Typing on a weird keyboard: a retrospective
It has been just over a year since I finished assembling the first version of the egg58, my custom split keyboard. Thus, it seems like an appropriate time to make note of how it has treated me.
To recap, I once doubted the idea of a split or ortho keyboard. Eventually, I tried out an Ergodox and came to realize it really does offer increased comfort. However, eternally picky, I decided I needed to design my own layout. Thus, the egg58 was born.
So, how has the keyboard performed for the past year? We’ll look at my typing speed, how it has impacted my use of “normal” keyboards, and its ergonomics.
The typing test results discussed here are from keyhero and speedcoder. The egg58 tests were performed using Kailh Choc Red Pro switches, and the standard layout tests were on a 60% ANSI with Kailh Box Hako Violets, so it isn’t quite an apples-to-apples comparison.
Speed and progress
At first, I was discouraged as I could barely type on the thing. In my first day using it, I averaged a spectacular 40 words per minute, down from my benchmark of 120 wpm on my 60% ANSI. However, a wise waterfowl told me,
split isn’t about speed
it’s about not f***ing up your wrists
and I preservered.
Unfortunately, being able to type at a reasonable pace is ultimately part of my job description. Therefore, over the next few months, I took a series of typing tests to gauge my progress.
I took dozens on the first day, trying to see if I could build the muscle memory. I could not. My very first test measured 24 wpm, and only twenty minutes later I reached 40 wpm. This is where I stayed for the rest of the day.
A week later, I was averaging 60 wpm. The next, 75 wpm. After a month, 100 wpm.
Now, after a year, I am able to comfortably reach 120 words per minute.
However, regular typing exams are not a complete measure of performance in this case. Being a software engineer, I probably type a lot more symbols than the average bear. And, the egg58’s biggest deviation from a standard ANSI layout is in where those keys are located. To that end, I scored 70 words per minute in both C++ and Python tests.
Back and forth
One of the complaints I heard about split keyboards is that it is difficult to switch between them between them and a standard layout. For the first five months of the egg58’s tenure, I was forced to use a normal keyboard at work. I suppose going back and forth every day allowed me to keep the muscle memory during that time, as I did not really struggle to switch between them.
However, in May I began a new remote job and began using the egg58 almost full time. The only exceptions are gaming, where I was not able to adapt my muscle memory of where WASD are located, and the occasional use of my laptop, which unfortunately has a staggered-row keyboard physically attached.
Since then, my aptitude with a “normal” keyboard has somewhat faded – I can only achieve 95 wpm on the same keyboard where I generated my benchmark of 120 wpm one year ago. More notably, my accuracy is much lower – about 97% versus 99.9% with the split.
I’m not an expert in ergonomics, but it certainly feels like using a split keyboard full time is more comfortable. My wrists used to feel strained after a day of work, but no longer. I also had a weird shoulder pain creep up every once in a while, but it too has ceased.
The key point here seems to be that the angle of my wrists is not constrained by the layout of the keyboard. I think that the staggered-column layout also helps. My fingers have to do less lateral movement than with a staggered-row design.
The time I invested into the design of the egg58 was definitely worthwhile. In addition to being a valuable learning experience in electronics design, it has given me a tangible benefit in not f***ing up my wrists.
Also, it serves as a conversation piece whenever someone sees it in my office. But I’ve yet to have anyone ask me to make them one.