Tag Archives: keyboards

Episode 97: Mac OS El Camino (30 years of the Macintosh)

mac

We discuss 30 years of the Macintosh and what the Macintosh has meant to computing and  to us.

We also discuss if iOS and OS X will eventually become one OS. The Mac is stronger than ever today, and you can see a lot of the original Macintosh in today’s Macs. But will the 50th-year celebration still show that same linage?

Will the Mac be around in 20 years? Would we be where we are today if Apple had gone under in the 90s?

We also start off the show with a discussion about Google Glass and sex.

Listen to this week’s show:

 

Download the MP3

Show notes:

 

Matias Slim One keyboard review

The Matias One Slim keyboard looks an awful lot like the Apple wireless keyboard, except that’s it not wireless.

It feels very similar too. It’s also more expensive. It’s still not wireless.

So, why would anyone want this keyboard? Well, a lot of people will.

If you’re like me, and you work with an iPad propped up in a stand next to your main computer, the Matias Slim One keyboard provides an easy way to switch between typing on your computer and typing on your iPad (or iPhone or Android device).

This keyboard comes with built-in Bluetooth, allowing it to be paired with a myriad of portable electronics. I keep my iPad next to my main computer for managing calendars, project management and Twitter. It’s not my main work machine, but it does serve a vital purpose for me, especially since it’s my main machine for meetings.

Keeping the iPad propped up on a stand in vertical orientation is the right ergonomic decision to make. It’s easy to read, and it’s easy on the neck. But it’s really hard to do any kind of typing on the iPad when it’s in a stand; that’s where this keyboard really comes in handy.

Without a keyboard with this switching-capabilities, your options are A) trying to awkwardly type on your iPad while it is in a stand, B) taking your iPad off the stand for typing or C) having a separate Bluetooth keyboard just for your iPad.

This keyboard solves that dillemna, and is by far the best solution I have seen so far. So, how about the rest of the keyboard? It feels very similar to Apple’s island-style keyboards that all Apple laptops and keyboards come with. A lot of PC keyboards are this way too. If you used one of those, you’ve used this keyboard.

It is wired, so if you really want a wireless keyboard, this keyboard is a bit of a bummer. Personally, I find having a wireless mouse much more important than a wireless keyboard, because the mouse cord can screw up your movements. This keyboard isn’t adjustable, and the tilt of it could probably be a little steeper.

A lot of people may find $80 a little steep for a non-wireless keyboard that doesn’t have a tenkey, but there aren’t many competitors to the Matias Slim One keyboard. While this is a keyboard aimed at Mac users, I’ve also tested this keyboard with Windows 7, and found that it works pretty well with Windows.

If you don’t want a low-profile keyboard, Matias also offers a more standard keyboard and a tactile keyboard with this functionality. I myself am a tactile keyboard kind of guy. I haven’t gotten my hands on a Matias One Tactile yet, but I hope to. That might be the keyboard for me, but if you like the way the Apple Bluetooth keyboard feels but want a way to control your smartphone or tablet as well, this is the keyboard for you.

I really like this keyboard.

Das Keyboard Model S Professional Review

Click, clack.

Unfortunately that time has come for me to return my Das Keyboard Model S Professional
and start writing my review.

I already wrote some initial thoughts that were largely glowing. The Das Keyboard is a joy to type on.

It makes putting words down feel better. More permeant.

You’re hammering words into existence. Even though I can still hit backspace or delete just as easily on the Das Keyboard, there is a feeling of permanence with every key stroke that a standard rubber dome or laptop keyboard doesn’t have. Each key stroke feels important, worth making.

For a writer, that means the world. I mean this with all sincerity, I enjoy typing more now that I’ve discovered the Das Keyboard and mechanical keyboards.

Yes, A keyboard is just a keyboard. And is a computer is a computer. And a text editor is a text editor.

But if you’re going to dedicate a large portion of your life to putting words down on screen or typing code, maybe a keyboard isn’t just as keyboard. Maybe a computer isn’t just a computer. Maybe a text editor isn’t just a text editor.

Do you know what it feels like to wake up and just want to type? To want to write, to create? With the Das Keyboard, I find myself wanting to write, and when I’m not writing and typing, I feel like I’m wasting my time.

