Although original ALPS switches are no longer manufactured, the clone ALPS created by Matias stay true to the originals. What makes ALPS so different is their tactile feeling and the distinct “click” sound that they make. This is especially true for the ALPS spring switch.
They were first introduced in 1983 and today Matias offers three versions of ALPS-type switches. They are the quiet click, click, and quiet linear switches. Each has its own benefits and specific uses.
Short History of ALPS Switches
The Alps Company was officially established in 1948. It actually first started as a company named Kataoka Electric Co. Established in 1943, it employed 23 people. In the 60s, the name was changed to Alps Electric. At this time, the company was planning its expansion to the United States and Europe. In the 70s, the company started making mechanical parts for cassettes, remote controllers, and printers. With the 80s came a great need for the new technology available to everyone, PCs. From floppy disks to mice and finally the ALPS keyboard switches.
Today, Alps Electric manufactures electronics for automobiles while also actively targeting the healthcare and medical markets. They have, however, abandoned the ALPS keyboard switch to the dismay of many. Now, others have taken their original design and are making clones of varying quality. Some of these clones are not worth your time or money. Those made by Matias, however, are considered quality keyboard switches. They remain true to the original design and have even improved upon it in a few aspects.
Matias Takes Over
Matias, like many computer companies, started in the garage of Edgar Matias’s parents’ basement. It was later founded on the 3rd of August in 1990 by Edgar Matias, Steve, and James McGowen. The first product that they manufactured and sold was their “Half-Keyboard“. It was a product aimed at skilled touch typists and allowed them to use only one hand to type for extreme productivity.
Their first commercial success, however, was the Tactile Pro Keyboard. This keyboard used ALPS keyswitches that were first introduced in the Apple Extended Keyboard. Originally created in the 90s, the Tactile Pro is now available for both MACs and PCs. Today, however, it’s not only the Tactile Pro which offers users the ALPS-type switch. Matias have expanded on this field and successfully rescued this great switch technology. They also offer ALPS compatible keycaps should you need to replace old ones.
The Three Main Matias Switches
From a variety of products, Matias offers keyboards with three main ALPS-type switches. Described as quiet, click, and quiet linear, these ALPS clones are as good as their originals if not better. They used higher quality, harder materials resulting in the pinnacle of ALPS clone switches. This success has made them a contender in the keyboard industry and has won them numerous awards.
Matias Click Switches
For those who love “clicky” sounds from their mechanical keyboards, the Matias Click is the perfect ALPS-like solution. These were the first switches used in the Tactile Pro. Matias offers a range of Tactile Pro keyboards today including the mini Tactile Pro.
These switches are an almost exact copy of the original ALPS SKBM White switches, only more modern with some improvements (such as a clear housing to support backlit keys). They keep the tactile feeling as well as the relentless sound of a hardworking typists or gamer. The sound has an advantage as well. This additional feedback allows for even faster work or play as the typist hears and feels every key stroke.
Matias re-created this ALPS based switch through two years of testing and development while also improving on the original technology. They reduced the “ping” sound found in the first ALPS springs that some users found irritating.
Matias Quiet Click Switches
A copy of the ALPS SKBM Black, this Matias switch features dampening bumpers that drastically reduces the “clack” noise from both the down and up-stroke produced when the keycap rattles against the switch housing. Matias designed these for their Quiet PRO line of keyboards. The tactile feeling of a mechanical keyboard is kept, while the mechanical sound is diminished. A great switch when you need some audible feedback, but don’t want to bother your neighbors.
The Quiet Click was created for use in offices and other shared spaces. Places where the noise of a mechanical keyboard in use could be a nuisance. This was accomplished by experimenting and trying different springs, lubricants, stabilizers and more. Other than keeping the feeling of click switches, they also made them more durable. Matias Quiet Click switches are rated to last for about 50 million clicks.
Matias Quiet Linear Switches
The Quiet Linear switch was first created when the OSP (Open Steno Project) approached Matias to create a better, faster keyboard. They wanted a keyboard that could easily type over 225 words/minute and Matias delivered.
Most mechanical linear switch keyboards are created with a simple coil spring design. This, unfortunately, means that the resistance created when typing increases the further you press down on they key. This, in turn, slows down the typist. Matias’s solution to this problem is using a specifically designed internal leaf spring similar to those found in a tactile switch, but without the tactile bump. Instead of the resistance increasing during key actuation, the switch offers a slightly stronger resistance in the beginning of the key press that gradually decreases. This resistance then balances out as you type. The more you type, the easier it is. This allows typists even greater speeds while keeping a very smooth, consistent feel.
This linear switch also uses the sound dampening bumpers as the Matias Quiet Click. By also eliminating noise created by the switch itself Matias has made these keyboards very office-friendly. This linear switch was made with fast typists in mind.
When it comes to modern mechanical keyboard switches there unfortunately isn’t much in the way of options outside of Cherry MX (and MX clones). Matias/ALPS switches may not be vastly different from Cherry MX from a functionality perspective, but they do provide more variety in a industry currently lacking in competition. While you can find old keyboards with original ALPS switches, they are becoming few and far between. Chinese made clones are also an option, but they’re generally of lower quality than the real thing and not made to last. The only logical option for a brand new, non-MX based board is the Matias cloned ALPS-type switches.
Image credit/source: Matias