New Model M Is an American-Made Keyboard That Puts a Spring Back in Your Typing
1984 was a landmark year in computing. It was the debut year of the Macintosh, of course, but it also spawned another piece of timeless computer hardware: the IBM Model M keyboard, which Matt Neuburg argued is the greatest keyboard of all time (see “The Greatest Computer Keyboard of All Time?,” 27 February 2009).
The Model M represents a long-gone era of keyboards designed to satisfy typewriter users, featuring satisfyingly clicky buckling-spring keys. In 1992, IBM offloaded most of its keyboard manufacturing to Lexmark, which continued to produce Model M keyboards for Big Blue. The industry eventually moved to cheaper and mushier mechanisms like rubber domes, and Lexmark and IBM both bowed out of the Model M business in the late 1990s. However, a group of Lexmark employees bought the factory in Lexington, Kentucky and formed Unicomp.
Clicky keyboards, once a niche item, have come back into fashion in recent years. They’re now so popular that mainstream companies offer mechanical “gaming” keyboards you can buy in many brick-and-mortar stores, even Walmart. Meanwhile, Unicomp has been churning out those classic Model M clicky keyboards since the days of Apple’s apparent doom.
Unicomp even makes a Mac-specific model, the Spacesaver M, but I’d be hesitant to recommend it. That’s because, over the years, the old Lexmark tooling has worn down, leading to widespread reports of reliability issues and poor fit and finish. Recently, Unicomp invested in brand-new tooling to make the first brand-new Model M in a quarter-century, simply named the New Model M.
I recently found myself in need of a new keyboard. While the Model M wasn’t my first keyboard, it was what I used in my high school typing class, and ever since I have longed for that clicky, bouncy, typing thrill.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns having a catastrophic impact on small businesses, I’ve made it something of a New Year’s resolution to do more to support small local businesses. The Unicomp factory is only 3 hours north of my house, so I figured even if I wasn’t totally happy with the keyboard, I’d at least be doing my part to support one of the few computer peripheral manufacturers still making products in the United States.
The New Model M(ac Keyboard)
I nearly ordered a stock New Model M with Windows keys and all the trappings of a PC keyboard. After all, I don’t look at my keyboard all that much, so I don’t care that much if my Command key is emblazoned with the Saint Hannes cross, a Windows logo, or a Linux penguin. Regardless, you can swap out the keycaps, and Unicomp sells a variety of keycaps.
My hangup was the Mac-specific keys along the top row that let me control brightness, volume, Mission Control, and other functions. Plus the base model lacked the Function key seen on Apple keyboards. Sure, I could reprogram something to take its place, but I decided that it would make my life substantially easier to have a keyboard with a Mac layout.
I contacted Unicomp support in mid-December to see if they would be willing to build me a New Model M with the same layout as the Spacesaver M. I knew Unicomp had been hit especially hard by COVID-19, delaying the upcoming Mini M keyboard that was due in March 2020, so I didn’t get my hopes up. However, they responded quickly, telling me that they could do a custom keyboard in mid-January and to contact them again then.
Flash forward to mid-January, and I got in touch with Unicomp support again to see if they could build my custom New Model M. They said yes, and gave me instructions on how to order it:
- Add the New Model M to your shopping cart.
- Add two $10 customization fees.
- In the Customization field, specify Mac layout.
The checkout process was pretty clunky, and the total cost after customizations and shipping was $145.87. That’s pricey, but no more so than many high-end mechanical keyboards currently on the market.
I was told it might take up to two weeks to build and ship my keyboard, but it shipped in just three days and arrived the day after it was shipped, likely due to my close proximity.
The keyboard I’m now typing on may very well be unique: a New Model M with a Mac layout.
The New Model M Mac Layout
The New Model M’s utilitarian industrial design won’t win any style awards. It features a simple black base, with a mix of white and gray keys. The Mac variant is pretty bare bones. It includes all the keys you would expect in a full-size Mac keyboard—Command, Option, Function, brightness, etc.—but don’t expect Susan Kare-designed icons on the keycaps. Special keys like Command and Exposé have simple text labels, while brightness, volume, and media keys have generic pictographs.
In terms of size, the New Model M is a beast. It’s 17.9 inches (45.5 cm) wide, 7.5 inches (19 cm) deep, and 1.96 (5 cm) inches high, and weighs 3 pounds 11 ounces (about 1.7 kg). The number pad makes the keyboard especially wide, so it might get in the way if you keep your keyboard and pointing device side-by-side. I prefer to put the keyboard in my lap, so that’s not an issue for me.
