Review: Tenkeyless Clicky Keyboards

Mechanical keyboards are addictive.

I think I have a problem. But I’m quitting now. Once you’ve acclimated to the tactile feedback and the clickety clack, typing on anything else doesn’t feel (or sound) the same.

Earlier this year I spent a nerdy amount of time testing and comparing the three most popular Mechanical Keyboards for the Mac. I landed on the Das Keyboard as the winner and my preferred keyboard for typing.

My Clicky Keyboard conclusion ended thusly:

If you too want to adorn your desk with an ugly keyboard — one with a loud personality and which increases typing productivity — then I recommend the Das Keyboard. I prefer both the tactile feel and the sound of the blue Cherry MX switches, and though I find the Das to be the ugliest of the bunch, a serious typist knows you shouldn’t be looking at your keyboard while you’re typing.

I’ve been typing away on the Das every day for the past 6 months, but there has always been one thing in particular which bugs: the size.

Every time I’d reach for my Magic Trackpad I was reminded of how big the Das is. Aside from improved aesthetics, the only thing that could make the Das Keyboard any better would be the removal of its number pad — a tenkeyless Das would be a dream.

Last month, at the recommendation of several readers, I bought a tenkeyless Leopold with Blue Cherry MX switches. These are the same switches in use by my Das, and though the Leopold is technically intended for Windows use, a bit of tweaking in OS X’s System Preferences has it working fine with my Mac (see below for more on that).

The Leopold

I used the Leopold for a month, and as a keyboard I liked it pretty well. I especially liked having the Magic Trackpad back in the same zip code as the rest of my rig.

But when compared to the Das Keyboard, however, I find the Leopold to be slightly inferior in certain areas:

  • The Leopold has an ever-so-slight ring from a few keys that you can hear if it’s quiet in the room and you’re really pounding away. I hardly ever notice it, but sometimes my ear catches it.

    This was perhaps my biggest gripe with the Matias Tactile Pro. It was a fine keyboard and felt great to type on, but nearly every key press brought with it a slight ring. The Das Keyboard does not ring.

  • The Leopold’s key action is not as “quick” or “snappy” as my Das. Technically this is not an issue of inferiority at all — it’s just a difference. But I’ve grown used to (and apparently fond of) the way the Das clicks.

However, there are things about the Leopold which I find to be superior to the Das, not least of which being the smaller footprint:

  • Obviously the Leopold is smaller because it is tenkeyless, but it’s smaller in other ways as well: (a) the bezel around the whole keyboard is thinner, and (b) the keyboard has a slightly shorter stature (that is to say, the top of the space bar is closer to the top of my desk).

  • The Leopold is cheaper by about $35. But you cannot return it unless you get a DOA unit.

I suppose the best way to compare the two is that when using my Das I was frequently bothered by how far away the Magic Trackpad was. However, when using the Leopold, I rarely ever think about how it types differently.

The Filco Ninja Majestouch-2 Tenkeyless

Not being completely satisfied with the Leopold, I decided to give one more keyboard a try. (After trying and testing 4 mechanical keyboards so far, what’s one more? Right?)

And so I ordered the Filco Ninja Majestouch-2 Tenkeyless.

It’s “Ninja” because the key caps have the lettering on the front side instead of the top, which I think looks awesome. And I made sure to get the one with Cherry MX Blue switches.

Filco has a great reputation for their keyboards. Part of the reason I didn’t go with the Filco over the Leopold in the first place was because a few of the reviews I’d read said the Filco rings a bit. But there is no ring. At least with the model I bought.

The Filco has a high-quality build and the same “quick” typing action like the Das. Moreover, it has the small footprint and thinner bezel like the Leopold (the Das looks like a boat when pulled out next to the Filco). It’s the most expensive of the three (about $20 more than the Das and $50 more than the Leopold), but it’s worth it — the Filco Ninja is superior in every way that’s important to me.

In short: the Filco Ninja is the best keyboard I’ve used yet. This is my new keyboard, and I’m done trying others.

Aside Regarding the Windows Keys

Part of the reason I didn’t originally review any tenkeyless keyboards was because (so far as I know) there are none made specifically for the Mac.

Both the Leopold and the Filco are Windows keyboards. Basically all this means is that the Command and Option keys are flip-flopped — both physically on the keyboard itself and within software.

Swapping the physical keys is easy. The Filco comes with a key cap puller; Elite Keyboards sells one for cheap. This little tool makes it a piece of cake to easily change any key on your keyboard.

Swapping the Filco Keys

And flip-flopping the keys in software is easily done from System Preferences → Keyboard → Keyboard → Modifier Keys.

Adjusting the Modifier Keys in OS X System Prefs

* * *

So, which mechanical keyboard should you get? It ultimately just comes down to the question of the number pad.

  • If you want a number pad — or if you don’t care either way — go for the Das. It’s Mac-specific, high quality, and a bit cheaper than the Filco.

  • If you don’t want a number pad, go for the Filco Ninja. It’s the best-looking of the bunch, it’s of equal quality as the Das, and it’s easy to set up to work on your Mac.

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