David Bakin’s programming blog.

Two nearly perfect keyboards: Das Ultimate and WASD CODE

For many years I’ve missed the second best typing experience I’ve ever enjoyed:  The Northgate Omnikey Ultra, pictured here in all its glory:

Oh what a wonderful tactile feel!  My fingers just flew over the full size keys, hitting every key correctly!  And what a wonderful clacky sound it made!  Unfortunately, they had old style PC/AT keyboard connectors, which were inconvenient, and were quite large, and weighed about 50 pounds each, and I stupidly got rid of all 4 of mine some time ago.

Anyway, I now have that same experience again:  I’m the proud owner of both a DAS Model S Ultimate, and a WASD CODE keyboard.  They are equally wonderful in the tactile feel department, and have interesting aesthetic differences.

The DAS Model S Ultimate1 is gorgeous: it has a beautiful case, seemingly black lacquered, with nice geeky blank keycaps.  I got the “blue” clicky switches, and boy is it loud!  Feels and sounds great, but you can’t use it in an apartment or your neighbors will call the police.  In fact, my wife told me it went or I went.  I retrofitted it with WASD red O-rings and that made it much quieter but didn’t hurt the feel. Has other features too (see the link above) including 2 USB ports on the side—useful for plugging in your Logitech “unifying receiver” for your M570 trackball2, and a USB stick as well.  Excellent solid construction: You wouldn’t damage it if you ran over it with a tank.

The CODE keyboard feels great, looks very good, and has wonderful backlighting: the keycaps are black with translucent white letters that glow.  The backlight has adjustable levels.  When I bought it I thought the backlighting was a gimmick but I use it every night … and I really like the look of walking into my darkened office and having the keyboard glowing at me.  I got the clicky (but not really loud) green switches (and they come with sound dampening O-rings installed) so I get a terrific tactile feel but it isn’t terribly loud.  I got the 87-key version without the numeric keypad—which I don’t use—and so it is more compact than the DAS Ultimate, and that is convenient.  Plenty of other features too like Dvorak and Colemak alternate layouts built in, and the very nice ability to totally disable caps lock (turn it into another ctrl key).  Excellent solid construction like the DAS keyboard.

I am in typing bliss!  Wouldn’t trade these in for anything, in fact, I’m looking to get another one or two to take on the job.

But no product is perfect, so here are some issues.

First a minor flaw in the CODE keyboard: A sort of nice feature is that instead of a permanently attached cable hanging off it they use a detachable standard Micro USB cable which plugs in under the keyboard.   There are cable routing channels that you can use to route the cable out the back left/center/right or out the left or right sides of the case.  But if you use the back center channel than any tension on the cable will pull it right out.  So use one of the other four.

And now, an extremely serious flaw that affects both the otherwise wonderful DAS keyboard and the CODE keyboard:  In a major design fail, the function keys F1-F12 are at the top row of the keyboard instead of the left side of the keyboard where God put them.  See them on the left of that picture of the Northgate keyboard above?  Well, admittedly, those guys went overboard, duplicating the function keys on the top as well as the left.  Truly, you only need the ones at the left.  Because then you can easily and accurately touch type the function keys, and do it without horrible stretching.  The original IBM PC keyboards were like that and I’ve never understood why IBM and everyone else abandoned that.  DAS, WASD, are you listening?  Put the function keys on the left and you will have the second best keyboard ever created!

(After all this praise: second best?  And that’s the second time I’ve said it.  Well, yes, the ultimate typing experience is to be found only on IBM Selectrics, specifically, the Selectric Model II.  Those were just beautiful. We’ll never see the likes of them again…)

  1. Link goes to newer DAS Keyboard 4 Ultimate, which has the same cool blank keycaps ↩︎

  2. Link goes to Amazon because Logitech’s site no longer shows it as a pro ↩︎