|Introduction and Specifications|
|As a species, we've come a long way from the days of carving notes into stone. While our ancestors used chisel and rock, we now use keyboards to hammer out our thoughts and anything that needs to be documented. Some of us spend hours a day sitting in front of a PC, a large portion of which is dedicated to punching keystrokes at a frenzied pace. There's a good chance that your keyboard is actively used more than any other peripheral or accessory, save for your monitor, yet some people give little thought to their plank, as if to suggest that all keyboards are essentially the same.
Professional typists know better. So does Metadot, which started to build a better keyboard nearly a decade ago. You know it as the Das Keyboard and through several generations of refinements, it's evolved into what's now called the Das Keyboard 4 in both Professional (labeled key caps) and Ultimate (blank key caps) variants.
The market for mechanical keyboards has proven robust since the introduction of the original Das Keyboard, and these days, there's a lot more competition. Typists have shown they're willing to pay a premium for a better keyboard with mechanical key switches, and manufacturers responded by bringing to market a wealth of options. Rather than concede to the competition, Metadot went and redesigned the Das Keyboard, calling the Das Keyboard 4 "the most significant update since the original" model.
Having experience with previous Das Keyboard models and being big fans of mechanical key switches in general, we knew we had to get our hands on the Das Keyboard 4 for test drive. We opted for the Professional model with Cherry MX Blue key switches (both the Professional and Ultimate versions also come with Cherry MX Brown switches), which carries an MSRP of $169. Here's our initial impression.
With this generation of the Das Keyboard, Metadot allows its customers to go Cherry MX picking. By that we mean you have a choice between two mechanical key switches -- Cherry MX Blue and Cherry MX Brown. The Cherry MX Blue version that we opted for offers tactile feedback when the activation point is hit along with an audible "clicky" sound. By comparison, Cherry MX Brown switches produce a softer tactile bump and are not clicky.
There's also a slight difference in price between the two key switches when ordering a Das Keyboard 4; the Professional model with Cherry MX Blue switches goes for $169 MSRP and the Cherry MX Brown sells for $173 MSRP.
|Design and Features|
|Metadot claims the Das Keyboard 4 is an "order-of-magnitude improvement over past generation Das Keyboards," which is something we're qualified to offer an opinion on. Among the many mechanical keyboards we've used over the years, previous generation Das Keyboards have been among them.
The shape of the Das Keyboard 4 is similar to its predecessor, but the glossy faceplate is gone; it's been traded in for an anodized aluminum top panel that's obviously not as shiny, though still sleek and attractive, far less prone to finger smudges, and intended to improve durability. Astute observers will also notice a new font, at least for the Professional version with laser-etched key caps. Metadot says it changed the font to make the keys easier to read, but didn't go crazy with a funky font that draws unnecessary attention. We're rather indifferent to the font type and more interested to see if the laser-etchings resist fading over time as promised.
Metadot's changes aren't only skin deep. The Das Keyboard 4 sports sports a "refined" enclosure to eliminate vibration, along with hex screws for no particular reason we're aware of. We don't typically curse the awful vibrations that apparently plague keyboards, but we can say the Das Keyboard 4 is a solid plank that should have no trouble withstanding power typists who may come down harder on key presses than the average Joe. It's also a heavy keyboard at 2.9 pounds.
At long last, media controls! They're somewhat limited compared to keyboards that offer dual-Function keys, but you do get dedicated rewind, fast forward, play/pause, and mute buttons, along with a sleep button and an oversized volume knob reminiscent of a HiFi stereo system.
Metadot also upgraded the built-in USB hub to SuperSpeed USB 3.0. The two ports sit on the top-right of the keyboard just above the logo.
Is that a detachable ruler on the backside of the Das Keyboard 4? Why yes, it is. The ruler is magnetically attached for easy removal, though the obvious question is why the frack did Metadot include one in the first place? Metadot's answer is, "Why not" with a promise that "you'll thank us later." Admittedly, there are times when access to a ruler comes in handy, such as measuring the dimensions of a shipping box after having sold something on eBay. Still, it's an unlikely (and quirky) combination.
Beyond being able to make measurements, the ruler also serves as a makeshift footbar that raises and angles the Das Keyboard up slightly.
|Typing and Final Word|
|By way of using mechanical key switches, the Das Keyboard 4 separates itself from every standard plank on the market, many of which use flat-panel membranes or squishy dome switches that are far cheaper to produce. However, the Das Keyboard 4 is entering a market where mechanical-based keyboards are now fairly common. How does it stand up to the competition?
Installation is as easy as it gets -- just plug it in and let Windows detect the keyboard. There's no special software to install or drivers to download, though the built-in firmware is upgradeable.
As a daily workhorse, the Das Keyboard 4 offers another divine typing experience that's become typical of the product line. The familiar Cherry MX Blue key switches are audible without being obnoxious and will take you back in time to when the IBM Model M ruled the day. The mechanical key switches allow you to type more accurately, as well as faster over time. The Das Keyboard 4 won't work miracles with your typing skills, but as you train your brain to get accustomed to the audible feedback and actuation points, you'll inevitably emerge a superior typist compared to pecking away on an inconsistent membrane or dome-based plank.
Depending on personal preference, gamers might want to gravitate toward the Cherry MX Brown version. These types of switches have a slightly lighter actuation force that, in theory, should allow you to double-tap a little quicker. They're also quieter, so if you game into the late hours of the night when others in the home are sleeping, Cherry MX Brown is the more polite choice.
As for gaming in general, the Das Keyboard 4 is a serviceable solution, and some will certainly appreciate the N-key rollover (NKRO) over USB function. However, the Das Keyboard 4 lacks certain gaming amenities. It doesn't have backlit keys, dedicated macro keys, built-in memory to save profiles, or a software interface that would make profiles necessary in the first place. In other words, this isn't a gaming keyboard, though you can use the Das Keyboard to play games if you don't need the extra features that dedicated planks bring to the table.
If you've never given thought to the type of keyboard you use, then you're probably missing out on what a mechanical plank can offer, having instead probably settled for less expensive (and overall inferior) keyboard. Mechanical key switches are more predictable and consistent in performance, and the Das Keyboard 4 Professional with Cherry MX Blue switches satisfy our fingers and ears simultaneously.
That said, it's not for everyone. Die-hard gamers who live and thrive with macros and other gaming features still won't be swayed by Metadot's efforts, and perhaps one day Metadot will build a version specifically with these users in mind. For now, the Das Keyboard 4 is a solidly built and downright awesome keyboard for professional and/or frequent typists who spend their days pecking away in front of a monitor. Even the occasional typist will appreciate the difference between the Das Keyboard 4 and a regular keyboard, just not as often.
The asking price is a bit of a barrier. To drive a Das Keyboard 4 off the lot, you'll need to bring at least $169 to the dealer, and that gets you a base model with Cherry MX Blue switches; Cherry MX Browns run $173. Either way, it's a premium for a plank that doesn't come with a backlight, dual-purpose Function keys, or a built-in LCD panel. We don't necessarily need these extras -- a backlight would be nice -- but we can't ignore that you can spend the same or less from competitors that offer these features along with mechanical key switches.
So yes, the Das Keyboard 4 is expensive. It's also the best version version yet with feature upgrades like a built-in SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port and media controls. We're less excited about the dual-purpose footbar/ruler, which teeters on being gimmicky, but overall the the Das Keyboard 4 is successful in delivering an elegant typing experience in a professional looking package.