07 February 2021


I have some unsolicited product endorsements for the magnificent keyboards made by by Keyboardio.

I have long been an enthusiast for exotic ergonomic computer keyboards. For years, at work I used a SafeType vertical keyboard, one of the weirdest keyboards money can buy ... and a nice security feature which keeps anyone else from using my computer. It eventually got a little flaky after more than a decade of hard use and several moves ... and the one I had was so old that I needed an adapter to connect it to USB. So I switched to the Matias Ergo Pro, a more conventional split keyboard, which is terrific, and the keyboard I recommend most to people. But six months ago the USB connector got flaky, which would have been easy to fix, but it gave me an excuse to commit to a keyboard I had tucked away because I had backed the Kickstarter for it a few years back: the Keyboardio Model 001. Look at this wacky, magnificent thing:

It is one of the nicest things I own, and a marvelously designed tool.

The designers really went back to square one in thinking about what a keyboard should be. They talk about looking at the research into keyboard ergonomics and discovering that even most “ergonomic” keyboards ignore what we now know about what makes a keyboard good. They committed to making an uncompromising keyboard that did things as right as they could.

A few things are obvious. The split design lets one set one's hands a distance apart which spares the wrists and shoulders. I do not want carpal tunnel syndrome. The backlighting on the keys is programmable; I like a warm red glow but there are built-in alternatives (including a spiffy rainbow animation), and one can program others if one has the patience. If you are anywhere near me working with it, the loud clickiness of the mechanical keys is unmistakable; as someone old enough to remember early computer keyboards which were built like tanks, I find both the feel and the sound very satisfying.

The other obvious difference is the little curved set of thumb keys on each hand. It took me a while to understand the thinking behind them, but they are ingenious. Each thumb has a shift and ctrl key, then there are thumb keys for the modifiers alt and cmd, plus the vital space and backspace keys. Once one gets used to them, it is much easier to locate and hold down the modifier keys when typing characters on the keyboard; the keyboard has no capslock becuase if one really wants to type in all caps, it is comfortable to just hold down the shift key with one thumb and type. They even considered the key combinations shift-alt-ctrl and shift-cmd-ctrl, placing the keys such that it is easy to hold down ctrl with one thumb and both of the other modifiers with the other.

The biggest subtle difference from a common keyboard is that it has an ortholinear arrangement. You can see that the keys are in vertical columns, which differs from the staggered arrangement of standard keyboards. This takes a significant retraining of muscle memory if one is, like me, a touch-typist. It was a couple of weeks before I was typing competently, and a couple more before I was typing at anything like my normal speed. But having made the adjustment, the ortholinear arrangement is much better. And I can happily report that learning this has not impaired my ability to use a normal keyboard.

Keyboardio also make a marvelously compact ergo keyboard, the Atreus. I have one of these, too, and it is equally a piece of amazing craftsmanship. I only like the keyboard layout 90% as much as the Model 001; I would have loved a third key in the centermost column on either side, and maybe even a center key, but that is a small quibble. I used their pretty-good key reprogramming software to change the Atreus key arrangement to better match the pattern of the Model 001.

The Model 001 is sold out, but at the time I write this they have an update, the Model 100, coming. You can get on a mailing list to find out as soon as it comes out ....

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