Ergodox Keyboard Review

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

Ergodox is a open source do-it-yourself keyboard. You buy the components, and assemble yourself (you also need to do some soldering). The kit is over $220.

ergodox home page:

ergodox keyboard 2015 JvwKmR9
ergodox keyboard. 〔photo by tricheboars image source

The idea is heavily borrowed from Kinesis Contoured Keyboard, which is borrowed from Maltron Keyboard.

Where to Buy?

Currently there's no absolute one place. Check out the following.

Ergodox Review

The following is my analysis of the keyboard.

ergodox woodenlook 2013-10-25 44533
Ergodox keyboard. (photo by lark132 at image source, used with permission. non-commercial use.)

The ergodox is mostly about the physical layout design. The exact meaning of each key can be programed thru its firmware.

The most important aspect of a keyboard is the physical design of the keyboard. Because, the key's function can always be changed in software. It is the design of the hardware, the thought about key positions, arrangement, number of keys, key feel (Key Switch Mechanisms), that makes up the quality of a physical keyboard.

Each key's purpose can be changed by software, to various degrees. The best are thru good programable firmware. Such firmware lets you map arbitrary key codes to the keys, so you can essentially design your own software keyboard layout, to suite your needs such as gaming or use in {Microsoft Windows, Mac, Linux} or Emacs, vim, Xcode, Microsoft Visual Studio, or different layouts such as Dvorak, Colemak, Workman, NEO, Bépo, …. Most gaming keyboard all have good programable firmware. A good programable firmware also means you can take the keyboard anywhere and have your customized keys, without spending a lot time to config it thru operating system or other software for each machine. For example, if you use the Dvorak Keyboard Layout, you don't need to change the keyboard layout for each machine.

ergodox keyboard wooden wristpad by almightyglod
Ergodox keyboard. 2048×1158 (photo by almightyglod © by-nc-nd)
ergodox keyboard 32215 by almightyglod
1600×905 (photo by almightyglod © by-nc-nd)

in the above photo, the keyboard above is probably a Filco Majestouch-2 〔➤see Keyboards without Numeric Keypad〕 The trackballs are Logitech Trackman Marble and Kensington Expert Mouse. Bottom mouse is probably “Razer Taipan Ambidextrous Gaming Mouse” amazon

Key Count

There are a total of 76 keys.

38 on each side.

(5 rows × 6 columns = 30) + 2 + 6 thumb keys = 38

Number of Keys Compared to PC Keyboard

Here's keys of PC keyboard.

  ` 12345      67890 -=⌫   ⎀↖⇞
  ↹ qwert      yuiop []\   ⌦↘⇟
  ⇪ asdfg      hjkl; '⏎
  ⇧ zxcvb      nm,./ ⇧      ↑
  ✲❖⎇     ␣     ⎇❖▤✲     ←↓→
keys of PC keyboard.

Here's the same symbols rearranged on the ergodox.

  ⎋ 12345-    =67890 ⌫
  ↹ qwert[    `yuiop \
  ⇪ asdfg]    'hjkl; ⏎
  ⇧ zxcvb      nm,./ ⇧
  ✲ ❖⎇■▲      ␣⎇❖▤ ✲
        ↖↘    ↑↓
      ⇟⇞ ⎀    ⌦  ←→
         ●    ◆
ergodox keys rearranged close to PC keyboard as much as possible. The symbols ▲●◆■ are extra keys. 〔➤see Unicode: Keyboard Symbols ⌘ ↵ ⇥ ⌫ ↓ ☾ ⎋

The ergodox has 4 extra keys. But it doesn't have the 12 function keys.

Design Analysis of Ergodox

The ergodox's design is superb.

Like the Maltron, Kinesis, TECK, …, the ergodox fixed all the problems of the traditional keyboard that are inherited from the mechanical typewriter. If you are not familiar, have a look at: Computer Keyboard Design Flaws.

Here, i'll do some comparative analysis. Here's a list of high-end ergonomic keyboard with modern designs.

Some are more suitable for a particular purpose than others.

The Truly Ergonomic Computer Keyboard (TECK) is compact. But it lacks the ALL IMPORTANT THUMB KEYS.

The Maltron Keyboard is a power station, but huge and unwieldy. It's not suitable for casual use, and not portable.

The Kinesis Contoured Keyboard is similar to Maltron. They are the same size. 〔➤see Keyboards Size Comparison: Maltron, Kinesis, Truly Ergo, Esrille 〕 The Maltron has ≈30 extra keys that can be used as function keys. One major design flaw of Kinesis is the bad rubber keys for F1F12 and Esc keys.

The ergodox got great thumb keys, but it's a 2-pieces design, so you have a wire connecting them. That's a bit unwieldy. Harder to carry around, prone to tug damage. But the advantage of 2-pieces design is that you can have your own angles for each hand.

The μTRON Keyboard is also a 2-pieces design, comparable to ergodox. It has quite few keys for thumb, but is not specifically shaped & positioned for thumbs, and is around $400.

Note that the ergodox does not have F1F12 keys, however, it has a extra bottom row, which can be used. Further, the bottom row keys can be more easily pressed than the normal function key positions. Also, because it has many keys for thumb, that means, the thumb keys can be used as convenient modifier that makes all the home keys as easy-to-press function keys. For example, left thumb plus right hand pointing finger can be F1 or or ⌫ Backspace.

The flaw with this layered approach to dedicated keys is that it's less accessible. For example, if you are watching a video and eating popcorn with greasy fingers, you can use your clean pinky to peck a key such as F12 on standard keyboard to max screen or adjust sound level. On ergodox, you have to use both hands and look at the keys, or place both hands on keyboard to touch type the key combination.

ergodox keyboard red trackball tray
Ergodox keyboard trackball tray. 3648×2736 (photo by kurplop, , img src

more Ergodox Keyboard with Trackball ⌨ ∞

Do it Yourself (DIY) Keyboard

One major issue with ergodox is that you have to assemble it yourself. You spend some $250 for it, then you have to spend a day to carefully assemble it, including soldering. Then, you have to probably spend a few days to try to design your own layout.

Most photos on this page are done by hardware experts and keyboard enthusiasts. If you are not, here's a photo of the keyboard you'd likely endup.

ergodox keyboard Jeff Weiss 2014-02-13
ergodox keyboard, from Jeff Weiss.

Jeff Weiss blog of ergodox 2014-02-13

Layout for ergoemacs-mode (work in progress)

Here's a layout designed for ergoemacs-mode and or Xah Fly Keys. (i don't have ergodox, so this design is only design on paper)

ergodox layout 32011
Ergodox layout, designed for ergoemacs-mode. 〔➤see Unicode: Keyboard Symbols ⌘ ↵ ⇥ ⌫ ↓ ☾ ⎋

this design assumes that:

in designing a layout, you'll need to consult character frequency often: Computer Languages Characters Frequency.