Review

Review: Das Keyboard Professional S

Computer users in the 1990s may remember the IBM Model M keyboard for varying reasons. The Model M was a mechanical keyboard, providing a highly audible feedback as a result of this. It garnered something of a reputation for this noise it produced, but the Model M (and other mechanical keyboards) fell by the wayside as cheaper capacitive models became more common. Since then, mechanical keyboards have grown into something of a niche for their typewriter-esque sounds. This review will be of the Das Keyboard Professional S, kindly donated to Neowin by getDigital.de for review purposes.

At $129.99 on its official website, the Das Keyboard is expensive, but comes across almost as a celebration of mechanical keyboards in general. As the name suggests it is very much a professional-grade choice, with four main models being offered: the Professional (full-volume with marked keys), the Silent (reduced-volume with marked keys), the Ultimate (either volume, completely blank keys), and the Mac (exclusively for Apple’s Macs, and a new offering). For this review, we’re taking a look at the Professional model, though the experience should extend across all models.

Originally, the Das Keyboard was available only as a blank model, but changes in the market have since meant that this is not the only model offered. While completely separate to the review, I have to admit the name alone appeals to me. The keyboard uses German-made keyswitches, giving rise to its name (Das is the neuter form of ‘the’ in German), effectively giving this keyboard the name of ‘The Keyboard’. While not grammatically correct, I will refer to the keyboard throughout as ‘the Das Keyboard’ for the purposes of this review.

Appearance and Features

 

The first thought I had when I unboxed the Das Keyboard was simply ‘Wow’. I have never seen a keyboard that looks more attractive than this. Sure, a keyboard is a tool for inputting text at the end of the day, but not all keyboards are created equally. The Das Keyboard is certainly created a cut above the majority of models on the market today. As a full-size keyboard it does not sound as if it does anything radically different beyond its mechanical engineering, though it does have some very interesting touches up its sleeve.

The keyboard boasts two more USB slots on the right side, arranged in a side-by-side formation. I had expected them to be in a stack formation, though this is not the case. An additional bonus to the USB hub is that the ports are USB 2.0, as opposed to 1.1. While USB 2.0 is not a new technology, and 3.0 is appearing it is still worth mentioning. Why it does not sit in a stack formation I am not sure, since the thickness of the keyboard increases at the top.

The USB hub replaces the two USB slots you’ll have to use otherwise; one slot is needed in order to power the keyboard, and another slot is needed in order to power the slots. On the plus side you can connect one of the USB slots to a PS/2 port thanks to an included PS/2 adapter, so you could still gain a USB slot in theory. The PS/2 slot really ought to be used with the actual keyboard, since it supports n-key rollover. In plain English, that means you can press all of the keys at once and have them input.

Quite why you would want to do so is irrelevant, since this sounds cool and allows you to save a USB slot. Using USB you are restricted to ‘only’ six key input. This is very much something to aim at the gamers, since those who are masters of hotkeys may sometimes find themselves mashing numerous keys at once. I am not a heavy PC gamer, nor am I someone with the gaming skill to need to hit six keys at once, but the fact such a feature has been considered is undoubtedly reassuring for those who could need such functionality.

A stroke of genius with the appearance of the keyboard stems from its own mechanical engineerings. As it is mechanical it means that keycaps can be removed and replaced with the official key puller, pictured above. Since the keyboard is compatible with Linux, Windows, and Mac operating systems, it is possible to remove and replace the keys as desired. In fact, the possibility alone has clearly been enough, since the official website sells different keycaps for certain buttons. If you’re running Linux and the Windows key on the keyboard draws your disapproval, you can pop it off and replace it.

While completely trivial for some users and non-existent for Ultimate models, I really like the font the keys are marked in. The fonts are squared, and almost resemble the Bank Gothic fonts used for the first two Modern Warfare titles in the Call of Duty franchise. In addition to this, when you run your finger across the keys you can feel a slight texture. It is very slight, but it is pleasant and those who can touch type even without much confidence can learn from this, since the texture of the Shift key varies from a conventional letter key, and so on.

Another design feature which I never considered beforehand has been the LED alerting you to Caps Lock or Num Lock being enabled. Most keyboards tend to make these visible even when not illuminated, since it is considered to be a fairly trivial matter. With the Das Keyboard, trivial or not, it has been designed to look good. This is why you get an impressively bright end result, which also manages to be completely invisible when they are not illuminated.

