The Das Keyboard 4 Professional was my first mechanical keyboard. At the time I didn’t really know too much about keyboards and how they were built, but I knew I’d had enough of standard rubber dome, membrane keyboards and wanted something like the old clicky keyboard I used to use in the early 90s. I remember when they phased out mechanical keyboards in favour of the newer silent type. Of course, that wasn’t the real reason they were phased out. Mechanical keyboards were expensive to build. Rubber domes are far cheaper than intricate switches. I still preferred my clicky keyboard, but after a while, like almost everyone else, I switched to a standard, quieter keyboard. Until a few years ago.
It was then that I decided I’d had enough of my cheap keyboard & mouse and wanted something better. I bought Microsoft’s Habu mouse & Reclusa Keyboard. They had Razer components inside, so I thought they’d be a good upgrade. And they weren’t bad. The mouse was great and the keyboard felt better, but it still didn’t have that click that I used to enjoy. I stuck with it though, as I didn’t really know any better. Until I worked with a colleague who did.
I had a contract in London and one of the guys in the team brought in his own Das Keyboard. It looked amazing and had that click I wanted! I still didn’t buy one at first, though. I just didn’t think it would have made that much difference. I was reasonably happy with my Reclusa, and Das keyboards aren’t cheap. So I made do for another couple of years. It was when my Habu mouse finally started to wear out that I decided to buy all new kit. I bought a Roccat Kone XTD mouse after trying one a friend owned and started looking into keyboards again. I wanted a new one, but there was one particular feature of the Reclusa that I didn’t want to part with, and that was the volume control. It had programmable knobs on each side (as well as programmable buttons). I never used the buttons, but I used the right hand knob for volume all the time. It was whilst looking into keyboards again that I noticed the latest Das had a similar volume knob. Of course I remembered trying out my friend’s Das a couple of years back so my decision was made. And I’ve never looked back.
The Das Keyboard 4 is a proper, mechanical keyboard. Most keyboards, these days, use rubber domes underneath the keys. In order for a key to work, the user needs to press the key fully to make a connection. Mechanical keyboards are different. Each key contains an individual switch that actuates mid way through the key press. This means that you don’t have to press the keys in all the way down (although you probably will at first as you’ll be so used to it). There are different types of switches. Most of them have a tactile bump where the key actuates and some have an audible click as well. There’s a third type that are completely smooth (with no tactile bump or click), but Das don’t use those (and I’m not a fan, either).
I chose blue Cherry MX switches. These provide a tactile bump & click and require 50cN (approx 50 grams) of force to actuate. The alternative was brown Cherry MX switches, which have a tactile bump (but no click) and require 45cN of force to actuate. Personally, I love the clicky sound, but Das give you the option of either blue or brown switches. This keyboard also has full N-key rollover, which just means you can press as many keys at once and they’ll all register. This tends to be a feature needed mostly for playing games. If you just use a keyboard for regular typing, you’ll probably never need this.
The keycaps are the only thing that’s a little disappointing about this keyboard. They’re still of a relatively decent quality, but there are far, far better keycaps out there. These Das keycaps are thin, pad printed, single shot ABS caps. They letters have been UV coated to make them harder wearing, but they will still wear out eventually. I believe current Das Keyboard 4 Professionals use laser etched ABS keycaps. These won’t wear out, but the lettering on laser etched caps is never as good as, say, dye sublimation or double shots. What I do like about the keycaps is that the font is very readable and the letters are in the centre of each key. Lots of keycaps tend to have the letters in the top left of each keycap (I have no idea why).
As you can see, I’ve replaced a few of the keycaps, myself. I bought the green WASD keys & the red Escape key in a set, as I quite like the way they look. I don’t play quite as many games these days, but the geek in my still thinks it looks cool. I also replaced the generic OS keys with Tux the Penguin (the Linux Mascot), as Linux is my operating system of choice.
I picked the standard PC ISO 105 key layout. If you’re UK based, this is probably the layout you’re used to. You can buy different versions, of course. There’s one for Macs and you can buy them in ANSI layout (if you prefer the US style Enter key & slightly different positions of a few keys). The 105 key layout is full size, but if space is an issue, Das produce a narrower ‘tenkeyless’ or TKL keyboard without the number pad on the right hand side.
Everything about this layout is standard, which is common on full size keyboards. They’ve been virtually all the same since the IBM Model M came out in the early 80s. It’s only really space saving keyboards that try different designs. This one is no exception, the layout is exactly what you’d expect. The only additions are the media keys on the top right along with the sleep button and volume knob.
