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Das Keyboard: Hit Any Key 479

Black hardware just can't help looking cool (think TIE fighters, NeXT Cubes, and the hard-to-find black SE/30 case you might have lusted for in 1994), but have you ever wanted an all-black keyboard? Das Keyboard, from Austin-based Metadot, fills the craving for those so afflicted, and by "all-black," I mean something very nearly that: except a small white label ("Das Keyboard") in the upper left corner and labels for the three usual indicator lights -- num lock, caps lock, and scroll lock -- there's nothing but black to see. The keys are unlabeled in any conventional sense, though the index-finger keys of the conventional home row (F and J) are marked with the usual small bumps; theoretically, this should make typing more accurate after a time, just because cheating with one's eyeballs isn't a possibility. It's the aesthetic opposite of the recently announced Optimus keyboard; this is high minimalism applied to the modern keyboard. The truth is, I wanted to like Das Keyboard. It looks cool, and the concept sounds, well, sound. The thing itself left me a bit disappointed, though; I've outlined my reasoning below.

The problem with inviting comparison

Metadot borrowed from the best in the design of their keyboard: dimensionally, it's just about a dead ringer for an IBM Model M. Compared to my 1984 Model M, Das Keyboard's chassis is less than a half-inch shy of the M's longest dimension, and that half inch is shaved off the the outermost edge; key size, curvature and placement are identical to that of the Model M, at least to the limit of the measuring instruments mounted to each side of my nose. (The underside looks quite a bit different, though: A fair amount of Das Keyboard's undercarriage is just empty space, because the plastic underneath follows the curve of the keys themselves, leaving a small wedge of air.) The board's 6-foot USB cable (nice and chunky) exits to the rear through a neat slot straight up from the Caps Lock indicator. However, the dimensions are unfortunately where the resemblance ends, because the great thing about older, mechanical-action keyboards like the Model M is not so much how they look, but how they feel beneath the hand. Instead of the clacking, snapping action of buckling-spring keyboards, manufacturers have mostly moved to cheaper, less-complicated membrane keyboards, some of which feel better than others. My impression on opening the box and giving the black keyboard a lengthy groping was that the Das Keyboard's action is a bit squishy. To be fair, in the current keyboard market, most of the competition feels no better, and many competitors feel worse. Some people prefer the feel of membrane keyboards, though, so don't take my word for it -- taste in keyboards is idiosyncratic at best. As membrane boards go, Das Keyboard is on the good side of average.

About that extreme makeover ...

So what does the all-black color scheme do for one's typing speed? According to the company, by taking away the crutch of key labels, the user is forced to learn better typing skills and concentrate on their computer's screen.

This may be true for some people, and it sounds like a good theory, but in several weeks of use, I never quite swam, and mostly sank. Whenever I'd hit a wrong key (which was often), I found myself either hunting-and-pecking or craning my neck to peek at a conventional keyboard a few feet away for guidance. I'm an untutored typist, but several years of moderately heavy keyboarding mean I'm at least not a newcomer to entering text with a keyboard -- I even rather enjoy it, most days. However, maybe I'm just a slow learner, but I haven't had as much frustration with a keyboard since I played with a Twiddler a few years ago. Maybe I glance at my keys more than I realize on my conventional keyboard, or maybe it's simply that I had a hard time getting used to the feel of the board, but in the end I ended up disappointed with my speed using Das Keyboard. That's not to say that a better typist would feel the same; maybe I'm just not to the threshold of typing skill that Das Keyboard requires.

According to a company representative, the keys on Das Keyboard are divided into several distinct groups, each with their own response. I tried in vain to detect the difference between keys in various groups, and think I faintly detected it, sometimes. But the difference between any two of the keys on this keyboard (harping, I know) seems far less than that between any of Das Keyboard's keys and its equivalent key on a mechanical-action board. An exception is the space bar, which really did take the promised extra effort to press down: this is a welcome change, and I hope other keyboard makers license (or at least copy!) the idea, because I tend to keep my thumbs on the space bar. (I'd like to see a mechanical-switch version of Das Keyboard, which would retain the neat looks but do away with the milquetoast response.)