I sit at my keyboard when I’m surfing around, and I’m just itching to type. I want to type. I want to create.

There are pen and paper people who swear by certain pens and how they love writing with those pens. I finally get that now.

I’ve become addicted to the tactile feedback that each key stroke provides. The sound and feel of each keystroke is a bit like a really good typewriter.

The Das Keyboard allows you to actuate keys before you fully press a key in, unlike standard keyboards. When you actuate a key, an audible click happens. Not only is it very satisfying, but that noise and feel helps create a different typing experience.

All Das Keyboards uses mechanical key switches that register key presses, unlike non-mechanical keyboards that use rubber domes or scissors switches. Frankly, the difference between them is not all that important for the average person to know. But do know this: Mechanical key switches are exponentially more tactile, responsive and expensive.

If you’d like to learn a lot more about the nitty, gritty details of mechanical keyboards and what makes them different than other keyboards, this is a pretty good place to start. There was a time when basically all keyboards were mechanical, but the race to the $200 computer left us with some casualties.


The Cherry MX Blue switch that this keyboard uses in action. Notice the bump. That’s what makes the clicking sound. You can also feel that bump, which allows you to learn to not press keys all the way down to the keyboard base.

With a standard keyboard, you have to mash the keys until the keys hit the bottom of the keyboard. That’s the only way to ensure that key presses actually register. This is both a very unsatisfying way to type and a good way to overuse your fingers and hands, exposing you to repetitive stress injuries.

Maybe I’m not a baseball player with a favorite bat, but I am a writer with a favorite keyboard.

The Das Keyboard helped me discover the world of mechanical keyboards. Note: For writers, programmers and computer enthusiasts, this can be a dangerous world to enter. Suddenly a keyboard isn’t just a keyboard.

You’ll enter a world of tactility and key switches. You’ll hear stories about legendary keyboards from bygone eras. You’ll even be tempted to start buying vintage keyboards to see how each one feels.

That’s how I ended up with the Apple Extended Keyboard, which is what I’m typing part of this review on. My home office is now commanded by a battleship-sized keyboard that clicks, clacks and hammers each key into this world. And I love it.

At my work office, I’ve been using the Das Keyboard every day and loving it. At home I’ve been using the Apple Extended Keyboard and loving it. They feel and sound very different, and yet come from the same mindset — that typing is serious business that requires serious tools. I enjoy both keyboards like a car lover enjoys multiple cars or musician has different guitars.

I’m tempted to seek other other mechanical keyboards and build a small stable of keyboards that I rotate between. For vintage keyboards, I’d love to try a IBM Model M and an Apple Extended Keyboard II (this is slightly different from the keyboard I’m using).

While I will be using a 22-year-old keyboard as one of my main keyboards moving forward, I’d actually recommend going with a brand new mechanical keyboard. Vintage keyboards are buyer beware and are often as expensive if not more so than a new mechanical keyboard (I bid $200 on a never-been-used Apple Extended Keyboard II and lost by almost $100). Vintage keyboards are also no longer being produced, so if you fall in love with a particular keyboard and it breaks, you may never be able to reproduce it.

The advantage of going with a Das Keyboard is that you should be able to buy a replacement keyboard for years to come should the need arise. And a good mechanical keyboard can last years (my Apple Extended Keyboard was made when I was six). If you buy a Das Keyboard brand new with its key switches rated for 50 million key strokes, it could be a decade or more before you need to replace your keyboard.

It’s not all roses and letters being hammered into this world. There are negatives to the Das Keyboard. First, the keyboard is loud.

For the typist, this is not a bad thing. I’d argue that audible feedback helps enhance the typing experience, making a typist faster and me accurate, while also making the typing experience more enjoyable. But typing in an office is not a solo sport. Your coworkers can hear your keystrokes.

The Das Keyboard is not just slightly louder than a standard keyboard. It’s not noticeably louder. It’s in a different league of loudness.

Everyone will know when you’re typing. Some of my coworkers really hammer their keyboards, and so when they type their keyboards make noise. But with the Das Keyboard, no matter how faintly you type, keys make an audible click each time you press them down.

