Reviewed :: Matias Quiet Pro for Mac

The world’s quietest mechanical keyboard

Keyboard Name: Matias Quiet Pro
Model Number: FK302Q
Retail Price: $139.95
Weight: 2.81 lbs/ 1.27 kg
Switch Type: Matias Quiet Click (simplified Alps-clone)
Keycaps: ABS with laser-printed legends
Keycap thickness: .91 mm

Some Background

Matias is a Canadian manufacturer of (mostly) computer keyboards. They were founded in 1989 in the parents’ basemen of Edgar Matias, one of the company’s main founders. They’re better known today for keeping the simplified Alps switch technology alive, and for producing the Tactile Pro keyboard, loosely based on Apple’s original Extended Keyboard. Matias markets the Tactile Pro as a resurrection of the Apple Extended Keyboard, but I consider that a bit of an exaggeration, and not exactly true (I’ll talk about that more in my review of the Tactile Pro 4).

Equally notable is Edgar Matias’ conception and production of the “Half Keyboard,” a keyboard that only requires one hand to use. It’s a really cool idea and I wonder how difficult (or maybe easy) it would be to type using only one hand. I hope to give it a try one day but they’re extremely expensive at $595 USD. Doh! It looks like the Matias logo has a silhouette of the Half Keyboard behind it (pictured below), and my guess is the Half Keyboard is a very special product to Matias (or at least Edgar).

Matias logo
Matias logo with (what appears to be) silhouette of half keyboard in background.

Listening to an interview of Edgar Matias it sounds like he was probably a fan of Apple’s keyboards during the 80’s and 90’s (as many of us were) and took notice (as many of us did) when Apple initiated the cheapification process of their keyboards. In a really awesome move, Edgar picked up where Apple left off and started producing Alps mechanical switch keyboards, and later, keyboards using Matias’ own mechanical switches, which are essentially simplified Alps clones. Thank you Edgar!!!

A bit about Alps switches

Introduced around 1983, Alps SKCL/SKCM mechanical switches were the choice of many keyboard manufacturers in the 80’s and early 90’s. Those of us who are old enough to remember using Alps boards hold them in high regard for their smoothness, tactility, sound and serviceability.

Alps SKCM Orange
This is my all-time favorite switch, the Alps SKCM Orange.

Better known keyboards that used complicated Alps switches were the Dell AT101 “bigfoot” and Apple’s “extended” keyboards. My very first keyboard was an Apple Extended II and I remember my best friend had an Apple Extended. I remember hours typing away on AOL instant messenger or some random BBS, listening to the wonderful, rhythmic sound they produced. It was all good stuff.

“Complicated” Alps were given their nickname due to the high number of parts used in each one, (typically 10-13 pieces). That’s more than in a typical Cherry or buckling spring switch, but it was definitely worth it, considering the wonderful typing experience they produced.

Alps SKCM White Disassembled
Disassembled “complicated” Alps SKCM White showing the many different parts.

In the 90s and early 2000s, manufacturers looked for ways to make inexpensive switches. As such, Alps developed a “simplified” version of their switches, using fewer parts, and therefor lowering costs.

Simplified Alps weren’t as refined as their complicated brothers, and within about a decade, Alps discontinued manufacturing switches all together, eventually turning production over to Gold Star Alps in Korea, and Forward Electronics in Taiwan. Neither joint venture lasted long and by 2012 (sadly) Alps key switches were no longer in production.

For some really good videos explaining the evolution and mechanics of SKCL/SKCM mechanical key switches are on Chyrosran22’s Youtube channel. There’s also a really good article describing Alps key switches on Deskthority Wiki.

Alps key switches come in many different colors, each one signifying different tactile and auditory qualities, ranging from linear, clicky, tactile, locking and more.

Alps switches
Various colored Alps SKCL/SKCM switches

Matias relied on Alps for their keyboards and later, Forward Technology. As production dried up, Matias then committed to an order of one million switches to keep production going. But even that didn’t prevent Forward’s Alps production from ending in 2012. At that point, Matias decided to develop their own key switches, based on the simplified Alps design. Matias became the de facto modern day Alps key torch bearer and kept the dream alive, which is fortunate for those of us who love the Alps design.

