What is a macro?

A single instruction that expands automatically into a set of instructions to perform a particular task.
— Google.com

An easy example of a macro you can execute is CTTL+SHIFT+TAB and CTRL+TAB in your Google Chrome browser. This will allow you to switch between tabs without having to remember the commands or reach for the key combinations themselves.

You can tie any combination of keyboard shortcuts to these macro keys. Another quick example is using these macro keys (Windows key + Ctrl + Right arrow / Windows key + Ctrl + Left arrow respectively) to more easily switch between desktops. I gave copy and paste dedicated macro keys as well, which really helps with quick data manipulation. Using Divvy, I can manipulate where a window is on screen by just executing a macro, rather than manually dragging and resizing. In our productivity course you can get some ideas about what shortcuts you might want to tie to your device with our shortcuts overview.

Showing how to a demo of switching between tabs very quickly and easily in Google Chrome

There are quite a few different macro devices available with slightly different features, although in the end the functions end up being the same. You really can't make the 'wrong' decision and all of them can help improve your workflow.

SOME THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

There are other macro keypads available by no-name brands, usually at higher prices and ones that I do not have any experience with, but in general they seem to be lower quality and are not able to justify their cost difference.

Stick with one brand or another if you can. For example if you want a keyboard and a mouse with macros, get LG's G600 and G105 (more on the names and models in a minute) or Corsair's Gaming Scimitar mouse and K55. This reduces the risk of driver issues and other software incompatibility problems you might run into.

Choose a device that features 6 or more macro keys if you can (all of the devices listed feature 6 or more macro keys), ignoring the fact that you can switch between profiles to some extent. Ideally you can hit any key in just 1 second without having to switch profiles, otherwise you are somewhat negating the usefulness of the macro. In my opinion, profiles are best used when switching major contexts. You might have your first profile mapped with Google Chrome macros and the second profile contains your video editing macros for Premiere Pro.

I highly recommend getting a mouse that has macro keys on it for most people. It makes editing text or activating speech recognition software like Dragon Dictation far easier. You can move your mouse into position and delete a word or hit enter to go to a new line without having to move your hand back to the keyboard.

If you already have a keyboard and like it, I would add a mouse and or a separate keypad to your setup first. From there, if you still felt like you needed a keyboard that featured macros, it will then be a good investment.

Most of these devices are marketed towards gamers because they are looking for ways they can improve their reaction time when facing their enemies. But there is nothing about these devices (aside from their aesthetics) that make these products only useful for gamers. Really on the contrary; I think every office worker should have at least one macro device to help increase their productivity.

DEVICE OPTIONS

  • If you are on a budget and or just like making things yourself, there is a DIY option. It entails purchasing a cheap number pad, creating some custom labels (optional) and then installing a program called HID Macros to setup the commands your will be executing when you press a given button. I would personally skip this route as I prefer higher quality key switches and a more robust software experience.

    If that doesn't appeal to you, you can purchase a separate keypad that you just need to install the software to setup and run.
  • The Logitech G13 features 25 macro keys (including the left right up and down with the thumb operated joystick). It also has a profile function where you can switch your G13 from one set of macros to another by selecting M1, M2 or M3, effectively giving you 75 macro keys.

    I have two of these devices and really enjoy the layout.The first set of keys (G1-G7) are dedicated to my Divvy shortcuts so I can manipulate windows around the screen as I mentioned earlier.

    The G13 comes in at $56 but goes on sale pretty regularly.

  • Logitech also has a mouse, the G600, that has 20 macro keys. It also allows you to cycle between profiles, give you up to 36 macro keys (or if you use the G-Shift button, 72)

    Again, I have two of these mice for separate workstations. They are extremely helpful when it comes to long form writing, data correction and more. The two main macro function I use on these mice are backspace and enter. Backspace to let text and superfluous spaces and enter usually to separate new paragraphs. The G600 costs $41.

  • Logitech has a few good keyboard options as well with macro keys included. First we have the G105, the value option with 6 macro keys and 3 profiles to cycle between for $35. Next, we have the G710, again, with 6 macro keys but with mechanical key switches coming in at $90. Finally, we have the G910 which features 9 macro keys and comes in at $126.

