• The Night Owl Review: Another Great Keyboard from Matias

    January 7th, 2006

    Night Owl Rating: ★★★★★

    When I heard about the USB 2.0 Keyboard from Matias, I thought it was a smart gimmick, but not much more. Computer keyboards are numerous, and differentiating them, even from the same manufacturer, can be difficult. Try, for example, to explain the features of the various models from Logitech, for example, and you’ll see what I mean.

    Matias, however, always seems to have a clever trick up its sleeves. There is, for example, the $149.95 TactilePro, which is basically an update to the legendary Apple Extended Keyboard, modified to accept USB and today’s more modern design motifs. It uses mechanical key switches sourced from the same company that made switches for Apple, and the feel and keyboard action is very similar.

    But if you want something with a softer touch, and that’s my preference, there are plenty of options, but few with the originality that Matias can bring to what is usually a commodity product. As the name implies, the USB 2.0 Keyboard, which lists for $39.95, sports a top-mounted dock that supports the higher speed USB protocol. It’s an ideal location for an iPod, a high performance camera or printer or any other device for which the older USB standard is too pokey.

    Adding USB 2.0 in this product, though, entails a significant tradeoff. It requires two cables, one for each USB connection, which may force you into adding a USB hub if you otherwise wouldn’t require that appendage. And, of course, if you don’t have USB 2.0 on your Mac, it won’t magically appear because the keyboard supports it.

    The keyboard layout is worth some mention. Unlike recent Apple keyboards, the 15 F keys are separated from the main keypad, which helps reduce typing mistakes in my book. The Caps Lock key is transferred to the lower right of the main keypad, between Option and Control. In its place is a second Control key, which supposedly simplifies keyboards combos with which it’s required. It takes a little time to grow comfortable with the change, and I, for one, occasionally reach for the wrong key even after several weeks with the unit.

    The smartest feature of all in my book, however, is one that Apple ought to emulate. Matias prints the extended characters, such as the copyright symbol and all the rest, on the key caps themselves. No need to consult a character map to figure out what’s located where. Consider: If Apple built its keyboards this way, would there have ever been a Key Caps application in the days of the Classic Mac OS? Well, there would be the third party keyboard without that innovation, of course.

    Unlike Apple’s latest keyboard, there’s also a pair of plastic flaps to raise the rear. Now in theory this elevated position is supposed to be bad for you if you’re a purist about keyboarding posture. But to me it feels better, and that’s how I intend to keep it.

    For the most part, setup is simple. You don’t need to install any special drivers, but the volume keys require Mac OS 10.3 or later. In addition, if you’re using Tiger, you’ll have to navigate through a brief Keyboard Setup Assistant to make your Mac recognize the keyboard. It will usually require pressing a key adjacent to the shift key (in my case both at the right and left sides), and clicking the keyboard type on the final screen. ANSI is the default, and when you press Done you’re ready to go.

    The USB 2.0 Keyboard uses soft touch membrane switches similar to Apple’s, which is just perfect in my book. Keyboard action is fast, fluid and I was able to type with full comfort and my usual level of accuracy, such as it is.

    As I said, this is my second review sample. The twin USB plugs weren’t configured properly on the original unit. On the replacement, Matias neglected to label the plug that supports the USB 2.0 dock, which entailed testing both to see which was which. Hint: If the keyboard doesn’t work when you plug in a cable, it’s the one for the dock. Since the first unit had a sticker on the cable, I’ll assume it’s a failure on the packing end of manufacturing and nothing to concern yourself about after the initial hookup.

    In keeping with Apple’s current design approach, the Mac version of the keyboard comes in white. There’s also a black version, which is also designed for Windows users and thus lacks the labels for the extended characters. For an extra $10, you can get a combo pack that includes a simple two-button mouse. Let me just say the additional component is serviceable, but no more so than any cheap USB mouse that you can find at a consumer electronics store. And if you don’t need USB 2.0, you can save a USB jack and choose the OS X Keyboard for $29.95, which is essentially the same product without the dock.

    As keyboards go, the Matias USB 2.0 Keyboard is one of my favorites. Although my taste tends to shift from time to time, I plan on sticking with this one for a while, and that’s saying a lot.

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