Das Keyboard 4C

Posted On 03/31/2015 By In Keyboard Reviews

REVIEW: Das Keyboard 4C Ultimate

Page Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Typing Test
  3. Packaging, Unboxing, and Contents
  4. External Build
  5. Internal Build
  6. Switches
  7. Layout and Function Keys
  8. Summary & Conclusion
  9. Full Gallery
  10. Where to Buy

Introduction

When Das Keyboard (Metadot) announced the 4C back in January, I was happy to hear the news. The Das 4C is the company’s first entry into the compact tenkeyless market, which has really taken off in the last few years. It’s an exciting new product for them. Plus, my very first mechanical keyboard was a Das that I still have to this day, so I have a soft spot for the brand.

Like all Das Keyboards since the Das III, the 4C comes in both Professional (legends) and Ultimate (blank) variants. I reviewed the Ultimate, because to my mind it’s the most authentic Das experience. Metadot was the first company to popularize the idea of a completely blank keyboard back in 2005 with the original rubber dome Das. Since then, jet black, blank keyboards have been their niche, so I wanted to honor the legacy with this review.

The Das 4C is currently only available with brown tactile switches–but they’re Greetech copies, not original Cherry. (Metadot is by no means the only company to switch to Cherry clones; many mechanical keyboard manufacturers have done the same since the Cherry MX switch patent expired last year). It’s also packing the same high-quality anodized aluminum top case found on the full-size Das Keyboard 4. The 4C is designed for both typists and gamers alike.

At a ~$140 street price, is it a worthy addition to the Das line? Read on to find out.

Typing Test

Packaging, Unboxing, and Contents

Given the Das 4C’s avant-garde design, it comes as no real surprise that Metadot went the extra mile to ensure a really nice presentation. Simply put, the Das 4C’s packaging is the nicest of all the keyboards I’ve reviewed to date. The box is sleek and very much resembles the MacBook/iPad box design. It’s slightly off-white, which contrasts nicely with the solid black keyboard inside. The texture is smooth with a slightly matte texture, which feels clean and encourages touch and interaction. I found myself brushing off the box several times while opening it, just to feel the smooth, cool surface against my hands. When the keyboard is inside, the box feels nice and tight with minimal hollow spaces, save for the compartment where the fixed cable is stored. If you’ve read other reviews on KeyChatter, you know that I’m a big fan of well-designed packaging, and I really like the materials used here.

 

Although the box has an overall minimalist aesthetic, it strikes a good balance of minimalism and informativeness. While the top panel features only a photograph and product name, the rear and bottom panels are filled with information about the keyboard’s features:

  • Mechanical key switches: with gold-plated contacts

  • Blank means blank: no key inscriptions, nothing, nada, zilch, zero

  • Extra long 2-meter USB cable: to keep your desk neat and tidy (6.5 foot)

  • Sleek design: compact 87-key (US); 88-key (Europe)

  • Anodized aluminum top panel: for improved durability

  • Full N-Key Rollover: for faster gaming and typing

  • Windows disable key: for better gaming

  • Two-port USB 2.0 hub: for you USB key and your phone

  • Media and special function keys: for quick access

Das Keyboard 4C box

“Brown Switch”

I’m on the fence about Metadot’s marketing of the switches. The box and marketing copy just say “Brown Switch, Soft Tactile Typing Experience.” Well… OK. That’s technically true, but of course, everyone expects “Brown switch” to mean “Cherry MX Brown” and that’s not what’s inside the 4C. Instead, Metadot ditched genuine Cherry switches in favor of Greetech MX clones.

Das Keyboard 4C Greetech switches

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not interested in condemning the Greetechs just because they’re not Cherry; I’d rather be meritocratic. Yes, they’re probably cheaper for Metadot (in addition to shortcutting Cherry’s apparently huge order backlog), but I’m fine with that if they stand up to scrutiny. That’s just good business sense.

