Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Matias Quiet Pro Review

TL;DR  Matias Quiet Pro is a mechanical keyboard for PC and Mac based on customised alps mechanical switch technology. It's more tactile than Cherry MX Blue but as quiet as the MX Black. Can order online and shipping cost to Malaysia is just US$15!
We have many threads in lowyat.net on mechanical keyboard club. I think it is version 15 now. So, I think there is a vibrant community here who loves mechanical keyboard. I have also spoken to a few people here. Many have heard of Matias keyboard but there are not much discussion about the keyboard here. Most of the popular discussions centered around popular brands that are readily available here such as Razer, SteelSeries, Filco, Ducky, Rosewill. And most of these are Cherry MX switches.
Matias has been around for years - I believe all the way back in 90s, so it is an established company. Yet it is still relatively unknown here maybe because their main target market, in the earlier years (and even now, I guess) are the Apple user base. Their flagship product, Matias Tactile Pro (which is now in it's 4th revision) is inspired by the Apple Extended Keyboard, which was Apple's mechanical keyboard for the Macintosh from years ago. Matias website even called it the "best keyboard Apple ever made rises again". They had a strong presence in the Mac market. Like the Apple Extended Keyboard, the Matias mechanical keyboard is based on alps switch (*1)
So, I received a Matias Quiet Pro keyboard a couple of weeks ago. Quiet Pro is the silent version of Tactile Pro and while Tactile Pro is Mac only, Quiet Pro is available for the PC. I have used an alps switch base keyboard for 20 years - this was the keyboard that came with my first Acer PC running a intel 486DX processor. It was ancient and I have upgraded my PC many times but have not replaced the keyboard because I couldn't find something that is better. I didn't realize that it was mech keyboard then and that there are other mech keyboards. Such ignorance was bliss. Also, in my first job, I have been using the IBM Model M keyboard for 3 years, so I remember how it was using a great mechanical keyboard.
In the past few months, I am looking to replace this Acer mechanical because I am using Windows 8 and I am fed up with the lack of Windows key in the Acer keyboard. At the same time, I have a friend who sold me a Razer BlackWidow Ultimate 2013 on Cherry MX Blue. And I also ended up buying a second hand Noppoo 84-key Cherry MX Black keyboard. The Blue is clicky and tactile. The Black is silent and linear. I will review the Matias against the Razer and Noppoo. I didn't try any other mechanical keyboards.
Box is pretty standard and professional looking. I like the handle for easy transporting
Firstly, there's not much that can be said on the unboxing. It's a well designed and professional looking box and I love that they put a handle on it for easy transporting. When I carry it into the office, it raised a few eye brows and I get to talk about why I bring a keyboard to work. I think many will find it strange. Inside the box is just the keyboard in a wrapper covered by another layer of bubble wrap. There is a catalogue and a warranty card. Pretty basic. Let's move on to the review. A review of a mechanical keyboard usually centred around 4 things: build quality of the case, build quality of the key caps, the underlying switch mechanics, and other additional features.

I don't know what font they used but I love the big size font!

The keyboard When I first opened the box, the first thing that struck me was how pretty (is this a right term?) the keyboard is. The huge lettering and the textured key caps jumped out at me as very different from the Razer and other laptops keyboard and yet strangely familiar due to years with the Acer and the IBM Model M. After the initial good impression settled in, I saw that it has a glossy case, not my preferred look. But as I put it beside my Dell monitor, which was also glossy, they were such a good fit together that I am able to look past it, but your mileage may wary. Having said that, strangely, it didn't attract as much fingerprint as my friend's 2012 Razer BlackWidow which was glossy. So perhaps it is the material being used. According to Matias, the plastic is made of polycarbonate, material, is harder than ABS and is scratch resistant. I think the new iPhone 5c is also made of polycarbonate. In Matias website, there is a side profile of the keyboard and it showed a seam where the bottom case joined the top. It looked coarse in the photo but in reality, it was joined really well and looked classy. That doesn't bother me at all because the general aesthetics of the keyboard is nice. 

The keys are aligned in a uniform manner. And they are very solid and do not wobble

Key caps
The keycaps are made of ABS material (source from geekhack.org). It is textured. They felt very good, unlike Razer's rubbery and sticky feel. The keys is thick and tall, reminiscence of IBM keyboards.
I love how solid the key cap felt. The space bar is the winner here. As a non touch typist, I tend to rest my left thumb on the left edge of the space bar and pressed the space bar. In the Razer, during the midst of a high speed typing, this caused the space bar to 'squeak', because of the high force pressing on just one edge of the space bar. Sometimes, the space bar wobbled. I think it is because of the way Razer designed the stabilizer. On the contrary, the space bar in Matias was totally solid. Pressing that left edge is like pressing the middle of the space bar. The key didn't wobble and felt like dislodging. If I tried to wiggle the Enter, Shift and Backspace keys, they were totally sturdy where as the Razer would wobbled.