It took Matias two years to develop their own cloned version of Alps and they improved Alps’ design in a number of ways. First, they made the switch housing from clear plastic which permitted light to shine through to the key cap. This allowed Matias switches to be tactile or clicky, AND backlit, something Alps key switches weren’t capable of. Second, Matias used gold-plated contacts in the switch plate, upping the lifespan to 50 million keystrokes. Third, Matias used better materials and production methods, reducing the “pinging” of simplified Alps, and creating a more refined, more reliable product.

All this brings us to Matias’ current switch offering: Click Switches, Quiet-Click Switches, and Quiet-Linear Switches.

Matias switches from left: Quiet Click Switch, Quiet Linear Switch and Click Switch.

The Quiet Pro keyboard uses Matias’ Quiet Click switches, which isn’t the best name in my opinion since they don’t actually have click leafs in them. Rather they have a tactile leaf and rubber dampeners. They should probably be called Quiet Tactile switches to be more accurate, but maybe that doesn’t quite have the same marketing ring to it.

Review

Note: for this review, I not only used this keyboard exclusively for 2 weeks prior, I also used this keyboard to write the review itself.

The Quiet Pro by Matias is marketed “the world’s quietest mechanical keyboard,” and that might be true, depending on your definition of what a “mechanical keyboard” is. Some would call Topre switches “mechanical,” and Topre makes some super quiet ones, like their silenced ones. To others, Topre switches are just astronomically overpriced rubber domes and therefor not mechanical.

Regardless of your definition of “mechanical” I would even venture to say the Quiet Pro is one of the quietest keyboards available, period. I’ve heard many rubber dome keyboards that are significantly louder than the Quiet Pro. For those looking to use a mechanical keyboard in a hushed office this might be the keyboard for you. Matias achieves the lack of sound via a rubber dampeners on each side of the plastic slider, which are shaped like an hourglass, illustrated below.

Matias Quiet Click slider with rubber dampeners on left and Alps SKCM Cream slider with rubber dampeners on right.

One advantage of having an hourglass dampener on the slider as opposed to Cherry’s very basic o-ring mod, is that it dampens sound on both the downstroke and upstroke. But unlike other keyboards with dampened Alps-style switches, Matias managed to design the key caps and key switches in a way that prevents the keycaps from striking the key switch housing, or switch plate, effectively making them “float,” even when bottomed out. It’s an interesting design, and for my money, I think it’s a little too quiet. I like a little more auditory feedback when typing, and the only thing one hears when typing on the Quiet Pro is the “thud” of rubber on plastic. To my ear the Quiet Pro actually sounds more like a rubber dome keyboard than a mechanical one. Strangely enough, if you listen to the video at the end of this review on my typing demonstration, it actually sounds like an Apple Extended Keyboard II. Maybe my ears aren’t sensitive enough to pick up on the “mechanical” sounds. Bottom line, it sounds slightly louder in the video.

Key Switch Feel

Matias spent 2 years developing the Quiet Pro key switch, experimenting with click leaf shapes, springs, lubricants, dampening mechanisms and more. In the end, they developed something described on their website as “truly unique…” and a “tactile, yet quiet mechanical key switch.” And I think that’s a fairly accurate description. After using the Quiet Pro for over two weeks—and I’ve really thought long and hard about this— they’ve succeeded in creating a mechanical key switch that feels like a very tactile dome with slider key switch. Some people may consider that derisive, but I disagree. Sure, most rubber dome keyboards have the consistency of soggy monkey spunk, but there are some really high quality rubber dome keyboards that achieve very good tactility and key feel. So comparing the Quiet Pro to a high quality rubber dome isn’t exactly a negative to me.

The benefits to choosing Quiet Clicks are they provide a much longer lifespan and a more consistent key feel in the long run. And there IS something in there that feels mechanical, but it’s subtle.

