Programming Note: This site will be on break through the holidays and return in January. Be sure to subscribe or check back for updates!

Review: Matias USB 2.0 Keyboard

by on January 2, 2006

What happens when you take an already fairly-good keyboard and combine it with a USB 2.0 extension cable? Well, in most cases you’d have some tangled wires and something that makes a hard-to-reach USB 2.0 port easier to access.

Fortunately, Matias’s execution of the $40 USB 2.0 Keyboard is a bit more elegant. Based on the OS X Keyboard, the USB 2.0 Keyboard adds $10 to the price, a USB 2.0 dock, and a USB 2.0 connector. The price is similar to Apple’s keyboard, but it has some distinct advantages in its layout and other features. The layout is slightly different, with extra keys scattered in more useful locations. Matias also brings the printing of the option-key characters on the keys to this model, a feature found on its siblings.

Matias USB 2.0 Keyboard
Matias USB 2.0 Keyboard

Matias USB 2.0 Keyboard
USB 2.0 Dock

Matias USB 2.0 Keyboard
Option Characters Printed on Keys

Matias USB 2.0 Keyboard
Rear USB Ports

Matias USB 2.0 Keyboard
USB Connectors

Just like the OS X Keyboard, the USB 2.0 Keyboard uses the rather common rubber dome keyswitches (similar to the switches found on most PC keyboards and Apple’s own current keyboards). The switches provide a good tactile feel without feeling too mushy.

Back to connecting the keyboard—it has two USB connectors on the single cable coming out of the back. What this means is that you have to have two USB ports free on your computer – one for the keyboard itself and one for the USB 2.0 dock located above the F11 key. Fortunately, only the USB 2.0 dock connector needs a USB 2.0 port, so if you have an older computer, you won’t need to tie up all your USB 2.0 ports. Furthermore, both can be used with USB 1.1, but the dock won’t operate as fast.

There are also two USB ports located on the back for low-speed (USB 1.1) devices, just like Apple’s own keyboards and the OS X Keyboard. These are ideal for mice, joysticks, and things like that. The USB 2.0 dock on top is perfect for iPods, digital cameras, flash drives, and card readers. Early rumors said the product was to be called the “ShuffleBoard” since the most obvious use of it would be for iPod shuffles, but it seems like legal issues might have thwarted that, resulting in the somewhat boring name.

The keyboard is a cinch to set up — on any Mac with OS X, it is plug and play. The USB 2.0 Keyboard also works with Windows, although the layout of the Alt and Windows keys is reversed. Matias sells either an all-white Mac-specific one (which has the option-key characters printed on it), or a more generic black version for both Mac and Windows.

The feel of the USB 2.0 Keyboard is much like many of the better PC keyboards. In our tests, the Apple keyboard and Matias’s Tactile Pro still felt slightly more comfortable, but the USB 2.0 Keyboard is still perfectly adequate for typing for long periods of time.

As noted earlier, the USB 2.0 Keyboard has some features which make it unique. On the Mac-specific version, option-key characters are printed directly on the keys, eliminating the need to try to find Key Caps or a similar program. Also include are volume adjustment and optical drive eject keys. A third Control key is located where the Caps Lock key normally is, while Caps Lock has been moved to the right side of the space bar, between the Option and Control keys. An extra Tab key replaces the Clear key on the numeric keypad, perfect for those who do a lot of number crunching. Finally, the symbols commonly used for modifier keys (control, option, shift, etc.) are printed on the keys as well.

A matching mouse is available for an additional $10, although we did not get a chance to try it. Also, our only complaint is that the extra-thick cable coming out of the back of the keyboard is too thick to really snake under it using the grooves, meaning that it can only go out the back-right corner.

Overall, the USB 2.0 Keyboard is a pretty good product. Its layout, while not for everyone, is quite handy for certain tasks, and it’s a pretty comfortable keyboard to type on. Although comparable to Apple’s keyboard, it’s worth a look for its additional features and unique dock.

The One-Sentence Verdict™

The USB 2.0 Keyboard does a fairly good job of meshing the OS X Keyboard and a USB extension cable/iPod shuffle dock, but some might find the extra $10 expense a bit much for convenience.

Pros: USB 2.0 dock, comfortable, good tactile feedback, Option symbols printed on keys, flip-down legs

Cons: Cable thickness causes some problems, ties up two USB ports

Rating: 9/10

The Facts

Product: USB 2.0 Keyboard
Company: Matias
Platform: Mac/Win
Price: $39.95

This post has been filed in Input Devices, Reviews