The part that bugs me is the lack of full disclosure. It’s fine if Metadot doesn’t think it beneficial to emphasize the Greetech brand name. But by completely avoiding it and only using the generic “Brown switch” designation, it feels like they’re intentionally hiding something from the buyer, and that leaves me a little salty. I don’t believe a company is ethically required to disclose every tiny detail of a product’s design–companies exist to sell their products, not to disclaim them into oblivion–but in my opinion, switches are a pretty significant feature of a mechanical keyboard and I would have liked to see a cursory mention of Greetech somewhere in the marketing copy. Anyway…

Inside the box

Internally, the keyboard is well-cushioned by cardboard spacers and styrofoam inserts. You just get the keyboard with its fixed USB cable, a single pamphlet, and “7h3 f007b4r rul35” — a plastic ruler that doubles as a magnetic wedge to put the keyboard on an incline. The ruler is an interesting novelty item in place of more traditional flip-out feet, but it could have been executed better. The f007b4r that came with my unit was slightly concave, which, combined with fairly weak magnets, made for a less-than-satisfactory experience. It does clip on and stay in place under normal keyboard use, but it feels like an afterthought. It’s also very difficult to read the ruler’s legends, which are the same color as the ruler but just slightly raised. For anyone even slightly hard of seeing, it would be very difficult to use. I also have to wonder why Metadot made it dark red instead of black like the rest of the keyboard.

External Build

Case

The bottom portion of the Das 4C’s case, where the PCB sits, is plastic like most mechanical keyboards. It’s topped off by a ~1.8mm thick black anodized aluminum sheet, which Metadot first introduced on the full-size Das 4. It has a matte appearance that matches the keycaps, and is emblazoned with a black-on-black Das Keyboard logo in the upper-left-hand cutout. It feels dry, slightly rough, and cool to the touch. Overall it’s a massive upgrade over the old, fingerprint-prone shiny and glossy plastic top case found on the Das III series. It’s attractive. I like it and I think it’s probably worth the extra $20 or so that Metadot is factoring into the price.

The aluminum top case on my review unit does have an imperfection. It’s slightly warped in the front left-hand corner:

Das Keyboard 4C bent top case

Had I purchased this keyboard myself, this imperfection would not have been significant enough for me to return or exchange it. It’s only noticeable if I specifically look for it. I’d say it’s within reasonable tolerances of what you’d find in a $140 product.

The 4C’s case is hugely resistant to the torsional flex test. Grabbing it with both hands and twisting produces virtually no movement or creaking. Even very well-built plastic tenkeyless keyboards like the KUL-ES87 have considerably more flex than the 4C, so in this regard, it’s well ahead of its peers.

Unlike the KUL and many other boards, the Das 4C doesn’t have any DIP switches for key swapping or other user-configurable features.

The USB cable is fixed, and is a normal rubber-coated cable, not a nicer braided cable like on the Keycool 104 RGB I recently reviewed. It has a robust-feeling strain relief connector that should effectively prevent any internal damage due to twisting or pulling on the cable.

The 4C does not rattle at all when forcefully tapped anywhere on the case.

Reverse side (rubber pads, feet, etc.)

The underside of the Das 4C is nice and simple, just the way I like it. All screws are recessed into the plastic and painted black to match the case. It features 4 anti-skid feet which work well, and has beveled/chamfered edges that complement the keyboard’s overall design. As I mentioned above, there are no flip-out feet–instead, the two forward rubber pads are shaped to accommodate the f007b4r ruler/incline wedge. A small silver sticker laser etched aluminum plaque is placed in the center–a nice upgrade over a plain sticker–as well as a small and easily removable “QC PASS” sticker.

Keycaps

The Das 4C’s keycaps are OEM profile thin ABS. The one thing that stands out about them, other than the total blankness of the Ultimate model, is that they have a matte, not glossy, appearance. This matches the matte appearance of the aluminum top case, and is a change from the glossier caps used on Das Keyboards past. Of course, all keycaps are prone to “shininess” with use–particularly ABS. I did find that the 4C’s caps changed in sheen and texture during the course of my review.

