Some irrelevant personal history follows, skip to the next heading if uninterested. I first learnt to touch type on a portable, mechanical typewriter in my early teens. It was a somewhat painful process: when I hit a key a little wrong, my finger would plunge between the keys into the internals of the typewriter, which was full of sharpish metal edges. I lost some blood to gain typing skills.

Typing on computers is a joy in comparison. However, there's big differences between different keyboards. Over the decades I've learnt to prefer some types over others. Overall, my preference is for keyboards with mechanical switches over more rubbery ones. I type better and faster and more accurately when my fingers can sense that a key has been pressed.

For some time I'd been using gaming PC keyboards with Cherry MX red switches. These are a joy to type on, but are quite noisy. I've also been curious about split keyboards. Earlier this year I heard of the Keyboardio Model01 keyboard, which started as a crowdfunded project. I was curious.

However, it's expensive, for me, and quite different from anything I'd ever used before, so I was hesitant to get one. Luckily, I was introduced online to one of the founders of Keyboardio, who said they'd enjoyed the book I wrote for the Linux Documentation Project in the 90s, and would like to donate a keyboard for me. Joy!

Review

I've been using the keyboard for some weeks now. Initially, I only used it to learn to touch type all over again. Not only is the keyboard different from any I'd been using before, but it seemed better suited to the US qwerty layout than the Finnish one, so I've been learning both a new physical layout and a logical layout.

Also, I've been curious of using a US layout for programming for some time, and this is the perfect excuse to learn. Much fun. Luckily, it's not been actually painful, and I've not lost any blood this time.

Now that I'm getting a little closer to my previous typing speed of 60 words per minute on the new keyboard, it is time to write this review. I've never been a fast typist, but this speed seems to be fast enough that my brain doesn't get bored or frustrated waiting for my fingers to do their thing.

Good stuff:

  • It just works. Plug it in via USB, and start typing.
  • Typing feel is great. It's fairly quiet, thanks to using Matias Quiet Click key switches, instead of Cherry ones. Yet there's no doubt about having pressed a key.
  • Build quality is good. Feels solid. They call it heirloom-grade, and I can imagine this one lasting me decades.
  • The firmware is free software, hackable, and changing it does not void warranty. I've not managed to brick the device. It's basically an Arduino with a fancy peripheral.
  • Keyboard layout can be configured with the Chrysalis desktop software, without having to build and update a whole new firmware blob. I've used to convert what is normally num lock to be scroll lock, so I can use it as a compose key.

I don't really have complaints, but of course one can always whinge:

  • The Keyboardio website is a little disorganised and could be improved. There might be a need for a documentation project just for this keyboard and its firmware and associated software.
  • Oh boy does it take time and effort to learn to type all over again. Even if it's worth it, it's still frustrating to re-learn something I first learnt almost forty years ago.
  • I wasn't overly impressed with the bundled cables (USB-C and Ethernet), but they're easy enough to replace. I now have cables that are just the right length, even if it seems silly to use CAT7 to connect two halves of a keyboard.

Verdict: I like the keyboard. If I lost it, I'd want to buy a new one. If necessary, I'd write another book to get one.

Disclaimer: this review was not commissioned by Keyboardio. When they offered to gift me a keyboard, they made no condition or request or even hint that I should write a review. They only asked that if I didn't like it, I'd gift it forward to some young hacker who would put it into good use, but couldn't afford it themselves. Sorry, young hackers, I'm keeping it.