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May 7, 2008 / Jake Seliger

Product Review: Unicomp Ultra Classic keyboard, or, the IBM Model M reborn

A rash of e-mails regarding and hits to my negative review of the Matias Tactile Pro 2 leads me to write this positive review the Unicomp Ultra Classic, a modern version of the Model M that IBM used to produce. Dan’s Data explains why these “buckling spring” keyboards are so nice:

The big deal about these old keyboards is their lovely, positive key-click. When you use a keyboard that doesn’t have a good positive click, it’s hard to tell when you’ve depressed a key properly. You have to watch the screen to make sure you don’t leave letters out, or you have to really hammer the keyboard, which is not good for your hands.

Most of the mid-priced keyboards [...] use some variant of the “rubber dome” switch technology, which gives a definite little popping sensation when the dome buckles, but doesn’t necessarily give you an actual letter at the exact same moment, thanks to uncertain contacts. The old buckling spring tech absolutely positively does give you the letter when you feel the click. These keyboards feel very much like an old IBM Selectric typewriter – there are plenty of these ironclad behemoths still in service, and they may herniate anyone that has to move them but they’re darn nice to type on.

Today, buckling spring keyboards are never or almost never shipped with computers. Fortunately, Unicomp has accomplished what Matias couldn’t and produced an excellent keyboard in the Ultra Classic, which is based on the actual IBM Model M design. Keystrokes are crisp and precise. The “shadow key” problem that bedeviled the Tactile Pro is absent, and the Ultra Classic itself is solid, recalling a slab of stone (see the picture below), unlike the fragile, mushy keyboards most PCs ship with. It’s also been durable, and in the months I’ve pounded on it the only problem has been a backspace key that became slightly squeaky. I sent an e-mail to Unicomp and someone called me to recommend that I pop off the offending key with a butter knife to reseat it. If you know anything about modern tech support, reread that sentence and let the shock set in. An actual phone call? From a guy involved with the actual manufacturing of the product? Indeed, and I’ve now experienced my miracle. The squeak seemed to go away and I’m back to my normal pattern. Furthermore, the company is based in Kentucky and makes the Ultra Classics there.

The main drawback for me is that I use an iMac and the keyboard is set up for Windows. The ability to change key bindings was important to me, and OS X allows it to be accomplished easily by going to System Preferences -> keyboard and mouse -> keyboard -> modifier keys:

As the picture above shows, I’ve disabled the caps lock key—which is not specific to this keyboard, but just a preference—and changed the “option” key to command and the command key to option, which makes the alignment of the Ultra Classic match any other Mac keyboard. Windows and Linux users will probably want to leave the alt and control keys where they are. The Ultra Classic is thus a viable Mac keyboard, which delights me after the Matias Tactile Pro 2 problems. Although I haven’t conducted any tests to demonstrate whether I actually type faster with the Ultra Classic, I feel like I do, and even if I don’t, I like typing on it far more than I do other keyboards.

The Ultra Classic’s minor downsides are fivefold: 1) as described above, the command, alt, and option physical keys don’t match what the computer will actually do; 2) although the Ultra Classic feels far better than other modern keyboards, it’s not quite the same as real Model Ms, which were metal, and it’s also subtly different than Apple’s Extended II keyboard, and as a result people who want the exact experience as the older models might be disappointed; 3) the keyboard has no built-in USB ports, which is a problem with Macs because even the 24″ iMac comes with only three on the back, which is too few; 4) the price, at $69, is somewhat high, but I think the productivity improvement worth the extra cost, and 5) the Ultra Classic probably can’t be used in a work or living situation in which you have to share space with someone else, as the clacking will anger the other person. But that last drawback is to me part of the advantage—I like the clack, and to me the noise is part of its fun.

My only wish is that Unicomp would make keys with “command” on them, so Mac users could pop the Windows keys off and replace them with a Mac-centric layout. These are minor issues, and the necessary trade-offs weigh heavily in the Ultra Classic’s favor for those who care about their typing experience.


EDIT: Clarified relationship of the Ultra Classic to the Model M. In addition, you can see the Ultra Classic in my post about new workspace. This post discusses computers, tools, and meaning.

EDIT 2: I did buy Mac-friendly keycaps from Unicomp and wrote about them in this post, which also has pictures of the new keys.

EDIT 3: As several commenters noted, Unicomp now makes a SpaceSaver M specifically for Macs. Note that the SpaceSaver is identical to the Ultra Classic, except that it’s slightly smaller. If you’re on OS X, it’s the keyboard you want.

EDIT 4: I wrote a long post on what I think of the the Kinesis Advantage, Unicomp Space Saver, and Das Keyboard two years later.

