I keep getting asked how my setup works, how I use tmux and nvim over ssh… all that good stuff. …
This post will describe my experience with a couple of firsts:
- first mechanical keyboard
- first split keyboard
- first orthogonal keyboard
- first time in my adult life being able to touch type
And all of them are related to the same keyboard: a ZSA Moonlander.
This will not be a hardware review, though. You can find plenty of them online from people that actually know things about keyboards. This is just a short description of my experience with it.
The problem I’m trying to fix
For those of you that don’t know me personally, I’m a fairly big person.
Being “big” is nice for some things, but sucks for other things: almost everything is made for the average person, which is a lot smaller than me. That includes keyboards.
On the Macbook keyboard, or the Magic Keyboard for that manner, I need to position myself in a very weird way, with my elbows wide open, wrists very twisted, so I can do something that barely resembles touch typing. Most of the time I don’t use my pinkies, because they were so bad positioned it was faster to just not use them.
I used the MX Keys for a while, and it was a bit better — since it is a bit bigger than the Magic Keybord, but still wasn’t comfortable enough. Having the numpad also did not help, as it make the mouse be farther away - and I never use the numpad anyway.
I tried other keyboards, and all of them had the same issue: too small.
That said, I have been typing “wrong” for I-don’t-know-how-many-years, and that weird arms positioning started to send the bills: I started to have more and more elbow and neck pain.
Although poor arms positioning is probably not the only thing at fault here, I decided I should do something about it to make my working environment a bit more comfortable.
I knew I would never find a one piece keyboard that would fit my size, so my options were reduced: either build a weird keyboard, or buy a weird keyboard.
I decided to buy a weird keyboard.
After some research and some recommendations, I ended up ordering a ZSA Moonlander.
It arrived roughly a month after I ordered it — and there I was, the newest member of the weird keyboards club.
Re-learning to type
My first thought after looking at it was “well shit, I’ll never be able to type in this thing”.
I didn’t touch type. I never really used my pinkies, except maybe for ESC, Shift, CTRL, Backspace et al.
I had to re-learn how to type!
To my surprise, the most difficult thing to get used to wasn’t its split layout: it was the fact that the Moonlander is columnar. I had no idea how used I was to staggered layouts until it was taken away from me.
In any case, it took some time, but eventually I did get used to it. It turns out you can teach old dogs new tricks!
Digging the custom configs
I didn’t want to modify the layout too much if compared to a “normal” keyboard… so my configs are rather simple… although I keep tuning it every other day:
What I liked is: your configs are actually baked into the firmware!
You customize it in their online tool — called Oryx, compile, download the
.bin file and flash it into the keyboard using a tool called Wally.
That means that you don’t need to install anything in other computers to use your layout.
It also means that you can share your configs, which their website make easy to do. You can check mine out here, for example.
The complaint I have is that it is too easy customize things… you might end up spending your whole weekend customizing the shit out of the layout and not even notice it. Don’t ask me how I know.
Hardware quality and choosing switches
I’m not a keyboard enthusiast, so I don’t even know what good or bad quality look like in keyboards… what I can say is that it definitely feels premium — as does its price.
Me and my wife share the same office room and I did not want the keyboard to be too noisy. After some research, I ordered mine with the MX Red switches, as they are fairly silent. I like them.
The keyboard is customizable in terms of moving keys around and replacing switches. You can also customize its height — which I cranked to the maximum, so it better fits my hands.
All that being said, I have no complaints so far.
I still feel like I still can’t type at my previous max speed — mostly because I wasn’t used to use my pinky and used the “wrong finger” for a lot of keys, but, nevertheless: I got there! I can touch type now! Yay! 🥳
It is not as good as I wanted to. In fact, I did set myself a challenge: get to 80wpm in one weekend, and I missed that deadline by a couple of weekends.
When I’m more rested I can get better averages, but so far my best top speed was 86wpm — which is not bad, but not impressive either.
I’ll be training more — my goal now is to get to 100wpm by the end of the year. 👨💻
Let’s see how that goes…
Update: my top speed was 125wpm for 10 words, and I can comfortably type between 80-100wpm now. Good enough.
Although a split keyboard looks weird, after you use one for a couple of minutes, it “clicks”, and then it makes sense.
I got so used to it, I can’t type on a regular keyboard anymore. I legit need 30 minutes to be able to type without looking at the keyboard.
It’s humiliating, almost.
The bad news is that I’ll need to bring my keyboard with me everywhere I go now…
The good news is that being nerd is cool now, and the Moonlander comes with a little travel bag thingy. 😅