Around 9:30am on Monday, I heard a knock at the door. I opened it to a man holding a pizza box-sized package. He said, “Sausage, pepperoni, and extra cheese?”
My speedy pizza-shaped delivery contained one of the coolest keyboards on the market — the Ergodox EZ.
The Ergodox originated as an open source keyboard design. However, not everyone, myself included, who would want an Ergodox has the patience and skill to solder some where north of 150 individual pieces together.
So I bought one.
Why Ergodox EZ?
I’ve had minor to moderate wrist pain for the last two years. Via chiropractic care, I discovered part of my issue started in my neck and shoulders. Tight muscles can put pressure on nerves and, therefore, cause pain.
Equipment alone is never usually the solution, and ever was this true for me. Yet I did find one contributing factor to muscle tension was the position of my arms when using a keyboard. Thus started the research to find an ergonomic mechanical keyboard.
The ergonomic reason is easy to figure out. Why would I want to limit myself to mechanical keyboards?
I recently purchased a CM Storm QuickFire Rapid, and quickly began to love the feel of mechanical switches. Typing on a membrane keyboard now feels, as a coworker once put it, like typing on peanut butter.
The first ergonomic mechanical keyboard I found was the Kinesis Advantage. Instantly I rejected the notion of purchasing this one due to its size. It looks, at least in photos, like a huge brick on the desk. While the design looks innovative, I also very much value aesthetic.
That’s where the Ergodox comes in.
For those of you interested, I ordered the black, blank key cap model with Cherry MX Reds.
The Ergodox’s aesthetic is what I’d call “classy nerd.” I’d liken it to custom designed typographical Star Wars trilogy posters hanging in your office. It stands out as unique, but definitely nerdy.
I like it.
Ergodox EZ’s packaging isn’t as magical of an experience as opening a new Mac, but for a small company trying to produce an open sourced design at scale, they have done an effective job protecting the $325 keyboard and accessories for the long journey across the Pacific to the US.
Additionally, size of the Ergodox is a major strong point. I am easily able to tote it in my Tom Bihn Ristretto alongside my laptop and other gear. The Ergodox has already made one trip with me to the office, and I’m sure it will see many more.
The build quality on the Ergodox EZ is good. It doesn’t feel like it will crumble in my hands or gain a permanent twist like some membrane keyboards have for me in the past. 1
Yet, comparing it to my QuickFire Rapid, the Ergodox EZ doesn’t feel quite as sturdy, as the QuickFire Rapid has a metal body. That being said, the EZ is a lot lighter and designed to be opened up and modded if the owner so desires (not me!), where the CM QuickFire Rapid is not.
The model I ordered came with blank keycaps. Ergodox EZ chose DCS profile keycaps for the blanks. The sculpt is supposed to make for better definition of what key you’re using and ergonomics in reaching the appropriate keys since they’re at an easier angle to reach.
I really like the look of blank keycaps. Practically, they take some getting used to. I quickly realized I glance at my keyboard subconsciously when hitting certain keys. This took me about a day to retrain. I rarely looked at my keyboard before; now I almost never do. I just type.
On my Ergodox EZ build, I decided to go with Cherry MX Red switches. My tenkeyless has Blue switches, and, upon my first tap of the Reds, I knew I was going to like them better.
Cherry MX Red switches only require about 45g of force to activate, where Blues require around 60g. Blues also have a tactile actuation point, which, when activated, creates the switch’s signature mechanical “click,” and also a tactile resistance.
In my experience, I found the tactility of the Blues fatiguing, as the actuation point required quite a bit of force to push past. Reds, by contrast, are linear switches, so they have no clicky bump, allowing for quicker, smoother, and quieter typing.
While opinions may vary, I find the Red switches soothing and less fatiguing to type on. I also bottom out far less because I don’t have to use so much force to overcome the tactile bump on the Blues.
Knowing I was already a touch typist, I didn’t think I would have much issue acclimating to the Ergodox EZ’s unique layout. In a way, I was wrong.
The first day using the keyboard was difficult. Between new key positions for commonly used keys, layers, and the ortholinear layout, my ingrained muscle memory befuddled my brain. No longer were the Z, X, C, V, and B keys in the same spots my fingers were used to. 2 At the end of my workday, I was mentally fatigued since I had to think about what I was typing nearly all day long.
Now, seven days in, I can type close to my normal speed, though there are occasions I still have to think about what I’m doing.
The beauty of this keyboard is its configurability. Early on, I hopped into the online layout configurator, swapped some keys around that better fit my muscle memory and comfort, flashed the firmware, and started typing. After around 30 minutes, I got used to the layout and my day went a lot more smoothly.
The killer feature of the keyboard’s firmware configuration is the ability to set dual function keys. For example, by default, the Z and / keys are mapped to type the appropriate letter on press, but when you hold them, they become the Control modifier.
Some folks have gone all the way to make their modifiers sit on the home row. I tried this, and it didn’t go so well for me. Yet that’s the wonder of having an easily modifiable keyboard—you can do whatever works best for you with it.
Now for the ultimate question: Do my wrists, arms, and shoulders feel better after using it?
To be honest, I’m not sure. My first day I found myself with more pain in my wrist and thumb on my right hand. This was partially due to an improper position, but even now, I feel an elevated level of tension in my right arm. I’m still trying to discern if this pain is related to the keyboard, or if my arms are just so tense from using a normal keyboard that they are freaking out about it. I will be sure to report back later.
There is one bright hope this keyboard is making a difference for me. I spent 30 minutes writing the first draft of this post on an iPad keyboard — a total of nearly 1,400 words. Within 15 minutes of writing, my hands and forearms began to burn with pain. Something must be happening!
To the future…
To be fair, the Ergodox EZ, or any other piece of equipment, is not the end all, be all solution if you’re dealing with RSI or wrist pain. You should see a doctor to diagnose your problem. If your workplace has an ergonomics program, ask to chat with someone about improving your workspace. Most pain comes from improper positioning versus the actual equipment you use. Standing desks, stretches, and correct posture can go a long way to averting further pain.
I’m really interested to see how the Ergodox fares for me in the future. I really enjoy the keyboard itself for it’s overall typing experience. As an ergonomic keyboard, I have yet to find the optimal configuration.
I look forward to reporting back in a few weeks to let you know how it’s going.