The New Model M worked with my iMac out of the box. Volume, brightness, and media keys worked perfectly, as did Exposé. I had to program the Dashboard key to trigger Launchpad in System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts (interestingly, the Dashboard key registers as F12).
One odd thing is that Unicomp replaced the Insert key with Eject, something I didn’t notice until I tried to press Insert while typing on my ThinkPad and the DVD tray popped out. Another oddity, though it’s standard on full-sized Mac keyboards, is that there is no Num Lock key on the number pad. Instead, it’s replaced by a Clear key. Also, I’m amused by the little pictograph of finger guns slaying the letter “a” on the Delete key.
If you’re debating between the standard layout or dropping an extra $20 on the Mac layout, I think the extra money is worth it if the main computer you’ll be using the keyboard with is a Mac.
Typing on the New Model M
Let’s talk about what’s really important: what is it like to type on the New Model M? It’s difficult to convey such an experience in text, but I’ll do my best.
It’s important to note that the Model M is not a mechanical keyboard! Instead, it uses a buckling spring mechanism, which is a much older design than the traditional mechanical keyboard mechanism. The chief difference between the two is the size of the spring. In a buckling spring keyboard, you press a keycap, which presses a spring that sits directly on a lever that actuates the keypress. In a mechanical keyboard, a little bit of plastic actuates the keypress, with the spring simply returning the key to its original position.
In a buckling spring mechanism, the spring is the star of the show. If you pull off one of the keycaps you can see the spring sitting in its well.
The functional difference is that a buckling key’s springs have a certain “springiness” that mechanical keys do not. It’s hard to convey, but the keys make a slight “sproing” sound as you type. It’s not particularly loud, though it’s definitely not silent. I don’t worry about waking up the kids when they’re sleeping in the next room, and it seems quieter than Adam Engst’s old reliable Das Keyboard, which sounds like horses stampeding when we’re on Slack calls. I made a video of me typing on the New Model M so you can get a sense of the sound.
Buckling springs have a reputation for requiring a lot of force. I was worried about that because my forearm muscles tend to get painfully tense when pressing buttons repeatedly, which is why I use a vertical mouse and rarely play games on computers anymore (see “Anker’s Vertical Mouse Provides Cheap RSI Relief,” 7 December 2018). However, I have not been bothered at all by the activation force necessary for the New Model M.
In fact, I find the keys to be quite light to press. The spring offers enough resistance so you won’t accidentally activate a key just by touching its keycap, but once you decide to press a key, it moves ever so slightly before that ever-so-satisfying click. I estimate the actual activation travel to be about the same as Apple’s Magic Keyboard.
The additional travel between the click and the key bottoming out helps cushion your fingers. When I typed with Apple keyboards, I sometimes experienced pain in my fingertips from where they were constantly smashing into the keyboard. I have no such pain with the New Model M.
When I was between keyboards, I used a super-cheap Walmart keyboard that was so mushy it was like typing on mashed potatoes. It was a strain on my forearms because it felt like my fingers were working in mud. I can’t say the New Model M has eliminated my forearm pain, but it aggravates it the least of all the keyboards I’ve tried.
I like typing with this keyboard, but nothing’s perfect. For one, while aesthetics are subjective, I find the New Model M ugly. But perhaps more offensive than the overall aesthetic is the use of bright blue LEDs for the Caps Lock and Function indicator lights. Maybe it’s just my highly sensitive eyes, but I find blue LEDs to be entirely too bright, and they’re totally overused in computer components these days.
If you care about n-key rollover, the New Model M is not the keyboard for you. Many keyboards stop reliably registering key presses when too many keys are pressed at the same time. You can test this on your current keyboard by holding down both Shift keys with your pinkies and typing:
THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPS OVER THE LAZY DOG
When I do this on the New Model M, I get:
TE UIC RWN JUS VER TE LAY DG
That’s pretty bad, but again, it primarily concerns gamers, who might have to hold down several keys at once. The Apple Magic Keyboard performs about the same:
H CK BN FX JMPS V H LAZ DG
Keyboards that feature n-key rollover have no limit to how many keys you can press at once. N-key rollover is often confused with ghosting, which is when phantom keypresses occur when multiple keys are pressed down. For example, you press “n” and “k” at the same time and then “i” also appears in whatever you’re typing. Many times when keyboard makers advertise “anti-ghosting” they really mean some sort of key rollover. Linus Sebastian explains the differences in this video.