Like rubber domes, Quiet Clicks have a tactile bump at the top, and then a quick drop to the bottom. In fact, it’s very difficult not to bottom on the Quiet Pro because of the strong, initial tactile bump. The rubber dampeners manage to make bottoming out tolerable. It’s only when pressing down on each key very slowly, that you can feel a second tactile bump, somewhere in the middle of the down stroke, presumably when the slider clears the tactile leaf, but it’s almost imperceptible during normal typing.

Quiet Click key switches are weighted at 60g, and because of their tactility I wonder if 60g is too light. Maybe a heavier spring would prevent the bottoming out effect. Alternatively, if Matias reduced the tactility of the leaf, it might make the springs feel more adequate, and prevent bottoming out. Off-center key presses are literally no problem, and Matias switches handle those with absolutely no key binding.

One final thing on Matias’ Quiet-Click switches I thought I’d mention: There is a lot of discussion on message boards talking about some quality control issues with Matias’ key switches, like key chatter and switches basically going dead. I’ve also read that Matias is working to fix those issues, and that switches produced in 2017 are better than those produced in prior years. Anecdotally, I purchased a Quiet Pro keyboard in 2016 and at least 2 keys that went bad on me. The model I’m currently reviewing is from mid-2017 replacement and has been working flawlessly so far, so maybe there’s some truth to it.

Unboxing

Matias produces some of the highest quality keyboard packaging I’ve seen. There’s high quality cardboard, beautiful color photos and they also include a plastic handle to carry it around. It’s the kind of box you’d want to hang on to and actually reuse. Everything about the packaging says high quality.

Overall Design

It took me a while to figure out where I’d seen the shape of Matias’ keyboards before and then it dawned on me. They’re basically clones of Apple Pro Keyboards (model M7803) introduced in the 2000’s. It’s odd that Matias cloned an Apple keyboard almost 20 years ago, and then essentially froze the design it in time, never giving the case a refresh. Maybe changing the tooling is just too expensive, or maybe they really like that design. If you’re going to clone an apple keyboard however, why not copy the gorgeous Apple Extended or Apple Extended II? The end result is the Quiet Pro has a slightly outdated appearance that you can’t quite put your finger on, until you realize where it came from. Ergonomically, the curved profile and key profiles does make the the Quiet Pro very comfortable and easy to type on. Also, there’s no Matias on the top of the board, which I think is kinda cool.

Apple Pro Keyboard
Apple Pro Keyboard (M7803) from around 2000.
Look familiar?
Look familiar?

Overall construction is fairly good for a keyboard made in 2017. They Quiet Pro has some heft at 2.81 lbs. It feels solid and has very little flex. The keys are mounted on a black metal backplate. The overall quality isn’t as good as keyboards made in Japan, but it’s damn near close. The case is made from a sturdy plastic that looks like it’s been painted silver. I wonder if Matias simply paints the black PC case silver when making the Mac version. In any case the silver does look pretty cool and because it’s matte, it’s good at hiding fingerprints and dust. Both Quiet Pros I own have small paint blemishes where you can see the black plastic underneath.

Here is an example of blemish in the silver paint, showing the black plastic underneath.

On either side of the Quiet Pro is a USB 2.0 port, with a third USB 2.0 port on the back. There’s no such thing as too many USB ports, so having three right on your keyboard is really useful and convenient.

Side view shows curved profile and USB 2.0 port.

The USB cable is detachable, and I’m glad to see Matias did this. It’s a very recent modification too. I own a 2016 model and it has an attached USB cable instead. The Quiet Pro ships with two 90 degree angle USB to micro-USB cables, one that goes left and that goes right. You can use your own cables, in case you have a nifty braided one, but a word of caution: some of the aftermarket cables I own don’t work well with this keyboard for some reason, and I can’t tell if it’s the cable or the keyboard. Just something to be aware of.

Micro-USB port for detachable USB cord. Notice the fit and finish isn’t what you’d see on a Japanese-made keyboard.
90-degree angle micro-USB cord end.
One of the included detachable USB cords with 90-degree angle.

