In marked contrast to the extensive choice in keybaords for Windows computers, Mac users have a far smaller selection for high-grade keyboards.
This might be explained by the high quality of keyboards that have been supplied as standard with most Macintosh PCs over the years. The latest Apple keyboard models, available wired or wireless, have low-profile white Scrabble-style keys embedded into a stylish satin alumininium chassis.
These ultra-thin keyboards are superbly finished, quiet in operation, and more than acceptable for even fastidious users.
If you prefer some real mechanical feedback as you type though, the Matias Tactile Pro has what you need. It’s a hefty full-size keyboard, styled in white plastic, and redolent of the transparent body/white key Apple Mac keyboards of the early 2000s.
Like the Matias Quiet Pro Keyboard, the Matias Tactile Pro is a particularly chunky design, weighing around 1.2kg and standing 54mm high at the back with its folding feet down.
It features a centrally fixed USB cable at the back, and three extra USB 2.0 ports to attach desktop accessories.
Matias Tactile Pro 3 has three USB 2.0 ports for desktop accessories
The body of the Matias Tactile Pro 3 Keyboard is transparent plastic that’s been painted white from the inside to give a shinier look, while the keys themselves are matt brilliant white and laser-etched to ensure indelibility after long use.
We’re not so sure how white they’ll remain after a few years, as sunlight ageing or simple daily grime may potentially lead to some discolouration. Each key is neatly concaved to allow better fingertip touch.
The Matias Tactile Pro keyboard is an exercise in maximalism. Apple keyboards have for years now removed visual noise by removing many hidden function descriptions. For example, Page Up, Page Down, Home and End functions are all available to any Mac by using the Fn key in conjunction with the arrow cursor keys. But these features are no longer spelled out on the keycaps.
The Mac has the best typography tools baked into the OS and available to all applications through key-modified Qwerty keys. These are found using an added Alt or Shift-Alt with the usual alpha-numeric characters, to access dozens of useful glyphs, foreign diacritical marks, and Greek symbols like ß, ∂, µ, and Ω.
With the Matias Tactile Pro, you no longer have to rely on memory or the floating keyboard palette to find what you need. Each character is printed in smaller superscript in the top right corner of each key. The result is a very busy and technical-looking keyboard, somewhat removed from Apple’s minimalist aesthetic but a pictorial aid to designers and production editors.
Across the top of the keyboard are function keys F1 to F15, although these serve almost exclusively as traditional function keys; and not as shortcuts to Apple Mountain Lion specific features like Mission Control (F3) and Launchpad (F4), as is now standard in OS X.
The exception are F14 and F15 which will control screen brightness of an Apple MacBook or connected Apple Cinema Display.
No media transport control keys are included either, where many third-party keyboards will emulate the play/pause/skip controls on Apple keyboards that can operate iTunes, QuickTime and even media players like VLC.
Matias Tactile Pro 3 Keyboard: Action
Like the classic Apple Extended Keyboard of the early 1990s, Matias fitted the Tactile Pro with mechanical keys from Alps Electric Ltd of Japan.
These do give a very positive and audible click as they’re tapped. But the Tactile Pro is noisier than just the sounds of these mechanical keys would warrant, as the entire keyboard reverberates and amplifies their action with a hollow plasticky tone. Some degree of internal damping would give this keyboard a classier sound and feel.
The action of the Alps keys is rather like Cherry MX Blue switches, with just a little less initial resistance at the actuation point near the top of their travel. Their sound is more a lower-pitched clunk than the Blue’s high click. We found it possible to build up a good head of speed typing on this keyboard, at the expense of making appreciably more noise than any other keyboard we’ve ever tried.
The Matias Tactile Pro is available in US, UK, German or Japanese layout. In the case of the British version we tested, all regular Qwerty characters were in the expected positions for a Mac keyboard. So the Command/Apple key with its Bowen knot is found immediately either side of the Spacebar, the @ sign over the 2, single and double quotes together and sited two positions to the right of L.
A double-height Return key means pipe and backslash are below the square close bracket. And a neat touch is a Caps Lock key with matching white LED.