The long-delayed Mini M, if it ever ships, will sport one feature I wish the New Model M had: a detachable USB cable. In my experience, the first thing to go on long-term use items like this is the cable (like on my Sony MDR-V6 headphones from 2007), so I’d like to be able to replace it easily.
There are a few things about the New Model M that are inferior to the old Model Ms I used in high school. There is a slight creak when I squeeze either side of the keyboard. The original Model Ms were rock solid, presumably because they had been carved from stone. However, this doesn’t make any difference when typing. Another downgrade is the use of single-piece keycaps. The old Model M models had an external shell over each key that easily popped on and off, so you could change a key’s look without removing the entire key and possibly messing up the spring mechanism. On the New Model M, you have to remove the entire key. Again, this is a nitpick.
A final small issue I have that may become larger in the long run is the sharp edges on the Command key. Since the side of my left thumb often rides against the corner of that key, the edge irritates my thumb. It’d be nice to have chamfered edges on the Control, Option, and Command keys.
If I didn’t love the New Model M, I could at least console myself with the fact that I had thrown some money to a small, somewhat local business. But I do love it! While it won’t win beauty contests or video game tournaments, it’s a joy to type with. And I’m typing all day, every day.
There is a theory called the Lindy effect, which states that the longer a non-perishable thing lasts, the longer it is likely to last. For example, if a book has been in publication for 50 years, it’s reasonable to assume that it will be in publication for another 50 years. By that measure, the 37-year-old Model M is indeed “lindy.” It’s a timeless design, and I’m glad Unicomp is carrying on the tradition.
Finally, I’ll leave you a video of my youngest son helping me record keyboard sounds.
Until COVID I was never a fan of external keyboards because I prefer not to be tethered to a desk. So I found an alternative, an app that plays sounds on every keystroke. I set this up with Selectric typewriter sounds and found the illusion really improved my enjoyment of the keyboard.
Unfortunately the app that did this died years ago; I’ve been meaning to see if I could replace it with Keyboard Maestro.
First, your youngest son is a kick.
The keyboard looks good, I like that type of feel. I still use a really old USB keyboard with my older iMac because it has a similar response. Thanks for the heads up and review.
Great to hear the young Centers at work…
I long to have one such as this but my wife would go crazy, next studio over…
I just heard from Unicomp, and good news: the Mac layout will be a standard option for the New Model M in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully, it’ll be a little cheaper too.
Nice. My only nits (which were the case for the SpaceSaver M as well) is that the layout doesn’t match any of Apple’s standard layouts, current or historic. For comparison, my Apple aluminum USB keyboard differs in:
But I completely understand why Unicomp did this. In order to match Apple’s layout, they would require different plastics for the front bezel and probably the underlying circuit board as well, which would make it cost far more than an extra $20. Using the layout they selected, they can use the same board and bezel as the PC version and just change the key caps and firmware.
As for whether to buy the Mac or PC version, Mac users will definitely want the Mac version. Even if you don’t use the media keys (I rarely do), replacing the PrtScr, NumLock and ScrollLock keys (which are useless on Macs) with F13-15 (to which you can assign functions) is really convenient.
I have an old Model M from an IBM PS/2 I used in college. I still use it as my primary work keyboard. One day, our unit’s student assistant had a birthday. Maybe I spilled some cake crumbs down the keyboard, but for some reason, I flipped it over to give it a good, overdue shakeout. The manufacture date stamped on the bottom indicated that it was three years older than our student assistant.
The Model M’s are indeed built to last but I also have a Unicomp keyboard on my primary home desktop and I have no doubt it will last just as long.
I like having my cake and eating it too. Having these old tactile keyboards is awesome. But I want to be able to customize as per my needs and program any key to behave exactly as per my requirements.
There are people who change the controller of these keyboards with a programable controller and achieve that. For example, you can have the F13-F24 by pressing Left-Control+F1 to F12. Or map Ctrl+Alt+Del to the Scroll Lock key like I do.
In my case, I map characters that I use when writing in Spanish, line ñ, á, ¿ or ü, without having to change the keyboard layout language. I also map Windows Sniping tool to Print Screen and can control volume and screen brightness with the arrows keys, among other customizations.