    I honestly prefer the K95 keyboard compared to all of Logitech's options, namely for the per-key lighting options and the 18 macro keys even compared to the G910's set of 9. But I think that because I already use the G16 keypad and the G600 mouse, it may have made more sense to purchase a Logitech keyboard so I didn't have to switch between software to manage my rather large list of macros.

  • Razor has two models, one featuring mechanical key switches and 20 macro keys, the other being a membrane keypad with 15 macros. They costs $129 and $65 respectively.

    I am only including Razor's offerings because of the mechanical key switch option, which none of the other keypads mentioned, offer. If mechanical key switches are not a priority, go with the G13. Beyond the key switches there is nothing unique about Razor's offering.

    Surprisingly Razor doesn't offer any current keyboard models that also feature separate macro keys.

  • Corsair has keyboards and mice as well, starting with their base K55 model with 6 dedicated macro keys. While it doesn't have a dedicated profile switching button, you can program any button to cycle between profiles just like the G13 and G600. It costs $49.
  • Next, we have Corsair's flagship keyboard, the K95 RGB Platinum. It features 6 macro keys and isn't functionally different than the K55, aside from its mechanical keyboard and a few other creature comforts that are not strictly necessary like USB pass-through.
  • I have Corsair's older and better keyboard, the original K95, featuring 18 programmable keys. One feature that I really do enjoy on this keyboard is the per-key lighting. I change each of my macro keys to a different color, which helps me remember the command that it will run.

    I would opt for this keyboard over the newer K95 model because of the additional keys and because, at least as of this writing, they are the same price.

  • Corsair also manufactures a mouse with 12 macro keys like the G600 called the Corsair Gaming Scimitar.

    The mouse comes in at $80. It does allow you to adjust the positioning of the macros, but isn't a substantial value-add compared to the G600 at nearly double the price unless you are going with all Corsair products.

  • If you prefer the buttons to display what they actually are going to do, the Elgato Stream Deck may be a good option as well. Each button actually has a tiny LCD display on it, allowing you to create an image for each key to better display what the key will do when you press it! It costs about $150, so it definitely is not a value-driven option. Here is an excellent review of it that will give you a better feel for the device.
  • If you would like a device that you can control with your feet you can also use the Stinky Gaming Footboard although it seems to be out of stick most of the time now.

    Here is a good video review of the footboard. Quick note: if you do decide to purchase this board, you will need to update to their beta firmware and software in order to use multi-key macros like CTRL+T.

    I was going to include a link to the beta software but am unable to find it now and tweeted them about it. I will update if they get back to me.

    We've updated our latest config software. The BETA 1.5 software now allows 3 modifier keys such as SHIFT+CTRL+DEL https://t.co/uMrqSuxWri

    — Stinkyboard (@stinkyboard) October 21, 2015

ALTERNATIVE PROGRAMS AND DEVICES

IPAD PROGRAM QUADRO

If you have an iPad, Quadro may be a solid option as well. It allows you to create profiles on a per-application basis and create pretty customized workflows. I like the idea of using this application, but haven't been able to integrate it into my workflow, it is still a pretty inexpensive option to give a try. It costs $15/year to use all of the tools and features that it offers.

PALETTE GEAR

If you do any sort of creative work, it is worth taking a look at what Palette Gear offers. They sell a collection of devices in a set with sliders to make it faster and easier to adjust things like opacity of objects, buttons to execute macros (these are the same as the other macro keys) and dials which can be helpful for things like positioning on the X and Y axis.

I have not purchased these devices yet because of quality control issues. But I am keeping an eye out for their second generation of products. If you do decide to try these out, I would suggest their larger "professional" kit that includes quite a few dials and sliders.

SURFACE DIAL

The Surface Dial is just that, a dial. You can pretty much scroll up and down pages in a pleasing way, but to be honest it has extremely limited support from applications. You can view the full official list of supported applications here. It also has a Premiere Pro integration that isn't listed, but I have not found much value in using it, but it controls the jog function and something else.


Let me know if you have any questions about these devices, or setting them up etc. If you are interested in setting these up for your office and would like to chat about it, just shoot me an email.