A year ago I upgraded from a Kinesis Freestyle Edge to an Ergodox EZ. What initially enticed me was the thumb keys, as well as the ability to program different macros into the “spare” keys littered around the board. (I still have the Kinesis Freestyle sitting in storage, buyers enquire within…)

I used Monkeytype to practice typing on the keyboard, and the stats there show that it took me about a month to go from the initial speed of 40wpm (quite painful) back up to 90wpm. That’s when I started feeling properly comfortable with it. I can now do about 130wpm on this keyboard, which is the same speed I could do on the Freestyle and my laptop keyboard.

I originally bought the Kinesis keyboard because of persistent shoulder pain from using a single keyboard. Having two keyboards that I can keep a little over shoulder width apart has helped to keep my physiotherapy bills down. Since using split keyboards, I haven’t had to go to a physio to get my shoulders “unlocked”. So the keyboards have paid for themselves that way.

Since buying the Ergodox, I’ve also started to make good use of the layering system. You can see the full set of layouts here:

A few things to note about Layer 0:

  1. Backspace is where caps lock usually is. I feel strongly about this – it should be standard on all keyboards.
  2. Held keys: Z becomes Left control, Forward slash becomes right control, semi-colon switches to the 2nd layer.
  3. Backtick and tilde are on the bottom left of the left keyboard. This button, when held, switches to the 1st layer.
  4. Command, option and escape are on the thumb keys. No “Emacs claw” for complicated shortcuts.
  5. Top left is equals. It gets special preference as I type it a lot when coding.
  6. The “Hyper” key is one of the keys required for my Hammerspoon shortcuts. I use these to move quickly between apps.
  7. There are shortcuts on the thumb keys for cut (the knife), paste and copy.
  8. I could probably remap that spare “Tab” on the right thumb to something else – I use the top-left tab out of habit. I don’t have an immediate idea of what it could map to.

A keen observer would note that there’s no curly brackets on here, and yet I still somehow manage to write Ruby hashes and JavaScript objects. I keep those on Layer 1, where the “E” and “R” keys are my brackets. If I hold backtick (bottom left of the left keyboard), this triggers the layer switcher to switch to Layer 1. My keyboard indicates this by lighting up a red LED. When I then press “E”, I get a square bracket. If I do the same holding of backtick but press “E” twice, I get a curly bracket. I think this is one of the cooler features of this keyboard. You can configure actions when a key is tapped, double tapped, held, or tapped then held. I use the first 3 of these, but haven’t found a use for tapped then held yet.

On Layer 1’s right-hand panel is the arrow keys. I still can’t map it in my brain that left and right arrows are on the left keyboard, and up and down are on the right. So I’ve got the traditional arrow layout on that layer, on the right of the keyboard roughly where my hand expects it to be.

Next, we have Layer 2 which is the media controls. On my laptop keyboard, these are on the function keys, which always felt like a bit of a hard reach. To get to this layer I hold the semi-colon key, and the keyboard indicates it’s switched with a green LED. I can then do all the regular music things like play, pause, mute, etc.

For reasons that are completely opaque to me, there can be up to 32 different layers on the keyboard. I cannot imagine ever needing more than the few that I have right now. Even thinking about the keyboard contortion that would be required to switch to a 32nd layer and not the 28th layer is giving me a headache.

Finally: a word on the switches inside the keyboard itself. The keyboard came with Cherry Brown switches which are what I would consider to be the greatest argument ever against working from the office. They were ridiculously loud. And stiff enough that even someone who types as hard as I do noticed how hard I had to press. I’ve since replaced the switches with Cherry Reds which are quieter and not as stiff. I think this has made maybe a 5-10% improvement on my accuracy and speed for this keyboard.