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Ergodox – The customizable ergonomic split keyboard

A few months ago, I got a mechanical keyboard called Ergodox. It is an open source keyboard (which means its schematics are posted online for anyone who wants to build it.) that you need to build yourself. You cannot buy it pre-built. Although, recently people have been putting up Ergodox with Cherry MX blue switches.

It has 2 halves (like every other split keyboard) that are separated by a wire. And, you can put the two pieces as far or as close as you want. I usually have a 6-7 inch separation between them.

Why did I get it?

I hated the placement of the apple command key on regular keyboard and wanted it to be in a more convenient place so I set out to search for keyboards that have it placed more to the middle. Das seemed like a great choice for this as their alt key is located below the letter C (not below X where it usually is) but I still wasn’t satisfied. So, after some research I found out about Ergodox.

I did quite a bit of research (read reviews, visited geekhack, etc) and decide to take a leap of faith and just get one for myself. Massdrop was doing a group buy and it was going for cheap so I joined the group buy and received it in about 2 months.

Ergodox’s design is heavily influenced by Kinesis Advantage which is an amazing keyboard in its own right. I love that they (both Ergodox and Kinesis Advantage) have a thumb cluster (a set of keys intended for use by the thumb).

It uses Teensy to register key presses and you can make any key register anything you want. You can choose to have a qwerty, colemak, dvorak or a custom layout. For alphabets, I use qwerty layout but for other things I have it customized to help me program. You can find a link to my layout at the bottom of this post.

The Good

You can customize pretty much anything you want. You can have one layout or multiple layouts. Very few keyboards let you do that and those that do, have a limited selection of layouts you can use. With Ergodox, you can make your own layout, if you wanted.

If you know a little C you can even customize the LEDs. Usually the LEDs are used to indicate if caps lock or num lock is on (I don’t think anyone uses or cares about scroll lock). I have never needed to use caps lock or num lock so I programmed my Ergodox to tell me which layer I am on (I use one layout for regular use and another for gaming and I have another layer for multimedia keys like volume control, etc).

The thing I love a lot about Ergodox is the thumb cluster. I have found it to be very useful. It has reduced my hand travel by quite a bit and this has, in turn, reduced the typing mistakes I make.

It is truly a split keyboard. You can have the two halves of Ergodox as far or close as you want. You can also detach the wire separating them for easy storage.

The Bad

There is a big learning curve initially – just like if you moved to Kinesis Advantage from a regular keyboard. So, you will have to be patient with it for the first month. I got fairly comfortable with it in a week but it took me about a month or two to treat it like an extension of my hand.

You have to wait about 2 months to get it after you order it (if you want it for a cheaper price). Or, spend over 500 dollars.

You cannot order it whenever you want if you want to get it for an affordable price. Massdrop, which is pretty much the only distributor that sells Ergodox for an affordable price, does a group buy every 2-3 months. So, if you miss the drop you have to wait 2-3 months to get it.

Ergodox cannot wake up your Mac from sleep. If your computer is in hybernation or sleep then hitting a key on the keyboard will wake it up. This is not the case with Ergodox. So, you will need to use your mouse to wake your computer up.

Although, if you connect your Ergodox to your computer through a USB hub then it will be able to wake the computer up (but not when Ergodox is connected to the computer directly).

Conclusion

I have been using Ergodox for over 3 months now and I don’t want to use any other keyboard. I love it so much that I take it to work and back home since I have just one. Although, will be getting another one for work because I don’t want to carry it everyday.

I have been tweaking it ever since I got it. Moulding it to my needs – making my life easier as I keep using it. I have had a complaint with all the keyboards I have ever used including Kinesis freestyle 2 and Kinesis Advantage. For the most part, you can’t do anything about it but with Ergodox you can and there is a huge community of people at geekhack to help you.

It is, however, not for everyone. My friend tried it and said he preferred the staggered layout of a regular keyboard vs the matrix layout of Ergodox. I have found matrix layer to be better for me when typing. So, it is all subjective.

The keycaps that Massdrop sells for Ergodox make it hard to use the top row in the thumb cluster. However, Signature plastics sells DCS R5 keycaps on their website that make using those keys so much easier. Kinesis Advantage does the same thing.

If you can afford it, I suggest you try Ergodox out and if you don’t like it you can sell it on Ebay for nearly its cost price and maybe even more than it.

Ergodox’s website: http://ergodox.org
Massdrop: http://massdrop.com
My layout (which keeps changing): https://www.massdrop.com/ext/ergodox/?referer=79XXDG&hash=c7c8e22d2b149739fe6c43a1c8d33286

By Moazzam

Moazzam is a software developer working in the big apple. He has over a decade of experience in development. While most of his work involves developing web applications, he does development for Android and Windows Mobile in his spare time.

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