, I’d characterize the Logitech Craft as a decent keyboard, with an intriguing, powerful, but still slightly problematic ability to take productivity into a new dimension.
Basic specs: Solid, but clunky
The Craft measures just short of 17 inches across, 5.88 inches from front to back, and about 1.13 inches thick. According to Logitech, the pitch—the distance from the center of one key to the next—is 19 millimeters.
At just over two pounds, the keyboard lands on your desk with a thunk. Unfortunately, it lacks the traditional hinge or legs to adjust the slope, set at 4.7 degrees. It’s absolutely sturdy, however, without any discernible flex.
With the Craft’s added functionality, though, comes the need to set it up. Connecting the Craft to your PC means either pairing it via Bluetooth or with the associated Logitech unifying receiver, a USB dongle that’s included in the box. You’ll also need to download the associated Logitech Options software, the secret sauce that connects the Craft’s crown to the applications on your PC. Because it’s an executable file, that means that the Craft won’t work with Microsoft’s latest Windows 10 S operating system. Windows also doesn’t recognize the Craft’s crown as a Surface Dial, meaning it can't take on any of that device's functions.
The first cause for concern is the battery life. According to Logitech, the Craft will last just a week with the backlight powered on. (By contrast, Logitech’s popular K360 wireless keyboard lasts three years on a AA battery.)
The Craft’s backlight turns off after a few seconds of inactivity, but resumes when you put your fingers near it. If you turn backlighting off in the Settings menu, the 1500mAh battery will last about three months, according to Logitech. I can partially attest to that: My review unit came partly powered, and I had exhausted it into a critical low-power state by the end of the second day.
Charging the Craft took me about six hours via the Craft’s USB-C cable, from my PC. Logitech also includes a power switch on the front of the keyboard, another tip-off that the Craft consumes more juice than you might expect.
Typing experience isn’t up to snuff
Logitech certainly understands the basic requirements of a keyboard, and the Craft is thoughtfully designed. Along the top row of function keys Windows users will find dedicated keys for switching between applications, launching Action Center notifications and minimizing applications, and locking the keyboard, along with the standard media controls and keys to adjust either the keyboard backlighting or the brightness of the screen. There’s also a handy calculator button above the dedicated number pad.
Remember, this is a Mac as well as a Windows keyboard. Logitech opted to avoid any trademark issues, though, so there’s a dedicated Start key, rather than the expected Windows key. The same, too, goes for Apple, as only the Apple Command (CMD) key is present. Features like Logitech’s Easy-Switch allow the Craft to be paired with either a Mac or Windows PC, via Bluetooth or its unified receiver USB dongle. Three dedicated buttons allow you to pair it with three different machines.
I’m not entirely impressed with how the Craft functioned on an everyday basis, however. It's actually nice for keys to have a slight concavity to guide your fingers, but the Craft's keys have an unusually deep dimple that felt distracting to me. While the scissor-switch mechanism under each key responds firmly, the 1.8mm key travel is rather shallow for a desktop keyboard—my fingers bottomed out too quickly to be comfortable. The space bar also frequently emitted a slight, annoying squeak when I struck it, but that could be a quirk particular to my review unit.
According to Logitech, its customers—creatives and photo editors—“like the tactile feedback of the keystroke with the silence of the scissor mechanisms,” according to a company representative. I’ve always believed that the keyboard experience is a largely subjective one, which will vary from person to person. For me, the Craft isn’t quite there.
The Craft’s Crown sets it apart
With any other keyboard, the review would end there. With the Logitech Craft, though, we’re just getting started.
Obviously, the real reason to buy the Craft is the Crown, the small dial that squats on the upper left-hand corner of the keyboard. It spins either smoothly or incrementally, depending on what kind of menu or function you're using with it. You can also press it, press-and-hold it, or even press, hold and turn it simultaneously. The Crown is extremely sensitive, so just the lightest brush of your finger will trigger a popup on your screen indicating what function will trigger if you spin it. Switching the Crown between simply turning it and press-and-turn mode is accompanied by a bit of haptic feedback, and a noise that sounds disconcertingly like a camera shutter.
And what function is that? That’s up to you. Most of Logitech’s peripherals ship with its Options software, a set of standard utilities that allow you to map specific functions to your mouse buttons. With the Craft, your options expand seemingly exponentially.
By default, spinning the Crown adjusts your PC's audio volume (even without the Options software installed), but you can assign pretty much whatever function you’d like to either the spin, push, or push-and-spin functions. If you’d like the Crown to be a Cortana button, it can be that.
I assigned my dial key to cycle through my various applications, my “press” function to play and pause my media player, and press-and-hold to adjust the volume. Note that there are far more options available to the “press” input, as granular as opening My Documents or performing a right-click. Naturally, you can reconfigure the keyboard’s function keys, too, though that almost seems like an afterthought.
Almost immediately, I found that using the Crown was far more convenient than simply Alt-Tab-ing around my desktop, and I was able to consolidate my workflow down to a single monitor, something I rarely if ever do. That’s a win, in my book.
Logitech went the extra mile, though, and developed custom profiles for popular apps: Microsoft’s Edge browser, plus Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox; Excel, PowerPoint, and Word; and the Adobe Creative Cloud apps, including Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop, and Premiere Pro.
In each, Logitech already assigned the button to specific functions. Spinning the Crown cycles through open tabs in Chrome, Edge, and Firefox, for example. Within Illustrator, you can change the stroke size and color just by adjusting the Crown, similar to what you can do with some drawing apps with the Surface Dial. Word allows you to resize images or quickly change document formats. It’s these pre-configured apps that add an additional function to the Crown: tapping (not pressing or depressing) the Crown to move between one or more functions that you can then adjust by turning the Crown.
If you’ve been paying attention, though, you may have already sussed out one of the Craft’s issues: How does it know what you want to do? In other words, you may find yourself in a situation where you’ve set up the crown to cycle between apps within all Windows apps, but between open tabs while using Chrome. If you’re in Chrome, should the Crown cycle between apps, or the open tabs?
For most of the time that I used the Craft, the keyboard sometimes couldn't quite answer that question. After Logitech issued an updated driver, though, the Craft worked as I’d programmed it to: to switch between apps when I twisted the crown in every app but Chrome, where twisting the crown would switch between tabs. Even after Logitech issued its fix, however, I still noticed a second or two of latency while the Craft adjusted to its app-specific settings. After that, it settled down and worked as expected.
The price of innovation
Logitech clearly realizes it has something nearly unique in the Craft—a rarity in the peripherals market—and has priced it accordingly. Given that Microsoft’s Surface Dial is already priced at $100 just by itself, and is restricted to a few Microsoft Surface machines, you can see how a price of $200 for the Craft would be arguable, if hard for most people to digest.
The care that Logitech put into the Crown and the associated software is undermined by the nagging bugs I experienced, though updated drivers did lead to more stable (if still not flawless) performance. Given some questions about battery life and a keyboard that doesn’t quite feel right for me, the Craft can't earn my buy until it nails the details.