The ErgoDox EZ isn’t a gaming keyboard. In fact, probably doesn’t look much like any keyboard you’ve seen. The ErgoDox EZ is a split keyboard built for ergonomics, speed, and the kind user-friendly programmability unseen anywhere else. Today, we’re looking at the most interesting and powerful keyboard we’ve ever laid hands on - and yes, this thing is killer for gaming.
- MSRP: $270 - 355
- 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: RGB underglow (optional)
- Software: Online Configurator, Teensy Flash Tool
- Weight: 1.60 lbs
- Warranty: 2 years
Let’s get this out of the way first: the ErgoDox EZ isn’t a keyboard targeted at gamers. It will work perfectly for that - better than a normal keyboard by a longshot, once you’ve mastered - but buying an ErgoDox EZ just for gaming is a bit like buying a school bus when you need a minivan. What we’re looking at today is the multi-tool of the keyboard world: one set of keys to make you faster and better at whatever it is you might be doing. As a result, programmers have fallen in love with it. I won’t be making the case that you should buy such an expensive and in-depth keyboard just for gaming, but if you do, it has the potential to make you a better gamer in any genre you care to play in.
The ErgoDox Difference
Unless you’re a keyboard enthusiast, the ErgoDox EZ probably looks a little… unorthodox. That’s because it’s been designed with ergonomics in mind. This is a keyboard designed for people who will be spending long hours at the keyboard and susceptible to repetitive stress injuries. We’ve looked at split keyboards here in the past and noted how the two-piece design allows for more natural arm positioning. Tenting, or angling the halves up at the center (made possible with the excellent metal legs on each side), helps your hands to sit at a natural angle, lessening the impact of pronation and reducing the risk of tendinitis, bursitis, or even Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Spreading the halves to shoulder width also promotes better posture and less back pain.
The ErgoDox EZ takes things a step further by following an ortholinear design. A traditional keyboard staggers each column of keys. Here, columns are vertically arranged to better match the natural movement of your fingers. As their homepage smartly asks, “when you extend your finger, it doesn’t go sideways, does it?” Instead, columns are staggered to match the length of your individual fingers. The result is that you need less movement to reach any key, theoretically speeding up the speed of your work.
I say theoretically because, at first, you’ll experience the exact opposite effect. Coming from a traditional keyboard, switching into an ErgoDox means not climbing not one but two separate learning curves. If you’ve adopted a few bad typing habits over the years, transitioning to a split keyboard is a good way to draw them out. For example, I’ve learned to type the letter “B” with my right hand. Bad form. When I first moved to the ErgoDox, every word with a “B” caused me to stumble until I broke the habit.
The other hurdle to climb is that we’ve all become very used to the staggered columns. Ortholinear designs better match our bodies but getting used to typing on them takes time. For most of my first week, I struggled not to typo “O,” “I,” and “Q.”
The layout of the ErgoDox EZ is also very different from a traditional keyboard. You have your standard letter keys but many other functions are shifted. The function row is now moved onto an alternate layer, the space bar has been swapped out for dual clusters of keys, and the inner and outer sides are now lined with legendless keys. On the surface, it looks foreign, but it’s actually smartly designed to keep your most used keys closer at hand. This is the default:
Expect to do some remapping to suit what’s most comfortable for you. This is where I landed at on day one, close to standard layout but with some key changes.
Since then, I’ve come up with different profiles for a handful of games and an slight variation on the above when I’m grading my students’ work at my day job. One of the surprising things is just how useful the thumb clusters actually are. Their angle makes the tall spacebar as easy as ever to use and then opens up five extra thumb buttons for quick access.
All of this makes for a keyboard that is slightly hard to wrap your head around at first. Skeptics may be keen to write it off as a gimmick. Rest assured, the ErgoDox EZ is anything but. Once you get in there and start placing your keys in positions that are convenient for you, you have a keyboard that is uniquely your own and the experience completely turns on its head. After a single week with the ErgoDox, it’s hard to go back.
The Most Powerful Keyboard I’ve Ever Used
The power of the ErgoDox EZ isn’t just in the layout, it’s the marriage between layout and software. What we have here is the single most powerful keyboard I’ve ever used - by a lot. Every key can be remapped, but the heart of its potential is the intricate layering system that goes 32 layers deep. What’s more, all of the programming is done using a browser-based Graphical Configurator and a tiny, installation-less flash tool. Anecdotally, since this tool doesn’t require installation, I was able to do it on my work PC without the need for admin privileges. Neat!
Inside the Configurator, clicking a key brings up a menu that shows the current binding and two drop down menus. The top menu allows you to set the keycode. This can be anything from a letter or number, to F1-F24, punctuation, media controls, or modifier keys. You can set it to control your web browser, control the RGB LED strips on the underside (which look great, by the way), or open applications. You can even use it to control your mouse.
For coders, individual keys can be configured to trigger multi-key commands, like alt+shift+delete, using presets or by choosing your own modifiers. You’re able to place Mac functions, system controls, non-US characters, or to swap coding languages on the fly. If that’s not enough, you can program “dual function” keys that will send one command when held and another when tapped. Then comes layering.
