Overview of the ErgoDox Keyboard

As noted already, my particular unit has Cherry MX Clear switches, which definitely have a different feel than the MX Brown switches used on the TECK and Kinesis, but the great thing about the ErgoDox is that you can order it with one of four types of Cherry MX switches: Blue, Black, Clear, and Red. Massdrop has a good description of the four switch types, but I would have liked to see MX Brown switches as another option – perhaps there are patent issues preventing that from happening, or maybe it’s just a supply problem. Having already adapted to the TECK layout and then the Kinesis Advantage, this third time around I find it wasn’t nearly as hard to come to grips with yet another new layout. In terms of differences from a standard layout, the ErgoDox falls somewhere in between the Kinesis and a typical keyboard, with dashes of uniqueness thrown in for good measure.

One thing I do need to mention is that the review sample has labeled key caps; I'm not sure where exactly you get these, but if you do a standard order through Massdrop you'll end up with blank key caps. That's both good and bad; the good is that since the key mappings are stored in your head (and in the firmware), there's nothing to prevent you from changing where keys are located. Only the key sizes need to be maintained (more or less). The bad news is that if you're trying to learn a new layout, not having key labels can be a bit of a hurdle initially, plus any time someone else tries to use your keyboard they'll be at a complete loss. (Wait, maybe that's actually good? Hahaha....) Keep this in mind as I discuss the layout.

Since the keyboard is split into two pieces, obviously we have two halves again. Interestingly, where the TECK and Kinesis have the 6 key on the right hand, on the ErgoDox I received the 6 has been moved over to the left hand. Some typists prefer using the left hand for the 6 key, and that’s the “officially correct” way of typing, so this isn’t a major issue – it’s just something slightly different and perhaps more in line with the Microsoft Natural. Coming straight from the Kinesis, however, the top keys on the right hand are all shifted right, so that’s definitely something I found myself adapting to, but outside of typing numbers (or their associated symbols) things aren’t too bad.

The bottom row of keys is also completely changed relative to the Kinesis; on the left side you get the Start key (marked with a Star), then brackets, tilde, and a key for switching between QWERTY and Dvorak. I have yet to try Dvorak (except when I accidentally hit the key and suddenly all my words are garbled), but the ErgoDox I have came with dual labels so that’s at least one less thing to overcome should I decide to make the switch. On the right hand, the bottom row gets the cursor keys with an unusual arrangement (Right, Down, Up, Left), and another Star key on the bottom right (mapped to the Start Menu/Screen by default).

Moving on to the thumbs, we get something similar to the Kinesis thumb pads, but with differing key assignments. On the left thumb you get Space in the primary position with Delete next to it. The other keys consist of Home and End at the top of the pad, with Ctrl and Alt on the two keys to the right. On the right pad, again Space is in the primary position, but Enter is in the secondary spot – the same place where you find it on the Kinesis.  Ctrl and Alt are mirrored from the left thumb pad, at the left side of the pad, and PrtSc and Insert are at the top.

My unit came with the Delete key mapped to Backspace instead, which I didn’t mind too much but it meant there was no actual Delete key anywhere. Massdrop has built their own ErgoDox Layout Configurator to help with the assembly process, and you can even share layouts. The layout for my review sample can be accessed here, and you can customize any of the key mappings as you see fit. I ended up changing the left thumb Delete key to an actual Delete, as it’s a key I use regularly (and since it was otherwise impossible to do Ctrl+Alt+Delete, and likewise there’s no way to press Delete to enter the system BIOS, which is required for most custom desktops). I made a couple more changes, the first influenced by my use of the Kinesis: I set the left thumb Space to be Backspace. The other was to remap Insert to the Menu Key (called the Application Key on the Massdrop Configurator); I never use Insert these days, but I frequently use the Menu key. Again, the awesome thing is that you can customize your layout to your liking – here’s my final layout for the ErgoDox.

There’s another interesting aspect to the keyboard that you might not immediately notice, but there are almost no dedicated function keys on the keyboard – there’s an Fn key on the left side, and using that in combination with the number keys will get you the function keys. There are two exceptions: F4 and F5 both get a dedicated key on the right side of the left keyboard half. I use F5 regularly for refresh, and the dedicated F4 is good for closing applications (Alt+F4) as well as windows within an application (Ctrl+F4). I also use F2 (edit file name/edit cell contents) and F3 (find again) regularly, but I end up having to resort to the Fn+2/3 shortcuts for those. On the right half of the keyboard, you get two other keys that are frequently used: PgUp and PgDn. That basically gives dedicated access to nearly all of the commonly used keys (the function keys being the most noteworthy exception).