None of the caps developed outright shiny spots during my time with them, but I suspect they would’ve with more use. In general I’m less concerned with keycap shine than most keyboard enthusiasts. My general attitude is that shine is a normal result of use that needn’t cause excessive consternation. That said, shine on 4C keycaps is bound to stand out more than usual since it directly contrasts with the matte case. My recommendation to any Das 4C owners who hate shine is to pick up a set of Leopold thick PBT keycaps from eBay. They’re usually available blank or with legends (some options sold out at time of writing), and make excellent shine-resistant replacements for the Das’s stock caps.

The Das 4C Professional, which has printed legends, features a new printing process for Das that uses “silk-screened legends with clear UV hard coating” for longevity. Since I reviewed the blank Ultimate model, I wasn’t able to evaluate the quality of the printing compared to that of my old Das III Professional. Though, despite the “zip, zilch, zero” proclamation on the keyboard’s box, it’s not completely devoid of legends. The media keys do have black-on-black side printed legends:

 

USB Hub

The Das 4 features an internal USB 2.0 hub with two ports on the left side of the board, where the case protrudes. They’re unpowered ports, which means that they’ll work for flash drives, mice dongles, and even phones, but won’t operate devices like unpowered hard drives, and won’t charge anything quickly. During my tests, I found that both ports worked as expected with no outstanding issues. The left-hand placement might be awkward for any right-handed mouse user who wants to plug his/her mouse into the 4C.

Note that the Das 4C does not have any USB 3.0 pass-through ports, unlike the full-size Das 4.

One consequence of the USB hub placement is that it makes the Das 4C, which already has wide bezels, considerably wider than average tenkeyless Cherry MX keyboards. Observe:

Das Keyboard 4C vs KUL ES-87 width

Internal Build

Das requested that I not disassemble the 4C loaner unit for this review, so I was unable to evaluate the 4C’s internal build quality.

Switches

The Das Keyboard 4C uses Greetech Brown switches, which are Cherry MX Brown copies. These are what we call “tactile” switches–they have a noticeable bump to provide sensory feedback midway through the 4mm stroke, but not the loud auditory click found in Cherry MX Blues (though, the sound of the keycaps hitting the switch/plate still makes a considerable amount of noise). As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I’m happy to give credit where credit’s due, even to frequently maligned Cherry MX clone switches. So far, it seems that Kailh has taken the lead among clone switches, so it’s interesting that Metadot opted for the relatively unknown Greetech.

So how do they compare to genuine Cherry MX Browns?

Being as meritocratic as possible, I can’t say they’re an improvement. While they feel very similar, they are scratchier and less consistent. Take a look at this video, which demonstrates how different a few contiguous switches are:

It’s normal for switches to sound different depending on their placement on the board, just due to normal resonance issues, but in the Greetechs I hear inconsistencies with the springs and stems. For example, the spring in the down arrow is nearly completely silent and smooth, while the springs in the other two keys tested above make considerably more noise and feel scratchier. This isn’t a major problem in my opinion, as this isn’t noticeable while typing. However, it’s an indication that the Greetechs are lower quality than original Cherry switches, or even Kailhs. It’s not a night-and-day difference, and overall the switches still feel basically the same as MX Browns when typing, but like I said–they can’t be considered an improvement.

The bigger issue with the switches in the 4C is not the slight inconsistencies in switch sound and feel, but rather the PING. Holy cow–this board pings a lot. By ping, I mean that each keystroke produces an echoey, reverberating bell-like resonance that persists at least a full second after the keystroke. You can easily hear the ping in the typing test at the top of the page–just turn up the volume or use headphones if you don’t hear it right away.

To be fair, I’m not sure the Greetechs are truly the culprit–it could be the 4C’s case. I would’ve liked to open the 4C and stuff it with damping material to see if it made a difference, but as I mentioned, Metadot asked me not to open the keyboard during my review. For what it’s worth, ping isn’t exclusive to the Das 4C–it’s a well-documented issue in some other boards, especially the Filco Majestouch 2. The upshot, though, is that long typing sessions on the Das 4C can get pretty grating when you’re in a very quiet environment. I wish it weren’t so pingy, because otherwise it’s a nice board to type on.

That all said, I never experienced a single functionality issue with the switches. They work exactly as expected from a functional standpoint.