My muscle memory isn't what it used to be

The upshot, at least to me, is that Das Keyboard has a feel slightly better than the run-of-the-mill keyboards on offer at mass-market retailers, and much cooler looks, but costs a bit more than those differences justify, at least to my wallet. The industrial approach of this keyboard would be a perfect match for a gaming or overclocking system built for clean, industrial looks, and a better deal than most "high tech" sculpture, but I'm unconvinced that it's truly a practical improvement. If I wanted a keyboard with the claimed advantages of an absence of key-cap labels, I think I'd hit local thrift stores until I found a model that felt acceptable to my hands, and pick up can apiece of spray paint and lacquer.
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Das Keyboard: Hit Any Key

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  • Das Keyboard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bloodgroove ( 675506 ) on Thursday September 08, 2005 @05:18PM (#13513139)
    Wow, 80 bucks for what I can do with 3 dollars worth of spray paint or some solvent to get rid of the letters.
  • So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by John Napkintosh ( 140126 ) on Thursday September 08, 2005 @05:18PM (#13513140) Homepage
    Why in the world does it cost $80?
  • Oh FFS! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Thursday September 08, 2005 @05:19PM (#13513158)
    A can of black paint, people!

    In the war between style and substance, you are the losers!

  • Again? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Declarent ( 628681 ) on Thursday September 08, 2005 @05:20PM (#13513162)
    I don't want to be a jerk or anything, but this has been up on every site I read, including /. for the last couple of months. I find it hard to believe that an editor has never heard of this before submitting this. This is like posting a story about the invention of the Roomba. I assure you, we know. We read about it on Fark, Gizmodo, Slashdot, and every other techy blog out there months ago, over and over again.
  • ALL the keys? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DrEldarion ( 114072 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [0791uhcsm]> on Thursday September 08, 2005 @05:20PM (#13513168)
    Okay, I can type (quite well) without looking at the keyboard, but I'll be damned if I can remember which key is "scroll lock", which is "print screen", and which is "pause/break". And where's that pipe again? Accent mark?

    Form over function is never positive.
  • by Omega ( 1602 ) on Thursday September 08, 2005 @05:22PM (#13513183) Homepage
    I was just as surprised. This keyboard has been on ThinkGeek [] for at least a year now. Is OSDN having a fire sale or something? Too many in the warehouse?

    How is this news?

    While we're on the subject, I've been looking for one of the old black, metal keyboards from the 80's. But to no avail. Does anyone have any tips? PS/2, AT, whatever doesn't matter. Thanks.

  • by reuteler ( 819104 ) on Thursday September 08, 2005 @05:29PM (#13513265) Homepage
    go w/ the happy hacking keyboard instead .. it's just as bad ass black and wonderfully small (with full sized keys) and has great action. 0B.jpg [] it1.html []
  • Re:Top Ten (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nacturation ( 646836 ) <> on Thursday September 08, 2005 @05:35PM (#13513319) Journal

  • by barawn ( 25691 ) on Thursday September 08, 2005 @05:38PM (#13513353) Homepage
    OK, I'm a fast typer. Really fast - I tend to average between 80-100 wpm (I'm juuusst a bit below the highscores on TyperA []).

    I've got a keyboard that's essentially the same. It's a Canadian keyboard layout, which has a QWERTY layout, but all of the auxiliary stuff is labelled wrong (shift-2 is ", for instance). But I've got it on an English layout.

    I can type on it - reasonably well. But sometimes I still have to guess as to where the | key is, or exactly which one is the ]. It hasn't really sped things up.