The biggest change overall is that this time there are two separate halves to the keyboard, which you can position as you see fit. My personal take on this is that it’s both a blessing and a curse – it allows you a lot of flexibility, so whether you have wide shoulders or narrow shoulders you should be able to find a comfortable placement for the halves. The problem is that the halves can easily shift, which results in frequent repositioning of the keyboard pieces to keep them in place. The issue is that there are no rubber feet on the bottom of the keyboard so they slide around on most surfaces; that’s something you can rectify pretty easily, but it would have been nice to get the rubber feet as part of the kit.

Other minor concerns are that I find that the cord connecting the two halves is a bit shorter than I’d like – not that I can’t move the halves far enough apart, but the cord isn’t long enough to get it out of the way, like behind the screen for instance. The USB to Mini-USB cable that connects the keyboard to the PC is also very short, around 1m/3’, and if you have your desktop on the floor you may need to find a longer cable – again, not too difficult to do, but it’s an additional cost. Lastly, there’s the matter of finding space on your desk for the two halves; even though the surface area is probably the same or smaller than other keyboards, the cord ends up taking much of the empty space between the halves so it feels larger.

One other item that I mentioned on the previous page is that there are two configurations of the ErgoDox available: a Full Hand model that includes a palm rest on each half, and a Classic model that basically only has room for the keys and a small bezel around the outside. Having opted for the Classic configuration, in retrospect I would have preferred the Full Hand casing, as the missing palm rests are definitely something I notice in regular use.

Introducing the ErgoDox and Massdrop Subjective Evaluation of the ErgoDox
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  • R-Type - Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - link

    A broken keyboard. Because we need more wires and piece-parts on our desks.
  • John Green - Wednesday, October 1, 2014 - link

    I am inviting to the www.ergodox.pl shop or www.falbatech.pl for new parts for your ErgoDox
  • Bob Todd - Thursday, August 29, 2013 - link

    I like to read these, but I'll stick with my cheapo non-mechanical Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 :).
  • Choppedliver - Friday, August 30, 2013 - link

    Programmers will never give up a keyboard. Why? You dont sit there and type code like you are reading a story out loud. At least not often. Much of the time you are sitting there trying to figure out what you are going to do , how you are going to do it, and googling how others have already done it.
  • boli - Friday, August 30, 2013 - link

    You need to know that the ErgoDox you received for review is special in multiple ways:
    1. it has labeled key caps
    2. it has a weird layout. Click "defaults" then "QWERTY" in the web configurator to see a more standard configuration.
    3. Your configuration does not have any layer push keys. Those can enable/disable a layer until the layer is popped again, which could have voided one of your criticisms.

    Key (grid) spacing is the very same on the ErgoDox as it is on the TECK, the Kinesis, or most standard keyboards! Feel free to measure it. Keys on the Advantage are closer due to the curvature, of course.

    Background: I have 3 Kinesis Advantage (two with Cherry reds, one with Cherry browns), a TECK (brown), and 2 ErgoDox (one with Cherry blues, one with Cherry clears, 3rd with reds on order). I've been using the Advantage for years and the TECK and ErgoDox for weeks.

    Cheers, boli
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, August 31, 2013 - link

    I discussed the configurator quite a bit, along with the power it offers, including how to add an integrated 10-key with a layout that I like more. I'm not sure how you seem to miss that I understand this is a highly configurable keyboard, and that the layout on my unit does not necessarily have to be the same as others. In fact, I highlighted this (extensively) in the review. Also, the layout I have does indeed have layer push/pop (really just the Dvorak switch); as for the criticism this would have voided... I'm not even sure which criticism you're referring to, so please enlighten me.

    I also noted (more than once) the fact that labeled keys are not standard; I wish they were, or at least wish there was an easy (inexpensive) way to get them. Some people may prefer blanks, simply because you can then configure the layout however you want, but I personally like having key labels -- it really helps with the initial learning curve, plus people other than yourself can actually use the keyboard if needed.

