Keys to the Keyboard Kingdom

Matias Tactile ProLots of people have been singing the praises of the Matias Tactile Pro Keyboard, which bills itself as the resurrection of “the best keyboard Apple ever made.” According to Matias, the Tactile Pro is built from the same “premium keyswitch technology” behind the original Apple Extended Keyboard, which many longtime Macintosh users tend to remember with great affection. That one had a satisfying ‘clickety-clack’ quality that suggested solid construction and a definitive level of responsiveness to typing fingers. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say it had a very macho quality in comparison to today’s more cheaply made keyboards, which are often referred to as ‘mushy.’

Excuses, Excuses

I’d been wanting to give the Tactile Pro a try since first reading the glowing notices of this product, but found it too expensive a luxury — its street price is roughly US$80 — especially when my Apple Pro Keyboards performed their duties uncomplainingly. Then, just before the holidays, I arrived at work one morning to find the left-hand Shift and Control keys had mysteriously stopped working, the first time a keyboard has ever failed me. I still have no explanation for why it crapped out.

This was the perfect excuse to buy myself a Tactile Pro and I ordered one immediately. When it arrived a few days later, I received it with more enthusiasm than a healthy person should probably greet the arrival of a new keyboard, but all the advance praise had raised my expectations. I typed on it all day, then brought it home so that I might continue tapping away on it that night.

Matias Tactile Pro

Memory Plays Tricks on You

Above: Tactile Pro-file. It certainly looks good, anyway.

One thing I realized quickly was that, with the passage of time, I think I had confused the “original” Apple Extended Keyboard with its successor, the Apple Extended Keyboard II. I’m hazy on the details, but the original clicked louder and felt more industrial than the latter. Though I had used both, it was for the latter model that I had really developed an affection. The Tactile Pro seems like an excellent reproduction of the original, but it’s not quite what I had mistakenly remembered in my head.

Nevertheless, its keys possess a marked responsiveness, certainly offering more pronounced feedback than just about any other modern keyboard. Typing on it is a very satisfying experience that recalls a perhaps illusory age of more industrial-strength manufacturing techniques, a kind of nerdy nostalgia that you probably shouldn’t go around bragging about. That is, it feels like you’re doing some very heavy duty computing when you’re using this thing.

Loud vs. Soft

That said, I’m not sure that it really lives up to all the hype. I won’t say that I’m unhappy with my purchase, but I have noticed that I often find myself happy to be typing on a keyboard with a gentler feel when I’m away from the Tactile Pro. After typing on such a loud device that almost encourages me to bang away all day, I quite like coming home to my Apple Pro Keyboard, even though it is mushier. Its keys are quiet, I can maneuver across them without feeling like I need to hammer away (though to be fair, the Tactile Pro does not require excessive force; the sound it produces just suggests that excessive forces has been applied) and I can type discreetly, without waking up my girlfriend sleeping in the next room.

And that, dear reader, is about as much as anybody should really ever spend writing about computer keyboards.



  1. I too toyed with the idea of buying this keyboard, but I couldn’t justify the expense (especially in $AUD) – so I went the other extreme – the IceKey hoping to duplicate the feel of my Powerbook. Wasn’t far off – the Powerbook still has the slightest edge though… Just feels a bit more rigid compared to the IceKey.

  2. I was only vaguely aware of the IceKey before you mentioned it here, so thanks. I hadn’t considered whether I’d like a keyboard that matches the one on my PowerBook for touch and responsiveness, but it sounds appealing. This review mentions that the IceKey has a “dead” key next to the right-side Control button — does it serve any purpose whatsoever?

  3. I’ve been looking at keyboards lately, so this is a nice post to read – as a user of the G3 turqoiuse(?) keyboard (which I’m a fan of – due to its small footprint) but feeling that I need something with better tactile feedback, these suggestions have proved useful.

    Like Khoi says – would you want a keyboard that feels more like a laptop or more like a desktop? That’s a good question.

    I’ve found that I’m quite fond of the keyboard on my old school IBM Thinkpad, it has a nice clickety clack to it without being loud and feels very sturdy and non-flighty like some laptops tend to feel. Does anyone know if IBM desktop keyboards feel similar to their laptops?

  4. But will it keep my G4 from sleeping? I’ve found that many 3rd party keyboards (and I’ve gone through several) have built-in USB hubs that are faulty– they interrupt the computer’s power setup and will frequently wake up the computer from sleep or prevent it from sleeping altogether. Because of this I’ve reverted back to the stock Apple keyboard.

  5. Quoting John:
    “But will it keep my G4 from sleeping?”

    I have a 12″ PowerBook G4, and it hasn’t had any problems.

  6. Those I never liked, but I knew plenty of people who did. Maybe the keyboard you fall for is like your first car, you always look back at it longingly.

  7. I can 2nd (3rd?) the IceKey – it’s quite nice. You shouldn’t have any USB issues if you have a relativly recent Mac, I have a Quicksilver that’s maybe 2-3 years old. I prefer it to my short usage of Powerbook keyboards, it’s light but doesn’t feel as flimsy as a Pbook keyboard.

    The useless key is unnoticable 99% of the time, though I occasionally hit it doing key chords in Photoshop – nothing happens so it’s not a disaster. And with all the undo’s these days in Pshop…

    My #1 favorite keyboard is my IBM Thinkpad T30. It’s perfect. Except I can’t use it on the Mac. Darn.

  8. New Little Brother to the “Pro”:

    OSX Keyboard $40

    Must’ve ran out of new names. It’s got the control key in the proper place too (at least if you use any unix). Not as clanky as the Pro apparently…

  9. Is the dead key on the IceKey that right-click menu key? I have one of those on my Logitech cordless elite keyboard and wish there were a way to make it useful for something.

  10. Okay, people have assured me that the ‘dead key’ on the IceKey does not in any way interfere with typing or computing, which is great. On the other hand, no one seems to have a guess as to why the dead key is there in the first place.

    I’ve never really understood Macally. Are they Mac only, or do they produce products under a different brand name for the Windows market as well? If so, is this dead key a port artifact that resulted from their using this same form factor for a Windows keyboard?

  11. I’d say you’re probably right, and they either sell Windows products under a different name, or in this case saved money by using a Windows-specific part/mold/template/whatever (and passed the savings on to us! Yeah right!). Because it’s definitely a case of Windowsboards having an extra key to the right of the spacebar (based on my Dellboard right here).

  12. Quoting Roland:
    “Is the dead key on the IceKey that right-click menu key?”

    The dead key doesn’t do anything on a windows box either.

    Quoting Khoi Vinh:
    “I’ve never really understood Macally.”

    Neither have I.

  13. I have both keyboards.

    I had to return the icekey when one of the keys stopped working. It was in warranty and replaced for free after 4 frustrating emails with many days between them w/mfgr. I keep it as a backup now.

    The Matias Tactile Pro is one of the loudest keyboards ever. If you type while you are on the phone, be sure your keystrokes will all come in loud and clear. Other than that, it’s a joy to use. Unless you have cats.

    My TP had so much cat hair in it that I finally had to take the cover off to blow it out so that my spacebar would work again. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go back together again correctly, because the cover interferes with the key action if it’s not exactly in line. So I didn’t screw it back together, but just laid the cover back over the keys. I guess it will save me from having to take it apart again later.

    What would have been slick is if the TP had hinged its cover so that it was easier to clean.

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