71 Comments

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  1. Doctor Memory / May 8 2008 10:32 am

    I emailed the folks at Unicomp about a year ago asking about a mac-specific version of the customizer, and got a reply that said that they were looking into it, but without any specifics as to a release date. I get the impression that they’re a very small operation.

  2. Scott Cropper / May 8 2008 11:58 am

    My father works for Unicomp and I worked there for about a year doing some sysadmin work. I’d like to point out that Unicomp hasn’t “accomplished what Matias couldn’t and produced an excellent modern version”. The Unicomp keyboards are the real deal and not a copy.

    A while back when Lexmark moved into the old IBM plant in Lexington, KY they bought IBM’s printer and keyboard business. At some point after that Unicomp purchased the keyboard business from Lexmark. I’m sure there are plenty of details to all of that but basically Unicomp has all the old IBM keyboard patents etc.

    I switched to a Mac over 3 years ago but have been content with using the keyboards that came with them. I may have to see if I can’t get someone over at Unicomp to make me some Mac keys for one since they pop on and off easily. If I do I’ll try to convince them to make enough for other Mac users as well!

    • Tom HB / Oct 2 2009 7:18 am

      Hi Scott,
      I just left another comment praising Unicomp, but I just noticed your comment and ref to your dad. I looked up the details and I realised that it was your dad Chuck who helped me out a few months back.

      He’s a great guy, and really helped me out. Please send him my regards, and show him all of the positive feedback in these comments.

      Cheers,
      Tom.

    • Frank Hamilton / May 3 2011 12:00 pm

      Just for clarification:

      Lexmark did not “move into” the old IBM plant and buy the keyboard business.

      IBM sold the printer division which was the site at 740 New Circle Road in 1991. This sale included the keyboard business. The keyboard technology was sold to Unicomp in 1996.

      The sale of the printer division was by IBM to Clayton, Dublier and Rice, and New York investment firm.

      In 1995, Lexmark became an independent publicly traded, Fortune 1000 corporation.

  3. jseliger / May 8 2008 1:50 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Scott. I reworded the paragraph under the blockquote to clarify the lineage of the Customizer. I based my original comments on what Unicomp itself says: “Customizer is the marketing name we’ve given to our classic IBM style keyboards.”

    Thanks very much for your offer to see if you can have Mac keys made — judging from the e-mails and comments I’ve received, there’s at least some demand for them out there.

  4. rvjansen / May 29 2008 10:28 am

    Thank for this review, not only for mentioning this company but for confirming my preference for buckling spring keyboards by showing other people like them too. I have a 3270 keyboard from Unicomp that is excellent. On my Mac I use my original 1987 Model M through a PS2-USB converter. I have several in storage in case this one fails. Which I know it won’t ever. I cannot for the life of me understand why people choose to throw these keyboards out and use trash five dollar keyboard for there expensive computers.

    I would like to second the request for Mac keycaps. Scott- have a word with dad please!

  5. egelb / May 30 2008 7:58 am

    I use Keyclick (http://www.sustworks.com/site/prod_keyclick_overview.html) with my Apple iMac keyboard. This program, which installs as a preference pane in OS X, adds audio feedback to each keyclick. I use the typewiter sound. The volume and pitch can be adjusted to emulate a real typewriter sound.

    I have an old IBM model M and a similar Dell AT101W, both of which I prefer to the keyboard that came with my iMac , but do not use the older keyboards because they are beige and have Windows keyboards not Apple keyboards.

    Keyclick costs $5 and there is a 21 day trial period. I would not give it up.

  6. cros13 / May 30 2008 1:05 pm

    I have fond memories of time spent with
    my M2 which I used from ’93 to ’03.
    Got it with a PS/1. Both still work great!

    I’ve never found a keyboard to match the M2.
    I’ve spent at least EUR120 per year trying.
    The standard M is wonderful however it uses far
    too much desk space to be practical for me.

    Anyone know of any plans to resurrect the M2?

  7. Rickasaurus / Jun 6 2008 10:38 am

    I just got one of these in the mail today. It’s fantastic :)

  8. Damien / Jun 6 2008 2:16 pm

    I have one of these and they were able to customize it to use a Unix layout like the Sun keyboards (control in place of caps lock, backspace above the enter key, escape in place of tilde, etc.). My only real gripe with it is that my control key (which replaced the caps lock key) still has the indentation in it, which means that my pinky has to reach a little farther when pressing control. It’s not as bad as standard PC layout positioning, but still a bit annoying. I asked if they could use a standard key there instead, but they replied that this is the only way they can set it up unfortunately. Oh, I also wouldn’t mind chopping off the whole keypayd part of the keyboard to bring my mouse a little closer, since I don’t use my computer as a calculator, but not as big of a deal.

