Reviews

ZSA’s Moonlander Mark I is the ultimate customizable ergonomic keyboard

I’ve spent a variety of time with many ergonomic keyboards, however ZSA’s Moonlander Mark I could also be my favourite one I’ve ever used. It’s a customizable mechanical keyboard that’s cut up into two halves for higher shoulder ergonomics. You possibly can alter its tilt to make it most comfy to your palms. You possibly can swap out the switches for any key with out a lot effort. You possibly can program a number of features for each single key.

I’ve been typing full-time on the Moonlander for about three months, and I could very nicely change over completely from my earlier day by day driver, the Kinesis Freestyle Pro. However getting the Moonlander to that time has taken a variety of work.

The keyboard is endlessly customizable, and the sheer quantity of choices at your disposal might be overwhelming. Even for those who’re used to typing on an ergonomic cut up keyboard, like I am, it might nonetheless take weeks till you’ve dialed in all of its changes. After which there’s the Moonlander’s value: an eye-watering $365 to start out.

In order for you one in every of the greatest ergonomic keyboards accessible, and also you’re prepared to pay for the quantity of customization it provides, I’d say the Moonlander is value that steep value. However for somebody who is interested by making the Moonlander their first ergonomic keyboard, you would possibly wish to think about a extra inexpensive choice to see for those who even like utilizing this sort of keyboard.

Let’s get this out of the means first: sure, the Moonlander, with its cut up format, tented angles, and the clusters of keys designed for use by your thumbs, simply doesn’t look very similar to a standard keyboard. If you happen to’re coming from a extra normal keyboard format to the Moonlander, it’s in all probability going to really feel unusual to sort on at first.

You’re nearly definitely going to undergo a probably weeks-long adjustment interval till you’re typing at full pace. I’ve used two keyboards with layouts much like the Moonlander as my day by day drivers earlier than — ZSA’s ErgoDox EZ and Kinesis’ Advantage 2 — and it nonetheless took me a pair weeks to really feel absolutely comfy on the Moonlander.

However now that I’m used to it, I am a large fan of every little thing nontraditional about the Moonlander’s design. The cut up format lets me sort with my shoulders in a extra open place. Typing at an angle feels higher for my palms, and you’ll simply change that angle by adjusting the keyboard’s toes. That nice degree of management isn’t one thing I’ve had with most different ergonomic keyboards I’ve used — with the Kinesis Freestyle Professional, for instance, you want to connect a separate accent to tent the keyboard and it solely provides three completely different angles.

Ergonomically, the Moonlander feels nice. I can sort on it for a full eight-plus hour workday and my palms often received’t get sore. (By comparability, if I spend greater than a pair hours on my MacBook Air’s flat keyboard, I need to stretch my palms or take brief breaks as a result of my wrists begin to flare up.) My one want is that I might angle up the inside edges of the Moonlander even greater so it will higher match the peak I’m used to on my Kinesis Freestyle Professional. However I ought to say that despite the fact that the keyboard feels good ergonomically for me, all people’s palms and desires are completely different, so I can’t assure that it is going to be an ideal match for you, even with how adjustable it is.

The keyboard comes with built-in wrist rests, however you’ll be able to fold them out of the means, the place they cleverly connect magnetically to the underside of the keyboard. (Folding up the wrist rests additionally makes the keyboard match properly in the included carrying case.) And if you would like, you’ll be able to take the wrist rests off completely.

I love the thumb clusters, which I’ve programmed for widespread keys like area, backspace, and enter. (Extra on that programmability later.) The angle of the thumb cluster will also be adjusted, although you’ll need to loosen it with an included hex key. I thought I’d use the massive crimson keys at the prime of the thumb cluster, however for me, they’re simply out of attain to be comfy to make use of in common typing. I finally turned the left one right into a layer switcher for my media keys. The precise one has a barely extra enjoyable goal that I’ll clarify later.

Swapping out key switches is a breeze, thanks largely to the included device that permits you to pull up keys and their underlying key switches with out the must desolder something. (Keyboard lovers will know this is known as “scorching swappable” switches.)

That device additionally makes it straightforward to drag every little thing off so you’ll be able to clear the keyboard and each key, which I can do over the course of about two hours. If you happen to go along with the white mannequin, you’ll be glad cleansing the keyboard is so easy, since the included keycaps can get dirty inside a matter of days.

Once you order a Moonlander from ZSA, you’ll be able to choose from 10 completely different key switches: two varieties of Cherry-manufactured switches (brown and blue) and eight varieties of Kailh-manufactured switches (bronze, gold, silver, copper, field brown, field crimson, field white, and field black). You may also order switches from ZSA separately, for those who’d like. The board helps each 3-pin or 5-pin switches, so if you wish to swap in another choice, you are able to do that.

I ordered my overview unit with Cherry MX brown key switches since I was conversant in them from my Kinesis, they usually sound good and clicky, with a tactile tick for every press. ZSA additionally despatched me samples of Kailh silver and bronze switches to strive. The silvers have been a linear change that felt too mushy for me. I liked the clicky bronzes (that are also referred to as thick golds), I simply wished they have been slightly quieter.

If you wish to outfit the keyboard in your personal keycaps, you should use 1u keycaps for the 64 primary keys on the board. (You may also purchase keys with simply the line on ZSA’s website in batches of 10.) Utilizing your personal keycaps with the thumb cluster requires much less widespread sizing — the six rectangular keys use 1.5u keycaps and the two massive crimson buttons use 2u keycaps — which could make it tougher to seek out customized caps if you wish to customise the keyboard.

The keys on the Moonlander are in keeping with one another as a substitute of being barely offset. The thought with this staggered columnar format is that it’s simpler to your fingers to succeed in keys above and under the dwelling row, however I didn’t really feel a serious distinction in reachability between the Moonlander’s format and the offset format of my MacBook Air’s keyboard.

