Das Keyboard 4Q and X50Q
How Smart Are These Keyboards?
Das Keyboards were doing it before it was cool. Even though mechanical keyboards have experienced a resurgence over the last 5 years, Das was one of the few companies that kept at it, producing quality keyboards even while large portions of the PC audience viewed them as a thing of the past.
Their diligence has paid off, making them one of the most respected keyboard manufacturers serving the mass market. As one of my favorite YouTubers (and the premiere microphone reviewer on YouTube), Bandrew of Podcastage, likes to joke, for the elite gamers, we have the Das Keys.
The flip side of that is that it’s not 2009 anymore and today’s mechanical keyboard market is more crowded than it’s ever been. Simply being respected isn’t enough to stand out from the pack and so Das has struck out with a new concept.
Today, we’re looking at the 4Q and X50Q smart RGB mechanical keyboards, both designed to communicate to you at the same time as you communicate through them. On paper, bringing notifications and information displays to your keyboard seems like one of the biggest innovations we’ve seen in keyboards in years, but does it actually prove useful? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
Das Keyboard 4Q
- Key Switches: Cherry MX Brown
- Actuation Force: 45g
- Tactile Force: 55g
- Key Lifespan: 50M actuations
- Total Key Travel Distance: 4mm
- Pre-travel Distance: 2mm
- USB Ports (Built-in): Yes, Two-port USB 2.0 hub
- Footbar to raise keyboard also functions as a ruler
- Physical: 0.80 in (H) x 6.8 in (W) x 18 in (L)
- Weight: 2.9 lbs
- Cable: 6.5 ft
Das Keyboard X50Q
- Key Switches: Gamma Zulu (made by Omron)
- Feel: Soft tactile
- Gold Cross Point Contacts: 2
- Durability: 100 million actuations
- Actuation distance: 0.06 in (1.5 mm)
- Actuation force: 1.6 oz (45 g)
- Total travel distance: 0.14 in (3.5 mm)
- USB Ports (Built-in): No
- Includes: WASD two-tone keycaps, palm rest, keycap puller
- Physical: 1.28 in (H) x 6.63 in (W) x 18 in (L)
- Weight: 3.5 lbs (1.55 kg)
- Cable: 6.5 ft (2 m)
- Backlighting: RGB
- Connection Type: USB 2.0
- Keycap Material: ABS
- NKRO: Yes
- Aluminum Top Panel: Yes
- Firmware updatable: Yes
- Warranty: 1-year Limited Hardware Warranty
“Das Keyboard X50Q: A smart keyboard for professionals who also like gaming and winning. Fastest Gamma Zulu switches, gaming look and palm rest.”
“Das Keyboard 4Q: The smart Das Keyboard with Cherry MX RGB switches. Iconic design, aluminum top panel, built-in USB hub.”
The Das Keyboard 4Q and X50Q
The Q line marks a departure from Das Keyboards’ usual professional aesthetic. These are colorful and eye-catching, designed to highlight the standout features – and that’s good, because these are keyboards that need some explanation. They’re well-packaged and made to travel safely. Inside we have a limited assortment of accessories, including a Footbar with the 4Q which doubles as a ruler; and an alternate selection of WASD keycaps, a keycap puller, and a palm rest with the X50Q.
Though the keyboards are priced similarly, it’s clear that the X50Q is being targeted at gamers. The exposed screws and raised volume knob lend it a more industrial, edgy aesthetic. It also has the all-to-common-on-gamer-keyboards stenciled legends on the keycaps. I prefer my legends to be clean, simple, and easy to read but these do fit with the overall vibe the X50Q presents, even if they’re not for me.
The 4Q, on the other hand, takes its cues from Das’ Professional line, appearing virtually identical to boards in that series save the RGB backlighting. Between the two, the 4Q is certainly more business oriented, though using any RGB keyboard in an office is likely to get a few comments.
I would usually recommend turning it off in that environment but here the lighting actually communicates information back to you that could actually enhance your productivity, so you’ll want to leave it turned on.
Taking a look at the keys themselves, we find the other core difference between these two keyboards: the 4Q uses Cherry MX Brown RGB switches and the X50Q uses Das’ in-house Gamma Zulu switches, created in partnership with Omron and, in both appearance and feel, near identical to Logitech’s Romer-G switches (also manufactured by Omron).