    But otherwise, I love this keyboard. =)

  9. Sandy / Jun 6 2008 6:00 pm

    Bought this based on your review; it arrived today. So far I like it, though the keys seems a little cheap (some look loose, but feel OK). Should have more to say after putting a few miles on it.

  10. James / Jun 10 2008 4:12 pm

    I bought a couple of the space saver models for home and work Linux desktops and I *love* them. I used to have an old Model M keyboard but stupidly gave it away when I decided I wanted something more modern looking.

  11. iMav / Jun 10 2008 4:42 pm

    Definitely love the buckling springs. As another commenter mentioned, the Unicomp boards ARE Model M’s…

    And to clarify, both the old and the new Unicomp-Model M’s have a metal backplate.

    For those of you who are interested in ongoing keyboard discussion, feel free to swing by geekhack.org . We are an online community dedicated to the discussion (and obsession) of keyboards. ;)

  12. Patrick / Jun 16 2008 1:16 pm

    Thanks for the review – I was despairing that finally moving to a unified Mac platform would either leave me without my beloved model M, or a whole raft of broken keyboard shortcuts as I tried to make do with my old 101 key models.

    It’s not _exactly_ the same as a Model M (integrated keycaps instead of IBM’s two part design, so it feels a bit different while typing) and boy is it _new_, compared to all of my decade+ old Model M’s that have been worn into submission. But now I can use all the keyboard shortcuts the OS expects, and still have a very close approximation of my ~’95 Lexmark Model M. And it sill certainly be less of a daily shock going between the Customizer and the Model M at my office.

    I don’t know if they’re noticing an uptick in Mac sales, or if this was because I commented on the intended use on the order form, but they included 4 blank control-row keycaps in my box, so I popped off the windows and menu keys and scrawled command and option designs on the front of the appropriate keys, so now it’s really a Mac keyboard. ;)

    Thanks again for the review, though – I was afraid I’d have to buy a tactile pro even though the reviews weren’t favorable, and hope that I didn’t experience the same problems.

  13. Chris Chua / Jun 23 2008 3:39 pm

    Thank you for the review, I wish you could try out Das Keyboard as well. I wonder what that would compare with the other keyboards you have tried so far.

  14. Robert / Jul 11 2008 6:11 am

    I type for a living and love these keyboards and also happen to use a Mac… I am also quite interested in a Mac specific layout. P.S. Although it’s in Japanese, just look at this YouTube video of a guy typing away on a Unicomp keyboard. The clicks are music to my ears!

  15. Mike Post / Jul 11 2008 10:49 am

    I read the review and was very excited. I immediately ordered one of these. It arrived two weeks ago, I unpacked it, everything looked fine. I picked it up the next morning, tucked it under my arm, and headed towards the car so I could bring the shiny new keyboard to work. On the way to the car I bent over to pick up something from the kitchen floor. All of the number keys along the top fell off. Try as I might I couldn’t get them reseated correctly. I called their warranty line and tried things with them — no luck. So we RMA’d the keyboard and now I have another shiny new keyboard. I tried to plug it into the KVM I have to use for work and nothing happened. The keyboard won’t make an electrical connection! Admittedly the work-supplied KVM is crappy, but on the other hand all of the other USB keyboards I’ve plugged into it work without issue. So now I’m trying to get them to RMA the second keyboard … we’ll see how that goes. I’m about ready to give up on my dream of a 104 key buckling spring keyboard. :(

  16. anthony / Aug 8 2008 7:12 pm

    In response to Mike Post. Sorry to hear about your issues with Unicomp. I have 2 of them myself and love them. You mention issues with a KVM. I would suggest plugging the keyboard in directly to the PC and see if it behaves better.

    The Model M’s draw more current then modern keyboards do. I think by a factor of 10. It is quite possible your KVM can not supply enough current to drive it.

    Hope this helps. And yes, buckling spring keyboards are the best.

  17. A. G. / Aug 18 2008 2:08 pm

    In response to Mike Post too:

    BS. Seriously. You “unpacked it, everything looked fine” and then “the number keys along the top fell off”… sure. Why didn’t they fall off during shipping? If they were loose enough to fall off, they had to be broken. If you tried to reseat them and couldn’t tell they were broken, you are making this up! Also, if they were so loose they would fall off, just putting the board under your arm would have let at least one of “all of the number keys” fall out. I own multiple Unicomp keyboards. They have been nothing but excellent, and this story smells fishy to me. At least you claim they RMA’d the board.

