★ Review: Das Keyboard for Mac

All Das Keyboard reviews say pretty much the same things. It's big. It's loud. It's kind of ugly. It types like a dream. I agree with all of those statements. I'd held off on reviewing mine, partially because I was still getting used to it, but mostly because I wasn't sure what I had to say that hadn't already been said. Now I know: I wouldn't own the Das Keyboard if it weren't for my iPad. The Das Keyboard can't work with the iPad. It's a wired keyboard, not a wireless one, and it needs two USB ports to function. (Other USB gadgets can plug into the side of the keyboard.) But its utility to me comes from how this current version of the iPad has changed my workflow and my beliefs about what my computing needs will be going into the future.

Shawn Blanc had a great post up last week where he wrote, "My MacBook Air is now my “desktop” and my iPad is now my “laptop”." These are the lines I've been thinking on as well. My MacBook Pro, for all intents and purposes, has become a desktop computer. I don't take it out with me anymore. Everything I used to need it for on the road, the iPad can now do. Why carry the extra weight?

It's still a useful machine, but the jobs I hire it to do these days are very different than they were even a year ago. Media editing and management remains its primary task, but writing is a close second. And when I think about what this machine will do going forward, I think that'll be the majority of it.

Writing on the iPad is still a little tough. A Bluetooth keyboard makes it easier, and I've written plenty of school assignments on it, but at this stage, it's a machine for libraries or coffee shops. If I'm out and about, it's what I need, but if I'm going to write for extended periods, I want to be home, I want to be alone, I want to draw the blinds, I want a cup of coffee at my side, and I want a bigger screen. If computers are increasingly becoming machines for dedicated tasks, my MacBook Pro is still my dedicated writing machine.

My writing workflow is continually evolving. Until about a year ago, I used Word like everybody else. Then I switched to Pages, which I used on both my Mac and iOS devices to compose my business school reports. Most of my longform writing takes place in iA Writer these days, although this post was composed in Byword. When I'm sitting down to write, I just want to write. And when writing becomes the primary task of a machine, I think it's important that the machine be as well-suited to that task as can be.

The MacBook Pro that I own was purchased in July 2011. It's the spring 2011 unibody model with a 13" screen and a built-in backlit keyboard. All things considered, it's not a bad keyboard. I've seen people refer to it as the Chiclet keyboard, given that each key is about as thick as a piece of gum, but it did a good job for what was essentially a general purpose machine.

Now, though, I open my MacBook Pro when I want to write, and when you're writing thousands of words a day, the built-in keyboard starts to feel a little less comfortable. Apple's own Bluetooth keyboard doesn't feel much better. Still, I didn't think much of buying a replacement until I started hearing about the Das Keyboard. I believe Chairman Gruber mentioned it on an episode of The Talk Show, and was intrigued by the concept.

The key to the Das Keyboard is its use of mechanical switches. The current Apple keyboard features scissor-switch keys, which uses two pieces of interlocking plastic to trigger the typing command on the computer. The advantage of the scissor-switch key is that it is very compact, which is why you commonly see it in laptops. But back when I was young and old people were my age, mechanical-switch keys were the gold standard in keyboards. Rather than sending a specific signal through a unified keyboard membrane, mechanical-switch keys each feature a standalone physical trigger. This means that each key requires more force to depress. However, the feedback you get from each press is infinitely more satisfying.

The Das Keyboard, like the Apple Extended Keyboard before it, uses incredibly loud mechanical switches. The sound of the keys, coupled with the physical feedback felt with every press, results in a much more fulfilling typing experience than Apple's scissor-switch model. Regardless of what you're typing, you feel better about typing when using a mechanical keyboard. Your words flow more naturally, your fingers move more freely, and the experience of writing on your computer is easier, more enjoyable, and more satisfying. That may seem small to someone who just types emails or URLs, but to an aspiring novelist, it's a huge deal. It's also something I wouldn't have thought of before my desktop - err, laptop - became a dedicated writing machine.

I mentioned in a previous post that I didn't know if I'd ever buy a laptop again. The Das Keyboard is giving me one more reason to doubt that I will. An iMac or Mac Mini seems much more likely at this stage, as I continue to delegate which tasks I would like which computing device to perform. Thanks to the iPad, having a mobile Mac is becoming less of a priority for me, and it's in the dedicated desktop environment toward which I am moving that the Das Keyboard will be an asset.

And like I said, it types like a dream.