The black fascia picks up a lot of fingerprints and makes them obvious when exposed to the light. As a result of this, the microfiber cloth included in the packaging becomes vital for maintaining the professional look of the keyboard. The same problem is present around the entirety of the fascia, excluding the keys. While it undoubtedly looks completely stunning at a distance, closer inspection can easily display fingerprints, so cleaning the Das Keyboard regularly is vital. Had the fascia been matte black this problem could have probably been completely alleviated, but it may have caused the keyboard to look less high-end. In that sense it is an acceptable payoff, I would argue.

While I’m on the topic of things I am not so fond of about the Das Keyboard, I will admit that I find the USB cable included to be excessively long. The site selling the keyboard states that it offers a two meter long USB cable, which translates to about 6’6”. While this may have some uses, it seems like overkill for most purposes. It may have its benefits with a computer being used for a presentation or conference, but for the everyday user it seems like overkill. Not many offices seem to have a space measuring 6’6” between an employee and their computer. That’s a shame though, since it means you have no real need for all the cable.

I would guess that a cable of half the length would work just as well, if not better, since the cable seems to be coiled up very tightly and doesn’t really play well near a monitor. I have no doubt that it has some benefits for some people… I just can’t tell who those people are. I suppose it might work for coders or hardcore gamers who have multiple monitors and may need to turn between them for some reason or another, but even then it seems almost too long, which sits unused. The cable is tightly coiled together with a cable tie, so if you’re unfortunate it could be a lump in front of your screen. It would be possible to loosen it up, but doing so without releasing the entire thing is more easily said than done.

Comfort and Experience

 

Writing on the Das Keyboard is a lot of fun to do, purely because the sound is enchanting. I have seen people describing the sound of their keyboards when they are typing as being almost like machine guns. If that is the case, the Das Keyboard might be the finest machine gun on the market. The best sounding keyboards are consistently mechanical, as opposed to membrane-based. The noise the Das Keyboard makes is enough to spur you to keep writing even when you’re writing something you’d rather not. In that respect it’s surprisingly motivating when you’re typing; the noise comes across as encouragement. Seeing words appear on screen, and hearing the keyboard feedback is enough to keep you looking for a reason to type. I might have been sceptical about that claim, but it is the truth. Something as normal as typing really does feel like it has received an upgrade when it’s done on a high-end piece of hardware.

A large amount of the Das Keyboard’s appeal lies in its claim to be ‘The Mechanical Keyboard that Clicks’. It certainly does click, and it has clicked with me. While it is marketed as being a loud keyboard it is loud without being intrusive, and it would only be in a populated office that you might experience any opposition to the noise it makes. For those who do not find any problem with the noise, but do work in a populated office, it may be worth checking the noise of the Silent model against that of the Professional. Both keyboards retail for the same price, so that point does not have to be factored into choosing your preferred model.

The official Das Keyboard YouTube channel has uploaded a comparison of the two models, and in addition, they compare the louder to the infamous IBM Model M. Having never used an IBM Model M for myself I can’t give an accurate idea of how the two feel to type on, but I can say this with confidence: the Das Keyboard models are very, very comfortable to use. The Model M was introduced in the 1980s, and even now they are still in use, which should prove testament to the condition and strength of mechanical keyboards.

I tend to do a lot of typing during a day, and even more during the weekend.  In an average day I can type a thousand or more words, and more if I’m being unexpectedly productive. A comfortable keyboard is essential for this, and I do believe that the Das Keyboard has me covered in this respect. Coders and IT professionals can expect to type upwards of several thousand words if they are doing a lot of work, and nobody wants to do something which will cause discomfort. The Das Keyboard is not uncomfortable in the slightest, and it is also incredibly durable, since an individual key can be pressed fifty million times, according to the manufacturers. For reference, that is the equivalent of the following:

You could write the entirety of Marienbad My Love (experimental fiction) by Mark Leach, Nigel Tomm’s The Blah Story, Devta by Mohiuddin Nawab, The Story of the Vivian Girls by Henry Darger, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, replacing every letter in each of them with the letter ‘a’, or any other letter that took your fancy. Fifty million presses is an utterly astronomical amount. If you wanted to press one key fifty million times and do it over the course of a year, you’d have to press it 136,986.301 times a day. In other words, you’d have to press the same key over 5700 times an hour, assuming you can stay awake all day every day in the year. It’s a figure both incredible and terrifying at the same time. All of the books listed were gathered from this Wikipedia page.

