01.Classic keyboard review
Modern PC keyboards have evolved into many different designs. Some even come with special key configurations and functions designed to enhance ergonomics and productivity for everything from multimedia to games.
But how good are they for their basic purpose — typing?
We tried out two modern versions of the ‘classic’ keyboard style for comparison.
Please note: this information was current as of February 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.
Price: $US69 plus freight.
Das Keyboard Professional
- Heavy duty mechanical key switches designed for high-speed, high-volume typing.
- Clicky sound and tactile feedback.
- They may be too loud for multiple users.
- Relatively expensive.
Modern PC keyboards
Modern PC keyboards have evolved into many different designs. Some even come with special key configurations and functions designed to enhance ergonomics and productivity for everything from multimedia to games. But how good are they for their basic purpose — typing? We tried out two modern versions of the ‘classic’ keyboard style for comparison — the Unicomp Customizer and the Das Keyboard Professional.
Why might you prefer an old-style keyboard? As keyboards evolved, they became smaller, lighter and generally embraced a cheaper, quieter, rubber-dome key mechanism. Critics say that somewhere along the line, quality and tactile feedback was lost, making rubber-dome keyboards inferior for typing no matter how many fancy features they included.
According to some typing enthusiasts, you just can’t match old-style mechanical keyboards for speed and accuracy. So we put this to the test.
The new classics
In the early days of personal computing, offices reverberated with the machine-gun like staccato of these ‘full-metal jacket’ keyboards. King of the old-style heavy-metal monsters was the IBM Model M PC keyboard, first released in 1984 and famous for its ‘clicky’ sound, tactile feedback and ‘bulletproof’ durability. The original Model M made during the 1980s is still prized by a small but faithful following of high-output users, though it’s a little hard to find today.
However, Kentucky-based manufacturer Unicomp is keeping the flame alive, making new and modern versions of the Model M based on the original design, but with a USB interface for modern computers.
Another up-to-date contender for the ‘ultimate keyboard’ crown is the Das Keyboard range, with its high quality gold-plated mechanical key switches. Das Keyboard (literally, The Keyboard) is designed for serious typists. One version — the Das Keyboard Ultimate — has totally blank keys, a feature designed to encourage users to type by touch only. We reviewed the Ultimate’s blank-key predecessor, the Das Keyboard II and came away impressed. The Professional version has standard key markings.
Why so clicky?
The Model M and its Unicomp equivalent use a ‘buckling spring’ mechanism — a coil spring under each keycap which compresses as the key is pressed until it kinks, or buckles, producing a noticeably audible click and subtle tactile feedback. The result is claimed to be a more definite key press than the so-called mushier feel of an almost-silent rubber-dome mechanism, and hence the claimed greater accuracy.
The Das Keyboard includes German-engineered mechanical key switches with gold-plated contacts to give a clicky feel similar to a Model M, but it also adds a sleek gloss-black look and the modern touch of a built-in two-port USB hub on the right-hand side and illuminated blue indicators for caps lock and num lock.
How they compare
The Unicomp is the bulkier of the two keyboards. Both have a similarly lengthy two metre USB cable, but the Unicomp has the more utilitarian look, with contrasting matt-black base and light-grey keys. Both keyboards are plug-and-play with Windows, Linux or Mac OS X. We gave a Das Keyboard Professional and a Unicomp model to four touch-typists to get their impressions after several days of use and typing tests. Users said the Unicomp seemed slightly louder, but noted that while not unbearable for a single user, a room full of typists going hell for leather on either keyboard would create a considerable din.
Results from our user panel typing tests showed a slight increase in both speed and accuracy overall, compared to the standard soft-touch keyboards on our work machines here, when using the Unicomp and Das Keyboard Pro and the consensus was that they feel better to use. Not all would buy one though — for at least one user the noise was a deal-breaker and the quietness of a standard keyboard was preferred.
Quality keyboards never go out of style, it seems. If you pride yourself on your typing you might want to give one of these typists’ tools a try. Purists will likely go for the classic feel of the modern Model M clone, but our user panel narrowly gave the nod to the Das Keyboard Pro for being slightly quieter, looking sleeker and including a USB hub.
Both keyboards may give your speed and accuracy a boost. If nothing else, the clicky audible feedback promotes a satisfying feeling of productivity when you’re hammering away. In the end it comes down to personal preference, but if you pride yourself on your typing, one of these classy keyboards will set you apart from the crowd.