I'm no stranger to Das Keyboards. The company, despite its Germanic-sounding name, is based in Austin, Texas. No matter, they make far and away the best keyboards I've ever used. I've owned three of the loud, clicky models that remind me of the first IBM keyboards. Your neighbors three houses away will know that you're working on your computer if you use a Das Keyboard. The only one I don't recommend is the Mac keyboard; it doesn't have all the keys a Mac uses, such as the ones to call up Mission Control and Launch Pad. It does, however, have the same clicky mechanical keys, laser-etched key caps and a half-life of tens of millions of keystrokes.
Along comes a radically different new model, the 5Q, which is the first "smart" keyboard that connects to the internet. In my frustrating tests, I couldn't think of one reason why a keyboard that connects to the cloud is any better than a keyboard that simply produces text or other visual characters.
Like all Das Keyboards, this one weighs in at 3 pounds. It won't move around on your desk even if you zap it with a cattle prod. Like the other models, the 5Q comes with a 6-foot braided USB cable. The keys are backlit, and their colors can be changed, even one key at a time. Some of the keys are difficult to read, and unless you're a touch typist, the number keys are in a font reminiscent of ancient computer punch cards.
There are four video tutorials that move way too quickly to explain how to program the keys, and there are odd and confusing ways to make applets, which are assigned to the keys. For example, to program the W key for weather forecasts, I had to create an applet in the software that I downloaded. A virtual keyboard called the Dashboard is mirrored in a window on your PC or Mac's monitor. When the W key flashes, there's a new forecast, which is displayed on the Dashboard. This is not convenient at all. I could program my email accounts to do the same, despite the ads that claim the 5Q will bring order to our lives.
As I got into the software of this mechanical keyboard, my confusion and frustration reached the boiling point. Tech support is by email and seemed to consist of sending them screen shots. I asked why my F12 key was blinking without reason and explained that sending a screen shot of that would be a waste of time. A written manual would be a great help.
Components of the software include Marketplace and other head-scratching modes. Commands are created in programs with names like Zapier and IFTTT.
I spent two days at the keyboard and could never figure out why an otherwise smart company would make learning how to use its product so difficult. To be fair, I did manage to get weather and stock symbol features to work. That's time I could have spent writing a half-dozen other columns. My F12 key is still blinking as I write this, and I can't figure out why. I had programmed my F7 key to provide updates for my vast finances, but each time I accidentally press it, the Word Spell Check pops up. The correct way is to hover the mouse pointer over the key on the virtual keyboard.
I think the Das Keyboard folks in Texas are on to something with a keyboard that has the potential to give users only those things – such as stock quotes – that they really want. But the 5Q's software feels and acts like a beta version. The software has to be simplified so that it's more user-friendly and less nerdy. The learning curve is too steep. For a complicated product like the 5Q, there should be live tech support.
The 5Q costs $249, as opposed to $169 for the top-of-the line non-cloud keyboard. For more information: www.daskeyboard.com.
The 5Q was developed thanks to a Kickstarter campaign. But for me, it's a nonstarter.
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