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Das Keyboard

Published: 03/22/2009

Many people remember the IBM Model M. I don't remember it by the name, but I remember it by the experience when I used one in my early computing days. Actually, what I really remember are the original Apple II keyboards which, although the key presses felt rather heavy, had very good tactile response.

For some years now, I've been looking to restore that old glory feeling of a very light-click key tap that came with a positive response. Almost all keyboards available at the usual neighborhood electronics outlet feel mushy and are just outright cheap. I eventually found some runner-ups at places like Weird Stuff, but ultimately I needed something that was really crisp, had the 104-layout (because I use the Windows keys for a lot of things), and had a solid feel. I've always heard about the whole Das Keyboard thing, but $129 (even with free shipping) was a bit steep. Seriously - that's a lot of money for a damn keyboard.

But considering how much time I spend in front of one these days (approximately thirteen-plus each day), I figured I'll have to bite the bullet and try one of these out. At least the money-back guarantee was there. These things come in two varieties: the Professional and the Ultimate, with the latter having blank keys. I chose the Ultimate so I can have the additional benefit of forcing myself to learn touch-typing. Spray-painting a generic keyboard won't give me the nice, light-crisp-solid-positive-tactile-feeling experience.

So five months ago, I finally pulled the trigger on one of these. I was still skeptical when the box arrived at my door. I mean ... $129 for a keyboard. It better be good. When I finally got it out of the box, the first thing I did was press down on one of the keys...

...and it was glorious. The sun came out, the angels began to sing, and there was finally peace in the world. As soon as I tapped it, I knew I was keeping it. I've gone through quite a few keyboards in the last few years, but my quest for The Great One is finally over.

Cons: there's a built-in USB hub on this thing, which is convenient but also adds to some annoyances when some USB ports can't supply enough power. This even happened with a new-ish machine like an IBM T60. For a month I took this keyboard to work every day and I ran into this problem constantly. Half of the time I couldn't get a USB flash drive to be recognized by Windows XP properly unless I disconnected the keyboard and plugged the drive in directly to the machine. Same thing with an X60 tablet. An older Dell Latitude had no problem, and the MacBook had no problem. Also, I wish there was a wireless model. In addition, the glossy surface around the keys isn't completely blemish-free. Mine arrived with some swirls, just like on imperfectly-finished clear coats on cars. If you have a random orbital or rotary polisher (Porter Cable 7424 or Makita 9227) with a finishing polish (like Meguiar's PlastX) and pad, this should be easily correctable since I believe the keyboard parts can be removed for maintenance.

The other con: I learned very quickly that my touch-typing skills are absolutely terrible. Even now (months later) I still keep missing keys with my right hand. Of course, this is really the fault of the element sitting between the keyboard and chair, but I think overall my typing speed has improved. It's just those top number keys that get me.

But the magic is there: click, click, click, click, click... It's beautiful, folks. I'm not going back. All those other cheesy keyboards with the "Internet" and "mail" buttons are just gimmicks. Not that I'm against programmable keys, but I'm a firm believer that simplicity equals style. Perhaps that's just the minimalist in me speaking. The only other keyboard that I've tried which have the same feel are the Happy Hacking Keyboard series, although I haven't seen them in a while and I prefer something full-sized.

Black is beautiful.

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