Each key is tactile and allows the RGB lighting to shine through nicely but also offers their own unique characteristics.
I was pleased to see the 4Q feature normal Cherry MX RGB switches. Simply put, there needed to be some option in the Q line-up that was not a Gamma Zulu. GZs, like Romer-Gs, are a divisive switch. Some people love how quiet and soft they are, others say they feel like glorified rubber domes. The Cherries here feel great: lightweight, tactile, responsive, everything you would expect if you’ve used a Cherry Brown before.
I’m not surprised to see Das implement the Gamma Zulu’s in the X50Q. They’re a faster switch, actuating at 1.5mm, or 25-percent faster than Cherry MX Browns. They also have a reduced travel distance, down to 3.5mm from 4mm, which makes them feel a bit snappier. This is also enhanced by the fact that the tactile event happens a bit higher, so they have an extra “poppiness” that I rather like. If you’ve ever used a Logitech Romer-G switch then you know what to expect here.
One key difference, however, is that the Gamma Zulus feature a center light pipe for the LED illumination and the Cherry RGBs feature the LED at the top. The Gamma Zulu’s provide much more light spill and Das has played to this effect by adding a white pad beneath the keys to further draw it out. They’re bright and look great.
The 4Q is downright dim in comparison – and I mean that against other Cherry MX Brown RGB boards. The 4Q is one of the dimmest implementations of a Cherry RGB switch I’ve ever seen and I don’t quite understand it. Perhaps it’s because it’s the “work” board while the X50Q is “play.” Or maybe it has to do with power draw. Either way, it makes the board look bland.
I’m also pretty disappointed in the keycaps. Both of these keyboards have a retail MSRP of $199 (since lowered to $169 and $149 – Ed.) and they ship with a thin-walled, single-shot ABS. In other words, the cheapest possible keycaps they could have used. I fully understand most people will never bat an eyelash at this but when you have cheaper boards at least using double-shot keycaps, it’s downright disappointing to see Das skimp here.
Turning the boards over to their backs, we find that they’re very similar. Plastic bottom shell, standard tilt feet on the X50Q (the Footbar serves this purpose on the 4Q), and a braided cable for a tether. The 4Q does include a two-port USB 2.0 hub which is a nice addition, though it does feel slightly out of date when USB 3.0 is hardly new.
Both keyboards felt fast, responsive, and tactile under my fingers. Having the Cherry MX Browns and Gamma Zulu switches side by side does highlight the differences between the two, and it’s likely that fans of Cherry Browns might not be the biggest fan of Das’ in-house switch.
The Gamma Zulus have a higher tactile bump and feel a bit softer under the finger. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say they feel like membranes, the softness feels slightly less mechanical, almost like a blend between a Cherry MX Brown and a membrane keyboard. On the other hand, they are substantially quieter, so if you’re using these at work or another shared space, the Gammas will definitely be the better bet.
I also enjoyed the solidity each board offered. Over the last three years, I’ve used upwards of fifty mechanical keyboards and small touches, like using heavy, rigid plates for switch mounting or making sure that the case is machined without a lot of empty space really do make a difference. Das has done a good job of making these keyboards feel like solid units that deaden out most spring noise and typing reverberations.
I’ve always been a fan of dedicated media keys and especially the way that Das implements their volume wheels. My opinion didn’t change here. Between the two boards, I definitely preferred the volume roller on the X4 as it falls in line with Das’ classic keyboards. It offers a good amount of precision and the small access cutout on the right side makes adjusting it feel like second nature.
I do wish the 4Q included at least one USB 3.0 port. They’re good for connecting other peripherals but when I’m transferring video files from a thumb drive, it’s painfully slow. I won’t knock them too hard, though, because it’s still very convenient to have not one but two extra USB ports right on my desktop, even if they are last-gen.
Of course, we also have Das’ Q Software for controlling your lighting, macros, and notification programming. The package is over 100MB to download, and requires additional downloads for other applets. Thankfully, changing lighting effects isn’t difficult as there are a number of presets to get you up and running fast.
That said, the options are limited and not very good. You can choose from the rainbow, color cycle, and a handful of reactive typing effects but its paltry compared to virtually any major gaming company. Even what they do have is starved for customization. You can set your color. That’s it and that’s also lame.
If you use macros, you should also look elsewhere. That’s right, a two hundred dollar “programmable” keyboard is lacking one of the most basic kinds of programming user might want. It makes absolutely no sense.
