Bye Keyboardio Model 01, Welcome ZSA Moonlander!

I have the Keyboardio Model 01 for quite a while now. It is the most amazing keyboard that I had so far. The Canadian maple wood enclosure looks nice, and the layout is just amazing. It has the most comfortable hand and finger position that I have tried. The other keyboards that I had were not as good. The Microsoft Ergonomic 4000 had a nice overall great shape, but the key layout was this horrible staggered type. And the key switches were rubber dome. So a crappy keyboard altogether.

My biggest pain with the Keyboardio Model 01 are the switches. The Matias Quiet Click suck, there's no nicer way of saying that. Mechanical switches are supposed to be robust and fault tolerant. But I have exchanged a bunch of them now, each time I had to open it up and solder them. See the article about exchanging switches. That was a year ago. And then I also aired my concerns about the bad switches. I wrote that I am already thinking about buying an Ergodox keyboard, but I also have the sunken cost of the Keyboardio one. I closed the article with this:

We'll see when the next switch fails …

And, well, the next switch has failed. This time it is the Enter key, it just randomly generates activations. And when working with a command line, random ghost presses of Enter is the last thing I need. This is not only annoying, this becomes a liability. It is pretty sad, because the Keyboardio was advertised as “heirloom grade”, which it really isn't with regard to the switches.

Back to other keyboards

So I unplugged the keyboard, and then I used the KBtalking Pure which is my third keyboard. My second one is a Filco Majestouch which I have at the office. And since the flat shape and staggered layout of these keyboards suck, I looked into a new keyboard. I again looked at the Ergodox, but it just doesn't look as appealing as the Keyboardio. I love the integrated wrist rests in the Keyboardio, and the Ergodox doesn't have them integrated. But then there is the Moonlander by the same company. And I have eyed this for a few years now. It looks beautiful, it seems promising with regard to finger position. It has an integrated wrist rest. And it is shipping now. Keyboardio (the company) wasn't sitting on their hands either, they have designed the Keyboardio Model 100, which has hot-swappable MX Cherry switches, so a great step forward. But it is still in crowdfunding, estimated for July 2022 (but was already shifted) and I know how long the Model 01 was delayed (which I backed at the time). Although it has the same great shape, I dislike the walnut wood. I cannot really put my finger on it, but with the black keycaps it looks like the bad kind of grandpa furniture.

Ordering a Moonlander

On 2022-05-13 I've ordered a ZSA Moonlander, in black. It's 365 USD with shipping from Taiwan, likely incuring tariffs when it comes to Germany. And so I have paid 351.59 EUR for the keyboard, 7.02 EUR foreign currency exchange because my credit card sucks, and then I needed to pay 78.92 EUR on EU VAT before I could accept the package. So that's 437.53 EUR for the Moonlander. It has arrived on 2022-06-02, which is in line with their “shipping within two weeks” statement.


The box is nice, it contains a USB-C cable, an interconnect (which happens to be a headphone jack), a key puller, a hex key to adjust the tilting and a neoprene carrying case.

I then went to set it up on my desk, where it looks pretty nice. I have directly used the tilting because I am used to the tent setup with my Keyboardio already. This is what it looks like:

It is somewhat similar to the Keyboardio, but differs in a few critical aspects. The thumb cluster has the four keys in a different layout, which makes it more 3+1 than four keys in a row. Then there is a fifth row of keys, which the Keyboardio doesn't have. The Moonlander lacks the palm key to go to the function layer. The Moonlander has the tenting built in, and doesn't need to be tether together or put on thick mounts.

Other than that, they are pretty similar: Both feature a distinct thumb cluster, both have an integrated wrist rest. Of course they are mechanical and ortholinear.

The tenting can best be seen from the side:

The palm rest and the blends in pretty nicely:

One cool thing is that one can flip the palm rest under the keyboard to transport it. I am not planning to carry that around too often, but we will see.

There is no casing around, the keyboard is free-floating. This means that it shines more, and you can get the dirt out easier. Likely the dirt goes in easier as well. It makes it look cool:

Layout customization

When you are at the point where you buy fancy keyboards like these, you are likely picky about the layout. And so I thought that the default layout just sucks. It likely doesn't, but I am used to the Keyboardio layout and quite like it. So this is the default layout on the primary layer:

You can see that they have the shift keys with the pinkys, and the whitespace keys on the thumb cluster. Control and Alt are in their usual locations, pretty much like on a regular ANSI layout keyboard. You can see the different colors. White keys are regular ones, green ones are modifiers to hold. The blue ones have a dual function. When you just tap them, they emit a key. But hold them, and they become a modifier key.

On the second layer there are symbols (although you can get them with shift as well), a numpad and controls for the LEDs:

On a third layer you have mouse and media control:

I have used their Oryx online editor to change the layout to my liking. I will have to do a few more iterations, just while writing this article I realized that I didn't map the Home and End keys, which I sometimes use for text editing. This is my first layer:

It has the modifiers mostly on the thumbs, though I have retained another control key on the far left. I might map it to something else, though. And then I got rid of the third layer, and just mapped what I really need onto the secondary layer:

I've also used the feature to set the color for the keys individually. My keyboard glows in this yellow, but when I switch to the second layer, it just illuminates the keys that I have mapped.

When the layout is changed, one can download it and flash it using the Wally tool. One needs a little pin to trigger the reset button, and then the new layout is flashed within seconds. And all the stuff happens inside the keyboard, so it doesn't need software on the computers. This is nice, because I use the keyboard with my personal laptop, my work laptop and my gaming PC.

Typing experience

Every new keyboard shape is a pretty rough start. I remember that when I switched from a plain ANSI keyboard to the Keyboardio like five years ago, it took me three weeks to get back to my normal typing speed. Here I have the feeling that it goes much faster because I have already done the transition to a split and orthonormal keyboard. The thumb cluster is different, I have to stretch my fingers in a different way to get the keys. The muscle memory has to rebuild. And I will have to decide whether the layout is good, or needs some additional tweaks. Luckily, this is very easy to do.

Once I settled into the layout for like half an hour, I started to nice how nice the Cherry MX Brown switches are. The Matias Quiet Click in the Keyboardio are just pretty bad to type on. Yes, they are mechanical, but they are so stiff. And they fail too often. In the three weeks that I typed on my Filco keyboard (which Cherry MX Brown switches) I realized how amazing these switches are. Now I am super happy to have my favorite switches and the great shape of a split-layout tented ortholinear keyboard.

At this early stage, having the keyboard for like an hour, it is too early to make any long-term conjectures. However, I can say that I have a pretty good feeling about it. Perhaps I write a follow-up blog post about it eventually.