“She remembered the deck he’d used, the one he’d taken with him, a gray factory-custom Hosaka with unmarked keys. It was a cowboy’s deck; he’d insisted on traveling with it, even though it caused problems during customs checks.”
–Mona Lisa Overdrive
I’ve wanted a blank keyboard since high school. As a young nerd, I pictured myself rocking a Hosaka tricked out with the latest warez and fitted with a smily blob of plastique. Years passed and I never got to burn Chrome or meet a cybernetic dolphin, but now I get to join Count Zero in the brotherhood of the blank deck.
The new $143 Das Keyboard 4C comes in two flavors. The standard keyboard is a clicky mechanical beast. It is slimmed down from the massive Das Keyboard 4 but still packs a nice punch. Made of anodized aluminum and featuring gold-plated key switches, this thinner and smaller keyboard is quite usable.
As a peripheral I missed the 4’s dedicated volume dial and top USB ports but the 4C has two USB ports on the left side and is firmware upgradable and you can disable the Windows key. The keys are not nearly as loudly satisfying as the switches in the 4 but they still offer excellent travel and n-key rollover that ensures each keypress is registered by the controller.
That said, I also tried a something different in this Das Keyboard iteration. Instead of getting the regular 4C keyboard with printed key caps I decided to go a little nuts. The version of the 4C I’m using is completely blank. Even the logo, red on the original model, is a matte black. Except for two little bumps on F and J, there is no way to tell your position on the keyboard just by looking at the keys. In short, you’d better be a good typist.
I found working on the blank 4C a fun challenge. Except for password entry, I’ve been able to type without issues as fast as I type on a standard keyboard. Because our brains get a little fidgety with passwords, however, you will often find yourself looking down at the keyboard and finding no solace there. It’s a funny feeling but if you type fast enough and can type without looking at the keys then you’ll probably be OK.
Having a blank keyboard is a lot like having a matte black car – it’s cool to a few people and clever or uninteresting to the rest. However, as someone who spends most of their waking hours in front of a keyboard, it’s nice to have a smaller and more usable Das model and the blank keys are gravy.
A note to purists: I noticed in my previous Das review that there is an entire subset of computer user dedicated to nerdy keyboards. Sites like ClickyKeyboards offer older IBM keyboards while asking “Are you a real computer expert or are you just a low-end computer user?” While I would completely fall into the realm of a user who loves a good keyboard with nice acoustics and solid travel, I haven’t yet fallen down the hobbyist keyboard rabbit hole and find that Das is just fine for most keyboard dilettantes. If you’re interested in alternatives, many swear by Cherry MX keyboards as well as well as vintage, used keyboards scrounged from old IT installations. As much as I like this Dell monstrosity, I’m OK buying something not full of hair and Cheetos.
Which model should you get? Well, if you’re shopping primarily for Das Keyboards I’d still recommend the 4 because of the dedicated volume controls and more accessible USB ports. However, if you don’t need the extra numeric keypad and are looking for a smaller keyboard for your hackers desk, the 4C is worthy of consideration. Would I go with the blank keys? Sure, if you’re comfortable enough without the printed keys and aren’t afraid to type in your passwords without looking down. If you can pull that off then I think even Wintermute would be impressed.