    As for the KVM “not making an electrical connection”, it’s probably the fact that… you’re making this up!

    (I was going to say the same thing as anthony, but since it’s already been covered, I figured the first answer that came to mind would do.)

    I could be wrong, but I just KNOW I’m not.

    – a

  18. Lawrence B / Aug 24 2008 1:56 am

    I’m experienceing a similar problem with my KVM.

    When plugged into the keyboard port on my KVM, none of the LEDs light up nor do the keys work.

    To solve the problem, I’ve got my keyboard and mouse plugged into the KVM’s ‘mouse port’ via a USB hub. I’ve got a crappy Dell keyboard plugged into the keyboard port to allow me to use the key sequence to swap between computers.

    I love the feel of the keyboard, I’m tempted to get hold of an Endurapro!

  19. Mark P / Sep 9 2008 11:13 pm

    One error in your review – real model M’s aren’t metal, or at least mine (that I got w/ an IBM ps/2 in like 1990) is plastic and very heavy. there may be a lot of metal inside, but the exterior is all plastic. I still use mine and am very happy someone still makes them.

    • Grishnakh / May 11 2011 3:21 pm

      Exactly right. I have one of the old ones too. The Model M has always had a heavy-duty plastic case, with a steel backplate inside. The Unicomps are no different, except the plastic case seems to be a little thinner and lighter (I had a Unicomp for a short time but returned it because it had serious electrical issues: ghost keypresses and such; a real M didn’t have the same problem).

      The author’s memory is failing him, or he might be remembering the old IBM PC and PC-XT keyboards, which were indeed all metal. Those weren’t model Ms, though, those were Model F. The Model M came out with the IBM PC-AT.

      Personally, I wish I could get a keyboard built like the old Model F, but with the Model M’s layout. The Model F had a buckling-spring mechanism too, but it was a little different, and beefier than the Model M. The all-metal case was nice too.

      Unicomp as a company is a little disappointing. They have a lot of potential, as they have the designs and manufacturing capacity to make these buckling-spring keyboards, but they just keep basically copying the old Model M, without making any modern changes. There’s a lot of people who’d be willing to spend > $100 on a nice keyboard with the buckling-spring mechanism, but they need to be higher quality than the Unicomp I tried out, and they need more modern or upgraded features, such as: 1) USB interface, with USB ports for mouse etc. Computers don’t have PS/2 ports any more. 2) Black case and black keycaps (not the ugly gray ones they have now). There’s no reason they can’t do this, as IBM/Lexmark actually made a few black/black keyboards like this before exiting the Model M business. 3) An all-metal case, perhaps with more modern aesthetics.

      • ijdod / Jun 15 2011 11:32 pm

        (late reaction, I know) Unicomp used to offer custom keyboards with black keys (or a variety of other colors), but they don’t seem to do so any more :(. They do offer blank black keys though.

  20. Ken Weller / Oct 4 2008 10:51 pm

    IBM/Lexmark/Unicomp buckling-spring keyboards — KVM & OTHER NO-SEE-’EM PROBLEMS:

    For a relentlessly thorough explanation and tested solutions to the problem of some contemporary computers not ‘seeing’ the buckling-spring keyboards when plugged in, go to: http://www.geocities.com/jszybowski/keyboard/index.htm.

    On a whim, age 11, I took an hour out each morning from baseball and youth adventuring to do touch typing in summer school. Now, 60 years later, I’ve begun to wear the paint off the space bar on my 17-year-old, Lexmark-branded, 13-inch (no numpad), buckling-spring keyboard plugged into (PS1?) a SCSI Win95, Word 6 desktop on which I’ve churned out thousands of reports, letters, messages, etc. Yes, I have a hotrod ThinkPad for number-crunching, latest Office software, graphics, DVD R/W, etc., but most my time is spent on that old Lexmark and I’m baffled why there isn’t one on every desk in the world. It can only be because hunt-&-peckers type with their biceps instead of their fingers.

    Thank God at least somebody at Unicomp had the inspiration not to let these boards die. Some years ago I was on the phone with Lexmark chasing more 13-inch keyboards for the office and expressed my view that they should never have got out of the keyboard business. The guy on the phone said, ‘Yes, I completely agree with you!’

    Ken Weller

  21. Scott Williams / Oct 17 2008 5:09 pm

    I live in the UK and Unicomp delivered my lovely Customizer 102 model within about 4 days.

    It IS so much like the old model M I used way back that I can’t tell the difference (Apart from the UK layout). It even says model M on the label.