Instead of buying a recreation of the IBM Model M and replacing the board for a programmable one, I bought a recreation of an IBM Model F keyboard (the predecessor of the Model M) since it comes with a programable controller. In addition, it has a metallic body (better than plastic) and will just last longer since it doesn’t have the plastic rivets that die in the model m keyboard.
One joke that I make to people that come to my home office is: ‘Hey, hand me a little paper that is under my keyboard’. Nobody have raised the keyboard before the 3rd try. This is a tank.
If you are curious, just Google ‘Brand New Model F Keyboards’. I’m not related. Just a happy customer.
Yeah, I had actually considered a Model F. I think I heard about them from Steve Troughton-Smith. But I had a bad case of sticker shock.
I hear you. I got the same initial impression.
But I justified this way: it is a much more elegant, the key press is lighter and crisper, will last much longer without having to repair and the programmability will give me much more value. Since I work in the keyboard more than 50 hours a week (writing and programming), it will pay for itself.
Really, by the time that I pass it down to one of my sons, I know that I’ll be paying less than $12-$15 per year for it. If the concept of a keyboard doesn’t become obsolete, he will use it for his lifetime too, because the internals of this keyboard are made of steel and designed to be repairable. No plastic rivets here.
Be aware that the original IBM Modem F used to sell for about $350 in the '80s, which is about $650 in today’s dollars. So you are getting this keyboard at a much lower price.
Interesting, but it’s a completely custom layout. They haven’t copied any of IBM’s “model F” layouts:
For example, they don’t have any function keys. At least the pictures on their web site doesn’t show any.
One keyboard that potentially interests me is Unicomp’s PC-122. This is designed for 3270 terminal applications, but I’m thinking that having all those function keys would be wonderful if they can be recognized by macOS (and therefore be assigned functions in the Keyboard preference panel).
I had to edit the article to correct myself on ghosting vs. n-key rollover. I did the research, but it turns out my sources also had the two confused, which seems to be common.
Ghosting is when you press two keys at the same time and a third “ghost” keypress is registered, unrelated to the two keys you pressed. So you press “a” and “m” and “y” randomly appears in what you’re typing. That would indeed be a very bad thing for typing, and I have no experienced that with the New Model M.
N-Key Rollover is a technology that addresses the opposite problem: keys that don’t register when you press multiple keys at once. I originally mistook this for ghosting in the article. N-Key rollover means you can press all the keys you want simultaneously and all keys will register.
However, n-key rollover is often sold as anti-ghosting, which adds to the confusion.
This video makes the difference clear.
Is there an advantage to having a programmable keyboard controller instead of making the key assignments in software with something like Karabiner-Elements? The advantage of using something like that is you can choose whatever keyboard you want and pair it with the key mappings you want.
Note that MacOS also has a built-in facility to create custom keybindings, that can be useful for simpler cases (though creating the custom file is a bit technical). Full details here.
Finally, the Xah Code website is an amazing resource for all things keyboard – both info on hardware and all the software details and options on Mac, Windows, and Linux.
Besides the fact that this solution only work on one computer, and conversely, some of those mappings don’t make sense when connecting another keyboard to the same computer? This wouldn’t work in a laptop.
For example, I used in the past a keyboard without Windows key (very simple mapping). The mapping solution only solved the problem with that particular computer-keyboard combination.
But my problem goes beyond that. I’m very restricted on what kind of software can be installed in my work computer. And, I cannot edit the registry at all.
Beyond that, I have not explored the application that you suggested, but Microsoft PowerToys cannot enter Unicode characters, for example. Can you imagine a keyboard-OS combination that cannot enter emojis with a single Fn-n or or Right-Ctrl-n for ñ?
My wife’s laptop is even more restricted.
With a programmable keyboard when I want to send Thumbs Up,:
The function is a little more complex to be able to send Ñ, but you get the idea.
Now try that with a mapping.
In a more robust OS like OSX or Linux entry of Unicode is much more simpler, however.
For a more expanded Unicode support in Windows QMK developers recommend installing WinCompose. However I’m ok with the characters that can be entered as Atl+codes.
Correction, I mentioned about entering emojis above. You can do that only in Linux an OSX without additional software. Maybe you can do that with mapping too. In Windows you cannot enter emojis I unless you install additional software like WinCompose. But that’s is not an option for me.