The top-row keys are higher than the bottom row, as the picture shows, but they are both angled for optimum comfort and precision, which is very pleasing. It makes the positioning of each key feel logical, and it also makes touch-typing easy to do. Considering the manufacturers are very big into promoting typing as a valuable talent, this fits their ethos. In fact, the origins of the Das Keyboard were found in this respect. The original model was available only as a blank (you can still buy an all blank model, referred to as the Ultimate), intending to put focus on the ability to touch type. Although the model I have here is marked I can confirm that touch typing on it is entirely possible, even if it varies from your previous keyboard considerably.

Considering I’ve used a laptop keyboard for the past few years I was expecting more of a learning curve before I could grow confident with the Das Keyboard, though that was not the case. In a matter of days I have grown to feel comfortable with it. Surprisingly, I can actually type more quickly on the Das Keyboard comfortably than I could on my laptop keyboard.

When pushing myself I can still type more quickly on the laptop keyboard, but when typing normally I am finding that the Das Keyboard lets me do so more quickly, with roughly 85-90 words per minute recorded on it. When typing on the laptop keyboard I found I was getting around 80-85 words per minute, but when I pushed myself I could reach 110-120. Initially, I had difficulty typing repeated characters on the keyboard, such as the two ‘l’s in ‘million’, but it seems to have grown more consistent as I use the keyboard more. It may be due to the fact that the board was brand new, but it has thankfully grown less of an issue with more use.

If comfort is your main issue with a keyboard over anything else, including audio feedback, I would suggest the Silent model. While there is no real difference for the most part, the different mechanical keyswitches under the keys of the Silent model require less pressure. The standard model uses MX Cherry Blue keyswitches, with the Silent using MX Cherry Brown keyswitches. The result of this is that the Silent model requires marginally less pressure on a key to operate; 55g as compared to 60g on the full-volume models. It may not sound like much but if you are giving a keyboard to someone who does not type quickly or confidently, then it might be worthwhile to provide them with the Silent model. The upside to the increased pressure required for the Professional model is that you can reduce the chances of someone entering the same letter twice unintentionally, of course.

The Das Keyboard is a full-sized keyboard with a numerical pad on one side, and the pad is everything you would expect. While the usage of these has fallen out of practice in most professions with the top row having become numbers and punctuation symbols, it is still beneficial for those who may have to enter figures regularly. The pad is as you would expect from the rest of the keyboard, with the same rows increasing in height. Nothing about the number pad seems to be really different beyond the obvious mechanical engineerings and associated noise.

Conclusion

The Das Keyboard is a wonderful piece of equipment, and is definitely worth a place on your computer desk, if you are willing to foot the bill. The Das Keyboard really does deliver upon the promise of a satisfying clicky noise, and it makes typing a memorable experience if nothing else. While the pricing means that it may only ever sell to a niche market of gamers, coders, and possibly some writers, the experience is enough to ensure that all of these niche markets will never want to change to any other keyboard ever again.

The design is fantastic, and complements most computers well, though understandably even the Mac version does not fit with Apple’s Mac computers, so it may not sit well with some Apple fanatics. For Mac users who can accept the design choice, and users with enough money to spend on the Das Keyboard I would argue that it is worth every penny. If it manages to be as durable as the IBM Model M which inspired the mechanical engineerings, then you likely will have saved money in the long run. If it doesn’t last as long for you, but you manage to get enough typing done on it to offset the price, then it’s still a price worth paying. The Das Keyboard is the best excuse to write a few more lines of code before clocking off for the night, or perhaps fragging another few rounds of opponents in a game.

I would also like to thank getDigital.de again for kindly providing this keyboard for review, and for prompt responses to emails and their delivery speeds from Germany to my location in Northern Ireland. The quality of their service has been absolutely brilliant, and that will no doubt come as encouraging to prospective European buyers, since they are the only company in Europe selling the Das Keyboard. In addition to this, the company proved more than helpful with Neowin’s press enquiries, and we would like to thank them once more for providing a review unit.

If you live in America it will be much easier for you to buy a Das Keyboard, since their official website also features a resellers page. Buyers in Asian markets could purchase from Thinkgeek in the United States, though shipping costs may present a problem. If you're looking for an excellent keyboard and money is no object, it is definitely worth considering the shipping costs.

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