    I would've preferred leaving labels on for the non-letter characters. Especially considering that not all special character layouts are the same on keyboards - especially laptops (where the heck is the delete key!).
  • Save your money (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pope ( 17780 ) on Thursday September 08, 2005 @05:55PM (#13513472)
    Just take some typing lessons, and you won't be looking at the keys anyway.

    I know the very idea of slashdotters learning something from being taught is wildly foreign, but figure I'd throw it out there anyway. This is a product with no real market outside of a handful of elite idiots whom you'd never want to meet anyway.
  • Re:Not hype enough (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Rude Turnip ( 49495 ) <valuation@gmail. c o m> on Thursday September 08, 2005 @05:56PM (#13513478)
    "doesn't have that totally useless numeric pad no one uses nowadays"

    Oh, boy, do I beg to differ on that point. I mostly do number crunching on spreadsheets all day. My job would be impossible to get done without a numeric keypad.

    That said, my main keyboard is a black, USB Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite 2. For a numeric keypad, I plug a slim, IBM USB numeric keypad into one of the USB ports on the HHKB. It's the ultimate in ergonomics because I can position the numeric keypad in any position that feels comfortable.
  • Re:Top Ten (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lav-chan ( 815252 ) on Thursday September 08, 2005 @06:11PM (#13513600)

    Main reason not to buy one?

    Because it's just a normal $30 keyboard [] you can buy from any computer store. Paint it black yourself if you want to.

    80 fucking dollars, give me a break.

  • Re:So... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ingolfke ( 515826 ) on Thursday September 08, 2005 @06:36PM (#13513758) Journal
    One wonders if these keyboards are actually defects... being pawned of as ub3r l33t. I'm not even saying their mods, maybe Keytronics screwed up the manufacturing process, sold the keyboards for pennies on the dollar and these guys are selling them for $80 now. Who knows.

    When the company selling you a product tells you the product will help demonstrate your status as l33t or rich or cool or whatever it's probably a safe bet that they're ripping you off.
  • by bloggins02 ( 468782 ) on Thursday September 08, 2005 @09:15PM (#13514783)
    Or did nobody else think it was odd how the author compared it to a 20 year old design as if it were a car or a fine wine?

    Now don't get me wrong I found your post pretty funny, but I just wanted to point out the obvious fact that keyboards have suffered badly from comoditization. They break more often, are so light they tend to bounce around on the desk, and most have truly AWFUL key feel.

    This isn't so bad if you're a casual user or web surfer who rarely types anything of any great length, but when you're a programmer who types 8+ hours per day or are in any other job that requires long periods of typing, using a keyboard that costs more than $19.95 can really make a difference.

    Of course, you have to actually find one that's worth the extra money...
  • Apt comparison... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Otto ( 17870 ) on Thursday September 08, 2005 @10:32PM (#13515216) Homepage Journal
    Or did nobody else think it was odd how the author compared it to a 20 year old design as if it were a car or a fine wine?

    Dude, this is *slashdot*. Everybody here over 25 years old understands exactly what he's talking about with regard to the 1984 Model M's.

    But your comparison is indeed apt. It's exactly like a car or a fine wine... only for nerds.

    For people who sit in front of a computer 12+ hours a day, keyboards matter.
  • by cheros ( 223479 ) on Friday September 09, 2005 @02:15AM (#13516514)
    I mean, it's not exactly the first time that this keyboard is mentioned and it's not exactly rocket science either - any idiot armed with a can of black spraypaint can get the same effect on a decent keyboard.

    Any any manufacturer saving money on screenprinting the keys can do this too - I guess the real innovation is to pass these savings in production costs on the customers as a premium price. No, wait, MS has been doing that for years.

    Now, the Art. Lebedev keyboard really IS innovation, and guess what? It won't be terribly difficult to give that all black keys either. Just as pointless as "Das Keyboard" (yeah, saved money on branding as well) but at least it has some real innovation - and decent design.

    Frankly, I can't wait to see the latter one go into production.

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel