Introduction

For most people working from home, their keyboard is used just as often, if not more, than their chairs (though I spent a great deal of time in front of my computer even before Covid-19). Yet, it’s quite surprising how so many people don’t include their keyboard when contemplating office ergonomics. I’ll assume that the reader already knows what a mechanical keyboard is and won’t go into a deep dive of that here, but I’ve personally been a fan of mechanical keyboards ever since the old IBM buckling spring designs. My first personal purchase of one was a Razer Blackwidow.

Though it’s becoming more mainstream now, custom mechanical keyboards used to be somewhat of an underground movement. When I first encountered the community, I was hoping to find something that could either improve my productivity or typing experience. Problem was, most keyboards were just variations of the standard layout, albeit either tenkeyless (TKL) or 63%. Even split-style designs like the Microsoft ergonomic keyboards and the Kinesis Advantage weren’t any different. It wasn’t until I discovered the Ergodox Infinity project on Massdrop (now Drop.com) that believed I found something special.

As an ex-concert pianist, one of the first things we learn is how to properly separate and position your hands to reduce strain and fatigue. In an ortholinear keyboard like the Ergodox, the keys are arranged linear vertically instead of horizontally, which better suits the extension movements of hands. The Ergodox design allows typing from a more natural and comfortable position. Combined with a split board design and programmable firmware, you end up with endless customization options both in keymapping and keyboard positioning.

Earlier designs of Ergodox kits had you build them completely by hand, which included soldering the tiny resistors and switches one by one. Modern kit have most of the soldering already completed, and even use hot-swappable switches. Programming them was also a bit of a pain. Now, you can get them prebuilt like the Ergodox EZ and Moonlander (though for a hefty premium).

Enter Moonlander

Prior to the Moonlander, I was using an Ergodox EZ with Cherry blue switches at home and a kit from Alpaca keyboards with Cherry browns (I’ll elaborate on that one near the end).

I was happy with both, but still wanted a design with floating keys (much easier to clean) and better portability. Then, friend informed of a new version that was being produced in limited quantities by the same people who worked on the EZ. After a glance at the specs and design, I went ahead and bought a set of the Moonlander Mk1’s in almost the same specs as my EZ. This was to be the 5th ortholinear keyboard I would ever use.

My Ergodox EZ configuration.
My Moonlander configuration. I prefer white keyboards since it hides dust and oil much better than black ones.

Initial Impressions

Since the keyboards were made in small batches, it did take a few months to arrive. The packaging was a lot more compact than the EZ, and was very well arranged.

Original Box
Medium always squishes vertically oriented images

The keyboards came stored in a stretchy silicone and fabric carrying case of decent quality, and all the cables you see here.

High quality doubleshot PBT keycaps are provided, and the wrist rest for each side comes folded over the bottom of the keyboard while secured with magnets. A hex wrench stored in a slot of the carrying case allows you to fine tune the adjustments of the thumb module and legs.

Right handed view
With both palm rests unfolded
With legs lifted.

There’s covered holes to add legs on the outsides of the keyboard, but for some reason they don’t include another set of legs. I suppose they want you to move the inside ones to the outside if you need, but then it doesn’t properly support all sides. That one didn’t make much sense to me.

As you can tell, overall the size and configuration is very similar to the original Ergodox design. However, the outside buttons are normally sized instead of extra wide, and overall you have fewer keys. For me, it took a little time to get used to having regular sized Enter/Caps lock buttons since my pinky was used to the feel of longer keys, but that wasn’t an issue at all.

Features

Of course, the biggest draws of these keyboards are comfort and customization. And yes, there’s RGB. The default RGB settings are bound to the right big red button, and there’s quite a lot to choose from. I won’t go into too much detail here, but it contains most of the usual breathing and color cycling animations, along with some neat unique ones like heat maps.

In terms of comfort, it felt about the same as the EZ but with my hands slightly closer to the surface. That’s not really a bad thing, and the rest of the Ergodox experience is identical. The longer wrist rests support more of your wrist near the arm, so you can lay back further while typing if that’s your style. The floating keys of the Moonlander don’t provide much of a difference in comfort, but it does make the keyboard far easier to clean and change keycaps. Like other keyboards of this design, its biggest advantage in ergonomics is limiting your arm and wrist movements to reduce stress and fatigue without losing typing speed and accuracy. I do a ton of typing daily, and Ergodox keyboards really are no joke when it comes to comfort.

Brief video of typing on the Moonlander.

It took almost no time for me to get used to typing on this after setting up key mappings to be nearly identical to my other boards. Like the EZ, custom mapping is exceptionally easy using the web based Oryx tool. You could also use QMK if you prefer.

My base layer
My second layer for one handed typing and numpad
My third layer for left handed numpad and media buttons

An underrated feature of this keyboard is how easy it is to transport. With the included pouch, it was simple to fit into my backpack or carry-on while traveling, and I was able to set it up at my parents’ home to work from when I visited for Thanksgiving. The thinner chassis, floating design, and foldable wrist rests made it far less bulky than the old Ergodox, and those didn’t even come with a case.

Conclusion

Bottom line is if you type a lot, it’s well worth the investment into ANY split ortholinear keyboard. There’s a mild to moderate learning curve for getting used to the new positions of keys, but the wrist strain you’ll save yourself from is well worth it. The Moonlander is currently my favorite implementation (albeit one of the most expensive), and I highly recommend it. It’s compact, portable, adjustable, and infinitely customizable. Honestly all that’s missing is a bluetooth/RF module that would allow these to operate wirelessly and the option to not include keycaps so we can use our own (and save on costs, of course). Considering that the Ergodox EZ and Moonlander are nearly the same price, it’s really difficult to recommend the EZ over the Moonlander since I find the latter better in almost every way. You may be able to find a second hand EZ for cheap and if you can get it for a hundred USD or so off retail, it’s still well worth.

One more thing…

I can’t really end this without recommending the Hot Dox as well. Even though it appears to be a small company and I came across them completely by chance, Alpaca keyboards sells excellent Ergodox kits they call the Hot Dox that have a keymap identical to the EZ, and require no soldering. They come in a nice clear acrylic case with a durable aluminum backplate and also use a PCB designed for hot swappable switches. While putting the hardware together is quick and easy, setup is slightly more difficult. However, they do have an excellent flashing guide on their website that will walk you through it. If cost is an issue and you don’t want to shell out nearly $400 for a Moonlander or EZ, they’re an excellent alternative at $215 for a full kit or $150 for the PCB and case.

Easily bored Silicon Valley med tech consultant.

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