I’d argue that many work environments are too quiet. Quietness makes it hard to work because it interferes with concentration when silence is breached. The sound of people typing on keyboards provides naturally background noise that helps people concentrate. In an office field with mechanical keyboards, there would be a soothing background symphony of people typing, somewhat similar to how offices used to sound in the days of typewriters.

In my office, however, there is everyone else typing away at membrane and scissor key keyboards. And then there is me hammering letters into this world. I’m Thor swinging around a war hammer in a library.

People are bound to notice. It’s hard to get a good gauge on how my co-workers really feel about the Das Keyboards sounds. I did have a coworker ask me the first day that I brought the Das Keyboard in if I had gotten a new keyboard.

And she wasn’t even the closest person to me. So, yes, people notice. But then she also later said that the keyboard is oddly soothing.

Offices used to be filled with the click, clack of typewriters. Now keyboards today are mushy and silent. Offices can be dreadful places. I’d like to think that an office filled with mechanical keyboards would be a livelier place to work.

But since I don’t work in an office filled with click-clacking, and you probably don’t either, we have to live in this world. And in this world, I’m the only person in my office typing away at a keyboard that sounds like machine gun fire when I really get going.

My coworkers are nice people, and I don’t work somewhere where people demand absolute silence. If you do, you might want to try the quieter, albeit still-louder-than-usual, Das Keyboard S Professional Silent. Das Keyboard make it clear that the Silent model is tongue in cheek, but it is quiter.

The brown Cherry MX switches on the Das Keyboard Silent do not make an audible click with each key being pressed, unlike the blue Cherry MX switches which have a distinctive clicking sound (here is a nice primer on the differences between the Cherry MX blue and brown switches)


This is what the Cherry MX Brown switch looks like in action. No bump, no click.

The other negative of the Das Keyboard is looks. It’s not a bad looking keyboard, but if you have an Apple wireless keyboard like I have, it doesn’t look very modern or sleek. Its a big hunk of black plastic.

I imagine that Darth Vader would marvel at the craftsmanship of the Das Keyboard. If the Death Star had to be rebuilt, a Das Keyboard would like fitting at the command station.

But for those who would like a clean, modern looking desktop, the Das Keyboard may be difficult to swallow. It is large, made of black plastic and is wired. In addition, the Das Keyboard is big. It’s thick, it’s tall and it’s wide.

It’s just big. Have we settled that?

It’s not that much bigger, however, than a standard full-sized keyboard, but many of us are working on laptops or wireless laptop-style keyboards.

I’d probably prefer a tenkeyless model of the Das Keyboard. I rarely use the numberpad, and it just serves to push my mouse farther away from my keyboard, causing strain on my right shoulder. Narrow keyboards are more ergonomic, and getting rid of the number pad is the easiest way to produce a smaller keyboard.

That being said, the Das Keyboard is significantly smaller than the keyboard I’m typing that on right now. I have found the Das Keyboard to be comfortable to type on for long periods of time. I’m not sure if I can say the same for the Apple Extended Keyboard. It’s the widest keyboard that I have ever seen, and it causes my mouse to float way out in right field.

I’ve had a bout of RSI in the back of my right shoulder that I believe might be due to the wideness of the Apple Extended Keyboard (this is not a normal occurrence for me). I have to actively monitor and make sure that my mouse doesn’t stray too far from my keyboard.

The Das Keyboard doesn’t seem to have this issues. I’d still like to see a smaller, tenkeyless model offered. Perhaps with something that doesn’t have a built in USB hub either. The USB hub is nice and does come in handy on the Das Keyboard, but if they were going to make a smaller model, it’s the kind of thing that they could save space by getting rid of it.

Also, a tenkeyless model without a USB hub would be cheaper. Das Keyboards start at $129. A $99 model might be able to bring in more people.

Some people will balk at the price. You can get a keyboard for under $20 brand new. So, why pay 6-7 times that for a keyboard?

For some people who just buy the cheapest computer they can find and go through them every few years, a mechanical keyboard is not for you. But for those who value the tools they use, the keyboard is the biggest way we interact with personal computers.

