ZSA Moonlander Mark I evaluate: without equal customizable ergonomic keyboard


I’ve spent numerous time with many ergonomic keyboards, however ZSA’s Moonlander Mark I could also be my favourite one I’ve ever used. It’s a customizable mechanical keyboard that’s cut up into two halves for higher shoulder ergonomics. You’ll modify its tilt to make it maximum comfy in your fingers. You’ll change out the switches for any key with out a lot effort. You’ll program a couple of purposes for each and every unmarried key.

I’ve been typing full-time at the Moonlander for approximately 3 months, and I would possibly rather well transfer over completely from my earlier day by day driving force, the Kinesis Freestyle Pro. However getting the Moonlander to that time has taken numerous paintings.

The keyboard is ceaselessly customizable, and the sheer quantity of choices at your disposal can also be overwhelming. Even supposing you’re used to typing on an ergonomic cut up keyboard, like I’m, it will nonetheless take weeks till you’ve dialed in all of its changes. After which there’s the Moonlander’s value: an eye-watering $365 to begin.

If you need one of the crucial perfect ergonomic keyboards to be had, and also you’re keen to pay for the volume of customization it provides, I’d say the Moonlander is price that steep value. However for any person who is considering making the Moonlander their first ergonomic keyboard, you could need to believe a extra reasonably priced solution to see for those who even like the usage of this sort of keyboard.

Let’s get this out of the best way first: sure, the Moonlander, with its cut up format, tented angles, and the clusters of keys designed for use by means of your thumbs, simply doesn’t glance just like a standard keyboard. In case you’re coming from a extra same old keyboard format to the Moonlander, it’s most likely going to really feel peculiar to sort on in the beginning.

You’re nearly indubitably going to move thru a probably weeks-long adjustment length till you’re typing at complete velocity. I’ve used two keyboards with layouts very similar to the Moonlander as my day by day drivers prior to — ZSA’s ErgoDox EZ and Kinesis’ Advantage 2 — and it nonetheless took me a pair weeks to really feel absolutely comfy at the Moonlander.

However now that I’m used to it, I’m a large fan of the whole lot nontraditional concerning the Moonlander’s design. The cut up format shall we me sort with my shoulders in a extra open place. Typing at an attitude feels higher for my fingers, and you’ll be able to simply alternate that attitude by means of adjusting the keyboard’s ft. That high quality degree of keep watch over isn’t one thing I’ve had with maximum different ergonomic keyboards I’ve used — with the Kinesis Freestyle Professional, as an example, you want to connect a separate accent to tent the keyboard and it best provides 3 other angles.

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Some of the Moonlander’s legs, which can be simply adjustable. You’ll swap them out if you need.
Picture by means of Jay Peters / The Verge

Ergonomically, the Moonlander feels nice. I will sort on it for a complete eight-plus hour workday and my fingers in most cases gained’t get sore. (By way of comparability, if I spend greater than a pair hours on my MacBook Air’s flat keyboard, I’ve to stretch my fingers or take brief breaks as a result of my wrists begin to flare up.) My one want is that I may attitude up the interior edges of the Moonlander even upper so it will higher fit the peak I’m used to on my Kinesis Freestyle Professional. However I will have to say that even if the keyboard feels just right ergonomically for me, everyone’s fingers and desires are other, so I will’t make it possible for it’ll be an ideal have compatibility for you, even with how adjustable it’s.

The keyboard comes with built-in wrist rests, however you’ll be able to fold them out of the best way, the place they cleverly connect magnetically to the bottom of the keyboard. (Folding up the wrist rests additionally makes the keyboard have compatibility well within the integrated wearing case.) And if you need, you’ll be able to take the wrist rests off fully.

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The Moonlander at my most well-liked attitude.
Picture by means of Jay Peters / The Verge

I really like the thumb clusters, which I’ve programmed for not unusual keys like area, backspace, and input. (Extra on that programmability later.) The perspective of the thumb cluster may also be adjusted, regardless that you’ll need to loosen it with an integrated hex key. I assumed I’d use the large pink keys on the most sensible of the thumb cluster, however for me, they’re simply out of achieve to be comfy to make use of in common typing. I in the end grew to become the left one right into a layer switcher for my media keys. The fitting one has a reasonably extra a laugh objective that I’ll provide an explanation for later.

