The Moonlander Has Touched Down!

After long last, my Moonlander Mark I has arrived!

But what is a Moonlander Mark I, I hear you ask?

Well, the Moonlander is a “next-generation ergonomic keyboard” which is fully hot swappable, programmable, and weird looking. It’s an ergonomic keyboard.

Moonlander Mark I (dark matter edition)

Ergonomic keyboards have been around since the 1970s and are designed to minimize muscle strain, fatigue, and other problems associated with poor biomechanics. This is because regular keyboards force your wrists into a pronated forearm position which causes ulnar deviation at the wrists, as well as protracted and internally rotated shoulders. This position, sustained for longer periods of time (such as a full day of work), can contribute to repetitive strain injuries and add further compression to the carpal tunnel. Working at home can be seriously detrimental to your health! (seriously may be overstated here when compared to other jobs, but hey for effect).

Source: Keyboard Risk Factors | Kinesis Corporation (kinesis-ergo.com)

There have been many ergonomic keyboard over the years to address these health-related issues, such as the split keyboard, the contoured keyboard, handheld keyboards, and angled keyboards to name a few. These weird and wacky keyboards have never gained mainstream success and their lifespan on the market has been short lived.

This could be for a number of reasons; users not wanting to learn a new keyboard when they have grown up using the classic QWERTY keyboards, the widespread nature of conventional keyboards and major manufacturers not wanting to stray too far from this layout, or a secret cabal set against combating market takeover by ergonomic keyboards. Either way, ergonomic keyboards remain a novelty despite their well-proven heath benefits (which I won’t get into on this light-hearted blog post, just Google them).

Today, there are two main contenders on the market for the head honcho ergonomic keyboard: ZSA and Kinesis, with their flagship products the Moonlander Mark I and the Kinesis Advantage2, respectively.

Moonlander Mark I (moonlight edition)
Kinesis Advantage2

There are pros and cons to both of these keyboards but, for me, the power the Moonlander offered in it’s programmability and flexibility was too compelling, hence here we are.

So… is the Moonlander any good?

In short, yes… but it takes some getting used to.

The Moonlander comes with two keyboard halves, a cable to connect them, a USB-C cable (with a USB-A adaptor) to connect the keyboard to your device, a hex alloy key to make adjustments, a keycap/key puller, and a sexy carrying case. It is adjustable based on the shape of your hands and can be used either tilted or flat; the key caps are hot swappable and accommodate to any mechanical typing experience you want; and the fold out wrist rests offer comfort when typing for extended periods. That said, once you plug it in the real magic begins!

The team at ZSA has developed the ORYX configuration tool that lets you configure the Moonlander to your heart’s content with double key taps, key holds, different layers, flashing RGB, and much more. Seriously you can program this keyboard to do anything you can think of from running macros to controlling the mouse! But with great power comes great… time investment. I found it took around 2–3 hours before I had settled on a keyboard layout I liked and could use somewhat efficiently. The Moonlander does come with a default layout, which I would recommend using as a base to expand on, but coming from a classic QWERTY keyboard I found adapting to the ortho-linear (staggered columnar) key layout took some time to get used to. Damn you “b” key!

To help you on your journey to Moonlander mastery the team at ZSA does provide some useful software for you. Firstly, there is the ORYX configuration tool which lets you have full programming control over your keyboard and then train yourself on your chosen layout. It’s pretty awesome. Then there is the free “Epistory: Typing Chronicles” which is included in your order, which is a fun action/adventure game with light RPG elements and combat. The unique twist is that everything you do is typing-based so you have to become quickly adept at using your new keyboard. For me, this inclusion of software is one of the things that sets ZSA apart from other keyboard manufactures.

Epistory: Typing Chronicles

For me, the greatest challenge when adapting to the Moonlander was the thumb clusters. These clusters allow your thumbs to operate multiple buttons, something revolutionary for someone who is just used to pressing the gigantic space bar with them. I would often find myself mixing up backspace and space which were mapped to my left thumb cluster in an annoying dance between the two counterproductive keys. Once I got used to using my thumbs for more than just looking pretty though this annoyance was soon overcome.

When you get used to your custom key layout and begin to use the Moonlander for day-to-day activities is when you truly appreciate the keyboards power. The basic task of copying and pasting can be done with one key. Complex key chords can be simplified into one key. Even running a macro or executing a script can be all done with the press of a key. The productivity gains from having a fully programmable keyboard are staggering! This is especially true for somewhere who uses a tiling window manager and spends most of their time in the terminal or Vim (Neovim obviously). This was one of the main selling points for me and the Moonlander did not disappoint, it’s just finding time to configure all of the things that’s the trouble. Thankfully the Moonlander is cross-platform compatible and any custom layouts are stored directly on the board so I can use the Moonlander at work, at home, or at Starbucks on my iPad if I’m feeling really adventurous.

The only downside to the Moonlander is the price. At a hefty $365 + import taxes (if you don’t live in the US) this is not a cheap keyboard. It’s a professional’s tool aimed at writers or developers who spend a lot of their time behind a computer screen. The customizability makes up for some of that price (blank or printed keycaps, custom switches, moonlight or dark matter edition), but you can get customizable keyboards for a lot cheaper. Unfortunately, the Moonlander is the rule and not the exception when it comes to ergonomic keyboard pricing. It’s counterpart, the Kinesis Advantage2, is priced at $369. It seems that if you want a good ergonomic keyboard you better be ready to pay premium.

Verdict

The Moonlander is an exceptional keyboard with exceptional support. The team at ZSA has done a phenomenal job of producing a product which is unmatched in terms of power and flexibility, and the supporting software they provide lets anyone, with time, master it’s ergonomic layout. If you’re in the market for a ergonomic then look no further than the Moonlander. Just be ready to pay a premium.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Adam Goss

Adam Goss

89 Followers

Cyber security professional who merges offensive and defensive paradigms to solve new and exciting security challenges | Penetration Tester | Threat Hunter