Learning to Type Again — Split Keyboards

3 minute read

In August of 2020, I spent a night indoors — like every night this year — and while failing to be present in the moment I got sucked into the dark space that is ergonomics youtube. Days before a peer had mentioned they just bought a new split keyboard with mechanical keys and my housemate just started building his own new keyboard. The culmination of events led me to impulse spend $365 on a device that would proceed to make me unproductive for a month. Moonlander Keyboard around Macbook

I bought a Moonlander split keyboard from ZSA in white with Cherry MX brown key switches. I spent 2 months in eager anticipation for the device. Somehow it arrived from Taiwan 24 hours after I got the shipping notification — I did not believe it could ship so fast. Early November I unboxed the glorious device and spent 20 minutes deciding what the best mode for the backlights would be. I settled on the heat map function so I could see which keys I was using the most. It’s a cool effect where keys go from off (no backlight) to blue to red as you start hitting keys more frequently and fade back off after disuse. During the first month of typing, I would type so slow on the keyboard that keys backlit LEDs only went from off to blue because by the time I needed the key again it was too late. This light mode is a tease.

The main parts of the keyboard that differentiate it from plebeian typing apparati are the columnar keys and the split in half. The columnar layout just means that instead of staggering letters as they do on most keyboards; the letters are direct atop one another. The split keyboard component allows you to maintain a proper posture with your shoulders back while typing. This has been the largest and most notable change, I have each half at shoulder-width apart genuinely feel like my posture is forced to improve.

Learning to use a split keyboard

It sucked learning to use this keyboard. It sucked so much that I started tracking data on how much I sucked at typing. Below is a graph of my typing speed and accuracy over time.

Typing Performance over Time

Baseline is taken from my typing speed with my laptop keyboard. I used the typing speed racing game “typerush” to track this data. Overall you can see that it took me “too long” to pass my baseline but it happened.

The first couple of days it felt like so much effort to do the thing I take for granted daily. I didn’t want to reply to slack messages or emails but forced myself to not use my mac’s keyboard. I played around with how to set the custom keys for a month before I found the layout that’s just right for me. My notes from this time in my life contain a lot of “this sucks” and “ugh”.

After a month or so I was pretty comfortable. I did not need to look down to type and was generally accurate. After passing ~60WPM I began to not hate typing again and soon after forgot to track my daily progress because I wasn’t thinking about how hard typing was every time I sat at my computer.

But is it really worth $365?

Absolutely not for most people. Relearning how to type for the sake of productivity is the least productive thing. I barely got anything done that first month. It doesn’t feel as bad having already gotten comfortable with the keyboard, but my notes from week 1 show that I absolutely hated it to begin with it. If you are on the fence, don’t do this to yourself.

Do I regret buying it?

Not at all. This is a wonderful device for those who like stuff this kind of thing. It is a high-quality keyboard with all the bells and whistles a high-end keyboard should have. It is just that most people don’t want or need all this. It takes a while to learn to use and longer to truly use it to its potential.

A hidden perk of this for those not used to mechanical keyboards is that they are super loud. Everyone can hear how productive I’m being. Every single keystroke. I’m ready to return to offices after quarantine and bust this out so everyone can hear how much work I’m doing. This keyboard has the energy of the dude who screams after every rep at the gym. I may have to switch the keys out for silent ones in the future…