Per-Key Quality Testing

In order to test the quality and consistency of a keyboard, we are using a texture analyser that is programmed to measure and display the actuation force of the standard keyboard keys. By measuring the actuation force of every key, the quality and consistency of the keyboard can be quantified. It can also reveal design issues, such as the larger keys being far softer to press than the main keys of the keyboard. The actuation force is measured in Centinewton (cN). Some companies use another figure, gram-force (gf). The conversion formula is 1 cN = 1.02 gf (i.e. they are about the same). A high-quality keyboard should be as consistent as possible, with an average actuation force as near to the manufacturer's specs as possible and a disparity of less than ±10%. Greater differences are likely to be perceptible by users. It is worth noting that there is typically variance among keyboards, although most keyboard companies will try and maintain consistency - as with other reviews, we're testing our sample only.

The machine we use for our testing is accurate enough to provide readings with a resolution of 0.1 cN. For wider keys (e.g. Enter, Space Bar, etc.), the measurement is taking place at the center of the key, right above the switch. Note that large keys generally have a lower actuation force even if the actuation point is at the dead center of the key. This is natural, as the size and weight of the keycap reduce the required actuation force. For this reason, we do display the force required to actuate every key but we only use the results of the typically sized keys for our consistency calculations. Still, very low figures on medium sized keys, such as the Shift and Enter keys reveal design issues and can easily be perceptible by the user.

The exclusive Gamma Zulu mechanical switches that Das Keyboard is using are, without a doubt, very consistent. The disparity is a little higher than what Cherry’s (genuine) products usually display, but it is by all means excellent. There is virtually no chance that a user will be able to discern any difference between any keys just by touch. The average actuation force of the keys is 48 cN, very similar to that of Logitech’s Romer-G switches, yet the shorter travel distance does make the keypresses feeling a little stiffer overall.

Hands-on Testing

I always try to use every keyboard that we review as my personal keyboard for at least a week. My typical weekly usage includes a lot of typing (about 100-150 pages), a few hours of gaming and some casual usage, such as internet browsing and messaging. I tend to prefer Cherry MX Brown or similar (tactile) switches for such tasks. In theory, the Gamma Zulu switch resembles Cherry’s MX Brown switch, therefore the Das Keyboard 5Q should have been very comfortable for long typing sessions.

However, in my experience, that was not the case. While I cannot state that the Das Keyboard 5Q is uncomfortable, the key presses feel slightly mushy and the return force feels a bit on the high side when the keys bottom out. I believe that the vast majority of users will find it acceptable and get used to the feeling quickly, but my fatigue levels were definitely somewhat higher over using a keyboard with MX Brown switches. The saving grace of the Das Keyboard 5Q is the excellent wrist rest, which is one of the most comfortable that I have ever seen.

Although the Das Keyboard 5Q is targeted more towards professionals rather than gamers, the Gamma Zulu switches clearly are designed with rapid response in mind. The keyboard does react exceptionally to rapid keypresses and feels very responsive. The key travel is shorter and the return force of the switch is rather high, reducing the key travel and reset times. The difference over a typical mechanical switch is no more than a few milliseconds, which definitely is not important for most gamers, but competitive/professional gamers probably do care for even that tiny bit of time. If we could identify one disadvantage here, it would be the mushy feeling of the keypresses that will remind users of typical membrane-based keyboards.

Software & Cloud Connectivity Final Words and Conclusion
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  • GNUminex_l_cowsay - Tuesday, February 26, 2019 - link

    This whole cloud connection thing sounds incredibly dumb. Like some executive decided they too have to jump on the internet of things bandwagon, not considering that:
    a) None of the functionality they added is actually keyboard specific, and really just amounts to a notifications app that runs on windows, but NOW makes a light blink on on your keyboard.
    b) They overlooked actual keyboard functionality in the form of key remaps and macros.
    Reply
  • prophet001 - Tuesday, February 26, 2019 - link

    Yeah.

    You know what drives this stuff? The demand for sales.

    That's it.

    Sales. Have to sell.
    Reply
  • close - Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - link

    "This theoretically sounds very interesting"

    No, no it doesn't...
    Reply
  • milkywayer - Saturday, March 23, 2019 - link

    While I love my Das keyboard 4, I've decided not to buy one again just because I was quoted $50 plus shipping to fix a single f****** broken switch within the first year. The switch broke accidentally so the keyboard is reliable and I love it but I wish they had better support. You also get gimped warranty if you buy from Amazon directly. Gotta buy from Das keyboard store. Something they don't mention clearly. Reply
  • justareader - Tuesday, February 26, 2019 - link

    I always wanted my own keylogger. Reply
  • prophet001 - Tuesday, February 26, 2019 - link

    lol

    People are so ignorant of these things.
    Reply
  • PeachNCream - Tuesday, February 26, 2019 - link

    Keyboards that phone home aren't a new thing. If you've ever installed an alternate on-screen keyboard on an Android and gotten the blaring warning message from Google saying that they won't be the only ones that might be able to creep over your shoulder while you send sordid text messages, you'd be a lot more comfortable with your PC having additional phone-someplace capabilities. It's a great time to be alive/harvested/bought-n-sold. Reply
  • Azethoth - Tuesday, March 5, 2019 - link

    You are right, my mechanical keyboards on my iPad and iPhone have phoned home for forever now. Reply
  • peevee - Tuesday, February 26, 2019 - link

    "most enthusiasts owning or wanting a mechanical keyboard nowadays"

    Do you have any proof for that?

    Don't fall to the typical modern "journalistic" standard of 100% fake news, please!
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, February 26, 2019 - link

    He could just define "enthusiast" as "someone owning or wanting a mechanical keyboard". You are looking for hard facts where the wording itself is anything but hard. Also, this is not an academic paper or a serious publication dedicated to analysing political or scientific stances. Cool it a bit. Reply

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