Layering systems are nothing new on keyboards, but the ErgoDox EZ absolutely explodes the potential of this system. If you’re unfamiliar, think of layers like you would sheets of paper in a notebook. Flip a page - or go to the next layer - and you start fresh with a blank set of keys underneath. By default, the second layer houses your function keys, special characters, and numpad. (Don’t worry, special characters are still accessible by holding shift). With 32 layers, you could make custom layouts for every game you play and still have some left over.
Swapping between them is easy and more flexible than any system I’ve seen. Single keys act as layer switches with numerous options. You can directly swap, which changes your entire keyset or activate a layer only so long as a key is held. You can make a single button activate a layer, fire off a command, then swap back to the original. You can tap toggle, switching with a tap, rubber banding back when held. If you’re adventurous, you can step through layers by chaining button holds. You can also keep it simple and have a button cycle through everything you’ve programmed.
There is, quite simply, an astounding level of programmability here. It’s not hard to see how rich this keyboard could give you access to far more commands more quickly than other options on the market. For the average gamer, it’s applications are admittedly more limited, but when you’re pushing for that extra competitive edge, this keyboard clearly offers it if you’re willing to take the time to make it your own.
Premium Functionality Needs a Premium Build
It’s clear that the functionality of the ErgoDox EZ is about as good as it gets, but when your entry level keyboard runs $270, build quality needs to be equally top of the line. Here, ZSA Technology has spared no expense. Right from unboxing, it’s clear that you’ve purchased a high-end bit of kit.
The frame of the ErgoDox EZ is composed of a dense plastic. Each half is weighty and stays in place well on the desk. Where the frame meets the legs of the Tilt Kit, it’s been reinforced with metal to prevents cracks and breakage.
The keycaps in the center are high-end doubleshot ABS from Signature Plastics. The blank caps are premium PBT.. No cheap ABS here. The walls are thick, which deadens out the sound of bottoming out. If you go for a non-clicky switch, you can look forward to a quieter typing experience that your average, thin-walled ABS keyboard.
When it comes to switches, you’ve got your pick of the litter between Cherry and Kailh. You have your standard Cherry MX Red, Brown and Blue, but also your enthusiast switches like Blacks, Whites, and Clears. On the Kailh side of things, you have tactile Brown but then a wide array of speed switches, including the new Gold, Thick Gold (Bronze), and Copper. Switching them out for a different flavor is also very easy thanks to a PCB that supports hot swapping.
There are also a handful of optional upgrades you can purchase with your ErgoDox. I would definitely recommend at least picking up the Tent Kit for an additional $25. It’s so important, I hope it becomes a standard add-in in the future, though I understand why they’d make it optional at this cost. I am extremely impressed with these. They’re metal and click into position, tightening down with a screw-end. Definitely better than any other lift kit I’ve used.
We also have the options of wings and lights. Dual, heavy duty silicone wrist rests cut to match the EZ make up the wings. They’re nice and heavy and will not budge on a desk. In white, it doesn’t take long before they show grime, so keep a wipe handy. On the rear, we can also add the Shine kit, which adds an LED strip to the back of each keyboard half. They’re bright and beautiful but fairly limited. You can set your preferred color or stick with a spectrum and some basic lighting animations. The underglow effect is understated under fluorescent office lights but looks great with the lights low.
No Really, Why Does It Cost So Much?
There’s no way around it: the ErgoDox EZ is an extremely expensive keyboard. It does a ton and is extremely well-built, but if you’re like me, you’re still probably wondering about the cost. I spoke to Erez Zukerman about that and it was clearly a question he was ready for.
The cost of the EZ comes down to three elements: parts, ethics, and support. The ErgoDox EZ is frankly expensive to manufacture. It’s an unusual and complex keyboard and ZSA isn’t enlisting huge assembly lines for mass production. Every ErgoDox EZ is hand made and tested in an office building. Employees are paid fair wages with full benefits and paid holidays. Erez and ZSA insist of taking care of the people behind these keyboards and that’s admirable (and expensive).
Finally, every keyboard comes with a two-year warranty, but a quick search of reddit reveals stories of customers Erez has gone above and beyond for. He gets it: this isn’t every other keyboard purchase. It’s an investment, not only in the product but in his company. The trail of satisfied customers taking t r/mk is proof positive that ZSA looks out for their customers after the fact.
When I first came across the ErgoDox EZ, I was nervous. I’d heard good things from mechanical keyboard aficionados, but it looked so foreign, I wasn’t sure. Now that I’ve climbed the learning curve, I couldn’t be happier I did. I’ve never felt like a keyboard is my own as much as the ErgoDox EZ. It’s such a powerful device, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface, and that’s a great feeling for a keyboard like this.
If any of this interests you, whether you’re a coder, gamer, or anything in between, and are willing to put in the time to master it and make it your own, the ErgoDox EZ is an easy and very high recommendation.
- Extreme programmability
- Superb build quality
- One of the very few keyboards you can truly make “your own”
- Very customizable, from build options to layout
- ZSA supports their customers and their employees - ethical manufacturing FTW
- Quite expensive
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.