Das Keyboard Model S Professional For Mac Is Like A Jackhammer For Typing [Review]

Das Keyboard Model S Professional For Mac Is Like A Jackhammer For Typing [Review]

There’s a certain kind of computing nostalgia that holds that the art of typing has been steadily wussified since the late 1980s, when the venerable IBM Model M and Apple Extended Keyboard went out of favor.

These keyboards, it is held, were the last of a breed of keyboards for men. Like a vintage Underwood typewriter, these mechanical marvels were made for those who meant for their words not just to be heard, but to be felt: the hefty chunk of each key smashing into the mechanical switch underneath shouldn’t just make a letter light up on a screen; it should land with such authority it shakes your teeth loose.

For the last month, I’ve been trying to become one of these burly typist he-men. I put my Apple Wireless Keyboard — as pale, thin and pretty as the world’s most anemic twink — and have instead replaced it with the Das Keyboard Model S Professional for Mac. Now when I type, it sounds like ten tiny John Henrys working away under my fingers, pounding spikes through the invisible gold-plated key switches beneath each key.

It’s not really for me. Not most of the time.

Before we get too much further, a brief history lesson. Back in the 1980s, most computer keyboards were fully mechanical. In other words, every time you press a key on an old Apple Extended Keyboard, that key is pressing a real switch underneath. As such, mechanical switch keyboards have a certain pleasing chunkiness to them in both tactility and sound that more modern keyboards — most of which use membranes and active-switch matrixes — lack. They’re also more expensive to make, but if you take care of a mechanical keyboard, it’ll last you a lifetime.

The Das Keyboard Model S Professional for Mac is such an accessory. It has everything you’d expect from a modern keyboard — two built-in USB ports, dedicated media control keys, Command + Fn keys, and so on — but it uses German engineered, gold-plated mechanical switches to actually send the signal that a key has been pressed, giving every keystroke a sort of Herculean might. Or that’s the pitch, anyway.

At first blush, I found typing on the Das Keyboard Model S to be an ego-fulfilling experience. I am a professional writer, after all, and for a writer, there’s an appeal in the notion that the words you’re writing have such authority and force your neighbors can hear them being put down. Typing on the Model S makes you feel like your words literally have weight. And why shouldn’t they? When you’re writing a fiery editorial or a passionate letter to your lover, you reason, it should be accompanied by a sort of Faulkner-esque sound and fury. The words should land so hard it hurts.

But this only goes so far. Even for those of us who make our living writing several thousand words a day, not everything one writes should fire off like a pistol shot. And that’s the problem. After a while, the disparity between the weight of what you’re writing and the weight of the Das Keyboard becomes almost comically absurd. Should that email I’m sending my girlfriend with a picture of a cute bulldog eating frosting really sound like an Arctic blacksmith hammering a sword out of a meteorite at his forge? Should the 140 characters I wrote on Twitter regurgitating some in-vogue meme be given all the gravity of the Large Hadron Collider gearing up to smash apart the very building blocks of our universe? When a friend sends me a funny YouTube video and I type “LOL” in response, should each of those letters land as explosively as a shotgun blast dealt point blank to the titanium-coated brain cavity of some futuristic cyborg? No.

Das Keyboard Model S Professional For Mac Is Like A Jackhammer For Typing [Review]

Watch out, Psyduck! The Das Keyboard is loud.

Even if you are someone who wants all of his typing to sound like someone firing a tommy gun into a bucket of steel bearings, though, it’s hard to wholly recommend the Das Keyboard Model S Professional for Mac. For one thing, the design couldn’t really be more antithetical to Apple’s iconic visual style. For another, the media keys are triggered by the Function key, both of which are positioned on the right side of the keyboard, which can make doing something as simple as hitting pause or skipping a track far more trouble than it should be. Finally, although it’s branded as a Mac keyboard, the Das Keyboard lacks shortcut buttons for most of OS X’s built-in functions, like calling up the Dashboard or triggering Exposè; in fact, as far as we can tell, the only thing that makes the Das Keyboard Model S Professional for Mac a different product than the regular Model S Professional is that it has Option + Command keys instead of Alt + Windows keys. When you’re spending $130 on a keyboard specifically branded for Mac, the fact that it has not been designed to even offer the same degree of functionality as the keyboard that ships with every iMac is a disappointment.

After a couple weeks of typing with the Das Keyboard, I realized why Apple had abandoned this sort of keyboard design. There’s a reason why Apple is still filing patents for technology to make typing quieter. Mechanically satisfying as the Das Keyboard (or IBM Model M, or Apple Extended Keyboard) might be to type upon at first, the entire idea of a loud, explosive keyboard is at odds with the fundamental thesis of modern interface design. Interacting with a computer should be as frictionless as thought: whether you’re typing on your Mac or using your iPhone’s touchscreen, you shouldn’t ever feel like you are using a tool to interact with a computer. The Das Keyboard may be a glorious throwback to the analog mechanics that dominated the golden age of computing, but you can never forget you’re typing on one.

The Das Keyboard Model S Professional for Mac is a very good keyboard for caffeinated coders working late into the night, novelists working on their hopeful masterpieces, angry political bloggers smashing out a screed, and so on… but probably not for everything they write. Like me, they’ll probably find the Das Keyboard an extremely satisfying thing to use sometimes, but overkill for most of what you do with your keyboard each day: trade IMs with friends, post Facebook updates, type in URLs, etc. The Das Keyboard is like pulling out a jackhammer — you just don’t do it to push a pin into a corkboard.

