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ErgoDox EZ Glow Review - The Most Powerful Keyboard Ever?

By Christopher Coke on February 20, 2019 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

ErgoDox EZ Glow Review - The Most Powerful Keyboard Ever?

Last March, we took our first look at the ErgoDox EZ Shine and were blown away by the huge array of possibilities the keyboard offered. Since that time, ZSA Technology Labs has completely refreshed the ErgoDox with the new ErgoDox EZ Glow. We didn’t think it was possible, but ZSA has packed even more programmability into the split keyboard and enhanced its design with per-key LEDs and doubleshot PBT keycaps. If you spend a lot of time at your PC, the ErgoDox is a literal game changer. Let’s find out how.


Specifications

  • MSRP: $265 - 354
  • Layout: 76 keys (38 per side)
  • Material: ABS plastic, doubleshot PBT keycaps
  • Switch Type: Cherry and Kailh (variety, Thick Gold/Bronze Tested)
  • Wrist Rest: Yes (optional)
  • Anti-ghosting: NKRO via USB
  • Cable Length: 6.6 ft USB, 2.5 ft TRRS
  • Macro Support: Yes
  • Media Keys: Secondary function (within layer)
  • Backlighting: Per-key RGB
  • Software: Online Configurator, Teensy Flash Tool
  • Weight: 1.60 lbs
  • Warranty: 2 years

From an outsider’s perspective, the ErgoDox EZ looks like quite the strange keyboard. It’s split and features a funky layout, something like a 60% but with thumb clusters and mystery buttons on the inner and outer edges. To be fair, it is a funky keyboard but it’s also about as interesting as they come. If you take the time to master it, is probably the most programmable and feature-rich keyboard on the market today. With a price scheme that ranges from $265 - 354, it needs to be.

There are good reasons for that price point, however. Let’s get into exactly how the ErgoDox EZ Glow justifies that cost, even as the market for mechanical keyboards becomes fuller than ever before.

Programming Happy

The ErgoDox EZ Glow is the rare peripheral that will actually change the way you use your PC. Every single key can be reprogrammed and customized to tailor it specifically to you. If you have a bit of programming background or are willing to follow a guide, you’ll find the open source firmware opens the door to all manner of advanced functions beyond even the basics of remapping, double strokes, and mapping you media and mouse controls. The ErgoDox EZ may be most popular among computer programmers due to its coder-friendly design but for us non-coders, that means some talented people have already done a lot of the work in tapping into the ErgoDox EZ’s potential.

Layers are the name of the game with the EZ Glow. Despite its small size, you can select program up to 32 layers of commands, separate from shift-functions like punctuation (!@#$%). Out of the box, Layer 0 matches the printed legends on the keys unless you’ve re-bound them. Layer 1 puts all of your punctuation on the left hand and a number pad on the right, transforming the number row into F1-F12. Layer 2 puts media keys on your right hand and full mouse control on your left. Layers 3 - 31 can be anything you want; for example, game specific profiles with individual lighting for each.

I’ve been a fan of ZSA and the ErgoDox EZ for some time, but I still recall how crazy the idea of 32 layers sounded when I first heard it. Not only is that drastically more than any other keyboard I’d heard of but I wondered, how would you even access that many layers without losing half of your keys in the process? The answer reveals just how well thought out the Glow is and speaks to how innovative some of its features really are.

Take this scenario with the default layout. With key space being scarce, you don’t want to give up any keys you don’t have to. To solve this problem, ZSA has programmed keys to allow them to accept two functions at once. Every blue key in the picture above will send one command when tapped and another when held. You can access layers with conditions, too. The two inner “1” keys will swap to Layer 1 until you hit them and return to Layer 0 with a second tap. The “1” in the bottom right will swap to that layer only so long as it’s held. You can also switch layers and stay there with another key, how most gaming keyboards already work. By strategically mapping your layer buttons, you can go deeper into your layers structure with only a scarce few buttons being dedicated.

When you start to dig around in the menus, you begin to see how deep the customizations go. You can manually adjust debounce time if you find yourself experiencing key chatter. You can enable French, Spanish, or German keycodes if you need international symbols. The 1ms response rate means that you can customize the difference between a tap and a hold anywhere between 1ms and 1000ms. The steps between RGB hues and brightness levels can also be tweaked. For mouse controls, you can adjust the sensitivity and delay time of cursor movement to make it feel as natural under your fingers. It’s clear that ZSA has tried to give users more control over their keyboard experience that they’ve had anywhere else and they’ve made a wholesale better product because of it.

One of the neatest features they’ve added is Auto Shift, which works a bit like your Android keyboard. With Auto Shift enabled, holding a key for a set time will send its shifted state, for example ! instead of 1. The idea here is that we naturally spend more time on a capitalized letter or shifted characters, so the Glow can use a millisecond hold to shift for us. It’s a cool concept and one I use regularly on my phone, but it’s harder to get used to for a touch typist like myself. For gaming, however, it’s excellent.

The most useful genre for this feature is easily action bar based MMOs. In World of Warcraft, I always bind keys to shift modifiers (Shift+1, Shift+2, etc). Now, all of those keys can be sent just by holding the button 300ms longer. Any game can benefit though, so long as as you can bind to a shift-modified key.

All of this is done using ZSA’s online Configurator and a tiny firmware flashing tool called Teensy. There’s no need for special drivers or bloated software to eat up system RAM. You simply go to the website, make the changes you’d like to make, download the file and open it with Teensy. With a press of the flash button, the keyboard applies your new layout.