On the back of the keyboard is a sticker with the serial number and model number, along with an 800 number for Matias’ customer support. There are two small rubber pads, to prevent the keyboard from sliding on your desk, and two clear plastic flip out feet that look like they were stolen from an Apple keyboard from the 2000s. They’re very sturdy and once engaged, they create a very comfortable typing angle.

View of the bottom of the Quiet Pro keyboard case.
Closeup of label.
Closeup view of 2000s Apple-ish clear plastic feet.
Layout

The layout is really good and is one of the best features of the Quiet Pro. This model has a standard ANSI Mac layout with 107 keys in total. The function row has Apple’s media keys for brightness adjustment, volume control, mission control and more. I’m a big fan of function keys and the Quiet Pro gives you 18 of them. There’s also the wonderful Apple-inspired numpad with the small-ass Addition key and also an Equals sign, which is way more convenient than pressing the Equals key next to the Delete key. There’s a Function key next to the Home key, where the Help key used to be on old Mac keyboards and there’s also an Eject Key in the function key row, which seems a little unnecessary nowadays.

Apple-inspired numpad with small-ass Addition and Equals.
Keycaps

The keycaps are thin (.91mm), black ABS plastic with laser-printed white lettering. While the keycaps are cheap and (frankly) the weakest link on this keyboard, they do have a couple of notable features. First, they’re laser-printed white lettering on black plastic. I’ve seen black laser-printed lettering on white keycaps but the inverse is more uncommon. Matias claims that because the lettering is lasered, it won’t wear off. I’m not so sure that’s true. Also, Matias prints the main character for each key as well as the alternate characters or symbols that require the Option key for the bottom right character or Option-Shift key combination for the top right character. This is very useful, especially for someone like a copywriter, graphic designer, or anyone trying to locate the “∞” or the “æ” characters for example. One frustrating thing about Alps keycaps is that they’re damn near impossible to find Mac layout custom ones.

It looks like Matias uses the same condensed font that Apple did in their USB keyboards from the 2000s, only they opted for the regular typeface, rather than italics. I think this is a big improvement—I never really cared for Apple’s choice of italics on their keyboards, except for the ones from the 80’s and 90’s. Lastly, the Caps Lock key has a LED light window that allows light to shine through the keycap. I think this is a really cool feature and a nostalgic nod to old Alps keyboards.

Overall impressions

So overall, what do I think about the Quiet Pro? To answer that question I first need to take a step back and talk about Matias’ Tactile Pro keyboard. The Tactile Pro is marketed as “ ‘The best keyboard Apple ever made’ rises again,” and is compared to Apple Extended Keyboard. By extension, one might assume (as I did) the Quiet Pro—with dampened tactile Alps-like key switches—is therefor a reincarnation of the Apple Extended Keyboard II. But if you purchase the Quiet Pro, thinking you are buying a modern-day Apple Extended II, the you’ll be sorely disappointed. It took me a while to get that concept out of my head. The Quiet Pro feels and sounds nothing like the Apple Extended Keyboard II which is disappointing at first. The key switches aren’t nearly as refined or smooth as the original dampened Cream Alps, the key caps are much thinner and aren’t PBT, the case isn’t as sturdy, and in general there’s nowhere near the typing experience. But that’s not how Matias markets this keyboard so it’s a little unfair to compare it to the Extended II.

On it’s own merits, I think Matias has successfully produced an extremely quiet mechanical board with good tactility an a smooth key feel. If you’re the kind of person that needs a little more auditory feedback, then the Quiet Pro might be a little too quiet. Going to the Tactile Pro is like going to the complete opposite end of the noise spectrum, and I think it would be great if Matias offered a keyboard somewhere in the middle.

The more I use this keyboard, the more I started to appreciate the feel and all the little details that make it a great keyboard. Admittedly, I’ll be sad to move on to another keyboard for my next review. If I had to chose one keyboard as my daily driver for the next 6 months, the Quiet Pro would be on or near the top of my list.

