This Crazy $365 Keyboard Is Actually Worth It

ZSA’s Moonlander keyboard gives your wrists the break they deserve

Photo: Owen Williams

Like many people who suddenly began working from home when the pandemic began, my setup was less than ideal. My desk was probably too high, and my cheap chair didn’t encourage great posture. Meanwhile, I started spending long days in front of a computer for both work and fun. The result was wrist pain that makes typing quickly feel uncomfortable, and it reached the point where I struggled to type for more than short periods without needing a break.

Then I stumbled on a gadget that seemed like it might offer some help: an ergonomic mechanical keyboard, ZSA’s Moonlander. The Moonlander is a wired, USB-C keyboard that sells for $365, an eye-watering price compared to competing ergonomic keyboards like the legendary Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard, which costs about $50. But for me, the additional customization features — which help avoid unnecessary finger stretching — are worth the extra cost.

The Moonlander isn’t just split — it also rearranges common keys into new positions for easy access in what’s called a columnar layout, which is designed to keep your fingers from stretching incorrectly.

Unlike traditional ergonomic keyboards, which have a shape that encourages your wrists to sit in a specific position, the Moonlander is a “split” keyboard, which allows you to position the two halves however it feels most comfortable. The Moonlander takes this feature to a level beyond other split keyboards like the Kinesis Advantage by allowing you to also “tent” each piece to the angle you desire, as well as by introducing two thumb clusters, which arrange important keys under your thumbs in the middle of the keyboard rather than elsewhere to reduce the number of times you stretch your fingers.

Like other mechanical keyboards, Moonlander allows you to choose your key switches. What you choose determines both what it feels like to press the keys and how loud that action is (I chose the Cherry Browns, which are both tactile and clacky, without being overly loud).

Learning to type on a split keyboard takes time. And the Moonlander isn’t just split — it also rearranges common keys into new positions for easy access in what’s called a columnar layout, which is designed to keep your fingers from stretching incorrectly. The enter key, for example, isn’t located to the right of the letter keys but instead as a part of one of the thumb clusters, as is the spacebar, command key, and other frequently used keys.

Adjusting to this new key layout was disorienting for the first few weeks. I learned to touch-type in school and can slap out a solid 130 words per minute (WPM) on a standard keyboard, but the Moonlander initially reduced me to less than 40 WPM, riddled with typos. For the first few weeks, I felt like I couldn’t remember how to type at all and found myself losing my place on the keyboard constantly.

This was especially difficult when it came to symbols, which I use a lot when I’m writing. On the Moonlander, most have been relocated due to space or layout constraints. To deal with this, the Moonlander uses “layers” that can be triggered by tapping or holding a key, which turns all of the keys into other keys. By holding a special key, for example, I can access layer one, which contains all of the symbols and controls for the keyboard’s LEDs in the default configuration. Another special key triggers layer two, which contains media keys and allows mouse control.

Buying an expensive keyboard was new to me, but I’ve come to appreciate the value of investing in a good keyboard, particularly when it comes to ergonomics.

The true epiphany, however, was realizing that I could program any key on the keyboard or any combination of keys to do anything. Using a web-based tool called Oryx, the entire board can be reconfigured. For instance, I’ve created shortcuts for accessing things like 1Password and opening Slack instantly.

It’s a neat system, but it was confusing at first. I printed out a guide that showed what commands had ended up in each layer and stuck it to the wall so I could practice.

As I’ve used the keyboard more and used its included practice software to learn where the keys are, my typing speed has started to rebound. I’ll admit that typing this column on the Moonlander still took me far longer than it might on a normal keyboard, as I still occasionally lose track of where my fingers are, but the more I use it, the fewer mistakes I make.

Buying an expensive keyboard was new to me, but I’ve come to appreciate the value of investing in a good keyboard, particularly when it comes to ergonomics. Is the Moonlander a luxury, given cheaper options are available? Absolutely, but given how long it should last and the improvements I’m slowly seeing, I’m happy I sprung for it.

To be clear, the Moonlander hasn’t been a magic salve for my wrist and finger pain, which I’ve been managing with a physical therapist, but it has helped me improve my typing posture and cut out decade-long bad habits as I’ve grown comfortable with it. It might not be for everyone, but having the ability to adjust the physical keyboard’s arrangement to my body, rather than the other way around, seems a lot more sustainable for a career of typing.

I’d recommend taking a moment to assess your own situation and whether or not you’re feeling any wrist or shoulder pain at all when using a computer. Even if there’s a little, it’s better to make changes before it’s too late, when it’s much harder to reverse.

Developer, accidental wordsmith. OneZero columnist trying to debug the why behind tech news. Follow: https://twitter.com/ow Blog: https://char.gd

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