    My son who like me is a programinator tried it and now I have had to order one for him.

    Now that will be nearly £150 I will have paid for two keyboards and they really are so good that I would have easily paid that for just one.

    In fact if it ever looks like Unicomp are going to shut down I will have to order a few more just in case.

    Don’t mess about with silly modern crap. Just buy one.

    Scott Williams

  22. Tom Levesque / Jan 7 2009 1:13 am

    I have a model M at work that I’ve been using for years. It’s from an IBM 286 machine, and definitely has a big slab of metal on the back. I’ve tossed it, dropped it, and done everything short of won a bar-fight with it and it keeps on ticking. It’s built like a tank, and I can’t wait to acquire spares from Unicomp. The IT guys at work have been making fun of me for using it (going through 2 adapters). They don’t grasp the layout, because the layout style is older than they are. But I swear by that keyboard. And I desperately want a USB one to use on my Mac at home. Unicomp, hear my plea. Make us some replacement mac-labeled keys! And while we’re at it, is there a model keyboard that lacks the extra keypad so my mouse doesn’t have to be so far to the right of the keyboard? 3 cheers for buckling-spring keyboards. Accept no substitutes!

  23. Dave / Jan 16 2009 6:32 pm

    So far, so good. I just got mine. It types accurately, but noisily, but that’s no problem because I type noisily on any keyboard. I like the noise.

    It’s heavy enough to actually beat someone to death with. Something I’ve always wanted to do while using lesser keyboards. Possibly the flimsiness of other keyboards is a design feature come up with by keyboard manufacturers conscious of the danger of keyboard-cide being practiced against themselves.

    Unicomp was nice and sent me some key blanks because I asked. Replacing the abhorrent Windoze logo keys was easy. I could pry them back off and draw ‘Tux’ on them, but I’m not that motivated.

  24. Pietro / Jan 27 2009 5:33 pm

    I just got one of these Godzillas in the mail. First impressions:
    * Feel: heavy! Compared to my IBM (not model M) keyboard, this thing weighs a ton. That’s OK, I will use it instead of dumbells or in altercations with the wife.
    * Typing impressions: wow, what a difference a keyboard makes. The simple fact that I am out here, merrily writing a review, tells a story. After typing for a few hours on the thing, I plugged in my old keyboard to compare. Well, the old one feels so mushy…
    * Look: ugly, but in an affectionate way, say like Hellboy.
    * My only gripe: the edge of the space bar could have been made a bit more rounded. I tend to hit the space bar right on the edge, and after a few hours a definitely can feel it on my thumbs. I guess I could learn to hit it on top? Neeehh….

    Anyway, the more I type, the more I am convinced that these are 70 bucks well spent.

  25. Dima / Feb 2 2009 4:36 pm

    Just got spacesaver and customizer 101 keyboards – absolutely awesome. I use Macs, so addition of a dedicated Apple versions will be welcome.

  26. Winston / Mar 14 2009 9:13 pm

    Is anybody interested in getting together and making a big order of Mac keyboards? I want a mac version without a numeric pad, like the new iMac keyboard layout. That way the mouse is now way out to the right. I feel it will be better for my hands.

  27. Helge / May 25 2009 6:13 am

    I’ve just received my black Customizer 104, German version, and additional Mac keys.

    The keybaord action is super. That’s just how I remember these things from the 80′s. How could I ever live without a REAL keyboard? I’ve written five books on filmy rubber-dome ‘boards. The sixth one will be completed on the Customizer!

    But there’s something I’d like to add: The additional Mac Keys are just five caps, two labelleled Command, two Option, one is blank. The other keys that are different between Mac and PC (about 20 or so more) are not being replaced. Still, Unicomp charges an extra 10 Dollar for these five keys. I think that is a somewhat exaggerated price tag. The Customizer itself, OTOH, is well worth the money.

    Also, to Germans ordering a customizer: You will have to pay an additional €27 import tax upon delivery. All in all (Keyboard, Mac keys, DHL and tax) I paid €112 (which is about 156 USD).

    Anyway — I am still happy to have this thing here right now. Typing is so much better now!

    Helge

  28. Jeff Abbott / Aug 8 2009 8:37 am

    No USB ports built it? I was about to order one until I read that. I have to have that in a keyboard due to my desk set up (keyboard is in a surface below the desk, with my mouse)—just sick about this, this keyboard sounded perfect for me. And my Matias is giving out after four years of heavy use.

  29. Jake Seliger / Aug 9 2009 1:52 pm

    @ Jeff Abbott—

    Sorry to hear about the USB problem—have you thought about mounting or taping a USB hub like this one or this one below your desk? You might’ve already considered and rejected this idea, but I thought I’d throw it out there anyway.

