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ATPM 11.01
January 2005



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Review: StudioBoard Mechanical Keyboard

by Michael Tsai,


Developer: Kensington

Price: $80 (list)

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.1.5

Trial: None

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.


Key Combinations

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.

Reader Comments (15)

Ed Williams · January 1, 2005 - 02:07 EST #1
Nice review of a necessary component, Michael. Especially since I'm always spilling various kinds of edibles and drinkables on my keyboard. (Apple's products seem to be very forgiving in that regard, btw.)

One must wonder why the Micro Connectors unit is no more. - Ed Williams
Karen Hughes · January 1, 2005 - 03:09 EST #2
Michael, the Return key layout matches my Apple Pro keyboard layout here in the UK - but I can certainly see the differences to the US layout.
While it would make the keyboard a more attractive proposition here, Kensington's European site doesn't yet feature the StudioBoard...
Craig Parks · January 1, 2005 - 10:37 EST #3
I'm still using our Micro Connectors keyboard. I still like it as much as I did before. I guess the only way to find another will be through exhaustive searches online, online auctions or yard sales, the way I found ours. I don't hate the new Apple Pro keyboard that my wife has with her Cube but I'd take the Micro Connectors over it any day.
Keep up the great articles,
aka: Grateful11

BTW: I did a search and still has them in Blueberry, Strawberry and Grape. They're not cheap but they are available.
Ron Alcasid · January 5, 2005 - 11:50 EST #4
I suggest you try MacAlly iceKey. I have had mine for a couple years and I love it. It has low profile keys like a laptop keyboard and mechanical key switches.
David Zatz · June 22, 2005 - 09:33 EST #5
I agree with your review...though I'd like to know more about this Micro Connectors keyboard you speak of.

I am returning an iceKey after being very disappointed with the tactile feel of the keys (rough rather than smooth) and the general feel - but if you really love laptop keyboards and don't mind the rough keys, I guess it's OK. It worked perfectly without drivers. guess I'll be replacing it with either the Micro Connectors or Kensington despite Matias' bad-mouthing of the Kensingtons on their web site.
Michael Tsai (ATPM Staff) · June 22, 2005 - 11:17 EST #6
I just reviewed the iceKey. On the one I have, the key surfaces are not rough at all. Also, it seems that the StudioBoard is no longer available for purchase.
shaun Murray · September 6, 2005 - 05:15 EST #7
It's a pity that Kensington have stopped selling these as they looked perfect for UK users. The layout is identical to a UK keyboard with only a little change.

The pound currency symbol replaced with hash over 3 and the backtick/tilde key which Apple stupidly placed down near the Z and shortened the left shift. The Kensington fixes that problem.

The TactilePro is very expensive in the UK and the layout odd. Plus I've not actually found one in a shop to try out. £90 or so for something that I may not like is too much.

I quite like my Bluetooth Apple Keyboard action but I seem to be able to type quicker than it sometimes with letters arriving in the wrong order on screen and you also have to hit the keys dead on centre for them to not stick on the mounts. Big keys like shift and enter annoy me a lot. If I've got writing to do, I actually prefer an old iBook.
derrick sinclair · August 23, 2006 - 20:02 EST #8
ione aka Qtronix makes mechanical keyboard with cherry mx mechanical switches and it reminds me the old IBM keyboard. tactile feeling. also i love this mechanical keyboard with a built in JUMBO TRACKBALL. I've been using it for over 5 years. Me and my wife just love they way how this keyboard was designed. Very heavy duty and reliable. Not many keyboard manufacturer makes good quality keyboard anymore. I'm those kind of guys who will pay more to get higher quality products rather than spending less for a cheapo.

for those who love Mechanical keyboard with Built in trackball, here is the link that was given me by the manufacturer.
Van · June 30, 2007 - 00:00 EST #9
I really like your site it is probably the coolest ever.
madmaxmedia · January 16, 2008 - 15:23 EST #10
Just wanted to add my feedback to the group-

I have now tried the Kensington Studioboard, the Apple Extended Keyboard, and the Micro Connectors keyboard.

The Kensington Studioboard and Micro Connector keyboard are very close IMO in action and sound. I would have kept my Kensington Studioboard except for the L-shaped return key. I ended up EBaying it, and found a Micro Connectors keyboard for much less ($1 plus shipping!) It's a blueberry one, so it doesn't look great (but is not so objectionable IMO considering its heritage and G3 iMac style- the black keys temper the fruitiness.) The overall build quality is as good as the Kensington, so I am very happy with it. If I found 2 or 3 at a garage sale for cheap, I would buy them all as backups.

The Apple Extended keyboard is the best of all 3 IMO. I haven't seen an Apple Extended keyboard that isn't yellowed by now, but as an old Mac user I like the retro look (and retro build quality.) The key action is similar to the others, but the sound is not as objectionable due to its great build quality (the others have sort of a ringing, hollow sound, and it seems from reviews that the Matias is even louder in this respect.)

Once you decide to shell out for a Griffin iMate (I found a used one for $10 so it was easy for me), the Apple Extended keyboard is a GREAT choice IMO for Mac users (PC users too, though they can also pick up a Model M.) I have not tried the Extended II, which I understand is similar but not exactly the same.


(BTW the new slim aluminium Apple keyboard is better than I thought it would be, much better than the previous mushy white keyboard. But it's still not a match for any of these 3 keyboards if you like a clacky mechanical mechanism keyboard.)
Maha · February 16, 2008 - 02:03 EST #11
Fantastic review. But have you ever tried the TVS Gold keyboards, that rule the market here in India. Quality and sweet clickety noise. I have been using one for now 13 years, and nothing ever comes in close comparison.
Deepak · August 9, 2008 - 12:59 EST #12
I love my TVS GOLD keyboard and bring a few with me whenever I go on a trip to India. They use Cherry mechnaical switches for their keys. The best keyboards I have ever worked with.
Paul Lane · December 3, 2008 - 19:28 EST #13
Micro Connectors still has plenty of those keyboards in various flavors.

Give them a call. 800-333-2113
Raj · July 3, 2009 - 15:21 EST #14
What's surprising is that premium keyboards like Diatec Filco and Das Keyboard sell of around or more than $100 whereas the TVS keyboards which use the same cherry switches (blue - clicky) cost less than $30 and are as good as ...we....cherry switches. If you can get your hands on the TVS Gold in India, go for it. Buying them is as easy as ordering from any good computer parts shop (not staples, chroma, or reliance). In Mumbai, pretty much every shop on Lamington road sells them. I like keyboards and own both Filco and TVS Gold, the differences are purely cosmetic.
Krishnnarjun · July 4, 2009 - 06:22 EST #15
TVS Gold (Idia) Keyboard is really class and better than studio board mechanical keyboard. i have used both and TVS Gold is more value formoney. tactile sound and big enter key (big foot) make this to stand out.

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