Matias has long been a champion of mechanical keyboards, which use real, physical switches underneath the keys. The company's flagship Tactile Pro 3 keyboard is the current go-to keyboard for many long-time mechanical-keyboard enthusiasts. The only problem is that typing on the Tactile Pro is loud. Antisocially loud, especially if you work in a shared office environment, need to type when you're on the phone, or need to work (or play) in the evening hours when others might be trying to get some shuteye. Matias has worked hard to fix that complication in the company's newest mechanical keyboard, the $150 Quiet Pro Keyboard for Mac.
Matias sells the Quiet Pro in versions optimized for Mac or Windows PCs. The Mac version comes in a silver case to mimic Apple's hardware, while the PC version comes in black. (The keys are black on both models.) The Mac version's silver-plastic finish looks a bit cheap. The keyboard itself also looks a bit clunky and heavy, but that's par for the course: Mechanical keyboards are, by their nature, much heftier than their membrane (non-mechanical) and laptop-style counterparts. Despite the inexpensive-looking finish, the Quiet Pro is solid and very well constructed.y--
The Quiet Pro's 109-key layout will be familiar to anyone with experience using Apple's current-model keyboard with numeric keypad. There are 18 F-keys, with most of the first twelve offering special functions: F1 and F2 are mapped to brightness down and up, respectively; F3 opens Mission Control (or Exposé, if you're still using OS X 10.7 Lion or earlier); F4 pulls up Dashboard; F7, F8, and F9 serve as skip back, play/pause, and skip forward, respectively, for media playback; F10, F11, and F12 are volume controls (mute, down, and up, respectively). As on Apple's keyboard, F5 and F6 are blank. These F-keys, unlike with many recent Mac keyboards, are separated from the main area of keys and are grouped into the traditional pods of four (F1 through F4, F5 through F8, and so on). This arrangement makes using these keys by touch much easier.
The keys are sculpted to fit your fingers, not unlike Apple's old Pro Keyboard. Two feet on the underside of the Quiet Pro let you elevate the top edge of the keyboard about an inch if you prefer an angle. The keyboard connects to your Mac using a black, six-foot USB cable that emerges from the center of the keyboard's back edge.
The Quiet Pro includes an internal USB hub that provides three USB 2.0 ports, one more than on Apple's USB keyboards. One port is located at the left-hand edge of the back of the keyboard, facing out to the left; another occupies a similar position on the right-hand side; and the third is located along the back edge, almost all the way to the right, and faces directly back. You can use these ports for connecting low-power devices such as mice and thumb drives, as well as for syncing an iOS device, although you won't be able to charge an iPhone or iPad through the keyboard's USB ports.
The Quiet Pro requires no special drivers or control software, even for the special-function F-keys--you just plug and play.
Switching up the insides
If you look inside most keyboards in use today, you'll find a rubber membrane covered in tiny dome switches. When you press the key, a circuit is completed and the corresponding character is generated on the screen. These keyboards are cheap to mass-produce, and quiet, and over the years they've gotten progressive thinner, lighter, and more streamlined--just look at the sleek lines of Apple's keyboards, for example. But the "key feel"--the sensation of actually pressing the key--is soft, indistinct, and mushy.
By comparison, mechanical keyboards like the Quiet Pro use switches swathed in springs. If that sounds old-fashioned, that's because it is. This is the way keyboards used to be constructed. And why such keyboards tend to be loud.
What makes the Quiet Pro different is that Matias has worked with its supplier to develop mechanical switches that are much quieter. (Matias says that it spend two years working on the design.) Rubber bumpers dampen the sound of each key press, so it's quieter both when you press a key and when you release it. Matias has posted sound files to its website so you can compare the Quiet Pro's sound to the Tactile Pro and to other manufacturer's mechanical keyboards.
Compare the Quiet Pro to the Tactile Pro 3 directly and the difference in noise level is readily apparent. There's still an audible clicking sound coming from the Quiet Pro, but it's much less "clacky" than the sounds produced by the Tactile Pro's keys. The change isn't without consequence, as the dampers that make the Quiet Pro quiet do make the key action feel slightly softer than with the Tactile Pro. But most people would need to test both keyboards together, side by side, to notice the difference.
On the other hand, the Quiet Pro is still markedly louder than a membrane-based keyboard--there's a hollow "clack" produced by each keypress. If you've never used a mechanical keyboard before, you may find the sound to be distracting (as may the people sitting within easy earshot of your desk). But the payoff can be worth it: In my opinion, the physical experience of using a mechanical keyboard is lightyears beyond that of a membrane keyboard--even that of the very well engineered ones like Apple's. Mechanical-keyboard enthusiasts will tell you that they type faster and more accurately on mechanical keyboards than on membrane keyboards.
If you're a touch-typing speed freak, you might also be interested to know that Matias has built anti-ghosting circuitry into the Quiet Pro. That will keep it from generating characters you didn't type, or neglecting to generate characters that you did, when you press multiple keys simultaneously. I found that my typing precision and accuracy are much better with the Quiet Pro than with my Apple keyboard.
If Matias had stopped at just using quieter springs, that would have been enough to garner the attention of a cadre of mechanical-keyboard enthusiasts. But the company has added a bevy of additional features to interest discriminating keyboard buyers.
Take the surface of the keys, for example. As with Matias's other keyboards, the letters, numbers and symbols that grace the keys have been etched with a laser--you can actually feel them under your fingertips as you type. Matias says this should help keep the ink from wearing off over time. That's especially good news for me, as I've had to replace keys on almost every Apple keyboard I've ever used because I wear the ink off. I suspect it's because I'm a touch typist and I keep the fingers of my left hand on the home row all the time to retain my orientation. Either that or I have really acidic skin oil. (Too much information?)
Of course, letter wear is a long-term phenomenon that happens over a period of months or years, and I tested the Quiet Pro for only a few weeks, so I wasn't able to determine whether the laser etching will truly make a difference in ink durability, but I can tell you that the keys feel different. I'm not sensitive enough in my fingertips to be able to distinguish individual characters, but I just like the sensation of the etching.
Matias has also printed each key with any extended characters--those accessed by pressing various combinations of modifier keys--available through the key. Characters accessed using the Option key are displayed to the right of the regular character and superscripted, while those accessed using Shift+Option are also to the right but slightly higher. This notation makes perfect sense when you see it, and it keeps you from having to hunt for infrequently used but still important symbols and diacritical marks. For example, a quick glance at the keyboard shows you that the infinity symbol () is Option+5, or that the Apple symbol (ÿ) is Shift+Option+K. I have trouble remembering where various characters are hiding, so I really appreciate the guidance.
If you've never used a mechanical keyboard before, the Quiet Pro is a great model to start with--it provides solid tactile feedback and reassuring key response without the obnoxiously loud key sounds. The $150 price tag is bound to give some buyers pause, but it's roughly in line with other mechanical keyboards for the Mac cost, and you clearly get what you pay for. If you're already a fan of the Tactile Pro, you'll find a very similar key sensation without quite so much clickety-clack. The Quiet Pro is especially great for shared office environments or times when you want to type and talk on the phone or over Skype at the same time.