Metadot says that the Blue switch / “clicky” version of the Das 4C will be available in the “coming months.”

Layout and Function Keys

The Das 4C has a fully standard ANSI key layout, which means it’s compatible with any modern Cherry MX replacement keycap set. If you’re picking up a Das 4C and want a keyset to go with it, I highly suggest joining the current KeyChatter – Massdrop joint Triumph Adler group buy.

As a tenkeyless keyboard with no numberpad, the Das 4C saves desk space and reduces arm/shoulder abduction at the cost of data input efficiency. I’m a big fan of tenkeyless keyboards, and prefer to use a separate dedicated numpad when necessary. Most of the time, the desk space savings of a TKL board outweigh the lack of a numpad. Of course, if you rely on your numpad all the time, you’re looking at the wrong board altogether and will be better served by the full-size Das 4.

Function keys include:

  • Fn+Esc: Put computer to sleep
  • Fn+F1: Mute
  • Fn+F2: Volume down
  • Fn+F3: Volume up
  • Fn+F5: Previous track
  • Fn+F6: Pause/play
  • Fn+F7: Next track
  • Fn+F11: Toggle NKRO
  • Fn+F12: Disable Windows key (for gaming)

All function keys work in Windows and OSX. Note that the Sleep key must be held for 2-3 seconds to work. The NKRO mode works in Windows, OSX, Linux, and Chrome OS.

Summary & Conclusion

Overall, the Das Keyboard 4C is a competent tenkeyless board with a unique, distinctly Das design. It’s distinguished by its aluminum top case, which is an unusual feature for a stock TKL board, only found on a handful of competing boards like the Deck Francium Pro and Ducky Mini. The aluminum top case seriously improves the keyboard’s strength and rigidity, and helps justify the ~$140 price. It may be the most robust TKL on the market from the perspective of case strength and overall build quality. That said, the Greetech MX Brown copies can’t be considered an improvement over the originals, and the board’s greatest weakness is its pingy typing sound. I can’t say whether it’s the switches or general resonance of the case, but to me it gets grating pretty fast. In a louder office environment or with music playing, you won’t notice it at all, though. If you don’t really care about the design or the aluminum case, you might be better served by looking at the cheaper KUL-ES87 which comes with original Cherry switches and less ping.

Pros

  • Nice anodized aluminum top plate; the board is a tank
  • First tenkeyless design from iconic Das brand
  • No functionality issues; everything works as intended
  • Available as both Professional (legends) and Ultimate (blank)
  • Great packaging
  • Foot “bar” doubles as a ruler
  • NKRO on all OSes
  • USB 2.0 hub (2 ports)
  • Aluminum top plate resists fingerprints very well
  • Currently only available with Brown “soft tactile” switches
  • TKL design saves desk space (at expense of numpad)

Cons

  • Typing sound is very pingy
  • $140 street price is on the high end of the price spectrum
  • Greetech MX clones seem to be less consistent than original MX Browns, though to be fair, they function fine and feel nearly identical
  • Lack of marketing transparency with regard to switches
  • Included foot bar/ruler doesn’t match rest of the keyboard, is hard to read, and has weak magnets
  • My unit had very slight warping in the aluminum top case
  • No DIP switches
  • Fixed USB cable, and not braided
  • Stock keycaps seem prone to wear
  • No USB 3.0 as found on the full-size Das 4
  • Blue switch / “clicky” version coming soon

Final score: 6.8/10

Full Gallery

Where to Buy

Tags : , , , ,

About

Aaron

3 Responses

  1. They made a risky move going with unknown clone switches. Even made worse by not mentioning it clearly in their specs, because It forces every honest reviewer to have to emphasize that these aren’t cherry switches to make sure people don’t get cheated.

    Otherwise it looks like a nice board and the only TKL with an USB hub.
    Cheers!

  2. Aaron

    In my opinion, manufacturers should own it when they go w/ clones. If you truly believe they’re as good as Cherries, stand behind the decision w/ full force.

    I’d like to test Greetechs in another board to see whether they have the same pinginess.

Leave a Reply