Once standard in the industry, mechanical keyboards were largely replaced as manufacturers’ keyboard of choice over the past 15 to 20 years. Membrane layer keyboards — i.e., most “normal” or “standard” keyboards — offered manufacturers an alternative to mechanical keyboards that were cheaper to produce and had the potential to be thinner and quieter. But those who spend most of their time in front of a computer typing feel that the sacrifices introduced by membrane layer keyboards have gone too far, and that mechanical keyboards still offer the best quality and typing experience. This has led to a resurgence in the mechanical keyboard market over the past few years, with companies new and old starting to market mechanical keyboards as the preferred input device for typing. We here at TekRevue couldn’t be happier.
For the past two years, almost every word published here at TekRevue was typed out on a mechanical keyboard. In the case of our primary Mac Pro workstation, that keyboard is the Das Keyboard Professional Model S for Mac. While there are many manufacturers of mechanical keyboards, Metadot’s Das Keyboard brand is relatively unique in that it offers a model tailored specifically for Macs and OS X.
We love our Das Keyboard Professional Model S for its incredible build quality and great typing experience, but there are some quirks that have always bothered us. Specifically, the Model S is a bit old at this point and only offers USB 2.0 support, which limits the usefulness of the keyboard’s built-in USB hub. The keyboard also requires the use of a Function key shortcut combination in order to access common functions like volume and media playback while still preserving access to the standard F-keys. Finally, and on a personal note, we’re not crazy about the keyboard’s glossy black finish, which easily attracts dust and fingerprints.
Despite these issues, the Das Keyboard Professional Model S offered a fantastic typing experience that was significantly better than the chiclet style Apple Wireless Keyboard that we used previously. A full explanation of the benefits of mechanical keyboards is outside the scope of this review but, in short, we type faster, more accurately, and more comfortably with a Das Keyboard than with any Apple, Logitech, or other “standard” keyboard we’ve ever tried.
Enter the Das Keyboard 4 Professional for Mac
In late 2014, Metadot introduced the Das Keyboard 4 Professional, an update to the company’s full-sized mechanical keyboard line that looked like it addressed most of our issues with the Das Keyboard Professional Model S. The only problem? It was designed for Windows/PC use and lacked Mac-specific modifier and function keys. In March 2015, however, Metadot gave the Das Keyboard 4 the Mac treatment and released the Das Keyboard 4 Professional for Mac.
Several readers who knew that we were fond of the Das Keyboard brand asked us about the new Das Keyboard 4. With our Model S still performing admirably, however, we couldn’t justify purchasing a replacement just yet, especially at the keyboard’s relatively high list price of $175. Thankfully, the fine folks from Metadot loaned us a Das Keyboard 4 Professional for Mac for review, and we’ve been testing it out over the past few weeks.
Primary Features & Specifications
The Mac version of the Das Keyboard 4 Professional is virtually identical to its Windows-targeted counterpart, but includes full support for OS X modifier and function keys. It sports a 104-key layout and OS X function keys for screen brightness, optical disk eject, volume mute, system sleep, and media playback (previous, play/pause, next). There’s also a new rotating volume knob that replaces the dedicated volume up/down keys on the Model S. The volume knob has been particularly useful as the Model S required the user to hold the keyboard’s Function key in order to access the volume keys in the F-key row.
As we mentioned previously, one of the great features of the Das Keyboard Professional Model S is its build quality, with a nice solid weight, clean lines, crisp key movement. With the Das Keyboard 4, Metadot has improved even further on build quality with a slightly thinner design that is just as sturdy, and paired it with an anodized aluminum top panel with a matte finish that resists fingerprints.
On the technical side of things, the Das Keyboard 4 Professional for Mac offers USB 3.0 support, with a 2-port hub on the top-right edge of the keyboard. Some users may find this placement a bit awkward, as the user cannot see the USB ports without picking the keyboard up or rotating it around on the desk. We eventually got used to the location of the ports but still occasionally had trouble lining up the USB plug for correct insertion.
As a comparison, the Das Keyboard Professional Model S has its USB 2.0 hub on the right edge of the keyboard, making the ports relatively easier to access. Even this, however, has its downsides as long USB devices or bulky cables plugged into this port may interfere with right-handed mouse users.
If we had to choose, we’d likely want the USB hub on the side of the keyboard like the Model S, but this is a relatively small complaint that likely won’t matter at all to some users.
Speaking of USB hubs, the Das Keyboard 4’s USB 3.0 hub is accommodated by the same cable as the keyboard’s signal (the Model S utilized two USB 2.0 plugs, one for the keyboard signal and one for USB hub data). With increasingly limited USB ports on modern Macs, this switch from a 2-plug design to a single plug is not only convenient, but arguably a requirement.
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