A mechanical keyboard should last for years longer than a cheap rubber dome keyboard. I went through a rubber dome keyboard every 1-3 years.

Beyond that, I can’t really think of any negatives. You have to keep in mind that I have come from years of using mushy, sticky, inexact keyboards. Those keyboards are largely negatives. In comparison, using the Das Keyboard feels like winning a prize.

In the end, the only thing you really need to know about the Das Keyboard is this: I’m buying my own. I have to send this one back, and I’m a little sad to see it go, but I’ll be starting a new adventure with a new Das Keyboard (most likely the all black Ultimate model) that I hope lasts for many, many years to come. Although, I may be tempted to get the Mac model (I used my review unit with both a PC and a Mac).

I’ll miss you Das Keyboard. May you continue to click and clack for years to come.

My desk is covered in keyboards

Right now there are four different keyboards on my desk: Apple Extended Keyboard, Das Keyboard, Apple Wireless Keyboard and Matias Slim One.

They made keyboards a little bigger 20 years ago. That’s the Das Keyboard in the background for comparisons sake (and Apple Wireless Keyboard in the way back). The Apple Extended Keyboard types like an absolute dream though. Don’t let it’s plus-sizeness fool you.

I’m testing a bunch of keyboards for review. I should have reviews up of the Das Keyboard and Matias Slim One in a few weeks after I use them more. I’m hoping to eventually test the Matias Tactile One as well ( the Matias One keyboards have a button to switch between typing on your Mac and your iPhone/Bluetooth-enabled phone or tablet). The Apple Wireless Keyboard is my normal keyboard, and I picked up a vintage Apple Extended Keyboard for comparison sake.

Please let me know if there is anything about these keyboards that you want me to address in my review. Also, let me know if there are other keyboards that you want me to test.

Clicky keyboards for productivity and happiness

Shawn Blanc has a great blog post on clicky keyboards — or more to the point, old fashioned mechanical keyboards.

If you’ve been using computers since the early 1990s or earlier, you’ve probably used a mechanical keyboard at some point, but have long forgotten what it’s like. I know I have. You’ve probably gotten used to today’s cheaper keyboards and have forgotten what it’s like to really feel a key being pushed in.

Writers in particular have clung to more expensive mechanical keyboards while the world has gone to cheaper membrane keyboards or scissor-switch membrane keyboards for laptops. The editorial staff at my work enjoys their clickier and louder keyboards, one of the hallmarks of mechanical keyboards. John Gruber and other major Internet writers swear by mechanical keyboards as well.

The legendary Apple Extended Keyboard II is a mechanical keyboard. So is the IBM Model M keyboard. If you remember using one of those, you know what a mechanical keyboard feels like.

People like the way that the Apple Extended Keyboard II feels so much that one of those old keyboards goes for a few hundred dollars if they are in new condition. Even a well used, yellowed Apple Extended Keyboard II goes for $20 or so, more than many people pay for a brand new, modern keyboard.

Why pay money for a used, yellowed, big, hideous keyboard? It turns out that a lot of people prefer the feel of a mechanical keyboard to what we have today, which are cheap keyboards made with rubber domes like a TV remote. Mechanical keyboards of yesterday use mechanical switches that actually move up and down and provide a deeper throws.

In particular Blanc really likes the Das Keyboard:

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Das Keyboard has eliminated all computing drudgery, but I would say that it has greatly enhanced the act of typing. Especially the act of typing for long periods of time, which I happen to do on a daily basis.

The construction of a mechanical keyboard is much more friendly to typing. As I discovered by taking several typing tests (the results of which I share below), a mechanical keyboard actually does help me to type both faster and more accurately. The sound of the keys clacking and the feel of the key switches clicking makes for an aura of productivity and work that fills the senses.

When using a mechanical keyboard you don’t just see your words appear on the screen as you type them, you also feel and hear them. A mechanical keyboard engages all the senses but smell and taste. Which is why you should always type with a hot coffee at your side.