Just curious, so I put one in the cart, then added 2 of the Customized with “Use Mac Layout” as the comment. So with S/H its about $142~ to me (10-14day lead time). Well… I can’t order it. Form keeps saying fraud alert (I used several different cards that are known good…its their merchant and/or my browser…or something dumb like that I have both a PO box and street). Worse, I called but reach no one. So I emailed support with the issue. We’ll see. Great article and I also have a 5/21/90 Model M from an IBM…so I x fingers…
Let me know what they say. If customer service doesn’t help, I have a high-up contact there.
Support was quick to respond, but they acknowledge “We have been experiencing issues with our ordering portal on our website”. I did check out as guest, as they suggested, but I think there is another issue that irks me with online merchants: I have a PO Box that is because I live in a historic town, and many won’t ship to PO. And with UPS/Fedex, mostly to a street address. So I have to be “exact” on the ship to/bill to from. I’ll keep ya posted. Nope-Keep getting declined by Fraud Service on proper “exact” address and billing. Got it to work under Paypal…ironic its same card. So I suggest use PayPal.
Please do. I’ve seen a lot of vendors (including big-name vendors like Dell) reject purchases for what seems to be entirely capricious reasons. The story usually goes something like:
I don’t know why this happens so often. I assume they have installed some kind of AI-based security system and nobody working there actually understands how it works, so when it fails catastrophically, they’re left making up excuses to try and get you off the phone.
Here’s hoping that Unicomp isn’t as incompetent as Dell, Paypall and eBay (and many others) have been to me in the past.
I had the same issue. I tried with two different cards, and then decided maybe this was fate telling me it wasn’t meant to be. I gave up.
I might take a look again if they come out with simpler way to order - and one that makes it possible to pay.
Karabiner-Elements allows you to specify that a particular mapping only applies to a specific keyboard (or multiple specific keyboards) or all keyboards, so I think it would work fine for what you’re suggesting.
But I didn’t realise you were also trying to use Windows (and I also didn’t realise how difficult it is to enter characters in Windows!). If you’re switching between computers or working with Windows, I can see the benefit of a programmable keyboard.
I’ve contacted a VP at Unicomp to see if they can get this sorted out.
Apple makes a French-Canadian keyboard (ISO compliant) as well as other localized keyboards. It provides French diacrital accents directly and has a reduced size key where the Upper key is, hence reducing its dimension (OK with users!. No remapping is necessary. I wonder if the Company is looking at this or even possible?
Seriously, there are all kinds of alternatives. I’m typing right now on a KeyChron K4 v2, which allows all kinds of layout mods and choice of switches. I opted for the 10 key-less version with white LEDs (I could give a crap about RGB effects) with Gateron Blue switches and it was less than $70, (also BlueTooth and wired options) Shipping was $20 from Hong Kong but it took only 3 days to arrive. It’s low profile and has all the tactile feel I love as a touch typist. Mac users should expand their horizons a bit. There’s other hardware out there, just look for it.
I learned to type on my mother’s IBM Selectric in the 1970s. Loved it. Then a rich neighbour bought the first IBM PC, and again I loved the keyboard. Nothing has matched up to it since (although the Apple ADB was good). For several years I have used a Mathias Tactile Pro FK302, which feels good, but my wife is slowly going mad with the noise. So tell me: If I order one of the new Model M keyboards, will I be rapt once again with the same feel as on the Selectric and IBM PC? And will my wife no longer have to don industrial ear muffs?
If your “exact” is the USPS recommended street+unit addressing, the Fraud Alert may be due to saying the shipping & billing addresses are the same. I use “P.O. Box” address for the billing address, but the “Street+Unit” address for the shipping. I haven’t had any problems with FedEx or UPS with that. Oh I’ve also put the street+unit address in my PayPal address book in addition to the P.O. box address.
I’m right with you on the IBM Selectric typewriter keyboard feel. I also learned to type on those in high school (although we had few electric typewriters, most of them were manuals). But no keyboard Apple has ever made beats the Apple Extended Keyboard II, a keyboard many of us still own and a lot of us still use with a serial-to-usb adapter. The sound of it (also loud) would never bother me in a million years! Best tactile feel EVER.