Pros

It’s very comfortable to type on for extended periods of time. It has a great layout for Mac users. The case is generally well made, with the exception of some minor flaws in the paint. The 3 USB 2.0 ports are super useful. The detachable USB cord is awesome, and the fact that Matias chose micro-USB rather than mini-USB means you have a lot more after-market cables to choose from. And while it gives you a good tactile experience, it comes with almost no auditory feedback, which I consider a pro for those who work in a shared space. The smoothness and tactility of Matias’ Quiet-Click switches is light years better than anything Cherry or it’s “Clones” produce. The only switch I can think of that is smoother or that sounds better is Topre, but Topre boards are typically weighted at around 45g or less, so you don’t get quite the same tactility. Bottom line, I would recommend the Quiet Pro for someone like a copywriter, programmer, someone who does data entry or anyone else that does a shit-ton of typing all day. Because of the full layout, I’m not sure this would be a good keyboard for gamers who generally steer towards TKL or smaller.

Cons

The keycaps are piss-poor thin for a keyboard that costs over $100. The case design is a little outdated unless you’re a big fan of  Apple keyboards from the 2000’s. Lastly, it’s a little too quiet in my opinion.

Thanks for reading my review. I hope it was informative, helpful and enjoyable. Below is a video of me typing on the Matias Quiet Pro.

A very special thanks to DESKTHORITY for providing photos of Alps switches that I used in this review.

Reviewed :: Unicomp Spacesaver M Black

It’s the inside that counts

Keyboard Name: Unicomp Spacesaver M Black / Brilliant White
Model Number: UW4ZP4A
Retail Price: $94
Weight: 3.31 lbs / 3.3 kg
Key switch type: Buckling spring
Keycaps: PBT with dye sublimated legends
Keycap thickness: 1.69 mm

A Brief-ish History

In 1985 IBM introduced the Model M keyboard as a cost-effective successor to the earlier Model F keyboard. The Model M was made and sold from 1985 to 1996. Nowadays, it seems ridiculous to think the Model M was a less expensive alternative to anything. But at the time, IBM wanted to make their keyboards more affordable to home and business users. IBM shaved costs by substituting many of the metal components used in the Model F with plastic ones. They also slightly cheapified the Model F’s “Buckling Spring” over a capacitive PCB key switch by instead, using a buckling spring over rubber and plastic membrane key switch for the Model M (yes, I know this is grossly over-simplified).

 

IBM Model M
IBM Model M Keyboard

By today’s standards though, the Model M was basically built like a brick shit house and is still widely regarded as the gold standard of keyboard quality and user experience. IBM essentially over-engineered the Model M. Case in point: many people still use Model Ms today. A quick search on ebay will turn up lots of used (and very functional) Model Ms for sale, and even some new-in-box ones.

Model Ms in their various iterations can be characterized by a thick, plastic case, a thick cobalt-plated steel backplate, a nice, thick, detachable coiled cable, durable, removable dye sublimed PBT keycaps and IBM’s famous buckling-spring key switches. Here’s a simple diagram that illustrates how a buckling-spring key switch works:

IBM Buckling Spring Key Switch
Animated diagram of buckling spring key switch

Essentially the coil spring “buckles” under pressure, causing it strike the side of the key switch barrel. Simultaneously the buckled spring drives a pivoted rocker actuator or switch down to create a capacitive action, or in other words, turning the switch from “off” to “on”. These two actions—the buckling of the spring and the depressing of the bottom actuator—give buckling spring key switches their gorgeously unique sound and tactility.

Companies have produced similar(ish) key switches in spirit, like Cherry MX Blues and Blue Alps key switches, and they are sometimes compared to buckling springs. But nothing really comes remotely close to the unique sound or incredible tactility. There is no comparison.

As time went on, Model Ms were progressively cheapened as IBM opted for thinner materials. Also, the aesthetics of the keyboard changed slightly over the years. Then in 1991, IBM transitioned part of their manufacturing business including printers and keyboards to a company called Lexmark in Lexington, Kentucky. Lexmark continued making Model M keyboards under license until 1996, when the relationship ended.

