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Geek Inside

Did you say keyboard?

Doug recently tweeted this:

I have opinions on this. :)

As Doug mentioned in his tweet, there is a quite passionate community about this; keyboards are no joke. :)

There is also no single answer to “what keyboard do I need?”

There are so many good options nowadays (check this Wiki to be overwhelmed), it is hard to give a simple, objective answer. That said, if I had to make a shortlist here is what I would include.

Kinesis Advantage 2

This is a reference for commercial split ergonomic keyboards. It’s super expensive, it’s not portable at all, but it is very good for your hands:

  • It is a split keyboard.
  • It has key wells so your hands naturally find the keys.

Matias Ergo Pro

Another strong contender, I don’t have much experience with it so I can’t tell you much about it. Its 2 halves can be tented a bit, but not too much.

Ergodox

That’s a very popular alternative to the 2 keyboards above:

  • Its software is open source, which means you can make the keyboard do anything you want. If you want one key to do ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ , you can.
  • It has a tenting kit
  • You can build the keyboard yourself or order it online.
  • You have a larger choice of key switches and keycaps to match your typing style.
  • Its hardware design is also open source.

The Dactyl or the Dactyl Manuform

Dactyl Keyboard
Dactyl Manuform

Now we enter a different territory. Just like the Ergodox, the hardware and software is open source. However, those keyboards are not commercially available; you have to build it yourself, or buy it from someone who has done it.

Those keyboards, however, gather a lot of the advantages of all the keyboards above:

  • They are tented.
  • They have key wells.
  • You can choose the key caps and switches you want.
  • You can program the keyboard to do whatever you want.

The Redox

Saving mine for last. 🙂

This is what I use at home. Here is a picture of my desk:

Yes, I use both a trackpad and a mouse; I have grown to really like Mac’s gestures so a trackpad can be handy 🙂

I wrote about this keyboard here. My current keyboard layout looks like this:

The keyboard can be built on your own, but it is commercially available as well. It is described as a redesign of the Ergodox, with less keys under the thumbs.

Now, how do you choose? 🙂

First of all, I would not worry about Mac support. All the keyboards above support Mac, and so do all good keyboards.

Yes, all those keyboards are expensive, but we are talking about a tool you’ll be using all day, every day. I am of the opinion that there are things that are worth investing in; things like a good mattress, a good office chair, and a good keyboard.

A split keyboard is a good investment for your posture. You’ll be more relaxed at your desk as your shoulders will be more open.

I was afraid I would have trouble getting used to tenting when I got my Redox, but I got used to it very quickly and it did wonders on my wrists. My arms have a more natural position, and it forces me to have my wrists float a bit. This is important as when your wrists are resting on the desk or on a wrist rest, you tend to move your arms less and instead move your wrists laterally like this:

This is terrible for your wrists.

Don’t be too afraid of switching.

Yes, it takes a few days to get used to tying on a split keyboard, but it’s worth it. I should note that it’s a lot easier if you already know how to touch type. I was really afraid of switching myself, and that is part of why I didn’t go for the Dactyl; I thought switching to a split keyboard was hard enough, I didn’t want to also have to get used to the key wells. I have to say I would happily get a Dactyl today.

Having a programmable keyboard can be super useful. The Kinesis offers some basic, limited key mapping features. The Matias offers very little flexibility. All the others run an open source software where the sky is the limit; you can create macros that match your needs and go hands in hands with the tools you already use every day (think Alfred, Zendesk).

In conclusion…

Do it. Build your own, buy one already made… That’s up to you. But you won’t regret treating yourself with a good tool for your everyday life.

That’s it for now. I could talk about this for hours but that’s already pretty long for an intro to the keyboard world. :)

I am happy to answer any other questions you may have!

Edit: I just saw this:

This is probably the best introduction to mechanical keyboards I’ve seen; make sure to check it out. If you’re still with me now, you must be interested! :)

I have used the ergo pro for about 2 years and while I love the alps-style switches and the feel, two of it’s plastic tenting legs broke pretty quickly. To be fair, their replacements haven’t. They got a new programmable version out recently.