Thanks but, this isn’t my input error as much the merchant-form processing end. I’ve not changed any configuration that I’ve used successfully elsewhere. And I considered browsers too, as sometime my FF is locked down to protect me. But with this one in particular, it didn’t work. And my Paypal info on file is exactly same (Bill to and Ship to addresses with PO Box). I even called my creditcard companies to verify what they have on file for addresses. An my amex support told me they had no fraudulent activity at specific time/day. But the good news is, I received my order confirmation email. So, I’ll be back to update when it arrives!
At Unicomp, we use address verification ( card address and shipping address match) to help manage fraudulent purchases. Currently, even customers whose addresses match are being rejected. We have a support ticket opened with our e-store host but… So, there are two things that can be tried to circumvent the issue:1) place items into your cart and checkout as a guest. Not 100% effective but failing that try 2) open a ticket at [email protected]. Someone will work with you to take your order.
I apologize for the inconvenience. Hopefully we will have the problem resolved soon. Thanks for your patience.
VP of Development and Support
Unicomp GA LLC
I have stuff shipped to the PO. In other words, rather than having it shipped to PO Box 123, I have it shipped to 987 Main St #123, where 987 Main St is the address of the PO. Both UPS and FedEx deliver to the address specified this way.
How did I learn to do it this way? The Post Office suggested it. It was long ago, but it was a flyer from some level much higher than my local post office.
I sent a question to support and got an immediate email acknowledgement. But then I got another email telling me to go to the web site to read the answer. It rubbed me the wrong way that they wouldn’t put the answer in email as well as on the web site. Am I too picky?
Will, I don’t want to deter J’s article. But, for the PO stuff, I had no issue tonight with 3 different vendors and orders using card that goes to a PO. Its the server/merchant end, how the form is setup, and whether its not or is, checking credentials to match form if/thens. My local Post Office postmaster clearly explained that, technically, its illegal for a merchant to refuse shipping to a post office box (and that is all I have, no mailbox at my home). Now, I do add to the end of the street addy, the box with tricks like b o x then #. Where the spacing fools the shipping form. And allows the postal agent to see, Ok, its box #. Fedex/UPS use the avenue I provide and ignore the box info. But lately, oh too much, Amazon is doing more UPS-to-last mile Postal. That means I need that Box number in there. And then the billing, I have ironed out all my debit/paypal/cc billing to be specific, and shipping to be the street/box. Works out. I just think that when going to be an internet merchant, you should look at some of the successful sites out there, and mirror them.
And yeah, I am not fond of merchants that open a ticket system and you have to login or visit to see the status. I mean, you emailed me that I have a ticket status…well…? Right?
To Josh: Again, thank you for the article. I await my M. And with your info, I will take care of the blue LEDs promptly…(maybe replace with white or red surface mounts via hot air).
If you do that swap, can you document how you do it? That would be good info to know.
While a LED swap is definitely cool, there is an inexpensive, less labor-intensive, and easily reversible solution: LightDims. I ordered a pack right after my New Model M.
Thanks for writing this article, Josh! I had been in contact with them for months, and the can kept getting kicked down the road. I only wish I’d seen your comment about them making the Mac layout a standard (and hopefully cheaper) option shortly. I would have waited to place my order. But, oh well. At least I’ll have a great keyboard on the way!
I bought my Spacesaver M back in 2012, and the fit and finish is good. (Presumably the machine tools weren’t quite so worn back then.)
Given that my Spacesaver M works fine, is there any benefit to buying the New Model M?
I’ve also been drooling over that new Model F, and if I didn’t already have my Spacesaver M buckling spring, I’d probably get one, because any buckling spring keyboard is better than the crappy $5 plastic dome keyboards commonly available. But it’s almost $400, and while I might like it better than one I have now, it’s hard to imagine that the value of any improvement would be equal to $400.
(I have a coworker who ordered one of those Model Fs; maybe after I see it I’ll reconsider.)
No, not unless you just want a new keyboard or want to help support Unicomp.
I don’t yet see the Mac layout as a standard option on the New Model M, but I wanted to point out that the Mini M is now available. Unicomp was kind enough to send me a prototype for testing. However, we’re not reviewing it in TidBITS at this time because there isn’t a Mac layout option yet.
A few quick notes:
The Mini M starts at $121.
Well, now I can stop feeling (as) bad about having placed my order “too early.” I’m sure the Mini M will get the Mac layout option soon. But I wouldn’t have wanted to wait any longer than I already did for my New M.
