Typing as if it's 1981

By Harold Glicken

 

DasKeyboard is one of the most expensive non-gaming computer keyboards on the planet. Its name suggests that it was made by German engineers whose day job is designing BMWs or Mercedeses. Its feel and clicks mimic the original IBM keyboards. It’s sturdy, heavy, has a USB cable as thick as a small garden hose, and those clicks are guaranteed to keep you awake when you’re  typing.

But fact is stranger than fiction. The keyboard, despite its name, actually was designed in Austin, Texas, and assembled in China. Another fact is that, in my experience, it’s prone to problems that seemingly can’t be fixed. I should know – I forked over $169 for the top-of-the- line DasKeyboard 4 Professional. That I miss my ancient (and wireless) Microsoft keyboard  is testament to how unimpressed I am with the new keyboard. (The Microsoft keyboard , by the way, makes no pretenses about where it was made – in China.)

The folks who design the DasKeyboard claim its key inscriptions are laser-etched. If so, someone must have been asleep at the laser. Online complaints say the home keys and other often-used ones often fade. In fact, to take the suspense out of the fading-key-inscription experience, one model of the keyboard comes with blank key caps.  Some users report that for touch-typing, it is actually easier to use than models with the keycap etchings.

 

So far, after more than a year of use, the key cap inscriptions  look almost new.

 

As if the etching complaints weren’t enough, my keyboard mysteriously repeated o’s when I would pause typing. I sent it back to the manufacturer on their dime. They couldn’t replicate the problem, so they sent it back to me after replacing a part called the logic board. Problem solved.

 

And then the 2.5-pound  keyboard began moving around on my desk as I typed. A technician responded to my email complaint within an hour. He suggested that I put the keyboard on my lap and bend the right side. Now, for all its negatives, the keyboard is built as if it were made of cast iron. Bending it would have meant putting it in a vice.

 

Their next suggestion was removing the combination ruler/keyboard elevator, a device that, as its name suggests, can be used as a ruler. Its real function is to raise  the back of the keyboard about 5 degrees, just where it feels right. Closer inspection showed that the ruler was warped. A new one was sent out, but that ruler was warped, too, so I had to get used to a moveable typing experience.

 

That aside, what other keyboard than the Das allows you to customize the way the keys look? One user designed vintage Smith-Corona key caps.

The Keyboard 4 Professional model, which I bought, has an oversized volume key and separate keys to put the computer to sleep and mute the sound. Compact keyboards also are available, as is one for Macs.

 

Prices range from $139 for the compact keyboard to a whopping $169 for the Professional model. The Mac keyboard goes for $175. That’s extravagant, but if  you must have one of these, I’d recommend the Professional model, with its dedicated number keys, and, of course, there’s the oversized volume knob.

All their keyboards have a feature for super-fast typists called “full n-key rollover,” which allows keystrokes to be stored, then played out, no matter how fast you type.  Those noisy keys, by the way, are gold-plated, and there are two USB hubs at the rear of the keyboard.  

 

For folks working in close quarters with others, the company does make quiet keyboards, too. But the biggest attractions – what got me to fork out $169 – are the vintage IBM clicks, tactile feedback and weight of the keyboard.

After all of my complaints about quality and its pseudo-German name, I will allow that it does enable you to type as if it were 1981. Users rave about it to the point that it has almost a cult following. The company also will have a new line of Internet keyboards that are backlit (yay!) and let you customize how you get information in the cloud. Stay tuned.

 

So, if you’re in the market for a keyboard that the whole house or office can hear and you don’t mind having it tethered to a USB port on your PC or Mac, and you’re in need of a replacement keyboard when your sturdy wireless Microsoft or Logitech model finally heads south, then go for it. But if I had to do it over again, I’d get a Microsoft or Logitech keyboard and pocket the change.

Click and clack

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