Das Keyboard is an American company headquartered in Austin, Texas. Started in 2005 by Daniel Guermeur, the first line of Das keyboards was the Ultimate, a mechanical keyboard that donned blank key caps. Guermeur created it to aid in writing software for various apps he was involved with. According to the Das website, Guermeur’s “typing speed doubled after just a few weeks of use.” Since then, Das has released several versions of the Ultimate, as well as different lines of keyboards for a broader consumer base.
Note: All images from http://www.daskeyboard.com.
Debuted in March 2014, the Das Keyboard 4 Ultimate is the fourth iteration of the Ultimate line. It’s Windows-, Mac-, Linux- and ChromeBook-compatible and connects via USB 1.1, 2.0 or 3.0. As with previous versions, the 4 Ultimate has no visible letters or numbers imprinted on any of its keys. The entire keyboard is black but for a red anodized lip on its volume control knob and three blue LED indicator lights (for number pad, caps and scroll lock) located at the top right.
(Das makes the 4 Professional, which is identical to the 4 Ultimate except that it has laser-etched key inscriptions, and frankly, isn’t as cool.)
Beside the row of indicator lights are a sleep button (that put your computer into sleep mode instantly) and a volume mute button. Below that are your standard media player controls.
The 4 Ultimate includes a magnetically attached red footbar that angles the rear of keyboard a four degrees up, and for some reason, the footbar also doubles as a ruler. Das says “you’ll thank us later” for the ruler, but I’ve yet to thank them for this particular addition. However, the two features the 4 Ultimate provides are ones I never thought I’d need but now I can’t think of living without: the volume knob and USB 3.0 ports.
The Ultimate is donned with a satin finished aluminum top panel, and overall, is solidly constructed; holding it, you immediately feel the quality and weight (2.9 pounds). Its dimensions are rather slim at 18 x 6.8 x .80 inches resulting in a look that is devoid of empty space around the perimeter. This is accentuated by the angled top right of the keyboard that makes room for the Das logo and row of indicator lights and sleep and mute buttons. This subtle design element gives the 4 Ultimate a timeless look that’s mature and a far cry from current-day gaming keyboards that scream “LOOK AT ME!”
Due to its low-key, “invisible” aesthetic, the 4 Ultimate complements any computer desktop setup, from the garish to the modern-minimalist. Though not a gaming-specific keyboard, the 4 Ultimate is certainly capable for hardcore gaming thanks to its incredible build quality featuring n-key rollover and Cherry MX switches (Brown or Blue).
What seems to be the prerequisite for gaming keyboards, the lack of custom RGB lighting and a line of programmable macro keys don’t allow it to be labeled as such. But, unless you prefer all the bells and whistles that companies like Logitech and Corsair tout, or you need imprinted key caps, the 4 Ultimate provides enthusiasts a much more unique and raw user experience.
USB 3.0 and Volume Knob
As mentioned above, the two best features the 4 Ultimate has are the volume knob and USB 3.0 ports, both located at the top right of the keyboard (the USB 3.0 ports on the rear). While the latter may be a no-brainer for any new high-end keyboard these days, for anyone who hasn’t had a keyboard with a USB passthrough or ones with only USB 2.0, then they’ll find USB 3.0 ports transferring data up to five gigabits per second a godsend (it must be plugged into your computer’s USB 3.0 input for true USB 3.0 speeds).
Compared to USB ports on your computer or monitor, the close proximity of your keyboard allows you to easily connect / disconnect and access USB peripherals. I have my Kingston USB 3.0 card reader (with its cable coiled up) plugged into my 4 Ultimate, which is super useful when I’m swapping memory cards from my camera and keeps one less cable running across my desk.
Although the addition of the volume knob is obvious, its implementation is subtle and thoughtful. It controls your master volume, and as you do, a small volume level overlay shows up on your monitor regardless of what application you’re working in; I found this useful and unobtrusive. Das notched out a small area in the top panel to expose the knob on the right for quick and natural adjustments (albeit only for right-handed users). Turning the knob, tactile, but inaudible clicks allow for minute or large volume changes. Overall, because of how well it’s implemented, the volume knob is the feature I use the most.
Switches and Typing
I opted to get the 4 Ultimate with the Cherry MX Blue switches, an unabashed loud key switch (only second to the rare Cherry MX Green switch) that provides tactile and audible feedback confirming key registration. Some say it’s easier to type on Blues because of the feedback. However, every user’s experience / preference may vary. And actually, I find typing on Browns more effortless, but for personal, in-home use, I really enjoy the Blue switches, as it provides a very satisfying typing experience with negligible-to-me typing speed reduction.
Typing on the Blues can be fatiguing at first, especially if you’re used to soft switches and you do a lot of long, uninterrupted typing (in which case the Browns might be the way to go). But if you’re a competent typist, you should be able to adapt pretty seamlessly.
On that note, if this wasn’t obvious enough, because the key caps are blank, anyone buying this should be able to type without looking down at the keyboard. Although I can type up to 90 to 100 words per minute, it doesn’t mean I know where every key is located. That said, for a good typist, this shouldn’t be a problem. For example, I’m not very accurate with the number keys on the top row, but I usually can hit the right one most of the time or can easily correct myself (besides, I’m more of a 10-key pad guy myself). If you know your way around roughly 90 percent of a keyboard’s layout, you should have no problem figuring out the remaining 10 percent through trial-and-error and memory.
For gaming, I never felt disadvantaged because I couldn’t find the right key. There are times where I do look down to make sure I press certain, seldom used buttons correctly, but this is something I do with any keyboard. Again, because I’m familiar with a keyboard’s layout, I’m able to identify what’s what even by looking at blank key caps and even in low light situations. Using the 4 Ultimate definitely forces you to use more than just your visual senses; your memory reminds what and where certain keys are and to me, this didn’t seem to hamper my speed.
For those that wish to buy this keyboard to improve typing, I would pursue other methods, such as using training software. That doesn’t mean the 4 Ultimate can’t be used to improve typing, but I can imagine it to be a little frustrating for those that are at a remedial level. Personally, I bought the 4 Ultimate because it looks bad ass and I already know my way around a keyboard.
At $169, the 4 Ultimate is on the expensive end of keyboards. However, compared to the deluge of high-end keyboards consumers have to choose from, it stands alone aesthetically and functionally. For anyone looking for a mature, uniquely stylish and well-built keyboard that tickles the fancy of any enthusiast, the 4 Ultimate makes for a classy addition to any computer setup. It gets a Consumer Fanatics rating of 10/10.