Old-school & faceless – Das Keyboard Model S Ultimate

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Das Keyboard, opening

Two things can be said about the Das Keyboard:

  1. It exactly the old school feel it advertises itself as and feels really comforting to use if you grew up with old, IBM keyboards.
  2. It’s loud.

This is the keyboard that’s modeled after old keyboards, spec’ed out with all sorts of mechanical keys, a full key-set, and much mentioned “German Engineering.” There’s even gold involved! It’s the anti-Apple keyboard, and it delivers on the tactical feel of an old IBM keyboard like you wouldn’t believe. With this comes a loud “clacking” (there’s a softer version). The loudness and the expense ($129) are the only negatives, really.

I checked out the Ultimate keyboard, the one without letters printed on it. I mean, isn’t that what you really want to know: can I type on a blank keyboard? In addition to myself, I lent it to two other people who tried it out, a programmer and a startup CEO. I used this with my MacBookAir: all I needed to do was remap the control and alt keys to match the Apple-layout using OS X’s keyboard preferences.

Using It

The full, 104 key keyboard is something of a spiritual opposite of the keyboard I usually use, and Apple wireless chopped keyboard. I’m no trained touched-typist, having learned some odd, fore-fingers, pinkies and thumbs style long ago. Nonetheless, typing without the letter printed on each key was surprisingly easy. There’s the lesser used secondary keys that I’d have to look up or hunt out some times (quick, which key is “^” on?) and not being a user of anything beyond the core keys I have no idea what’s over on the right side of the keyboard.

The programmer I loaned it out to liked the idea of a blank keyboard to help him learn Dvorak. However, that same coder bemoaned the lack of volume and other “media” keys. Arguably, those can just be mapped to various function keys. Nonetheless, given the $129 price-point he compared it to a “$30 Dell keyboard” that had a volume knob and such. If you’re out for all that whiz-bangery on your keyboard, this is definitely not the keyboard for you.

The feel of the keyboard is the main thing here, though. After all, you can get a Das Keyboard with letters printed on it (which is what I’d probably do if I got one, actually). The keyboard has the heft of one of those old beasts that you could pound nails in with – it makes me think of the hefty (metal encased?) keyboards that my dad had with his IBM XT and then AT “machines,” as he’d call those early desk-tops.

There’s a two port hub built into the keyboard which I didn’t get a chance to test. That’s a nice addition, though.


The clicking is more than audible, it’s loud once you “get going.” In fact, the CEO I lent it to said he didn’t even get a chance to plug the keyboard in because his co-workers heard him fiddling with it and said “dude, that’s too loud.” When I showed the keyboard to another coder in my building, he said an old co-worker of his had one and that he’d have to put earphones on when the keyboard started up.

I didn’t mind the clicking too much, really, but I sit in my own office.

The Gist

After using the keyboard, I went back to using my Apple keyboard. I like the Apple keyboard because of it’s size: it’s the size of a laptop keyboard without the number-pad and friends. I don’t use the number-pad or other keys and that part of the keyboard takes up the space I’d rather have my mouse on. I really did like the feel of the Das Keyboard – it felt like doing real “work,” not just typing. Serious business, click, click, CLICK!. I definitely wouldn’t pay $129 for it, but if you’re the type of person who lusts for this kind of keyboard, I don’t think that amount would be too rich: the feel of the Das Keyboard is exactly what you’re hoping it will be.

Side-note: if you’re at SXSW, check out the Das Keyboard IronGeek event they’re having (see the fancier, official page for it). One of the contestants insisted on Dvorak even.


  1. I have the softer sounding version, with the printed keys. It is still quite loud. But I love it anyways.

  2. I just ordered the same one as Andrew. Yay!

    I found this review via Twitter.

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