  30. Calum Tait / Aug 31 2009 3:49 am

    I ordered one of these for work as I used Model M keyboards in the late eighties with PS/2 and AS/400 and remember how robust and tactile they were. No problems obtaining one from the factory in the US (I live in the UK) and the sales guy couldn’t be more helpful. When it arrived the space bar was broken but after a quick call to the very pleasant Sales Manager two new spacebars arrived in the post within days. Now THATS service. Having used Microsoft and Keytronics keyboards for the past 20 years, the Customizer keyboard feels great and I’m very pleased with my purchase. The only downside is that when ordering from the UK the shipping costs as much as the keyboard. I would be great if someone in the UK would stock these. I think they would sell like hotcakes with a bit of smart marketing.

  31. Tom HB / Oct 2 2009 7:13 am

    The team at Unicomp are simply fantastic.

    I’m not even a customer (yet), but when my spacebar broke on my 1391401 (’88) Model M, I looked up the time zones and called them first thing on their Monday morning. I spoke to a guy for about 2 minutes, he got my address and then insisted on sending me the new parts completely free of charge. I tried to tell him it was a 21 year old IBM and that I must pay him for the parts and postage, but he laughed it off. A new spacebar assembly arrived 5 days later. All up cost was AU$1 for the telephone call.

    My current Model M will probably outlast the PS/2 and USB I/O standards, but I feel obliged to buy a couple of Customizers to show my gratitude and support of Unicomp, even if I never have to use them.

  32. Daniel Hackett / Nov 16 2009 9:23 pm

    I couldn’t hold myself any longer and decided to order a black Unicomp Customizer 105 UK layout, and it arrived today, always being curious about buckling spring keyboards and having no luck sourcing an orignal IBM model I went for this, and it certinally fits in better with newer computers like mine.

    Typed a bit on it today and I love it, very noisy but that was to be expected, I’ve been using a Dell AT102W Black alps for a few months and I thought that was noisy! I love my Dell but for some reason it keeps turning off at random points, so as a spare she goes.

    The only problem I have with this Customizer is the Alt key print is very faint along with the “home” “end” and arrow keys on the numpad (and SysRq), and the right Ctrl key was hanging off when I opened the box, but I presumed that was due to the gorillas in Fedex chucking parcles like basketball.

    Apart from that, very nice keyboard and will last me forever.

  33. Helge / Nov 17 2009 1:27 am

    Perhaps of interest for German Mac users who have the Customizer:

    I made a custom keyboard mapping (.keylayout) for Mac OSX (Leopard and Snow Leopard). All keys are now doing exactly what is printed on them, dead keys included. One exception: I added Alt-L for the @-sign, because I’m so used to it. However, the @ as shown on the caps works as well.

    My Customizer 105 is a German model fitted with Mac Option/Command keys. If somebody wants the .keylayout I made, drop me a note at “helge at helge dot de”.

    The keyboard works like a charme. I wrote a 350-page book on it since May, the keys are still crisp as if brand new, and I’m in good hopes that this will stay so for a long time to come :-)

    Helge

  34. Peter Boulton / Jan 5 2010 8:22 am

    I can only echo the other positive comments about Unicomp customer service and the typing quality of their keyboards. I live in the UK – the first one I received was faulty so they promptly sent me a replacement, which is perfect! I have a 20 year old original Model M and the Unicomp is identical, but perhaps a little ‘tighter’ than the IBM. It’s an absolute joy to type on and, in my opinion, is excellent value for money, given that what you’re getting is the best keyboard money can buy.

  35. gecko / Jan 15 2010 7:40 am

    Just got this, very happy with it. But I really miss using the F keys to adjust the computer volume, and I can’t see any way to enable that. I tried toggling off Expose and Dashboard in System Prefs, but now I just get a beep when I press those keys, and nothing at all happens with the computer. Has anyone figured out how to enable F10-12 for audio volume?

    • Tyrathect / Jan 29 2010 12:28 am

      The new Matias Tactile Pro 3 is out, and it rocks. It fixes all issues brought up here, and it’s got a really nice feel. I have a unicomp and two filco’s, and I like the feel of the new Tactile Pro better.

      Thought I’d bring it up, as it’s the only real mechanical keyboard made specifically for the mac.

    • will / Apr 18 2010 11:40 am

      gecko,

      Try using KeyRemap4MacBook. I use it (in tandem with PCKeyboardHack) to enable my Colemak setup, and it should allow you to remap some function keys to volume control.

      http://pqrs.org/macosx/keyremap4macbook/

      It’s a haxie, but I’d much rather use my genuine Model M-descendant with a minor software mod than opt for a crappy mechanical-spring board at more than twice the price.