Model M made by Lexmark
Model M made by Lexmark circa 1995

At that point, some of the Lexmark employees formed a new company called Unicomp. They bought the tooling and manufacturing equipment Lexmark had used to make Model Ms. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Unicomps are still manufactured to this day in Lexington Kentucky. You could say that Unicomps are Model M “clones,” but I really think they are real-deal Model Ms, albeit changed over years of design modification. Unicomp markets their keyboards as “the original Model M” and that’s essentially true.

So all of this history and discussion of legacy begs some very legitimate questions to the casual non-keyboard enthusiast? Like, who cares? The answer is because all of this makes the Unicomp a really, really unique, and interesting keyboard.

Review

Note: This review is for the Mac version of the Unicomp Spacesaver. There are some differences between the Mac and PC version, but I think this review will suffice for those thinking about buying either.

Note: for this review, I not only used this keyboard exclusively for 2 weeks prior, I also used this keyboard to write the review itself.

Upon unboxing the Spacesaver M, the first thing I noticed is the heft. The keyboard weighs in at a respectable 3 lbs 5oz. Not too shabby for a keyboard made in 2017. The brown shipping box has no identifying information other than the shipping labels and small Unicomp adhesive label with Unicomp’s logo, ship date, and part number.

Inside it’s the same. A thin piece of loose-fitting plastic wrap, a couple of cardboard inserts, a receipt and some basic information on how to troubleshoot shipping-induced issues. Mine came with additional blue keycaps in the box that I purchased separately. And while the packaging is sparse, it gets the job done. My keyboard had no noticeable damage from shipping and only one loose keycap. Super easy to reattach.

When I picked up the Spacesaver M, I immediately noticed the case felt like it was made of thin, cheap plastic. It squeaked and creaked with the slightest touch—It wasn’t best first impression, and honestly, with just a few additional screws Unicomp could probably fix this problem. As far as I can tell, the case is held together with 3 screws at the top, and probably some plastic clips on the bottom. And the bottom of the case is where the majority of the creaks come from. Once the Spacesaver M is sitting on your desk however, it feels solid, and the thinness of the case is basically a non-issue.

I also noticed a lot of “blemishes” in the plastic. There are shiny spots and depressions that look like Unicom’s tooling might be getting old or damaged. This has been noted by many reviewers in the past, and my keyboard certainly lived up to the Unicomp reputation for poor fit and finish.

There’s also a bizarre rectangle patch just below the spacebar which serves no apparent function. It looks like a vestigial component of previous model M that is no longer needed, but Unicomp never bothered to remove. Maybe someone can can explain to me what that is or why it’s there.

** Update: Geekhack user “csmertx” was kind enough explain the source of this mysterious rectangular patch. In his words, “…the rectangle is there because the Spacesaver M, Ultra Classic, and Endura Pro are assembled with the same casing. The latter model features a TrackPoint and LMB/RMB below the spacebar. Basically a vestige of M13 production.” Details can be found on Deskthority but essentially, it’s a relic of an old mouse button.

There’s a strange rectangular notch below spacebar that looks like a vestigial component that is no longer needed.

On the top right are a caps lock light and function light. Both are illuminated with attractive, bright blue LEDs, similar to what Topre uses on its Realforce keyboards. Caps lock and function lights are identified with the same label that also features Unicomp’s logo.

Unicomp logo badge
Shown is the Unicomp logo badge with Caps Lock and Function lights above.
Logo

I’ll preface this by saying I don’t normally fixate on logos, and I mostly feel that logo design can be very subjective. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. But I kinda feel obligated to talk about Unicomp’s logo. I’ve given this some serious consideration over two weeks it’s basically come down to: Either the Unicomp logo is the most bastard-ugly logo in the grand history logos, or it’s so ugly, it’s actually cool. I’ve considered some theories as to why the Unicomp logo looks the way it does.

Unicomp could be trying to say, “We’re keyboard manufacturers, not graphic designers. See? And, we’ll back it up with even uglier legends on our key caps, AND even more with incredibly bizarre caps lock and function lock symbols next to our logo. Or maybe they’re betting we’ll still buy their keyboards regardless of the logo. Or maybe Unicomp is just totally oblivious and don’t realize that they have an ugly logo, or just don’t really care. I’d love to have someone at Unicomp set the record straight on this matter.