    Regarding the spacing and the keys, yes, the spacing is the same as on the TECK, though the layouts are obviously completely different. However, coming from the Kinesis Advantage it's a pretty big change, and the result is that I feel the ErgoDox (in this design) is a better fit for larger hands. I'm not small handed by any means, but the distance between the thumb pads and the rest of the keys is pretty large compared to the Kinesis, and that alone makes for a typing experience that some may find less appealing.

    Anyway, the main point I'm trying to convey with this review is the customization options, which are truly awesome, and the fact that pretty much everything else is going to be highly subjective. I don't dislike the ErgoDox by any means, but for pure typing duties I'd still go with the Kinesis.
  • boli - Thursday, September 5, 2013 - link

    Upon re-reading your review, I realize I must have missed some stuff so my comments weren't all appropriate, my apologies.

    Yes you did talk about the configurator later, after discussing the particularities of the "random" layout your unit came with. I still think the layout of your unit is weird, and most people might be better off with the default QWERTY layout (plus some individual tweaks), which is somewhat closer to the Kinesis Advantage layout.

    I'd have been interesting to see what you ended up with if you'd received an ErgoDox with blank keycaps and initial layout. I like labeled keys as well, but they get in the way of experimenting in my opinion.
    In my experience other people are thrown off anyway given the grid layout they're not used to, and the increased use of the thumbs (Backspace and Enter in particularly).
    As for learning, I think one is better off printing the layout and attaching it to the display, until it is no longer needed - it's easier to see than letters printed below one's fingers. ;)

    The criticism I meant was "holding down Fn the whole time isn’t something I want to do", which applies to the unit you were sent, but not the default, which has the 10-key on layer 1, and it features layer 1 push and pop keys.

    Yes, the thumb cluster feels further away than on the Kinesis, that's not what was said in the review though: "...the keys are somewhat larger and spaced out more than on the TECK and Kinesis keyboards, ..."

    Something I find unfortunate is the key caps that massdrop chose for some of the keys, in particular the two top keys in each thumb cluster - having used a Kinesis you know that it's much taller keys are easier to press without pressing the ones below. The 1x2 keys in the thumb cluster are quite different from the Kinesis ones as well - and I noticed those on your unit are different than the one included in the DCS key cap set.

    About gaming: I've been using a Kinesis Advantage for 5+ years and game quite a bit - mostly StarCraft 2 nowadays - and it works well, if you can put all the keys you need on the left half. With the ErgoDox you can even move the right half out of the way and put the mouse there instead, which is quite comfortable in my opinion.

    For inspiration, this is what I'm currently using: https://www.massdrop.com/ext/ergodox/?referer=UWH9...
    - only one extra layer with numpad, F-keys and arrows in normal configuration (didn't get rid of the layer 2, but there's no access to it)
    - layer toggle keys for both thumbs
    - numbers shifted 1 position left to make using them feel the same as on a regular (non-grid) keyboard
    - arrows on left hand for concurrent right hand mousing
    - second Enter on left hand, when right hand is on mouse

    From the 3 keyboards my favorite is also the Kinesis - its shape is hard to beat, though I will always be wondering what a Maltron keyboard feels like, the granddaddy of ergonomic keyboards. :) The ErgoDox is a close second, with better configurability (teensy FTW) and a few nice to have extra keys. The TECK is also nice but does not nearly have enough thumb buttons for my liking.

    I'm glad you reviewed all of these keyboards and hope you will try more.

    Also, Colemak is a nice layout indeed, can recommend it heartily. The switch is tough though, harder and lasts longer than adjusting to a new keyboard in my experience.
  • praftman - Sunday, September 1, 2013 - link

    Datahand and SafeType. Those would be interesting reviews.
  • mediaconvert - Saturday, September 7, 2013 - link

    Personally I have noticed that laptop/scrabble tile keyboards are less stressful on the hands. I think it might be the lower travel distance of the keys. If you are suffering from keyboard related stress you might want to give it a try.
  • FKname - Friday, January 24, 2014 - link

    It's called Groupon, "The idea behind the site is a bit like.." Groupon, not Kickstarter. It's not at all like Kickstarter (which funds things that don't exist yet), unless your criteria for similarity is if _money_ is involved - in which case it's like Target, or Sears, a bank, or maybe your wallet? Which? Pick?

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