The latest Das Keyboard for the Macintosh: Is it the mechanical keyboard you've been waiting for?
Computer keyboards can use electronic or mechanical switches under the keys. I'm a big fan of mechanical keyboards, because I can type faster and more accurately on them. Metadot makes some of the best Mac-specific mechanical keyboards out there, and today they've released the Das Keyboard 4 Professional for Mac. Here's my review.
- Available in two switch types, clicky and tactile
- Media buttons and oversized volume key work well with iTunes
- Lighter, thinner, more efficient than previous Das Keyboard model
- Built-in USB 3 hub
- Unique "Footbar" stand
- N key rollover support
- Bulky USB cable looks clunky
What makes mechanical keyboards special?
The key switches inside the MacBook are "scissor" switches: rubber domes cover a circuit board. Each time you press a key, a scissor-shaped mechanism underneath the plastic cap collapses and you press the rubber dome to make contact with the circuit board underneath.
It's a good way to make an inexpensive, extremely low-profile and quiet keyboard, but it lacks the same crisp tactile response of a good mechanical keyboard.
Mechanical keyboards harken back to the dawn of the personal computer business. Many of us "old school" computer users who came up during that time prefer them, as do a growing number of enthusiasts in gaming and other niche markets like journalism and programming.
Mechanical keyboards cost more money, they're heavier and they're a good bit noiser (more "clicky") than modern scissor keyboards, but those of us who love them will tell you that they're faster and more productive on a good mechanical keyboard.
Inside the Das Keyboard 4 Professional for Mac
Metadot first came to prominence among keyboard enthusiasts in the mid-oughts with their Das Keyboard II, which featured mechanical keyswitches built by German computer hardware maker ZF Electronics (formerly Cherry). They've come out with new designs since then, and their original Das Keyboard Model S Professional for Mac remains one of my favorites.
The Das Keyboard 4 Professional for Mac sports a 104-key US QWERTY layout, complete with cursor keys and a numeric keypad. There are also dedicated media control keys built into the keyboard above the num pad that function as rewind, fast forward and play/pause buttons; a circular button mutes sound and a sleep key will also put the computer into sleep mode. A large rotary dial on the upper right side of the keyboard is smartly outlined in a red metallic finish; it controls volume.
Metadot first introduced the Das Keyboard 4 Professional in 2014 for Windows PC users. Mechanically, the Mac keyboard is the same. The Mac version's media keys activate iTunes and adjust system volume, and the command and option keys are correctly marked. The keys next to F13 (ostensibly SCRL LK and PAUSE on the PC version of this keyboard) control screen brightness.
The keyboard attaches to your Mac using a 6.5-foot USB cable. Built into the back of the keyboard are two USB 3.0 ports, one of the first Mac keyboards I've seen so equipped (most have USB 2.0 ports instead). The USB 3.0 hub is a nice feature, but the long USB cable is very bulky and inelegant.
The new Mac Das Keyboard model is available with two different switch options: You can order it either with blue or brown switches. Both are mechanical; the blue version is more crisp and clicky, while the brown is softer but still very tactile. Both feel great, but I prefer the brown switches. Mechanical keyboard enthusiasts probably don't need a lot of prompting either way; we all have our favorites. I find the brown to be a bit less distracting, even though I don't get the "click" that I do with the blues, which is oh-so-satisfying.
I still have my Das Keyboard Model S Professional for Mac, and it still works well. The new keyboard is thinner, uses a different typeface on the keys, and doesn't grab two USB ports.
Metadot's developed a different raising mechanism for the back of the keyboard than the integrated feet used by the older model. They call it the Footbar, and it attaches magnetically to the bottom of the keyboard when you want to use it.
Metadot has cheekily incorporated inch and millimeter measurements into the Footbar (it's actually about 16 inches long), so you can use it as a desk ruler if you're not elevating the back of the keyboard.
N-key rollover is an important consideration for discriminating mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. Keyboards with N-key rollover let you register as many key presses as you can manage at once without dropping any characters. It's one of the big reasons speedy typists looking for maximum accuracy prefer mechanical keyboards. Not only is N-key rollover supported, but you can toggle it on and off using a key command.
The Bottom Line
If you liked the Model S, you're going to love what Metadot's done with the 4 Professional for Mac. The choice of tactile brown Greentech switches and clicky blue switches gives discriminating mechanical keyboard enthusiasts a great choice - tactile but quieter, or loud and clicky. The Pro 4 for Mac is thinner and lighter than its predecessor. Outside of a rather awkward black USB cable, it's gorgeous inside and out.
- $175 - Buy now
Are you a PC user interested in the Das Keyboard 4 Professional? Pick one up here:
- $161.99 - Buy now