All that being said, after staring at “Unicomp’s” blue unibrow, with that super-weird red dot eyeball, for almost two weeks, I have come to see it in a different light, and with a fonder eye. It now stares back at me and says, “I basically don’t give a fuck about appearances. It’s the inside that counts.” In the end, I respect that. Unicomp should sell logo t-shirts. I’d probably wear one.

Here is the Unicomp logo and lock lights.

On the bottom of the case are a couple of small rubber pads to prevent slipping, some small flip-out feet to adjust the height, a cheap adhesive label that looks like it was printed on a laser printer with serial number, and a very useful cable management system with “gutters” that allow the attached USB cable to extend from the right or left side of the keyboard. Nice touch.

The Spacesaver M’s small flip out feet and USB cable gutters
Layout

The full-size layout is well designed, with a few touches that will make Mac users very happy. First, the function keys go all the way up to F15. In my opinion there is no such thing as too many function keys. True, some keyboards, like Apple’s own full-size keyboards go all the way up to F19, but having 15 function keys is enough and makes the keyboard very useful. Other nice layout touches are the numpad with Equals, Clear, and small-ass Plus keys. Anyone who uses Excel understands how useful it is to have an Equals key on the numpad rather than having to hunt for the one next to Backspace.

Unicomp was also kind enough to have the proper Command, Option and Control keys in the right locations, as well as various media and OS X keys at the top function row. Lastly they included the semi-useful Eject key (who has anything to eject these days?), and placed the function key logically between Option and Control. All-in-all I’d say this is a legit Mac user keyboard, and I find it very straight forward and functional. It’s certainly not a PC keyboard that was poorly adapted to the Mac platform. It’s the real thing.

Keycaps

They key caps are excellent—some of the best around. Thick PBT plastic (around 1.69 mm in thickness) with dye sublimated legends. Because the keycaps are durable PBT, they presumably won’t yellow over time or wear with use as quickly as EPS. They are made from two pieces of interlocking plastic similar to the original Model Ms, illustrated below. The characters are sharp and crisp and I especially like the contrast against the white keys. Popping them out and replacing them is about as easy as it gets. Just use a wire puller and with minimal effort they snap out, and in agin.

Spacesaver M dye sublimated PBT keycaps in brilliant white with blue ANSI key mod
Spacesaver M dye sublimated PBT keycaps in brilliant white with blue ANSI key mod are super crisp and easy to read.

When I originally received my keyboard, some of the blue keycaps I ordered had lettering and legends that weren’t properly aligned. The worst ones were the Page Up and Page Down keys shown below. Unicomp is renowned for their customer service and they lived up to their reputation on this issue. One email with a photo was all it took to get replacement keycaps in the mail within a few days. Nice.

Key switches

I’ve spent some time talking about the original Model M key switches in the history section so I won’t go too much into the details again. As far as I can tell, these are pretty much the same as what the Model M used. For anyone who hasn’t typed on a buckling spring keyboard, I highly recommend trying one. While hard to describe, I will say the tactility and sound is beyond satisfying. Also, they’re very mechanical and very loud, so probably not the best for a shared office space. I believe Unicomp uses 60-70g springs in their key switches. Not the stiffest on the block, but they provide good resistance and allow fingers to rest on the keys without accidental key presses. Once depressed however, it’s near impossible not to bottom out. I think this is inherent in the buckling spring design. Because the actuator sits over rubber and plastic, bottoming out doesn’t feel harsh or sharp. Instead it’s pleasant and cushioned. And once released, the key rockets back up to the top as it resets itself in the chamber in a very satisfying way. Off-center key presses are zero problem with buckling spring switches. I couldn’t get keys to bind at all, no matter how much I tried.

Animated diagram of buckling spring key switch

Because of the unique sensation and long key travel, it took me a couple of hours to get used to typing on the Spacesaver M. At first, my cadence slowed down, partially due to the novelty of the sensation, and partially because each key was so much fun to press—like I was savoring the experience. But after a few days, I noticed my typing speed increased drastically, with fewer errors.

