Back to a More Traditional Ergo Keyboard
Almost three weeks ago, I started using a Dygma Raise keyboard. It's the closest to a traditional keyboard of any of the various ergo keyboards I've tried over the past year (from the somewhat different Keyboard.IO Model 01 to the very different Kinesis Advantage2). For the past decade, I'd been using some Kinesis Freestyle keyboards, and since it was time to replace those old keyboards, I wanted to see if a more ergonomic unit would be better.
The Advantage and the Model 01 were just too different for me. I really like both, in their own way. I admit I am especially fond of the Model 01's aesthetics; the wooden base and key moulds feel lovely. But I finally had to admit that I really needed a more traditional layout: I use a lot of different machines, desktop and laptop, so I'm not going to be able to replace all the keyboards with a different layout. Setting aside the very different layout of the Advantage, even the more linear key alignment on the Model 01 was just too difficult to get used to when I was moving between it and a regular keyboard frequently. If I could get one of these on all my devices, though, they are both nice enough that I'd consider switching. Both now use good switches, and the thumb keys clearly result in the less twisting and strain on my hands.
I was intrigued by the Dygma when I discovered it last November, and pleased when I received one and started using it. The 4 (6 if you are ok with a shorter space bar, which I am) thumb modifiers are in a great location and feel natural to use, and the bulk of the keyboard is "normal" (i.e., requires zero training time). But after a week, I was finding the lack of arrow keys and space for both `/~ and ESC in the upper left annoying. I think I could get used to both if it was the only keyboard I used; I remapped ESC to `/~ (since the key is next to the 1, which is the traditional place for that key) and mapped the FN key on the lower right to ESC (not ideal, but I don't use that key). The need to use a modifier plus some set of regular keys (such as WASD, ESDF, or IJKL) for the arrows was both intriguing (I gravitated to IJKL, since it feels good when I'm actually using it because my right hand remains on the home row) but ultimately frustrating. Partly this is because of switching between this keyboard and others normal ones. But I discovered just how much I combine arrows with other modifiers (shift and alt in particular) to move by word and select regions; this force me to use a right thumb key to select the keyboard layer, which is uncomfortable.
I suppose I should have expect this; I'm a fast touch typist, and I don't want to break my typing speed on my laptops and other keyboards. Even the slightly odd arrow key placement on my PC laptop (where the up arrow is between the /? and shift keys) caused me unending problems.
All that said, I'm admitting defeat on using the Dygma as my day-to-day work keyboard, and have moved it to my gaming PC in the basement. I still really like it, and the ESC position and lack of arrow keys will be non-issues when I'm not programming or editing lots of text. Being able to move the right half out of the way when gaming (assuming I start again after my current work-induced hiatus) will be great. If Dygma released a slightly larger version with real arrow keys and both ESC and `/~, I'd probably buy one in a heartbeat.
So, I've admitted ergonomic defeat and returned to my comfort zone. I'm typing this on a new Kiniesis Freestyle Edge RGB, a worthy update to my ten year old Freestyle. They offer good, but limited, switch choices so I opted for Cherry MX Speed Silver switches versus my preferred Kailh Speed Bronze ones; I'm sure my colleagues on video will be happy for me to abandon the clicky ones for this machine. (I haven't been able to find anything that definitively says if the switches are soldered on, but if they aren't, I'll likely be swapping these out at some point).