I have never really had a problem typing on the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard or my MacBook Air. The scissor key style that Apple offers across its line these days is nice because it’s relatively quiet, comfortable and attractive. If I generally enjoy the typing experience of Apple’s keyboard offerings, you’re likely wondering why exactly then did I drop $114 on the new Mac friendly Das Keyboard.
Das Keyboard has been available for a while with Windows keys, but this is the first version that is designed with key caps for OS X. After hearing Gruber consistently talk about his love affair with the Apple Extended Keyboard II I figured I’d give a new keyboard a shot. This may be the most conflicted I think I have ever felt about a new product.
The Das Keyboard is a throwback to the days of loud, mechanical keys that came with the computers you used in previous decades. Mechanical keys give this feeling of satisfaction as you’re typing. The keyboard itself is insanely large and has a substantial weight to it. It feels really well built and worth the amount of money I spent on it. It’s got a full keyboard, number pad and even two full-powered USB ports on the side. The only thing missing from this throwback is the PS/2 or ADB cable at the end.
So…how does it type?
Every key press is substantial and satisfying. The keys have a slight inset to them that allows your finger tips to rest comfortable in them. As you push down on the keys, you are greeted with the classic “click-clack” noise of the keyboards of yesteryear. At first the amount of noise coming from my keyboard was incredibly distracting. Working around others it also made me a bit self conscious about my typing. As the week progressed, though, I started to notice the noise less and less. Das Keyboard does make a quieter version of their Windows keyboard. I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar Mac variant made its way to market someday.
The distance you have to go to press a key is much greater than that of Apple’s keyboard, but it’s by no means uncomfortable. It did take a couple of hours and a lot of typos to get used to changing keyboard styles. One thing I also found to be curious in the transition was how often I kept trying to reach for the Control key rather than the Command/Apple key as my modifier as if I was back on my old IBM desktop PCs of the late 90’s. Muscle memory never leaves you I suppose.
One of the odd choices made by the Das Keyboard folks is the location of the Function (Fn) key. On Apple keyboards the function key is in the lower-left corner. On Das Keyboard, it’s in the lower-right and nestled between the right side option and control keys. I rarely, if ever, have actually used the Fn key on my Mac keyboard, but with Das Keyboard it is essential if you want to work with the music or brightness keys.
On an Apple Keyboard pressing F1-F3 defaults to adjusting brightness, F7-F9 the currently playing music and F10-F12 the audio levels. To actually perform the action that a function key may be mapped to, you need to press the Fn key to override those built-in controls. On the Das Keyboard, it’s the inverse. Adjusting audio or brightness requires pressing the oddly placed Fn key and then the function key you want to work with.
Since the Das Keyboard is a wired keyboard, it is capable of supporting USB on the keyboard like classic Apple keyboards from the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Unlike those Apple keyboards, however, Das Keyboard takes up two USB ports on your Mac to use those ports. The reason is that these are both full-powered ports whereas Apple’s old keyboards only offered one full-powered and the other with just enough power to handle your evil hockey puck mouse. Giving up two USB ports in the back of my display wasn’t a big deal as I was using two ports for 30-pin cables. I’m not just running those cables through the keyboard itself.
So if I like how Das Keyboard types so much and the USB ports on it why am I conflicted about it? This thing is large, unattractive and a bit taller than I had hoped.
Aesthetics don’t matter when it comes to getting your work done, but it is hard to not notice the large keyboard that dwarfs my MacBook Air, Cinema Display and Magic Trackpad. It feels incredibly out of place on a modern Mac desktop. If all you care about is aesthetics, don’t even bother trying to use one of these things. You’ll hate it. If you are consistently dressing up as Darth Vader, Das Keyboard will make a lovely addition to your attire.
The size of it is a bit troubling if you have a smaller desk. I have a San Francisco sized apartment and an equally sized desk (aka: tiny). The Das Keyboard takes up most of the desk space, leaving a little bit of room for my Magic Trackpad and not much else. If you have a bigger desk this probably won’t be an issue for you.
Finally, the biggest frustration with Das Keyboard is the lip at the base of it. The keyboard makes it incredibly easy to rest your wrists on the base of it right below the space bar, which becomes painful after extended use. With the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard, the angle, bottom lip and key sizes are so small that my wrists are straight and not resting on anything. Das Keyboard requires a substantial amount of retraining to prevent myself from a lifetime of carpal tunnel trouble.
So in conclusion:
Will Das Keyboard make you a better programmer? My sources say no.
Will Das Keyboard annoy your coworkers? Most likely.
Will I still be using Das Keyboard a month from now? Reply hazy, try again.