Review: StudioBoard Mechanical Keyboard
Price: $80 (list)
Requirements: Mac OS X 10.1.5
When I reviewed the Tactile Pro keyboard, I explained how Mac keyboards have changed over the years and why good keyboards matter. Many people prefer keyboards with mechanical key switches (rather than membranes), yet few companies still make them. My USB Mac keyboard of choice has long been the Micro Connectors flavored keyboard. However, this keyboard has an older key layout (sans volume and eject keys), styling from the “transparent Mac” era, and is no longer being manufactured. If you want to get a new Mac keyboard today, what are your options?
The Tactile Pro, introduced about a year ago, is still being built and seems to be popular. Although I wasn’t entirely happy with the Tactile Pro’s feel, I was nonetheless very happy that Matias had decided to build it. It was seemingly the only non-membrane keyboard, and I thought it was far superior to all its competition. However, there is actually a second mechanical Mac keyboard: the Kensington StudioBoard. Anyone who’s serious about Mac keyboards should consider both.
The StudioBoard and Tactile Pro look almost identical. Both are made of white and clear plastic and resemble the Apple Pro Keyboard that shipped with the iMac G4. They don’t look quite as slick as Apple’s own products, but they’re much better than the other third-party keyboards. There are only two cosmetic differences between the StudioBoard and the Tactile Pro. First, the keys on the Tactile Pro are marked to show which characters and symbols are available when you hold down Option or Option-Shift. Since I do not find these markings useful, I prefer the StudioBoard’s less cluttered look. Second, the Tactile Pro is branded on its spacebar. The StudioBoard has a blank spacebar, and the Kensington logo is placed, more tastefully, above the F15 and volume keys.
The StudioBoard and Tactile Pro have the same keys, but the StudioBoard has a non-standard layout. Normally, Mac keyboards have a short and wide Return key just to the right of the apostrophe, and below the bracket keys and the backslash. The StudioBoard’s Return key is tall and narrow, and the backslash key is situated between it and the apostrophe. If you’re used to the regular Mac layout, you’ll at first find yourself accidentally typing backslashes. I didn’t find it hard to adjust to the StudioBoard’s layout, but I wouldn’t recommend it for people who need to switch among different machines and keyboards throughout the day.
The StudioBoard that I used had a defect. If I held down the left Command and Option keys and pressed F (for instance, to start a Google search in Safari), nothing happened. Command-Option-D and other similar combinations worked, as did Command-Option-F when using one or more of the Command and Option keys on the right side of the keyboard. Kensington’s technical support replied within two days, saying that this is not a problem with all StudioBoards and that I could contact the reseller to set up an exchange. I did not notice any such defects in the Tactile Pro that I used.
ATPM reader Paul Haddad has both a Tactile Pro and a StudioBoard and reports that both have problems with certain (different) key combinations. (Unlike Haddad, I did not find that either keyboard slid around or that the keys on the Tactile Pro wobbled.)
Since the StudioBoard and Tactile Pro share the same case design and have similar looking keys, I was surprised to find that they feel and sound quite different. Although it’s pretty good, I think that the Tactile Pro’s action is too tight, and a bit uneven. Sometimes pushing a key requires a bit more pressure than I’m expecting, and sometimes a key doesn’t seem to spring back fast enough. This prevents me from sustaining a good typing rhythm. Also, the Tactile Pro is extremely loud and, in addition to clacking (which doesn’t bother me), the keys make a high-pitched ringing sound that I find very distracting.
In contrast, the Micro Connectors keyboard is not as stiff and not as loud (though it is loud compared to any membrane keyboard).
The StudioBoard feels almost exactly like the Micro Connectors. The tightness and springiness seem more even and predictable. For me, the typing is comfortable and efficient. The StudioBoard’s clacking is slightly louder than the Micro Connectors’, but it is much quieter than the Tactile Pro. The sound has a higher pitch. The Micro Connectors and the StudioBoard also make a ringing sound, but it’s much quieter than the Tactile Pro’s and it did not bother me.
Both the StudioBoard and the Tactile Pro are far superior to Apple’s offerings. Fortunately, although the two keyboards look similar, they type differently. I think most people will strongly prefer one or the other. The Tactile Pro is a bit more expensive, but some people will like the markings on its keys and its tighter feel. Personally, I think the StudioBoard looks and types better than the Tactile Pro. I only wish it had a standard Return key.