I have a couple of (very) minor criticisms about these additions. Firstly, even though the sleep button is completely flush with the keyboard (the other media keys are slightly raised), it’s still easy to press accidentally. I haven’t done it for a while now, but when I first started to use the keyboard, it used to happen quite a bit, which can be very annoying. Also, the gap between the volume knob and the – key isn’t very big. I can’t fit my thumb in the gap, so I can’t grab and twist the knob the way I’d like to. Instead I have to just turn it by stroking the right hand side. It’s not the end of the world and I appreciate I have bigger than average hands, but it seems like a slight oversight.
The construction is very good. The back is a sturdy plastic and the top of the keyboard is a black metal plate. The whole thing doesn’t flex or move at all. It comes with a long USB cable. It’s not braided, unfortunately, but it is covered with a thick, durable plastic. It also has two USB ports on the top right hand side of the keyboard, which are useful for mice and other peripherals. There are no flip out feet on the bottom, but there is a red ruler that you can use to raise the height slightly. It’s magnetic so won’t fall off, but it does make it slightly easier to move accidentally as the plastic of the ruler is slippier than the rubber that’s on the bottom of the keyboard. The ruler is perfectly functional. It has inches on one side and centimetres on the other. Personally, I’ve never used it, though. Not even for drawing a straight line. But it’s there, should you ever need it…
Other than the slightly cheap keycaps, everything about this keyboard is good quality. It is very well made. I’m not sure whether these will be as sought after as the IBM Model M is after 30 years, but I imagine they’ll still be in working order. They’re extremely sturdy and each gold plated switch is good for 50,000,000 key presses. If you buy one of these, you should never need to replace it unless you change your mind.
When I bought this, it was the nicest keyboard I’d ever used. I loved it, and still do. However, it’s no longer my favourite. I have a few mechanical keyboards now and I’ve come to enjoy slightly stiffer switches. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s still a joy to type with, but it’s not quite the ultimate typing experience I thought it was. This isn’t because it’s any worse than I expected. It’s just because I’m now aware of better keyboards. My current keyboard of choice is a 20+ year old IBM Model M with buckling spring switches. The keys are a little stiffer and they don’t move from side to side as much as the keys on this keyboard. The sound of the spring buckling as I type is also very satisfying.
If you’d have asked me about this keyboard a couple of years ago, I’d have probably told you it was the best keyboard on Earth. It was certainly the best keyboard I’d ever used and is probably still one of the best keyboards that’s still made today. However, there’s no escaping the fact that keyboards manufactured in the 80s & 90s are of a quality that just doesn’t exist today. So, if you really want a keyboard that you’ll never want to replace, maybe try a few older, second hand ones first. If, on the other hand, you want a brand new keyboard, this is one of the best ones you can buy. The only proper criticism I have is with the keycaps, but they can easily be replaced. Cherry MX switches are, by far, the most common used today in mechanical keyboards, so you’ll have no problem picking up a new set of keycaps if you so choose.
As I mentioned above, it’s worth trying older keyboards if you want the ultimate typing experience. I’d recommend an IBM Model M, if you can find a good one in your budget (they can be very expensive). Unicomp still make Model M keyboards using exactly the same tooling IBM used to use, but as their equipment is over 30 years old, they’re not quite the same as when they were originally produced by IBM (and later, when that side of the business was split into Lexmark).
If you want something cheaper, there are actually a lot of Chinese mechanical keyboards on the market now for very reasonable prices. You can pick up a number of them for around £30. They’re mostly reasonably sturdy and most have Cherry MX clone switches, which work well. Yes, a Das keyboard will be better, but at five times the price, are they really worth it? With items such as this, it will always be a case of diminishing returns for your money, but Das keyboards really are expensive compared to what’s on the market right now. When I bought mine, it was about £130, but there weren’t many alternatives on the market. Now, you’re looking at around £150 for one and there are lots of cheaper mechanical keyboards to choose from.
The bottom line
If money is no object and you want a brand new mechanical keyboard, this is probably the one for you. If, on the other hand, you don’t want to spend as much, or you’re willing to use something second hand, you may want something else. I can’t really fault this keyboard. I still use it at work. But it’s expensive for what it is.
Regardless of which keyboard you choose though, please check out mechanical keyboards in general before you buy a cheap, rubber dome board. I’ve blogged about this kind of thing, before. If you use a keyboard all the time, it makes sense to buy a good one. You won’t regret it.