This setup is great on a number of levels. Number one, because it’s firmware-based, any changes you make live on the keyboard and will work on any PC. Second, since you don’t have to install anything (Teensy is an EXE, however), you don’t need to be an administrator to greenlight it on a work PC. This was HUGE for me, since my day job steadfastly refuses outside installs but tweaking the layout is one of the biggest quirks to the ErgoDox EZ Glow. Third, it also means that configurations can be saved and searched from anywhere. One of the most helpful things for me in the early days was exploring layouts other people had created and trying them for myself until I was able to customize my own most comfortable layout.

All Around Quality Package

Now that I’ve gushed about how powerful the keyboard is, let’s look at its physical design.

The ErgoDox EZ Glow is a split keyboard that’s designed with ergonomics in mind. The split allows you to space each half out so your arms can be comfortably spaced and not restrict blood flow. The optional tilt kit is another $25 but well worth picking up as it prevents pronation and decreases your risk of a repetitive stress injury and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. If you look closely, you’ll also see that the keys are placed in columns without the slant of a normal keyboard, allowing your fingers to move in a natural forward and back motion. This ortholinear design also places every key within two keys of its designated finger, theoretically speeding up your pace work.

The Glow also features brand new keycaps produced in partnership with Tai-Hao. The new ‘caps are doubleshot PBT plastic with translucent legends to show the RGB lighting. They’re thick and slightly textured and feel great for typing and gaming. They’re also all the same profile so you can easily move them as you change and customize your board.

When it comes to switches, you have quite a few to choose from, though not as many as the original Shine. From Cherry, you can choose between tactile MX Browns or clicky MX Blues. You can also opt for one of Kailh’s speed switches in Gold, Silver, Copper, or Thick Gold. I chose Thick Gold to take advantage of the new click-bar that clicks on the downstroke and upstroke. It’s glorious. Switches on the EZ Glow are also hot swappable, allowing you to swap out for a new set whenever you’d like. I’ve said it before and I’ll said it again: all high-end keyboards should have hot-swappable switches.

Also new with the Glow is he addition of per-key RGB lighting. The Shine looked great with its LED strip underglow but the Glow definitely looks better with the upgraded backlighting. Typing in the dark is far easier and using QMK firmware, you can create some eye catching animations.

The only thing it doesn’t do, but a downloadable script or AutoHotKey can, is record macro sequences.  After spending some time with Cooler Master’s onboard macro programming, I wish it here, especially for the price, but since there are solutions to make that possible, it’s not a major issue.

The Learning Curve

If you’ve never used an ErgoDox or other split keyboard before, get ready for a steep learning curve. Learning to use a split keyboard or an ortholinear board is a challenge in itself but when you combine them and add thumb clusters, you can take your fancy touch typing and throw it right out the window. The first time I used an EZ, my typing speed plummeted from ~90 WPM to 30. This time, I had the benefit of that past experience, so the year off I spent reviewing normal keyboards meant I only dropped to about ~45 WPM. The shift here will reveal every error and bad habit you’ve picked up along the way learning to type and put it squarely in your wy.

As difficult as these jumps can be, they’re were also temporary. You’re basically learning to type again, so taking extra time to practice is helpful. I challenged myself this time to practice every spare chance I had. I started doing basic typing lessons to trigger my muscle memory for the ortholinear layout. In downtime in my work day and between rounds of Apex Legends at home, I loaded up TypeRacer. I typed for the fun of it, when I didn’t have some time demand to apply extra pressure.

And you know what? It worked. Before long, I was cruising right along. I’m still not up to my complete typing speed but I’m coming along and believe that I’ll get there. I want to get there. It’s just so much more powerful (and so much healthier for your hands), it’s exciting to be mastering it.

I’ll be blunt: the ErgoDox EZ Glow is like the Ferrari of split keyboards. You’re going to have to learn how to drive it but when you do, you know it’s going to be so awesome you’ll never want to go back.

Final Thoughts

The ErgoDox EZ Glow is a fantastic keyboard that will absolutely spoil your expectations. If the ErgoDox EZ can do all that it does, you’re left wondering why normal keyboards can’t do more. You’ll customize it exactly to your taste. At that point, it’s not just a neat keyboard, it’s your neat keyboard. Trying to go to another after that is like trying to fit into a too-small shoe.

The only hang-up here is the price. It’s undeniably expensive. As you begin to explore the world of premium mechanical keyboards, however, you’ll find many that pale in comparison to the features on offer here. Make no mistake, even though the ErgoDox EZ Glow makes for an amazing gaming keyboard, it’s not competing with them. It’s as much of a tool as a keyboard be, which is why programmers have come to love it.

ZSA Technologies is quick to point out that you’re also paying for ethical manufacturing. Every keyboard is handmade and tested in an office building, not an assembly line. The employees are paid fair wages, have benefits, and are given paid holidays. After the fact, you can count on their team to deliver superior support. There are not millions of ErgoDox EZ Glows being sold, your satisfaction has a tangible impact on ZSA and their actions over the last several years have shown their dedication to after-sales service.

Like the Shine before it, the ErgoDox EZ Glow is a great keyboard that opens the doors to your PC in a way other keyboards just don’t. If you’re willing to learn how use it and those advanced features appeal to you, it’s well worth the investment.

Pros

  • Superior build quality
  • Great to type with, advanced features are great for gaming
  • Hot-swappable switches lets you make the keyboard feel like new again (and repair switches yourself without soldering)
  • Ethical manufacturing is laudable
  • Amazing programmability

Cons

  • Quite expensive

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of review.

Christopher Coke / Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight