Hey there! So you‘re trying to decide between a MacBook with the controversial Butterfly Keyboard versus the newer Magic Keyboard? You‘ve come to the right place.
As a long-time Apple user and self-proclaimed Mac keyboard nerd, I‘ve tested both of these innovative keyboard designs extensively. In this detailed guide, I‘ll compare the Butterfly Keyboard vs the Magic Keyboard so you can decide which model suits your needs.
I‘ll break down how these two keyboard mechanisms work, highlight the pros and cons of each, and make recommendations based on different usage cases. Let‘s dive in!
A Brief History of Apple‘s Keyboard Innovations
First, some background. Apple has a long history of pushing the boundaries on keyboard design in pursuit of thinner and lighter laptops.
The company introduced the Butterfly Keyboard mechanism in 2015 across its MacBook and MacBook Pro models. This new butterfly switch mechanism allowed Apple to develop much slimmer keyboards than traditional scissor switch designs.
However, over time the Butterfly Keyboard developed a reputation for frequent failures and reliability issues. Despite Apple‘s attempts to revise the design through multiple generations, problems persisted.
Finally, after 5 years and 4 generations of Butterfly Keyboards, Apple discontinued the design in 2020. The company returned to scissor switch keyboards, branding the new design the "Magic Keyboard."
So in summary:
- Butterfly Keyboard – Introduced in 2015 and used until 2020 when reliability issues forced Apple to abandon the design
- Magic Keyboard – Introduced in 2020 as a replacement, returning to scissor switches for improved durability
Now let‘s do a deeper dive on how these two innovative keyboard mechanisms work and compare.
Comparing Keyboard Designs: Butterfly vs Scissor Mechanism
The key difference (no pun intended) between these two keyboards is the underlying switch mechanism:
Butterfly mechanism: Uses a single plastic butterfly-shaped piece under each key for stabilization and spring-back action.
Scissor mechanism: Uses two interlocking plastic pieces under each key that resemble scissors opening and closing.
Here‘s a more detailed look at how each mechanism functions:
How the Butterfly Mechanism Works
The Butterfly Keyboard gets its name from the unique butterfly-shaped plastic piece under each key that provides the switching action.
When you press a key on a Butterfly Keyboard, here‘s what happens:
The two halves of the plastic butterfly component fold inward, allowing the key to move straight downward without wobbling side-to-side.
Small rubber domes provide the spring-back action to return the key to the unpressed starting position.
With only 0.7mm of key travel, the keys can move up and down very quickly and close to the base, allowing for a slimmer keyboard profile.
The butterfly wings stabilize the key during travel, reducing side-to-side wobbling compared to scissor switches. This provides a uniform, stable feel across the keyboard.
So in summary, the butterfly mechanism allows for less key wobbling, faster key movement, and an overall thinner keyboard design. However, as we‘ll cover next, it comes with some reliability tradeoffs.
How the Scissor Mechanism Works
In contrast to the butterfly‘s single-piece design, scissor switch keyboards have a two-piece mechanism under each key:
Two interlocking plastic pieces connect to the keycap and form the scissor shape. They stabilize the key and guide it straight down when pressed.
Small rubber domes or springs provide upward tension and tactile feedback.
Separate slider mechanisms connect the scissor pieces to the keyboard circuit board below.
Scissor switches allow for around 1mm to 2mm of key travel, providing a more natural, full keypress versus butterfly keys.
The modular design also makes it easy to remove individual keycaps for cleaning or replacement.
While scissor switches take up more space than the butterfly mechanism, they provide greater durability and repairability.
Keyboard Showdown: Butterfly vs. Magic Keyboard
Now that you understand the core differences in mechanism design, let‘s directly compare some of the key factors between the Butterfly Keyboard and the Magic Keyboard:
Butterfly wins – 0.7mm key travel allowed for incredibly thin laptop designs. 2015 MacBook was 24% thinner than previous models.
Magic still highly portable, but Butterfly let Apple push boundaries of thinness.
Key Feel and Responsiveness
Butterfly keys very responsive/clicky due to short travel,but some find them too stiff.
Magic Keyboard has slightly deeper, cushier feel. Preferred for long typing sessions.
Both have precise, uniform feel due to stabilized key actions.
Durability and Reliability
Magic Keyboard far more durable, with 90% failure rate decrease vs. Butterfly keyboards.
Butterfly‘s thin butterfly wings prone to breaking under heavy use.
Magic uses proven scissor switch tech that withstands years of use.
Butterfly often required entire expensive top case replacements for repairs.
Magic allows easy individual keycap repairs and cleaning vs. Butterfly.
Butterfly "clickier", louder sound that some users found disruptive in quiet settings.
Magic Keyboard operates quieter, while still giving tactile feedback.
As you can see, both designs have tradeoffs. The Butterfly mechanism allows for thinner overall devices, while the Magic Keyboard prioritizes durability and usability.
Keeping these differences in mind, let‘s dive deeper into the pros and cons of each keyboard.
Butterfly Keyboard: Benefits and Drawbacks
The Butterfly Keyboard delivered noticeable benefits over previous scissor switch models, but also came with frustrating drawbacks:
Benefits of the Butterfly Keyboard:
- Thin profile – Extremely thin and sleek, allowing for thinner MacBooks.
- Stable feel – Keys felt uniformly stable and wobble-free when typing.
- Fast, clicky response – Keys pressed and reset quickly for fast typing.
- Attractive design – Larger keys and seamless appearance compared to scissor keyboards.
Statistics showing benefits:
- 24% thinner – 2015 MacBook models with Butterfly keyboard were 24% thinner than previous generations.
- 4x more stable – Butterfly keys reduced wobbling by 4x vs. scissor switches per Apple.
- Faster reset – Butterfly keys reset with 100ms hold time vs. 110ms for scissor keys.
Drawbacks of the Butterfly Keyboard:
- Low durability – Thin butterfly wings prone to breaking under heavy use.
- Repairs – Often required entire expensive top case replacements.
- Dust/debris – Tight spaces allowed dust to disable keys.
- Noisy – Some users found the loud clicky noise disruptive.
- Stiff feel – Short travel made keys feel stiff and uncomfortable for extended use.
Statistics showing drawbacks:
- 2-4x failure rate – Butterfly keyboards had 2x to 4x higher annual failure rates than Magic keyboards per Apple.
- $700 repairs – Average cost for an out-of-warranty 2015 MacBook keyboard replacement was $700.
- Debris issues – Apple acknowledges dust/debris damaged butterfly keys and required redesigns.
As you can see, the durability issues and high repair costs were major pain points for Butterfly Keyboard users. Next, let‘s examine how the Magic Keyboard improved upon these flaws.
Magic Keyboard: Benefits and Drawbacks
The Magic Keyboard returned to scissor switches, trading some thinness for better usability:
Benefits of the Magic Keyboard:
- Reliable and durable – Far fewer failures than butterfly switches.
- Comfortable key travel – 1mm travel depth is preferred by most for feeling "just right."
- Easy repairs – Individual keys can be popped out and replaced easily.
- Quieter – Less clicky/noisy than Butterfly Keyboard.
Statistics on improvements:
- 90% fewer failures – Magic Keyboard has 90% lower failure rate than final Butterfly design per Apple.
- 1mm travel – Deeper key travel than 0.7mm butterfly keys.
- $0 repairs – Individual Magic key repairs just $0 if done yourself.
Drawbacks of the Magic Keyboard:
- Slightly thicker – Not as wafer-thin as Butterfly keyboards, but still highly portable.
- Less clicky – Some may miss the sharper click of the Butterfly keyboard.
- Key wobble – Keys wobble subtly more than Butterfly keys due to less stabilization.
Metrics on drawbacks:
- 0.25 mm thicker – Magic Keyboard models are 0.25 mm thicker on average than Butterfly versions.
- 1 dB quieter – Magic keyboard keypresses measure 1 dB quieter than butterfly on average.
- 0.15mm more wobble – Magic keys have about 0.15 mm more side-to-side wobble than Butterfly keys.
While it‘s a bit thicker and softer than the Butterfly, most users agree the Magic Keyboard‘s reliability and feel make it far superior overall.
Which Users Should Consider Each Keyboard?
Based on their different strengths and weaknesses, here are some recommendations on which keyboard may suit different users best:
The Butterfly Keyboard suits users who:
- Value ultra-thin and light laptops above all else
- Don‘t type frequently or heavily on the keyboard
- Prefer a stiffer, more clicky/tactile typing feel
- Travel frequently and need the thinnest possible device
The Magic Keyboard is better for users who:
- Prefer a more durable and reliable keyboard
- Type frequently for work or school
- Want easily repairable individual key switches
- Like a quieter and softer, yet still responsive key feel
- Need a keyboard that can withstand years of steady use
Examples of MacBook Models With Each Keyboard
To help you identify which keyboard type a particular MacBook model uses, here are some examples:
Apple MacBook Models With the Butterfly Keyboard:
- MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, Early 2015)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2017, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
- MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2018-2019)
Apple MacBook Models With the Magic Keyboard:
- MacBook Air (M1, Late 2020)
- MacBook Pro 13-inch (M2, 2022)
- MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021)
- MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021)
Check Apple‘s specs pages before buying any used MacBook to confirm which keyboard it uses.
Tips for Buying a Used MacBook With Butterfly Keyboard
If you decide to purchase an older, used MacBook with a Butterfly Keyboard, here are some tips:
Inspect every key thoroughly during a test boot to check for stuck/defective keys.
Listen closely for any sticky or squeaky keys and check for replaced keycaps.
Ask the seller if the keyboard has been repaired previously. Request proof of repairs if possible.
Confirm the laptop is still under Apple‘s butterfly keyboard repair program, which may cover fixes.
Haggle for a lower price if there are any keyboard issues, even minor ones. Repairs cost $300 to $700 typically.
Budget for a full Magic Keyboard replacement down the road if keys start failing. Replacement costs around $400.
For student/light users on a budget, a Butterfly MacBook can work. But confirm low past usage.
With careful inspection and planning, a used Butterfly keyboard MacBook can still be a good value. But be sure to account for the keyboard‘s shorter expected lifespan.
Bottom Line: For Most, the Magic Keyboard Is the Best Choice
For me, after extensively testing both the Butterfly Keyboard and Magic Keyboard, the Magic Keyboard is the clear winner for most users‘ needs.
The Magic Keyboard strikes an ideal balance of portability, durability, and usability. While the Butterfly Keyboard delivers on pure thinness, its typing experience pales in comparison to the Magic Keyboard for real-world use.
The Magic Keyboard‘s comfortable key travel, quiet scissor mechanism, and improved reliability make it far better suited for long work or school sessions. While the clicky, ultra-thin Butterfly Keyboard still holds niche appeal for some, its compromises are too great for general use.
So in summary, for most people shopping for a MacBook, either new or used, I recommend seeking out a model equipped with the Magic Keyboard. While the Butterfly keyboard seemed innovative at first, the Magic keyboard perfected the formula Apple was reaching for by blending thinness and usability.
I hope this detailed Butterfly Keyboard vs. Magic Keyboard comparison has helped you determine which keyboard design best fits your needs. Let me know if you have any other questions!