Did you say you could touch type?

Das Keyboard

The first time you see one of these, it’s kind of frightening. Where have the keys gone?

“Das Keyboard compares to the legendary IBM Model M. Its best-in-class, mechanical, gold-plated key switches provide a tactile and audible click that makes typing a joy.” That’s what they say.

And they mention its “powers of intimidation”. Right.

Here’s the expert Cyril Kowaliski from the Tech Report Site:

Buckling springs: What makes the 1980s IBM Model M “click” is the so-called buckling-spring design. An actual metal spring lies waiting under each key. When depressed, that spring buckles and activates the key switch, which in turn produces the trademark clicking sound—so you really feel and hear the successful key press. Or, in the words of U.S. patent 4118611, “The sudden snap action provides a tactile feedback to a human operator due to the sudden decrease in force as will be described more specifically later, and also produces an audible feedback since the sudden pivoting of the rocker member 4 produces a clicking noise.”

The Das Keyboard feels similar, although it uses a different mechanical switch design engineered by Cherry. There’s still a metallic (stainless steel) spring inside each key, and keys still click, but the Cherry key switch has a shorter travel time and requires slightly less pressure. According to the diagrams I collected below, the Das Keyboard’s keys should depress when subject to around 56 g of force after 1.2 mm of travel, while the Model M will need approximately 65 g and a 2.3 mm displacement. If you ever used one of the old Apple Extended II keyboards in the 1990s, the Das Keyboard may feel familiar—both units have similar enclosed key switches.

By contrast, most consumer keyboards out there are based on the dome-switch design, where a rubber membrane with “bubbles” replicates the feel of springs. If you’re in front of a regular desktop keyboard right now, go ahead: pop out one of the keys and look under it. You’ll probably see a grimy rubber dome staring up at you. That dome doesn’t cost much to manufacture, and it generates very little noise when it collapses, but it also has a gummy feel that produces far less tactile feedback.

So, because dome-switch keyboards don’t let you hear or feel exactly how much force you need to depress a key, you might find yourself pushing too hard or too softly. That can mean either more fatigue or more typos. Some users try to alleviate those shortcomings with split ergonomic keyboards, which place your hands in a more natural position, but those don’t really solve the feedback problem—although they can feel comfy enough to type on.
[….] I’ve been typing 2,000 words a day five days a week for around three years on a 1989 Model M, and my fingers, hands, or wrists never get tired. When I was using a Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro and typing less each day, I suffered from finger pain and annoying wrist tingling on a regular basis. I actually type faster on the Model M, as well, even though my touch-typing technique hasn’t changed.

I therefore believe the spring-based mechanical design provides a more comfortable typing experience, although I can’t deny the shortcomings. Shoving springs inside each key increases cost and weight, and it makes the keyboard loud. [….] Then again, folks got by just fine in the typewriter days—it may just be a matter of habit.

Before we move on, I should mention one last upside for the mechanical switch camp: longevity. I wasn’t kidding when I said my IBM Model M is almost 20 years old now. Despite its age, it still works perfectly. Keys never stick, get gummed up, or fail to register, even if I sometimes have to oil up the space bar mechanism to prevent it from squeaking. I challenge you to find a dome-switch keyboard that continues to feel great after two decades (or even one). That’s an especially important consideration for the Das Keyboard, since it’s so much more expensive than regular wired keyboards.

Here’s Wikipedia with a bit of history:

The [blank] keyboard was designed by Daniel Guermeur, the founder of Metadot Corporation, an open source software company located in Austin, Texas, USA. Daniel Guermeur noticed that hunting and pecking was not very efficient for someone spending most of his days typing on a computer. He was looking for a radical solution which would prevent him from looking at the keys. Thus he had a Chinese factory make his first blank keyboard. After a few seconds of using it, the low-cost, rubber-membrane keyboard was giving atrocious tactile feedback so he decided that blank keys were not enough to type fast; the keyboard component quality was paramount as well. He then had another factory make the best quality keyboard they could deliver and added the blank keys. After few weeks of usage Daniel doubled his typing speed.

Friends and colleagues asked him many times where they could buy a blank keyboard like his, but this was a one-of-a-kind keyboard. After he noticed a wide interest in this blank typing device he decided to launch a new product line focusing exclusively on providing the best quality keyboard equipment available on the market. The first week after the launch of the first Das Keyboard, its website got several million hits and was mentioned numerous blogs and leading newspapers including Slashdot and the New York Times. Das Keyboard is manufactured by Costar Electronics in Taiwan, R.O.C. [Wikipedia]

And here’s Wikipedia again, with some stern advice:

Some specialized high-end computer keyboards are designed for touch typists. For example, many manufacturers provide blank mechanical keyboards. A trained touch typist should not mind using a blank keyboard. This kind of keyboard may force hunt and peck users to type without looking. [Wikipedia]

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