Rating: ★★★¼☆

Related
  • chronosafe

    I’ve come to the same conclusion.  I’ve purchased both the Model S and the IBM Model M out of nostalgia.  And ultimately they’re just too damn loud for daily use.

  • oakichbg

    this was a very pleasant read

  • DiamondDNice

    i can’t type on these new flat keyboards very well. I like the old style. much more tactile feel.

  • Cowboy Ron

    This reminded me of the sound effects they still use in TV-land when someone is entering info on a keyboard.  <clicky, clack=”” clacky,=”” click,=””> and always at about 180 wpm.  Even funnier is when they do something that takes a single keystroke in Photoshop, like “sharpen.”  <clicky, clack=”” clack, clicky,=”” clacky,=”” click,=””>  Next time you watch a CSI, give it a notice. I’m sure the writers use a computer, but don’t sound effects guys use keyboards too?</clicky,></clicky,>

  • Sam Parmenter

    The sound of those mechanical keyboards can make a man go mad when he is in the same room as the user. I can’t see what all the fuss is about myself. I like a nice quiet and smooth keyboard that just does its job well.

  • maccid

    This article was great. Informative and very funny. Thanks for the review.

  • maryjohnson570

    this keyboard is for professionals and it’s really beautiful and looking to soft.

  • hp_publicseminars

    I like the flat keyboard more. Slick and sexy! :)

  • David Bradshaw

    The Matias Tactile Pro is a much better choice for a mechanical switch keyboard for the Mac, as it has a proper Apple key layout.
    http://matias.ca/tactilepro/

    The legionary Model M keyboard is also still made and you can have it customised to you exact requirement. This includes getting a Mac layout if you ask.http://pckeyboard.com/

    Both these are much better options than the Das thing. 

  • macgizmo

    Normally I absolutely hate Apple’s keyboards and mice. But I must admit that the current extended (wired) keyboard is the best KB I’ve ever used. I remember the days of the Apple Extended Keyboards… they were horribly clunky. 

  • Kendall Tawes

    But the producers and/or directors want that hacker feel. I utterly hate them for it.

  • Gavin Liquorish

    I can’t use the old clunky keyboards any more, they are just too slow and tiring to use for anything more than a few minutes.
    I have one of the old wireless Apple keyboards, with the clear base but use my aluminium extended even on my PC despite the mapping being slightly out for the UK.
    The action on the flat laptop style keyboards is much nicer to use and I can type much faster.

  • ba_waterbeds

    thats true for me its easy to use the old style of keyboard its easy to type and its not so expensive 

  • Yelsew Newecm

    I just don’t understand why people find the “loud” keys to be a fault in the product.  I’ve had my DAS since October, and my experience using mine has had only positive impacts on my computer experience.

    My old keyboard was a flat keyboard, (although not as flat as the mac wireless) and it never left me with the feeling that each stroke was as resolute and precise as the last. This has been my quarrel with most keyboards manufactured within the last five years or so, and each year it seems like keyboards are just becoming more of a cheap whore than they used to be. 

    With my DAS, It’s really just a mixture between the feel of the keys, as well as the audible assurance that leaves me satisfied with each keystroke.  I am a gamer, and my library of games spans mostly all game genres; FPS/MMO/RTS/RPG/DDR/Sandbox are a few to name.  However, business comes first before gaming, and the DAS keyboard fills the need for both without any gripe.

    As far as the clacking goes, it’s never been a problem for me how audible each key stroke has been.  My ears are in “SOUND” shape, (lol) it’s not as if I have American Sign Language conversions on my keyboard, it’s just not really as bad as reviews might say it is, because really it’s not that loud.  I mean sure, people can hear you typing from even a few rooms over, but hey, at least the keyboard isn’t going off like, “HEY.  YOUR SMOKE DETECTOR BATTERY IS RUNNING LOW. CHEEEEEEP!” with every stroke.  I felt more uncomfortable using the Blackwidow than the DAS.  It felt a little flimsy, and the keys did fade after only a week of use, (and this wasn’t even the ultimate version.)

    Most of the complaints of the DAS keyboard are mostly similar to complaints for all other mechanical Cherry Blue switch based keyboards.  My advice for it is that if you don’t like the DAS, then Cherry Blue keyboards are just not for you.  It’s not like it’s a bad product, but really all blue switch boards are this, “loud” so just buy a Cherry red/brown switch keyboard if you want mechanical.

    In fact, I would just say don’t buy one at all if you’re comfortable using the Apple wireless flat keyboard, because you shouldn’t buy a product that you’re not buying to appreciate the purpose behind the design.

  • NoFunction

    I don’t know which is worse, this review or the comments commending it. Anyone who buys a keyboard thinking, I want something that types loudly so I can stroke my ego even moooooaaaaaar! should probably do the world a favor and not share their opinion of that keyboard with anyone.

    Furthermore, you would think that a review about a keyboard would comment more on how it actually feels to type with it. And not as in “Typing on the Model S makes you feel like your words literally have weight. ” I don’t care what emotional rollercoaster this keyboard sends you through. More of a tactile description of the keyboard’s use would be nice, but I’m under the assumption that you typically don’t give thought to how keyboards feel or should feel. You just review them with the strangely held illusion that “you shouldn’t ever feel like you are using a tool to interact with a computer.” What a strange thing to say for someone reviewing a mechanical keyboard … oh wait, you bought it so you could feel like a big man with a loud keyboard. Then you decided that big noises were too scary.

    Great review. Next could you please write a review about speakers but only comment about how they didn’t massage your pores? Or maybe a remote control that just didn’t do it for you as a dildo? That would probably make a little more sense than this review.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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