To add insult to injury, you have to run the software if you want to use anything but a red backlight with green reactive typing on the X50Q. Just… why? It’s like Christmas in reverse and flat out, but to make matters worse, it’s not even done well! Keys don’t fade out, they just blink back to red. And no, there’s no memory, so you’re stuck with this every single time you plug your keyboard in without the software running.
On to what you really want to know about: the smart features. Using each keyboard’s RGB lighting, these keyboards are able to integrate with online notification systems like IFTTT to change your lighting for specific events you can customize. For example, if a new email comes in, I might set my letter “G” to flash red for Gmail. Or, if I’m interested in the weather for the day, I could customize separate keys to light up for rain or sunshine.
It doesn’t end there. In fact, there’s a surprising amount of depth. Since the keyboard integrates with sites like IFTTT and Zapier, you’re able to use many of the existing presets those sites offer; it’s a bit like buying into an iPhone for the first time and finding lots of free apps in iTunes. At the same time, you’ll need to do quite a bit of setup to actually use these and get them functional on your board.
While Das does provide some simple drag-and-drop options, others require step-by-step “if this, then that” type parameter to be functional. There’s a steeper learning curve to these notifications than any novice I know would be prepared for. Once it’s set up, though, it’s quite satisfying to see it all come together.
On its face, all of this is quite the cool innovation. Shifting keyboards from purely an input device to one that also relays information is neat and the kind of forward-thinking design that excites my inner keyboard geek. Except… well, it’s just not that useful.
Here’s the thing, when I first heard about this tech, I immediately began thinking of all the ways that I would have my computer notify me. When an email would come in, I’d make the whole thing flash red. When my World of Warcraft raid timer went off, I’d have it swap to rainbow party time mode. In reality, though, none of that is possible. I imagined myself coming back after stepping away and having my keyboard give me important notifications before I’d even sat down.
With these keyboards, you’re very limited on what you can do. There is no whole-board effect to really catch your eye. As a result, you can have a notification come through while you’re sitting at your PC and not even notice it. The best notifications take up a row of keys, like the CPU monitor, so you can read them like a bar. Many are limited to changing the color of single keys.
Let’s go through a few examples, starting with the weather. The Das Q software allows you to set a 4-key/4-day weather forecast. The weather for each day is represented by a color. On the surface, you can get it a general idea of the upcoming forecast. But what about temperature? What’s the line between a sunny day and a day that’s partly sunny with a rainshower? Or the CPU monitor – you can tell in 10-percent increments. That’s moderately useful but, also, not very when compared to the other tools we’ve been using.
Ultimately, the only things I was really compelled to use were true notifications for email, Trello, Discord – on the fly events where a flashing key might actually be seen before I alt+tab or check my smartphone. And that’s really the story with these keyboard’s smart features. They’re cool, but all they do is send me to the place I was going to be checking anyway. In the end, I just wound up wishing the keyboards could do more than they actually could.
When it comes to quality, there’s no mistaking that both the Das Keyboard 4Q and X50Q are well made, high-end keyboards. Yet, in Das Keyboard’s pursuit to stay on the top of the market, I feel like they’ve barked up a tree the rest of us have moved on from. In a time when virtually everyone has a smartphone, does anyone really want to be looking at their keyboard for the weather? Is a flashing light for incoming email better than a vibration you’ll actually feel? Competitors have even begun adding screens to their keyboards and mice. That, to me, seems like the logical next step.
Certain qualities about these keyboards are bad. The keycaps are bottom of the barrel. The lighting is limited and is either painfully dim or inverse Christmas – something even Das doesn’t like because the minute you launch the software, it changes to a rainbow. And no macros, timers, or other programmability, which is ridiculous given how these boards have been marketed. These are things gaming keyboards have been delivering for years and yet both of these “smart keyboards” fail at them.
All of that said, we’re left with a question of value. Are these boards worth even their current reduced prices? If you use the notifications, yes. You won’t find that feature anywhere else. For everyone else, no way. Let me be clear: these keyboards aren’t bad. They get the job done and feel good to actually use, but there’s almost no reason to choose them when you can buy a cheaper keyboard that’s just as well built and offers way more that the average user will actually use.
I applaud Das for their effort and don’t doubt that there are people who will make use of these features. I’m just not one of them and given how much time I spend at a computer, I’m not sure how many people actually are.