      • gecko / Apr 20 2010 7:08 am

        Perfect! Thanks so much, that is exactly what I wanted.

      • will / Apr 25 2010 8:43 am

        No worries, glad to help out. :)

        Also N.B. to everyone: KeyRemap4MacBook allows you to remap the “menu”/context key that OS X doesn’t ordinarily recognize. I chose to remap mine to the “fn” key and, with that, I officially have all the function of my normal MBP keyboard in my Spacesaver. Also, no wasted keys. :)

  36. will / Apr 18 2010 11:43 am

    Thank you all for your feedback (and thanks to you, Jake, for the awesome review in the first place)…I’ve ordered a SpaceSaver and am accordingly thrilled.

  37. Steven / Jul 15 2010 5:38 am

    Just picked up TWO black 104 Customizers with BLANK keys today from FedEx.
    Dealt with ‘Chuck Cropper’ when putting the order through, very easy to deal with.

  38. Rocket / Jul 20 2010 1:37 am

    I have the Customizer and the IBM M model. Both are great keyboards, but they are not identical. The IBM feels more solid, with somehow better plastics. The M is definitively heavier. The Customizer, on the other hand, has a native USB connection and Unicomp offers it in a black/grey version that match modern PC’s better. I prefer the construction of the IBM but the aesthetics of the Customizer.

    I ordered my Customizer from Europe. It was delivered by FedEx at my door four days after my payment was cleared. Thumbs up for Unicomp’s customer service!

    • StephenB. / Nov 18 2010 2:26 pm

      Re: the relative “feel” of the keyboards, I have the same impression (bought a Customizer 104 to replace an old Model M). The main thing I noticed is that the keys feel a little bit lighter/bouncier, probably because they don’t have the removable keycaps.

      However, the keys from a Model M will fit on a customizer – so I just popped most of the keys off both keyboards and swapped them. The keys do still feel a little more springy on the Unicomp keyboard, but then again my Model M was in use for 15-odd years (plenty of time to get well broken-in).

  39. Jazzy / Sep 17 2010 12:08 am

    thanks for the review…
    But there’s one thing I like about Unicomp rather than Model-M one. It is lighter than it making it more convenient to bring rather than model-M & also better when you choose space saver one…

    • StephenB. / Nov 18 2010 2:32 pm

      Agreed. I own a Customizer 104, but I’d go with the SpaceSaver if I were to make the purchase over again – the Customizer doesn’t really fit in most modern keyboard trays.

      Just waiting for my sister’s keyboard to break so I can give her the Customizer and have a good excuse to pick up a SpaceSaver :)

  40. roland / Jan 8 2011 12:46 pm

    I have really bad pain in my wrists; constant in the left one, and “tingles” in both when lifting heavy objects. I abused my wrists in sports and previous physical labor jobs and a car accident a few years back (hand that was holding the steering wheel).
    I got a new IT job a year ago and am now typing 8-10 hours per day (mild programming and database management), which little by little made the pain really unconfortable. Using mostly Access, SQL, VB, DotNet. I am trying to get more comfortable with programming because that’s where the bucks are in my company.
    I also switched to a Marble mouse trackball to alleviate the pain in my right wrist, which worked great; love the thing, ditched the rodent.
    I tried the Split keyboards; like them for typing emails and text, hate them to work in a database (where random fingers hit across the entire keyboard while one hand controls the trackball). I wanted the try the HHKB Lite (certainly cannot afford the Pro model), but I fear that the function keys will be a pain in continued operation. I have also become a decent touch typist, and I am now weary of a new keyboard layout (although the DVORAK layout looks interesting).
    I have decided to try a mechanical keyboard and better posture. Thinking about placing an order soon, but was wondering if any of you have tried the Endurapro (love the Thinkpad nubby thing on laptops, which really allows for decent control of the cursor for a lot of things), or the on-the-ball versions. Since I already like the trackball, why not? Just wondering if someone out there does a similar job and could offer feedback about those built-in pointing devices. I work 90% on remote servers, so programmable buttons are useless anyways.
    Also, it does seems from pictures that the beige models have a better finish than the black ones; not sure if it’s the pictures or the object itself.
    Feel free to comment please. Planning on calling Unicomp Monday to feel them out on the phone.

