That was my first thought when I unpacked my review sample Das Keyboard – and in a way, those two words sum up the best things about it. If you’re a keyboard geek, it’s hard to do better than glossy black finish, blue lights, and, best of all, mechanical keyswitches that feel just like the venerated IBM Model M – great to type on and loud! If you’re not a keyboard geek, the Das Keyboard still has plenty to offer. And don’t worry – there’s a quieter version available.
Obviously, good looks and a big “cool” factor will do nothing to help your RSI. The Das is shaped like an ordinary keyboard, and its layout is the same as an ordinary keyboard, so what makes it different?
First, let me say that if you’re already in serious RSI straits, I don’t recommend the Das Keyboard which kinda looks like a roll up piano keyboard. Instead, you might want to consider purchasing a Kinesis Freestyle, which you can use to experiment with different working positions.
The Das does have one important ergonomic advantage that could help you if you’re suffering from mild pain or fatigue: Light-touch action with tactile feedback. With standard keyboards, we simply get used to hammering the keys quite hard in order to make them register. A single keypress doesn’t seem like much effort, but when you do millions each year, it really adds up.
You don’t have to hammer the Das in order to make sure your keystroke is registered; instead, there’s a little click you can feel and hear which tells you that the key has been actuated. This click occurs, not at end-of-travel, but about halfway down the stroke. This means you can type on a Das Keyboard without ever pressing any key all the way down, avoiding both excessive force and those sudden stops as each key bottoms out.
Like any keyboard with a standard layout, the Das suffers from the presence of its numeric keypad on the right. That numeric keypad forces the mouse too far away, which can result in painful elbow problems. If you want a small keyboard that will leave plenty of room for your mouse, don’t get a Das – get a TypeMatrix 2030 instead. (Don’t worry, the TypeMatrix also has plenty of “cool.”)
The Das Keyboard also has no degree of wrist separation, splay, tenting, or any of the other things that make most ergonomic keyboards “ergonomic.” That said, some people absolutely hate anything other than a standard straight keyboard like they’re used to. These folks can at least benefit from the improved key action on the Das Keyboard.
The Das Keyboard is no lightweight. At over two-and-a-half pounds, the unit itself is as heavy as some small laptops, and has the feel of a truly well-built product. The gold-plated Cherry-brand mechanical keyswitches are rated to last fifty million strokes each – far longer than standard rubber-dome switches, and probably better than a lifetime of typing for most people.
I have never used any input device which impressed me so much with the sheer quality of its construction.
Wake the neighbors
Some people like keyboard noise. To them it is beautiful music, particularly when the keyboard is being pushed to the limit by a skilled typist. If you are not a fan of this particular musical genre, you’re going to have a problem with the Das Keyboard – indeed, with any keyboard that uses mechanical keyswitches. To find anything louder than a Das Keyboard, you’d probably have to go back to an electric typewriter.
Das offers a “silent” version of the Professional model; however, that term is misleading. The “silent” keyboard still uses mechanical keyswitches, only they’re Cherry Browns instead of Cherry Blues. And yes, we’re still talking about keyboards here, not football – the Cherry Company color-codes their keyswitches for reference. All you need to understand about this is that Blues are noisier than Browns, but Browns are still plenty noisy.
You can hear both the Das Keyboard Professional and the Silent model compared in this Youtube video. The reviewer who made the video felt compelled to jazz it up with a bunch of thumping music, but you can still clearly hear the difference between the two keyboards.
Integrated USB hub
Having extra USB ports on the side of your keyboard is nice and convenient, to be sure. The Das Keyboard has two such ports on the right side. Personally, I don’t think they should be on the right side of the keyboard, because that’s where the mouse generally lives. This might not be a problem if you use a trackball or a small type of mouse, but users of a large model such as the Handshoe may find a conflict of cables going on. In my opinion, those USB ports should be on the left. If they must be on the right half, I say put them on the back of the keyboard, just under the the Das logo behind the numeric keypad.
Real typists don’t need labels
Though the Das Professional is cool, there is a model that’s cooler still. The Das Keyboard Ultimate, which sells for about the same price as the Professional, is identical to the other model in all respects except one: Its keys aren’t labeled. This is both an exceedingly cool touch and a cure for the incorrigible hunt-and-pecker – you might as well learn to the find the key by feel, because you’ll never locate it by sight anyway! Some typists, including Das Keyboard inventor Daniel Guermeur, have found their typing vastly improved by using an unlabeled keyboard.
Personally, I would probably not want a keyboard without labels. Though I’m an accomplished touch typist, I really like glancing down every now and then, just to be looking at something other than the monitor. I think it might be disconcerting to get a blank stare from the keyboard in return.
To sum up…
The Das Keyboard is sleek, cool, and quality. Though it retails around 120 bucks, that’s actually not bad for a keyboard that uses Cherry mechanical switches. The blank version will undoubtedly help you become a more accomplished touch typist, if that’s what you want. Ergonomically speaking, the light action of the Cherry mechanical keyswitches could be helpful, provided you take advantage of it by not unnecessarily pounding every key all the way to end-of-travel.
Daniel Guermeur calls his keyboard “uncompromising,” and it is – from the two-pound chassis to the gold-plated keyswitches. Das Keyboard is simply German for The Keyboard. To its fans, there isn’t any other.