I love ergonomic layout keyboards. I've been lusting after the Ergodox models since they were originally on Kickstarter. So when a pal was selling theirs cheap, I leapt at the chance to play with one.
I've tried to love it - I really have - but it makes too many compromises, in my opinion. Make no mistake, it is a technological marvel. A brilliant open source project, with excellent support, and a great community. As a keyboard, it offers an excellent physical typing experience.
But it is really hard on my old brain!
I've been touch-typing since I was knee-high to a grass-hopper. So it was weird to continually have to glance down to look at the keyboard. But that got easier over time. At least, for the regular alphabet and numbers. Everything else was a bit of a mess.
There are three main problems I encountered.
I hadn't quite realised how dependent I was on Print Screen, volume and brightness changers, mute, and quick launch keys. To be clear you can map all those keys - but good luck remembering where they all are!
You can define multiple physical layers - but you then need a pretty complex mental map to keep them straight. Is the
* button on the shift layer, the alt layer, or the shift+alt layer? Where the hell even is the alt button?!?!!?
Even just having a few more keys scattered around would alleviate some of the problem - although it is compounded by...
In an ideal world, each key-cap would be a mini eInk screen which changed its display whenever you hit a modifier key. Sadly, you need to memorise the layout of a couple of dozen keys. Sure, you can print-out a map, or do daily exercises, but you still need a fairly hefty chunk of your brain dedicated to it.
At least you can set your own, personal layout. Mostly. You see there's a problem with...
This was really confusing. Every time I hit the @ button, it'd print an
". Why? Because you need to tell the keyboard - not your computer - that you're using a UK layout.
Annoying, but I get it. But even once I'd done that, it didn't work. Why? Turns out that I needed to assign the @ (UK) key there. *sigh*
This is the big issue. Sometimes I use my laptop's keyboard. It has a different layout to the Ergodox. So I constantly have to context shift in my brain to remember where are the buttons are. It slows me down massively.
And that, after a few weeks, is still a problem. Not least because I have to occasionally switch back to my laptop's keyboard - which means using a different mental model for typing.
I already feel like I'm super effective on my regular keyboard. I have plenty of shortcuts that I've already memorised. And, frankly, I'm not sure that a multi-week dip in productivity is going be be offset by whatever gains I might make by using it long-term.
I've been a bit moany about the keyboard - but it does have lots of redeeming features.
- Excellent positioning. Not only are the two sides completely separate, each has easily adjustable legs so you can set it to be exactly right for each hand.
- Brilliant Linux tooling. By default, it "just worked" on Linux - and there is a simple GUI for flashing new layouts. Sadly there's no way to edit layouts on Linux - you need to use the website for that.
- Genuinely friendly community. All my daft questions have been quickly answered by fans.
- Great typing action. Feels excellent to type on. Not too loud, which is a bonus.
- Infinitely customisable. You can replace the key switches to something heavier or lighter. There are lots of keycap sets if you want something more colourful.
- Comfortable wrist-rests. Large chunks of solid foam rubber.
- It is so interesting to use - and it really is worth experimenting with.
I'm going to persevere for now. Maybe my brain will click into place one day. But, if you'd like to try the keyboard, I'm happy to sell it to you for what I paid for it - £150 + UK postage. Contact me if you're interested.