You might need additionally seen that the keys are specified by a nontraditional means out of the field, and that many keys you would possibly count on to see simply aren’t there. Discover how there’s no marked Home windows key? No Command key? Or how about issues like shift, return, or perhaps a spacebar? None of these are formally labeled on the Moonlander.

This is the place the Moonlander’s software program steps in — you’ll be able to choose the place all these keys go your self. Utilizing ZSA’s on-line configurator device, you’ll be able to program a powerful variety of choices for every key.

If you happen to simply desire a key to do a single operate, you’ll be able to set that. However you may also set macros, and never only one per key: if you would like, you’ll be able to set as much as 4 completely different macros per key, relying on combos of tapping and holding the key. You may also set completely different layers of completely completely different layouts, which you’ll be able to swap to by, sure, customizing keys in your keyboard.

All this doesn’t imply that out of the field, you received’t be capable of hit the spacebar. You simply need to know the place to search for it. Try the default layout, from ZSA’s on-line configurator device. It locations the area bar in the left thumb cluster on the left-most key. Backspace is one key over from that one. Return? On the right-hand thumb cluster on the right-most key.

My layout is much different. I’m a Colemak typist, so I needed to remap many letter keys simply in order that I might sort phrases. However over time, I saved tweaking my format so as to add just a few extra superior shortcuts because of macros. For instance, I can press and maintain X, C, and V to carry out reduce, copy, and paste, respectively. (This doesn’t work completely — I’m positive my colleagues have puzzled why I generally simply sort the letter “v” in Slack.) I made a separate layer that’s designed nearly solely to make it simpler to observe YouTube movies, with arrow keys beneath the WASD keys, one-key shortcuts to hurry up and decelerate movies, and quick access to the quantity controls. My editor urged I set macros to mute and finish Zoom conferences, which I added promptly.

At this level I would discover it arduous to dwell with out my present format on the Moonlander, particularly for my day-to-day work. And I’ve seen that I’m simply not as environment friendly when I’m typing on the “regular” keyboard on my MacBook Air, particularly when I can’t do my helpful press-and-hold shortcuts. The MacBook Air has a bonus with its operate row, which lets me elevate or decrease quantity with only one keystroke — on my Moonlander setup, it takes two as a result of I have to change to my devoted layer — nevertheless it’s solely a minor drawback that I’ve gotten used to. And if I actually needed to, I might discover a strategy to put media controls on my primary layer.

Getting my Moonlander to work precisely the means I needed took about two weeks of near-daily tweaks, although. Generally, my imagined enhancements have been hilariously off-base. The primary time I flashed a customized format onto the keyboard, I instantly realized that I forgot so as to add an apostrophe key, which is sort of an necessary one in my work.

Relying on how a lot you wish to customise your format, you would possibly spend a very long time fidgeting with concepts in the configurator device. There have been a pair occasions early on the place I’d spend upward of half an hour after work placing collectively new concepts. Thankfully, when you’ve selected a format, really implementing it is speedy, because it solely takes a minute or two to obtain and flash it to the keyboard.

And to be honest, you don’t want to customise the Moonlander inside an inch of its life like I have. It’s a wonderfully practical keyboard proper out of the field, and I’m positive you could possibly get used to it in time. However to be trustworthy, I didn’t use the default format in any respect; since I already had an concept of some customizations I needed to make based mostly on my expertise with the ErgoDox, and I flashed these onto the keyboard instantly and used them as a place to begin.

The liberty to determine which keys go the place may create a paralysis of selection. I was stumped for days attempting to determine the “greatest” strategy to replicate an inverted T arrow key format, and finally, I gave up, holding two arrow keys on all sides of the keyboard however in a barely completely different place from the default. Attempting to nail the place the Mac’s Command key ought to go was a puzzle as nicely, and my answer to place it on the keys closest to the thumb clusters nonetheless feels imperfect.

There are additionally programmable RGB LEDs beneath every key, that means that along with attempting to determine what every key does, you may additionally delve into how every key appears, too. For my primary layer, I’ve landed on holding all the lights off most of the time, however I can flip on some prebuilt animations if I’m feeling colourful. You possibly can change between these prebuilt animations with the press of a key, too, which is what I use that massive crimson key on the proper facet of the keyboard for.

On my media controls layer, I have a extra sensible use for the RGB LEDs: lighting up simply the keys I’ve programmed for various features. (I admit that I’ve modified the colours assigned to these keys just a few occasions, although.)

One different factor I ought to point out is that the left facet of the Moonlander can operate by itself, which opens up a variety of fascinating potentialities for avid gamers. I’m not a lot of a PC gamer, however I might simply think about a situation the place you create a gaming-focused macro layer on the left facet of the keyboard and unplug the proper facet completely to open up some desk area to your mouse.

Whereas doing a little analysis for this overview, I stumbled on my colleague Alex Cranz’s nice 2017 article about the world of mechanical keyboard fans. It ends with a quote that I haven’t been in a position to get out of my head: “There’s no greatest keyboard… There’s the greatest keyboard for you.”

I actually can’t inform you if ZSA’s Moonlander is the greatest ergonomic keyboard on the market. It really works very nicely for me, nicely sufficient that I won’t return to my trusty Kinesis Freestyle Professional. But it surely took weeks of tweaking, changes, and time on the keys to get it to some extent the place I felt that means. And for those who drop the $365 to get a Moonlander for your self, it is likely to be a tough adjustment interval to start out.

When you’ve wrapped your head round all of the potentialities supplied by the Moonlander, although, your creativeness would possibly run wild. It provides an entire lot that may make it the greatest keyboard for you.

Images by Jay Peters / The Verge

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