Just an update to say that after three+ months of using the New Model M, it still slaps. Probably my favorite keyboard ever.
I wrote last week to Unicomp to ask about ordering a customised New Model M but have not had an acknowledgement of receipt. Can someone suggest the best e-mail address to write to? (No, I won’t call from Australia!)
I’m guessing you already used the [email protected] address shown on their site. I would just comment that we are just coming off the first real long weekend here in the US that we’ve had in a long time and that lockdowns have many tech staffs overwhelmed this year, so you might want to allow a little extra time for a reply.
Yes. Thanks for the advice about public holidays. That makes sense.
My understanding is they’ve been a bit understaffed since COVID, but they’re usually pretty good at support requests. If you haven’t heard from them by the end of the week, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with someone.
Thanks. I’ll update here when I have an answer.
Still no answer now after nearly 2 weeks. Can you recommend a different e-mail address to write to?
Hi Matthew, I looped you in on an email with someone at Unicomp who should be able to help.
After much toing and froing by e-mail, my new, one-of-a-kind New Model M for Mac keyboard, customised as close to the Matias functionality as possible, arrived (here in Australia) last week. Once I’ve used it a bit more, I’ll write a few comments on my experience here.
Awesome! I hope you’re enjoying it. I’m still loving my New Model M.
I’ve had my shiny new New Model M for a week now and I love it.
The key feel. The key height allows a slightly deeper press than on the Apple Extended Keyboard and the Matias, but it’s enough of a difference to feel meaningful. If you remember the Monty Python sketch of “woody” versus “tinny” words, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that this keyboard is definitely “woody” in travel distance.
The sound. Although it sounds plastic (which, of course, it is), it is nowhere near as loud as the Matias. The Matias drove my wife to distraction with the noise. In contrast, she likes the sound of the Unicomp. My marriage is assured.
Customisation: Unicomp makes it easy to customise the keys, so I had my keyboard made as close as possible to the Matias layout. So I have the Fn key to the left of Home and the Clear key at the top left of the numeric keypad, and the Command, Option and Control keys in the expected locations.
A nice long USB cable.
Minuses (all trivial):
The F keys are 12.5 mm further away from the number keys on the Unicomp, so I am having to extend my fingers a bit further. Not a problem, though.
The assignment of some of the F keys: Whereas the Mac instantly recognises the Matias keyboard, plugging in the Unicomp prompts it to ask the user to identify the keyboard. This supports the contention of Don Bowman of Unicomp that Matias has access to the Apple firmware that controls the F keys. This may explain why some of the F keys behave as expected (no printed actions) but others don’t (printed actions even when Fn is pressed to switch function). Unicomp uses its own method for the Fn key, which it appears the Mac doesn’t pick up in relation to the assigned F keys. In particular, F8 invokes Apple Music, which I have never used. Fortunately, noTunes blocks this.
The absence of F16, F17, F18 and Eject, which is no loss to me as I never use them.
The aesthetics: I prefer understated design, where function is obvious from form. The Unicomp body is black (Henry Ford’s choice for the New Model M, though other colours are available for other models), the alphanumeric keys are white, and the functional keys are grey. The colour groupings are logical but, to my taste, not necessary. However, I find the logo obtrusive and the two blue LEDs (Caps Lock and Fn) glaringly bright. I’ll find something to cover the LEDs to reduce their intensity. Definitely not show-stoppers, though.
My overall impression is that this is a keyboard I’ll be able to hang onto and enjoy using for many years to come.
Finally, two points on purchase:
As others here have mentioned, the Unicomp vendor software refused to accept my details, and it took an intervention by the helpful Don Bowman to go through. For some reason, the software refuses to accept any address that is not in the Fedex list. I used a forwarding service, which it didn’t like.
The forwarding service, VPost, is run by Singapore Post, which offers a cheaper postage service to countries outside the USA than Fedex or the USPS. But this is for values of “cheaper” that amount to loose change. Although the cost of the keyboard plus customisation was very reasonable, adding in the exchange rate and the cost of VPost (plus exchange rate on that too), plus GST (VAT), made this purchase highly expensive, and best suited to keyboard devotees such as myself.
I haven’t had that trouble. My F8 key plays and pauses media normally in YouTube and other Web apps. One thing I like about this keyboard is I can press Shift-Function to lock Function in place to use the F keys normally in games.
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