All-in-all, I’d say the key switches are probably the best feature of this keyboard, especially if you do a lot of typing. It’s the closest sensation to an old typewriter I’ve experienced from a modern keyboard. I’m not so sure I’d recommend this keyboard to gamers because of the long key travel, stiffness of the springs, and lack of N-key rollover. That being said, it’s no surprise that buckling spring key switches are still viable today, and I think they are probably the best new switch available on the market for typists, in terms of tactility, reliability, and smoothness.

Sound

Buckling springs are loud. I certainly wouldn’t use the Spacesaver M in a shared office environment, unless it in the company of typewriters or something. And while they aren’t the best absolute best sounding key switches I have ever heard (that title probably goes to complicated Orange Alps), they’re very near the top of my list. To be clear, it really sounds good. Because this keyboard sounds almost like a typewriter, I always feel like I should be in a smoky office environment from the 60s or something. Seriously, typing on this thing makes me want to smoke a cigarette. Cigarette anyone?

I have a theory on what makes a keyboard sound great. A lot of it has to do with the key switches (obviously), but a lot of it also has to do with case design, backplate design, key cap design, and materials used throughout. This makes it difficult to talk about key switches and sound in isolation. A keyboard should produce (in my opinion) a full range of sound to be the most pleasing to the ear, kind of like a pair of good speakers. In simple terms, that means balanced amounts of treble, midrange and bass. Whenever a keyboard produces only narrow frequencies of sound, the audio feedback is either one-dimensional and boring, or downright annoying. Greentech Blues, for example, make nothing but a high-pitched, loud plastic “tick” sound. My review of the Das Keyboard Professional 4 will spend some time discussing them in detail. Five minutes of listening to Greentech Blues and I’m ready to throw my keyboard through a window (or into the nearest incinerator). Good God. Similarly, silenced Topre boards can produce a bassy “thock” that can be a little boring at times. Yes, I know both of these statements are a little polarizing, but to each his own I guess. To me, the magic happens when there’s a full range.

The sound of the Spacesaver M is very satisfying, but it isn’t as deep or bassy as older Model M keyboards and I think it’s probably because of the thin plastics used for the case, and thinner metal backplate. There’s a hollowness or echo that you can hear. Nonetheless, it’s an overall good sound, and hours of typing doesn’t get tiresome or annoying. At the end of this review is a video of me typing on the Spacesaver M for reference.

Summary

Overall, I think the Spacesaver M is an exceptionally good keyboard, and a good value, despite some of its shortcomings. Sure, the thin, creaky, plastic case doesn’t inspire confidence, and the manufacturing quality control could be better. And yes, some the legends and symbols are downright ugly. But after a while, these shortcomings start to become strangely endearing in a weird sort of way. The Spacesaver M also has a lot of really good features that aren’t offered anywhere unless you buy used. A proper Mac layout, extra-thick dye sublimated PBT, keycaps, and a typing experience that is very fun and highly addictive… All for under $100. Plus, I think it’s really cool that Unicomp is keeping the Model M spirit alive, even if it has cut some corners along the way. Yes, you can go out and buy a used Model M, but they aren’t cheap, and they don’t have a completely modern layout, not to mention no USB connectivity. So bottom line, I would certainly recommending using one, especially for those who do a lot of typing and are OK with a lot of sound.

There are a few things that I think Unicomp could change that would make some really big improvements. For instance, a thicker, better made case would make a huge difference. I emailed them a while back suggesting that they make a premium version, with a nicer case but never received a response. At the very least, just adding some additional screws to the case would help. The addition of a detachable USB cable and some additional USB ports would be fantastic and probably wouldn’t add a whole lot of cost. Lastly, Unicomp should probably hire a graphic designer to spend a little more time on some of the key legends and super awkward Caps Lock and Function Lock light symbols. Heck I’d do it for free if they asked. Just don’t touch that Unicomp logo!

Thanks for reading my review. I hope it was informative, helpful and enjoyable. Below is a video of me typing on the Unicomp Spacesaver M.