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. The kit is over $230 at time of writing.

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

ErgoDox is designed by Dominic Beauchamp. Original idea by Nestor A. Diaz. The idea is heavily borrowed from Kinesis Contoured Keyboard, which is borrowed from Maltron Keyboard.

ErgoDox EZ Keyboard — unboxing and first test

Total Key Count

Ergodox total key count: 76.

Each side has: (5 rows × 6 columns = 30) + 2 + 6 thumb keys = 38

Ergodox Review

ergodox 2015-98076
〔photo from reddit.com…

There are 2 parts to a programable keyboard:

  1. the physical design
  2. the firmware (a low-level software) on the keyboard's memory.

The ergodox has excellent physical layout design.

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.

Programable Keys, Powerful Firmware

Firmware is software that resides in the hardware's on-board memory. It controls the device. For example, when you press key x, what exactly the keyboard will do.

The ergodox has one of the most flexible and powerful firmware for a programable keyboard. Not just one, but several, and it's all open source!

For example, it lets you remap keys, or create layers (such as dead key, compose key, to enter special characters 〔Keyboard: What's the Difference Between Alt Graph Key, Compose Key, Dead Key?〕 ), and you can also program key macros.

The great thing about programable keyboard is that the firmware sits in the keyboard's on-board memory. So, you can configure the keys, and plug the keyboard in any computer or operating system, and the keyboard will work as you configured it, no need to install extra “driver” software.

Key configured via firmware also means it's reliable. This is in contrast to key remapping software used on the operating system, such as AutoHotkey for Microsoft Windows, xmodmap on linux, or key tool on the Mac. Such as the sticky key feature.

Many expensive gaming keyboard also have powerful firmware. For example, Logitech G910 Orion Spark Keyboard, Vortex KBC Poker 3 Keyboard. Other programable keyboard that has great firmware includes: Kinesis Keyboard, Truly Ergonomic Keyboard.

For a detailed account of ergodox firmware, see Ergodox Firmware and Layout.

For what kind of thing keyboard firmware can do, see 〔Multi-purpose keys, and a case for small keyboards By Gergely Nagy. @ https://asylum.madhouse-project.org/blog/2016/10/15/multi-purpose-keys/

See also this firmware project https://algernon.github.io/Akela/

Programable Key User Interface

High-end gaming keyboard usually also come with a easy-to-use and intuitive software with graphical user interface to program the keyboard (firmware). For example, the Logitech G910 Orion Spark Keyboard. I think ergodox may not be great here.

As far as i know, the various ergodox keyboard relies on a web based user interface to configure keys. (same is Truly Ergonomic Keyboard Review as of 2016-12-26.) You click around on the website to create a layout, then you have to download the layout, then, upgrade your keyboard firmware to use that layout.

ergodox infinity 71879 2016-07-16
ergodox infinity. 〔image source https://www.massdrop.com/buy/infinity-ergodox

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 symbol ● represent 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 Ergonomic Keyboards Size Comparison 〕 The Maltron has ≈30 extra keys that can be used as function 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 and 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 Thumb Keys Pain

ergodox has 1 major flaw. Thumb keys are hard to reach, except the closest one. See:

Ergodox Keyboard Thumb Keys Pain

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

Ergodox Firmware and Default Layout

Ergodox Firmware and Layout

Where to Buy?

ergodox home page: http://ergodox.org/

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

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ergodox-ez-an-incredible-mechanical-keyboard

Layout for ergoemacs-mode and xah-fly-keys (work in progress)

Here's a layout designed for Xah Fly Keys. (i don't have ergodox, but have Kinesis Keyboard)

ergodox layout 32011
Ergodox layout, designed for xah-fly-keys
ergodox layout em09628
Ergodox layout, designed for ergoemacs-mode.

2016-08-11 if you are using ergoemacs-mode , you want Alt on a easy thumb. Because even the closest thumb is not natural for people with smaller hands, so many place the Alt under key k and m , yes on both sides.

〔➤see Unicode Keyboard Symbols ⌘ ⏎ ⇥ ⌫ ☾ ⎋

this design assumes that:

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

lots other layouts at https://github.com/jackhumbert/qmk_firmware/tree/master/keyboards/ergodox/keymaps/default

Ergodox Keyboard with Trackball

ergodox keyboard red trackball tray
Ergodox Keyboard with Trackball

Ergodox Keyboard Gallery

Ergodox Keyboard Gallery

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