Big and bright white lettering. Notice the slit for LED to light up the Scroll Lock and Num Lock. Also, do note thevolume control keys beside Num Lock and the new Tab key on the num pad for easy data entry

The photo above give a closed up look at the key caps. They are sculpted, meaning the key caps are curved. You could put a small cylinder on it and it will sit comfortably without rolling off. This means that your fingers can rest on it and if you are a touch typist, I would think that your fingers would not slip to another row.
I am not sure what font type was use. It was big, white and legible - very pleasant to the eye. The website said the letter was lazer-etch but I couldn't feel a 'ditch' (infill) being cut into the key cap, instead the lettering felt bulged above the key as though the letter was painted on the key.
Razer had their retro font which is nice but need some getting use to. Noppo's font is also good but they chose a yellow/gold colour and against a black key pad, they do not stand out and bright as the Matias. Among the 3 keyboards that I currently owned, I can tell how cheap Razer key cap feels. It's crazy - in geekhack.org, a keyboard enthusiasts forum, many people there hates Razer. I didn't get the hate until I have the Matias. And I now see how overpriced the Razer is as compared to the Matias and Noppoo when comparing the build quality of the case and the key caps.
Matias Quiet Switch
Image extracted from diatec.co.jp website
The current demand for mechanical keyboard probably reached the mainstream due to the gaming industry. In Malaysia, for example, you can see many retail outlets carrying Razer or Steel Series products. There are probably one or two stores carrying Filco. We also have many Apple reseller retail stores like Mac City and Machines but I don't think I have ever seen a Matias in these stores. As such, people are more familiar with the Cherry family switches and I bet not many are familiar with alps. The oldies who used Apple Extended keyboard some older IBM-compatible PC like Acer or Dell may still remember how these felt. How do you explain alps switches then? The moment I typed on the Quiet Pro, I felt at home. It felt like the Acer I owned albeit a little stiff. I think perhaps the keyboard is still new. Compared to the Razer MX Blue, it is also stiffer - I am not sure of the actuation force required for the Matias alps. 

In comparison, Razer now felt too light. Noppoo MX Black is similarly stiff even though it is a linear switch. I think the stiff feeling is probably the thicker and taller key caps compare to the Razer. It is not a bad thing at all. Rubber dome keyboard or membrane keyboard does not have thick and tall key caps. They are light. I think I can get used to the stiffness. I enjoyed the tactile feedback of the Matias. I find it it is more tactile than the Razer. I would have love the clicky sound but that is only from the Tactile Pro model, which is for the Mac. As I used all 3 keyboards, I tend to prefer Matias > Razer > Noppoo. A better comparison would be with the Noppoo MX Black. It feels a lot like Noppoo MX Black minus the tactility.

Jeff Atwood at Coding Horror recently released a new mechanical keyboard called CODE keyboard. It used the "ultra rare" Cherry MX Clear switches. The keyboards were sold out within weeks on launch and there is no restocking because of the unavailability of the MX Clear. Mr Atwood described the MX Clear as more tactile than Blue and yet more silent than Brown. This is exactly what Matias Quiet Pro reminded me of - more tactile than the Razer MX Blue and it is very quiet. As quiet as the Noppoo MX Black. Perhaps, this alps switch is comparable to the rare MX Clear switch. So if you want the CODE but missed the pre order, you can get the Matias. I have decided to take the Matias to work (because of the quiet keyboard and because I type more at work) and leave the Razer for home use. The Noppoo will probably be my 'traveller' keyboard for LAN parties or something.  

Other thoughts:  
The Matias has a few additional features/omissions:

1. There are 3 USB ports - on the left and right side of the keyboard. The third is on the back of the keyboard, beside the cable. The beauty of this is that these ports are powered by ONE USB cable to the PC. The Razer took up two USB ports - one for the keyboard and one as passthrough and yet on the keyboard, Razer only give you one single port, located on the right side of the board where your mouse hand will knock into whatever device you plugged in there (bad design, Razer!!)

2. There are dedicated keys for volume up/down/mute above the num pad. Very nice! I hate keyboards with additional round buttons above the Function F1-F12 used as media or browser keys. They create unnecessary clutter. Fortunately, Matias does not do this but instead placed additional keys on the same row as the Function F1-F12 keys. These 4 keys are the Num Lock and 3 volume keys, making it looked really clean and professional. The slot where the Num Lock was originally located in other keyboard was taken by a new Tab key for ease of data entry for finance people. Other media controls such as Play/Stop, Forward, Reverse, are controlled via a Fn and F1/F2 keys.  

3. The Fn key took the slot of the windows Menu key, meaning on the right side of the space bar, there are no Windows key and the Menu key. Some people may not like it. 4. No back light .. I kinda like the Razer backlighting but I don't know what I will do if one of the LED burnt. So, maybe it is good not to have backlighting.

In conclusion, I think Matias Quiet Pro is a solid and quality mechanical keyboard, on par with many of the popular ones made by Filco, Das, Ducky or WASD keyboards. They have a wide range of products from Quiet Pro to Tactile Pro to tenkeyless to a Bluetooth mechanical. The only problem for them in Malaysia and in the region is probably awareness and that they are using alps switch, something that are popular among Mac community. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they shipped their product to non-US/Canada countries out of Taiwan, meaning the shipping cost is a mere US$15. That made this keyboard very attractive for the keyboard enthusiasts in this country. If you owned Cherrys, curious about the rare Cherry MX Clear, heard of alps and Topre and buckling spring and would like to own one each, Matias is something that is reachable.
(*1) Alps was made by Alps Electric Co, a company in Japan which later exited the keyboard switch market and produce car stereo, Alpine. See the similarity? Alps, Alpine.

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