Matias Tactile Pro 3 – A $150, Mac-configured, Clicky Keyboard

Since the 1980’s, laptop and desktop computers have become steadily more modular and streamlined. As a result, the old mechanical (or ‘clicky’) keyboards many of us grew up with have largely been replaced with silent keyboards, as seen on every current Apple made keyboard.

These new low-profile keyboards look great and have the benefit of no annoying noise, but there’s a minority of users who miss the physical feedback of a mechanical keyboard and some can even suffer RSI when typing heavily on the new style. For these users, Canadian keyboard manufacturer Matias offers the Tactile Pro 3 – a keyboard which promises to faithfully replicate the feel of classic keyboards like the original Apple Extended Keyboard, but with modern benefits, such as three USB ports.

The Apple Extended Keyboard was originally produced in the early 1990’s and is widely regarded as Apple’s finest ever keyboard. They are still in use by enthusiasts today and it’s possible to pick up an older model on the internet but this comes with complications as not only will you need a USB adaptor, but way the keyboard is designed means that it’ll also need its own power source.

Sourcing a mint condition Apple Extended Keyboard can be difficult and so many turn to the Tactile Pro 3 instead. The Tactile Pro 3 is a keyboard which is similarly styled but comes with modern benefits too – such as three USB ports and a great layout which includes all the lesser used symbols one could need, accessible at the press of an Option key, making typing out even obscure characters simple.

All this convenience and retro styling does come at significant cost however, the Matias Tactile Pro 3 is priced at an eyebrow raising $149.99.

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The Tactile Pro 3 comes in well designed packaging and feels suitably heavy and expensive. It definitely does not follow Apple’s smooth aluminium minimalist look of recent years, rather harking back to a time when white plastic ruled supreme. Indeed, the keyboard looks great sat on my desk next to an iBook and eMac.

The inclusion of all the extra characters is welcome but gives the keyboard a slightly busy look which may not appeal to minimalists. Each key is placed in a very intuitive layout and the Caps Lock glows satisfyingly white when pressed. The three USB ports’ placement is well considered too and helps cut down on desktop clutter, powering a mouse and syncing an iPhone with ease, while the keyboard’s own USB lead is very long and heavy duty – it should prove up to the task of traversing even the most awkward desk layout.

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Retro-styling only goes so far and so it’s probably the engineering behind the Matias Tactile Pro 3 which is its most compelling selling point. Matias have researched and designed the keyboard’s mechanism to work in the exact same way as the Apple Extended Keyboard which it emulates, making use of the same Alpine-style switches and it can read the signal from several keys at once, removing the possibility of ghosting when used by even the fastest touch typist. Unfortunately I’ve never had the opportunity to use the Apple Extended Keyboard so cannot compare the Tactile Pro 3 to the original, but opinion seems to agree that it’s as close as one can get to the real thing.

The action of the keys feels just perfect – typing requires some weight behind it but not so much as to need undue force and each key snaps with a satisfying sound. When compared to typical modern keyboards, the Tactile Pro 3 is definitely much louder and could drive some to distraction if used in a shared office environment.

I write for a living and suffer from quite painful RSI as a result of my typing thousands of words a week. In the short time I’ve been using the Tactile Pro 3, I’ve found it significantly eases my wrist pain when typing and is more conducive to good typing technique – there’s a real and noticeable benefit in using the Tactile Pro 3 over my usual Apple keyboards and the ones on my MacBook Pro and iBook, so much so in fact, that I’m now loathe to use those built-in notebook keyboards.

Though expensive compared to even the most high-end Apple wireless keyboards, the Tactile Pro 3 feels like a quality product and seems built to last. If you would like a clicky keyboard or enjoy retro styling, or if you’re a heavy computer user and type many words as part of your job, then you may well find that the Tactile Pro 3 is good value for money.

The Matias Tactile Pro is configured for Mac, though I believe the company offers corresponding Windows keys and drivers as an option. Visit the Matias website for more information.