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The left thumb cluster at the Moonlander.
Picture by means of Jay Peters / The Verge

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And right here’s the proper thumb cluster.
Picture by means of Jay Peters / The Verge

Swapping out key switches is a breeze, thank you largely to the integrated instrument that allows you to pull up keys and their underlying key switches with out the want to desolder the rest. (Keyboard lovers will know that is known as “scorching swappable” switches.)

That instrument additionally makes it simple to tug the whole lot off so you’ll be able to blank the keyboard and each and every key, which I will do over the process about two hours. In case you cross with the white type, you’ll be satisfied cleansing the keyboard is so easy, because the integrated keycaps can get dirty inside a question of days.

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The integrated key puller makes it simple to change keys and switches.
Picture by means of Jay Peters / The Verge

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What’s beneath the important thing switches.
Picture by means of Jay Peters / The Verge

While you order a Moonlander from ZSA, you’ll be able to choose from 10 other key switches: two varieties of Cherry-manufactured switches (brown and blue) and 8 varieties of Kailh-manufactured switches (bronze, gold, silver, copper, field brown, field pink, field white, and field black). You’ll additionally order switches from ZSA separately, for those who’d like. The board helps each 3-pin or 5-pin switches, so if you wish to change in another choice, you’ll be able to do this.

I ordered my evaluate unit with Cherry MX brown key switches since I used to be acquainted with them from my Kinesis, they usually sound great and clicky, with a tactile tick for each and every press. ZSA additionally despatched me samples of Kailh silver and bronze switches to take a look at. The silvers have been a linear transfer that felt too tender for me. I beloved the clicky bronzes (which can be sometimes called thick golds), I simply wanted they have been just a little quieter.

If you wish to outfit the keyboard on your personal keycaps, you’ll be able to use 1u keycaps for the 64 primary keys at the board. (You’ll additionally purchase keys with simply the road on ZSA’s website in batches of 10.) The usage of your individual keycaps with the thumb cluster calls for much less not unusual sizing — the six oblong keys use 1.5u keycaps and the 2 large pink buttons use 2u keycaps — which would possibly make it tougher to search out customized caps if you wish to customise the keyboard.

The keys at the Moonlander are consistent with each and every different as an alternative of being reasonably offset. The speculation with this staggered columnar format is that it’s more uncomplicated on your palms to achieve keys above and beneath the house row, however I didn’t really feel a significant distinction in reachability between the Moonlander’s format and the offset format of my MacBook Air’s keyboard.

You will have additionally observed that the keys are specified by a nontraditional approach out of the field, and that many keys you could be expecting to look simply aren’t there. Understand how there’s no marked Home windows key? No Command key? Or how about such things as shift, go back, or perhaps a spacebar? None of the ones are formally classified at the Moonlander.

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The left facet of the keyboard.
Picture by means of Jay Peters / The Verge

That is the place the Moonlander’s instrument steps in — you’ll be able to pick out the place all the ones keys cross your self. The usage of ZSA’s on-line configurator instrument, you’ll be able to program an outstanding choice of choices for each and every key.

In case you simply need a key to do a unmarried serve as, you’ll be able to set that. However you’ll be able to additionally set macros, and now not only one in keeping with key: if you need, you’ll be able to set as much as 4 other macros in keeping with key, relying on combos of tapping and protecting the important thing. You’ll additionally set other layers of fully other layouts, which you’ll be able to change to by means of, sure, customizing keys for your keyboard.

All this doesn’t imply that out of the field, you gained’t be capable to hit the spacebar. You simply have to understand the place to search for it. Take a look at the default layout, from ZSA’s on-line configurator instrument. It puts the gap bar within the left thumb cluster at the left-most key. Backspace is one key over from that one. Go back? At the right-hand thumb cluster at the right-most key.

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The principle layer of the default Moonlander format.

My layout is much different. I’m a Colemak typist, so I needed to remap many letter keys simply in order that I may sort phrases. However over the years, I stored tweaking my format so as to add a couple of extra complex shortcuts because of macros. As an example, I will press and maintain X, C, and V to accomplish reduce, reproduction, and paste, respectively. (This doesn’t paintings completely — I’m positive my colleagues have questioned why I every now and then simply sort the letter “v” in Slack.) I made a separate layer that’s designed nearly solely to assist you watch YouTube movies, with arrow keys beneath the WASD keys, one-key shortcuts to hurry up and decelerate movies, and simple get admission to to the amount controls. My editor instructed I set macros to mute and finish Zoom conferences, which I added promptly.