    • Steve Sparks / Oct 7 2013 4:05 am

      I have an EnduraPro, two Customizers, a SpaceSaver M and a PC122. I am not a trackstick user, so I find that the stick on the EnduraPro gets in my way and I tend to rest my left thumb on the mouse button. (I disabled the trackstick on my old Dell, I just don’t like them.)

      If you do like the trackstick style controls, you’ll be happy with the EnduraPro.

  41. Matt / Jan 23 2011 8:40 pm

    I work as chat support for a large Internet Service Provider and can take multiple chats at a time 8 hours a day, pretty much transferred over there from phone support as they were needing people. I have to say that when your sitting there nonstop back to back chats and your required to have fast response time, you need a keyboard like the Model M, while I don’t own a Unicomp keyboard, I have typed on one and they are great. We use those Dell membrane keyboards at work and they are horrible, I type 121 wpm and am a touch typist but they are wearing out my fingers and hands. I have typed for 22 years and grew up with a Model M keyboard and it was the best keyboard I ever had. After that, I had to use logitech membrane and I always knew something didn’t feel right about those keyboards but my dad and I searched everywhere at the time for the mechanical keyboards and you just couldn’t find them. Eventually these cheap membrane keyboards took over everywhere and it was all about the quantity instead of the quality. I’ve typed on red cherry switches before, also have a sony VAIO which I am not sure what it is using, it is better than your average keyboard but I would take that Unicomp buckling spring design over anything else. I am planning on placing my order this week.

  42. Matt H / Apr 23 2011 3:27 pm

    It seems Unicomp is now offering a version of the Spacesaver with Mac-style meta keys and function buttons. Priced higher than the basic Customizer, though.

    http://pckeyboards.stores.yahoo.net/onthestick.html

    Gorgeous blog theme BTW.

  43. Dennis / May 3 2011 2:12 am

    I ordered a customizer.
    As I use it for different locales I e-mailed them and asked if you could get it with all blank keys. No problem. Just how many keyboard manufacturer would do that ;-)
    Only minor thing I didn’t like was in comparison to true IBM keyboards the caps feels a bit ‘plastic’, where IBM’s feel more, almost ceramic.
    But, without a doubt the best keyboard you can get today with USB and Windows/Command key.

  44. Roger Wilco / May 10 2011 2:30 pm

    Unicomp/PCKeyboards just came out with a space saver M (same layout and keys just less housing). I got the space saver M for Mac. Essentially the same layout as the Apple Extended Keyboard (has all the contols dual labeled
    on top) plugged it in and worked great! Loving that clicky feel :-)

  45. ijdod / Jun 15 2011 11:41 pm

    Back in 2004 I ordered a black-on-black customizer, to replace my original IBM. A year or so later the Customizer suffered death through Coca Cola… but I was able to transplant the inner bits from the old IBM into the 15 years newer unicomp body… they were that similar.

    Seriously considering ordering a USB one, as I’m getting fed up with the crappy keyboards at work, and don’t want to go the PS/2-USB converter route. Really a shame they don’t do the custom key colors any more.

  46. Dave Schaller / Jul 11 2011 9:34 am

    I just got a new MBP and have Keyboard Prefs and KeyRemap4MacBook configured as they were on my old MBP, AFAIK, but the Unicomp’s Ctrl key doesn’t work–doesn’t seem to do anything now. I can’t recall what I did to get it to act like a Mac CTRL key. Can anyone advise me?

    thanks
    Dave

  47. John C / Dec 13 2011 6:18 pm

    I’d been dreaming about getting a Model M since I was an intern at IBM in 1986. One of the sharpest engineers on the team had one, and listening to him bombing away suggested, “aha, so that’s what serious programming sounds like.” I finally found out about Unicomp (and got over my own cheapness) and bought a Spacesaver in August 2010. LOVE it. From what I read real Model Ms are sturdier and feel slightly different, but the Spacesaver is good enough for me. I learned to type on a manual typewriter, so I would prefer an even heavier feel than what the buckling springs give, but hey, you can’t have everything. I love hammering away like I’m playing a piano. It’s not as fast as touch typing but it’s a lot more fun!

    • Jake Seliger / Dec 13 2011 7:03 pm

      John—thanks for your comment. One interesting thing about the Unicomp keyboards is their durability: if you go through a keyboard every two years, buying one that’ll last effectively forever might not be that expensive.

      These days I mostly use a Kinesis Advantage: http://jseliger.wordpress.com/2009/07/20/kinesis-advantage/ , but I’m actually at my parents’ house at the moment and using a Customizer from 2004. It’s gotten a lot of use from various people and still functions well.

  48. Background for Facebook / Oct 28 2012 3:10 am

    I liked what I read and I enjoy Facebook.

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