I make my living typing, and always have. From my days as a systems administrator to today doing whatever it is that I do, half my waking hours are spent in front of the keyboard. I’ve long used a very specific and much loved keyboard: A 1987 IBM Model M. But, in need of Macintosh keys and a USB connection, I jumped at the opportunity to pick up the brand-new Das Keyboard Model S for Mac. Here’s what I thought of it, my recommendation, and why I’m sending it back.
What I Look for in a Keyboard
I literally spend 8 to 10 hours a day typing, and I’ve gotten fairly fast over the last 2 decades. The only really satisfactory keyboard I have ever used is the one I continued to use most of that time, an IBM Model M manufactured in 1987. What’s so great about this keyboard that people like me continue to use them?
The IBM Model M is “defend your house from zombies” solid, with a thick steel backing plate and rigid plastic case. The “buckling springs” under each key give a perfect “press and pop” feeling, with each key press rewarding the finger and ear with a satisfying “clack.” This old-school typewriter feel is much sought after, and has spurred a vibrant aftermarket for otherwise-obsolete IBM keyboards.
To see how to use an old 101-key keyboard with a Mac, see Command and Control: The Clash of Keyboards
But I use a Mac. Macs have USB ports and make heavy use of the control, option, and command keys. IBM Model M keyboards are short on keys, and use AT or PS/2 connectors, making them less than compatible with Apple Macintosh computers, or recent Windows PCs, for that matter.
Introducing the Das Keyboard Model S For Mac
I’ve heard rumblings about Das Keyboard and their enthusiast oriented clicky keyboards for a while, but they only recently came out with a product specifically designed for use with Apple Macintosh computers. The Model S line uses Cherry MX blue mechanical key switches, known for their satisfying tactile feel. And the Model S for Mac includes Option and Command keys, along with media and sleep keys for use with Mac OS X.
Not having used a Das Keyboard, I decided to give it a try to see if it really “compares to the legendary IBM Model M”, as promised on the company’s website. I went ahead and ordered my keyboard, and it shipped much more quickly than I had expected. I must’ve gotten one of the first keyboards off the line, because the estimated ship date is still a month from now!
The Das Keyboard Model S is truly an enthusiast oriented keyboard, with 6 key rollover and a built-in USB hub. But the USB hub uses a separate connector from the keyboard, is only 2 ports, and interferes with right-handed use of mice or Apple’s Magic Trackpad. The dark glossy finish contrasts with flat black keys, though I do not care for the illegible lowercase font used by Das Keyboard.
Unboxing and Initial Impressions
Shipping was fast, but I was surprised by the small size and light weight of the box I received. The inner container, though glossy and thankfully not overly verbose, looks and feels cheaper than one would expect from a high-end enthusiast product. Honestly, it would get lost on the shelves at Fry’s or Micro Center amid thir ocean of worthless, mushy, flexy junk keyboards.
This is a shame, because the keyboard itself really is impressive in a “2001 monolith” or “Death Star” sort of way. The sharp angles make it appear at once smaller than it is, yet more substantial than the plastic junk most companies call keyboards. The style is entirely different from the slim slabs of aluminum sold by Apple, yet both are iconic in their own way.
But the Das Keyboard Model S for Mac feels much lighter than its 3 pound weight would suggest. Although I didn’t expect it to have the same heft as my 6 pound IBM Model M, it does not feel much more substantial than the cheap Compaq keyboard I had sitting in my closet. The keys are extremely lightweight, with a feathery feel that filled me with dread. This is no Model M.
Das Keyboard Model S Typing Feel
I gave the Das Keyboard a thorough workout, using it exclusively for over a week of heavy typing. Although I could type just as fast on the Model S as the trusty IBM, I did not enjoy the feel at all.
|Cherry’s MX Blue switches have a two-piece “snap” design
|IBM Model M uses a buckling spring
The Cherry MX blue key switches do indeed have a nice snap, but they are undone by an overall feeling of lightness to the action. The keycaps do not feel “locked in” or solidly-connected, They wobble slightly as you type, and are so light that you may not know you’ve pressed them at all if not for the snap and pop of the switch.
What’s worse, in fast typing I found myself “getting ahead of” the key switches. Unless released to spring back nearly their entire travel, the switch will not snap or pop at all on the next press, though the character input will still register. Perhaps it is my typing style that is at fault, but I found myself typing extra characters without knowing it.
I’m disappointed that Das Keyboard would emphasize the comparison between this keyboard and the Model M so strongly in their marketing materials, and disgusted that reviewers would go along with this farce. No one who had ever tried both back-to-back would ever make this comparison. Das Keyboard is fine on its own, but is nothing like a Model M. It’s like slamming the door on a Honda Civic and a Mercedes S Class: Both are satisfying, but there’s no mistaking one for the other.
Another peculiarity of the Das Keyboard Model S for Mac is its handling of the media keys. Unlike Apple’s own keyboard, and the Unicomp Spacesaver M I am currently typing on, the Das Keyboard requires one to press the function key to activate the media keys. And these media keys are oddly shifted to the left: reverse, play/pause, and fast-forward are on F6, F7, and F8 rather than F7, F8, and F9; mute, volume down, and volume up are similarly shifted from F10 through F12 to F9 through F11. I find this extremely curious in a keyboard designed for the Mac.
Make no mistake, the Das Keyboard Model S for Mac is a whole class better than the plastic junk most people use, and the snappy Cherry MX blue key switches are more rewarding than any scissor or membrane keyboard out there. But this is no IBM Model M, so buckling spring fans should look elsewhere. I would not hesitate to recommend the Das Keyboard Model S for Mac to anyone looking for an alternative to Apple’s scissor key aluminum slabs or built-in MacBook keyboards, but I will be returning mine and evaluating a Unicomp Spacesaver M instead.
- Great to see a company so committed to the keyboard, a critical computer component
- Classy black monolith shape
- Good (but not great) Cherry MX blue keyswitches
- Macintosh keys (option, command, and media)
- Totally different feel from the IBM Model M feel, despite Das Keyboard’s marketing
- Paltry 2 USB ports are in the wrong spot and use their own separate cable
- Mac media keys mis-located and require function-Fx press
- More expensive than the son-of-Model M sold by Unicomp