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The principle layer of my format. The pink keys point out keys that experience a couple of purposes.

At this level I’d in finding it onerous to reside with out my present format at the Moonlander, particularly for my day by day paintings. And I’ve spotted that I’m simply now not as environment friendly after I’m typing at the “customary” keyboard on my MacBook Air, particularly when I will’t do my at hand press-and-hold shortcuts. The MacBook Air has a bonus with its serve as row, which shall we me carry or decrease quantity with only one keystroke — on my Moonlander setup, it takes two as a result of I’ve to modify to my devoted layer — however it’s just a minor downside that I’ve gotten used to. And if I truly sought after to, I may have the opportunity to place media controls on my primary layer.

Getting my Moonlander to paintings precisely the best way I sought after took about two weeks of near-daily tweaks, regardless that. Every now and then, my imagined enhancements have been hilariously off-base. The primary time I flashed a customized format onto the keyboard, I instantly discovered that I forgot so as to add an apostrophe key, which is more or less a very powerful one in my paintings.

Relying on how a lot you need to customise your format, you could spend a very long time twiddling with concepts within the configurator instrument. There have been a pair instances early on the place I’d spend upward of part an hour after paintings striking in combination new concepts. Thankfully, whenever you’ve made up our minds on a format, in reality imposing it’s rapid, because it best takes a minute or two to obtain and flash it to the keyboard.

And to be truthful, you don’t want to customise the Moonlander inside an inch of its existence like I’ve. It’s a wonderfully practical keyboard appropriate out of the field, and I’m positive you have to get used to it in time. However to be fair, I didn’t use the default format in any respect; since I already had an concept of a few customizations I sought after to make in keeping with my enjoy with the ErgoDox, and I flashed the ones onto the keyboard in an instant and used them as a kick off point.

The liberty to make a decision which keys cross the place too can create a paralysis of selection. I used to be stumped for days attempting to determine the “perfect” approach to mirror an inverted T arrow key format, and in the end, I gave up, maintaining two arrow keys on each and every facet of the keyboard however in a reasonably other place from the default. Seeking to nail the place the Mac’s Command key will have to cross was once a puzzle as neatly, and my strategy to put it at the keys closest to the thumb clusters nonetheless feels imperfect.

There also are programmable RGB LEDs beneath each and every key, which means that along with attempting to determine what each and every key does, you may additionally delve into how each and every key seems, too. For my primary layer, I’ve landed on maintaining the entire lighting fixtures off more often than not, however I will turn on some prebuilt animations if I’m feeling colourful. You’ll transfer between those prebuilt animations with the click of a key, too, which is what I exploit that gigantic pink key at the appropriate facet of the keyboard for.

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On my media controls layer, I’ve a simpler use for the RGB LEDs: lights up simply the keys I’ve programmed for various purposes. (I admit that I’ve modified the colours assigned to these keys a couple of instances, regardless that.)

One thing more I will have to point out is that the left facet of the Moonlander can serve as by itself, which opens up numerous fascinating probabilities for avid gamers. I’m now not a lot of a PC gamer, however I may simply consider a situation the place you create a gaming-focused macro layer at the left facet of the keyboard and unplug the proper facet fully to open up some table area on your mouse.

Whilst doing a little research for this evaluate, I discovered my colleague Alex Cranz’s nice 2017 article about the world of mechanical keyboard fans. It ends with a quote that I haven’t been in a position to get out of my head: “There’s no perfect keyboard… There’s the most efficient keyboard for you.”

I in truth can’t inform you if ZSA’s Moonlander is the perfect ergonomic keyboard available in the market. It really works rather well for me, neatly sufficient that I would possibly now not return to my trusty Kinesis Freestyle Professional. Nevertheless it took weeks of tweaking, changes, and time at the keys to get it to some extent the place I felt that approach. And for those who drop the $365 to get a Moonlander for your self, it could be a coarse adjustment length to begin.

Whenever you’ve wrapped your head round the entire probabilities presented by means of the Moonlander, regardless that, your creativeness would possibly run wild. It provides an entire lot that may make it the most efficient keyboard for you.

Images by means of Jay Peters / The Verge



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