Compare that to what ErgoCanda has to say about membrane keyboards:

Membrane keyboards are typically inexpensive and can range from firm to soft feel depending on the design of the rubber dome, however most have a ‘softer’ feel due to the ‘sponginess’ of the dome. They are the least durable of keyboards, with ratings typically in the 1 to 10 million keystroke range. Over time some keys become inelastic and other overly elastic, creating a variance in how much force is required to type throughout the keyboard. This can be caused by various factors, including buildup of debris, rubber fatigue, manufacturing imperfections and even ultraviolet radiation. As such while a membrane keyboard may be rated at 10 million keystrokes, the force and performance of the keys can be affected in as little as a few months of use.

A variance in how much force is required for different keys doesn’t sound like something that is going to lead to a lot of typing speed and accuracy.

Blanc also did some typing tests and found that he was significantly faster and more accurate when typing a mechanical keyboards, the Das Keyboard, than he was with the keyboard he had been using for four years, the Apple Bluetooth slim keyboard (the same keyboard I use. Whereas he was able to type 74 words per minute at 93 percent accuracy with the slim Apple Bluetooth keyboard, he was able to type 91 words per minute with 100 percent accuracy with the Das Keyboard. If he were using that keyboard for eight hours or more a day that could be serious productivity.

What concerns me more than raw speed was the accuracy. Over the course of a normal work day, a 93 percent accuracy rate is going to add up to quite a few typing mistakes. Those mistakes will either show up in your work or cause you to slow down and correct them. Over a full year that could be a lot of lost productivity.

So, why aren’t mechanical keyboards used much anymore? They are much more expensive and people have largely moved to laptops, which can’t accommodate larger mechanical switches and keys. I suspect that as computers began to become really commoditized in the 1990s with a focus on price, corners had to be cut somewhere. Ironically, the main way people interact with their computers was one of the corners cut.

The laptop issue can’t really be solved, but many people do work at desks for most of their days and at our desks we could have higher quality external keyboards. I have a laptop at work connected to an external keyboard, and this is a fairly common work setup.

At work I have a keyboard that costs less than $20. At home and at work I have multiple monitors because it increases my productivity, but shouldn’t something as simple and yet important as a keyboard also be taken into account? The keyboard is one of the main components of everyone’s computer setup. If you spend a lot of time typing — not everyone does — doesn’t a keyboard that increases comfort, pleasure, speed and accuracy warrant a look?

I spend a lot of time, energy and money trying to find good software setups that make me more efficient. I’m not typing this post in Word or our website’s CMS because I feel that Byword makes me more efficient, and it’s a more enjoyable typing experience. I owe it to myself to at least look more into how I can improve my actual hardware.

I’m going to give a mechanical keyboard a try this year. Yes, I’ve been perfectly productive on my Apple and Microsoft keyboards, but for how much time I spend typing I owe it to myself to see if I can find a keyboard that makes my job better. The Das Keyboard for Macs costs $133, which seems like a lot for a keyboard considering how much I have been spending on them the last decade or so (usually not much), but then I have to realize that a good keyboard should last me years. Not to mention that I spend a lot of money every year trying new software to see if there are better ways to do things, and the rest of my hardware setup is exactly cheap.

The reason I don’t buy cheap computers is that more expensive setups make me more productive and happier. It’s the same reason that you shouldn’t go cheap on the chair you’re sitting in all day.

But why have we taken keyboards for granted? It’s like putting a real cheap steering while into a nice car. If the steering wheel feels cheap and makes you a worse driver, how much are you going to get out of that nice car?

The downsides of mechanical keyboards, beyond price, is that they are much louder and uglier. For some environments, a loud keyboard could be an issue. Das Keyboard has a quieter version that is worth checking out if you think your coworkers or family members may not like you having a loud keyboard.

The ugliness is more concerning. There is no reason for mechanical keyboards to look like ugly keyboards from decades ago. Perhaps if mechanical keyboards begin to become popular again some of the makers will invest in making keyboards that actually look nice. I can see people not going for a mechanical keyboard on looks alone, and I wouldn’t blame you.

I encourage you read Blanc’s full post. It’s very informative and he explains how he feels about the different keyboards he tried (and even has audio files for how they sound!).

If you wish to learn more about mechanical keyboards — perhaps more than is humanly necessary — I recommend this guide.

What is your keyboard like? Have you given much thought into which keyboard you have and why?