I’ve wanted to try Matias’s new keyswitches since I’ve heard of their release, and finally, decided to go ahead and get a Tactile Pro 4, as my local Micro Center had them in stock.
Matias has developed their own clone, the Matias Click switch, of the Alps SKCM tactile keyboard switch (specifically, the simplified white version), and installed it in their long-running (Mac-optimized) Tactile Pro series, creating the Tactile Pro 4. The previous model, the Tactile Pro 3, used Fuhua switches, and in my opinion, these switches had downright terrible quality. They’ve also cloned the SKCM cream switch, which had rubber damping, as the Matias Quiet Click switch, and are using it in the new Quiet Pro keyboard, although I’m not reviewing that switch.
So, I don’t typically review keyboards on this blog, and I’m not sure why I haven’t. So, here goes.
I’ll start out by mentioning where I’m coming from regarding keyboards. My favorite computer keyboard is a 122-key IBM Model F, using IBM’s capacitive buckling spring technology, due to the amazingly high tactility. I also like Unicomp’s implementations of membrane buckling spring (due to the lower peak force, although I wish it also had more tactility) and the “taxi yellow” Alps SKCM switches used on the Apple //c’s keyboard. I generally don’t like Cherry MX blue due to a lack of smoothness I perceive in its operation, however.
I should also describe what makes the taxi yellows different from the (complicated) white Alps SKCM switches that are far more common, and that I have on a Micro Warehouse Power User 105 ADB keyboard that I use with my IIGS. It’s actually pretty hard to describe, but I’d say that the tactile event is somehow “bigger”, although it’s not much higher force. The whites go for more of a snap, while the taxi yellows give you more to push through. This makes the taxi yellows a fair bit quieter and more tactile.
In any case, let’s begin on the review of the Tactile Pro 4 itself. I won’t be posting any pictures, because there’s nothing that isn’t already on the Matias site.
Fit and finish looks quite good – no flaws that I can see, let alone major ones unlike some keyboard manufacturers (*cough*Unicomp*cough*). One of the feet is a bit squeaky, though, but that’s a rather minor flaw. The keycaps are lasered, so you do get a bit of scratchiness on the fingers from that, as is expected of lasered caps. The keyboard isn’t anywhere near as heavy as the keyboards I usually play with, and the chassis has more flex than I’m used to, but when my Model F is 9.3 pounds because it has three 1/8″ thick full-width steel plates in it, I’ll give this one a pass.
Mind you, I like Model Fs and Ms, which have 1980s industrial design, but this industrial design looks rather dated. See, Matias originally released the Tactile Pro in 2003, when the Apple Pro Keyboard was the current rubber dome extended keyboard (and Apple actually replaced it that year with a new design). So, Matias simply copied that industrial design rather closely. In the subsequent revisions of the Tactile Pro, they simply tweaked things slightly over the years, rather than a redesign. (They may have actually redesigned some things for the Tactile Pro 3, but they kept the industrial design.) End result is that you have a keyboard industrial design that follows Apple’s design philosophies (and, IMO, one that wasn’t timeless), 10 years past its sell-by date.
So, Matias was fairly faithful to the layout of the Apple Keyboard (A1243), with only two changes. F19 has been removed, and the eject key next to F12 has been moved to where F19 was. This allowed Matias to continue to use the Tactile Pro 3’s chassis, which follows the old IBM and Apple Extended Keyboard standard of having space between the function keys. There’s some weirdness to this layout, but because Matias was fairly faithfully copying a current Apple layout, this is completely acceptable.
So, they didn’t do it right, because it doesn’t have NKRO, but apparently they’re using a modified USB descriptor. This lets them get 10KRO. They’re doing it without bundled drivers, too, so that’s a plus, although I haven’t tried this keyboard on Windows. There is a rather ugly thing about what they’re doing, though – the keyboard identifies as a “Matias keyboard” in the textual descriptors, but the USB vendor ID is 0x05AC, which is Apple, and the product ID is 0x0220, which is the Apple Keyboard (A1243) in ANSI layout, I believe. Naughty, naughty, naughty. However, it does mean that OS X treats it as the real Apple keyboard, and all shortcuts work exactly as they do on that keyboard.
First thing I’ll say is that Matias was going for these switches feeling more like the white switches, not the taxi yellows. Understandable, the white switches certainly aren’t bad feeling, although their more snappy tactility somehow doesn’t please me as much as the meaty tactility of the taxi yellows.
So, how good of a job did they do? Keeping in mind that Matias’s previous attempt, the Tactile Pro 3, had absolutely horrible Fuhua switches – I found them very sloppy and imprecise, to the point that I’d rather type on a rubber dome! (This was a friend’s board, though, so I don’t have it to compare.)
Force is about the same as the complicated white Alps switches I have, maybe a bit higher. Tactility is dulled a bit, but is still pretty sizable, and the tactile bump feels more rounded at speed, although that’s because of a quirk in the switch. It feels really weird when typing slowly, because you actually get two tactile events – the main one, and then a little bit of free travel before a second “ghost” tactile event. I’m not sure what’s causing this, and I’m not actually that familiar with the internals of Alps switches. In any case, the tactile event seems consistent, and it’s not just a snap, it’s actually a bump to go through.
In more subjective terms, it feels good. Not as smooth as the real white Alps, a bit meatier though due to the rounding off of the tactility and the second tactile event. I think it feels better and is more consistent than Cherry MX blue, although it does things closer to MX blue (due to the second tactile event, which I’ve also felt on my WASD board) than any other Alps I’ve tried. If you like MX blue, you’ll probably like this, but this feels much better than MX blue to my fingers, I think because of how MX blue is inherently sloppy internally.
So, I’m not a stickler about noisy keyboards. At all. However, for some people, noise is a critical issue, so I should probably comment on it, and also the quality of the noise. This keyboard has two predominant noises. It has a loud “clack” noise, I’d say louder than a Model M or F’s click, as well as a moderate “thunk” when bottoming out (especially when using the spacebar or backspace key). Importantly, the clacking isn’t anywhere near as loud as the Fuhua switches in the Tactile Pro 3. It could annoy people in some workplaces, though.
Overall, I think this is a good keyboard. $149 might be a bit much for it, but you can get it cheaper elsewhere. It’s not my grail keyboard, but it’s a good addition to my collection of keyboards, and I won’t be returning it.
Also, be careful what you buy – Matias hasn’t changed the part number for the Tactile Pro 4, it’s still FK302, like the Tactile Pro 3! While the Deskthority wiki calls out a review of a Tactile Pro “3” with the new Matias Click switches, the keyboard shown in that review is clearly a Tactile Pro 4 (it has the layout changes made in the TP4, which is the feature that Matias advertised as the big change).
Interestingly, if you don’t want their keyboard, but want the switches, Matias sells packs of 200 keyswitches for $50 plus $10 shipping. Definitely worth considering if you’re just interested in the switches and know how to solder (and if you need to learn that, I can recommend the Soldering is Easy comic book). These switches can go into any Alps-based keyboard that you already have.