Exciting keyboard news

The Kinesis Gaming Freestyle Edge keyboard is pretty great.

I wasn't happy with the Kinesis Freestyle2 because though I liked its layout, its key switches were just intolerably mushy. Just a dreadful level of mushiness. So I kept trying to befriend the Matias Ergo Pro. It has a reasonable layout, and great switches. But, having now gone through four separate Matias keyboards (including trying various permutations of the left and right halves from different instances) I can conclusively say that it's just junk. JUNK I TELL YOU. I don't know if it's a hardware problem or a firmware problem, but I do know that if you want a keyboard that will reliably send the keys that you type, and only those, the Matias isn't it. Easy time I would buy a new one, it would work fine for a month, and then go to crazy-town where I would have to unplug it from USB a couple times a day to get it out of perma-caps-lock mode, or to get it to stop pretending the "E" key was held down by ghosts, or some other koo-koo-ness.

But, great news! Kinesis has released a variant of the Freestyle2 that you can get with good switches! It's the Kinesis Gaming Freestyle Edge and I'm really happy with it. I got it with Cherry MX Brown switches.

The layout is roughly the same as the Freestyle2:

Kinesis Gaming Freestyle Edge: New hotness.

Kinesis Freestyle2: Old and busted.

Matias Ergo Pro: Old and busted.

The good:

  • Great switches!

  • The connecting cable is permanently attached, but is nice and long. At first I thought it was annoyingly short, but it turns out that more of it was coiled up inside the keyboard. It's a nice system.

  • The top "Delete Forward" key is no longer wide, which is fine (and you get PrtSc and ScrLk, which I'm sure someone might someday press on purpose).

The bad:

  • The 6 is on the left only. There should be one on each side.

  • In an affront to all that is holy, the bottom left row reads "Ctrl Windows Alt" instead of "Ctrl Opt Cmd".

    Unlike the Freestyle2, they do not sell a Mac-keycap variant of the Gaming Freestyle Edge. However, it's really easy to re-map keys using the keyboard's firmware itself, without external software. This means it will stay mapped even when you're logged in as a different user or not running in a GUI environment or whatnot. But, one oddity with a Mac is that the keyboard itself takes a little while to load its keymap after a USB bus reset... so if you are trying to option-boot a Mac, it's too early for your option key to be where you thought it was, and you have to use the other one, which is confusing.

  • No USB ports! Nowhere to plug in your mouse! Come on.

    This is especially weird because, for some incomprehensible reason, you can also mount the keyboard as a 4MB drive. Why would I ever want this? I don't know. It looks like the keymap files are stored there, so maybe you can edit them by hand that way? But the presence of the drive implies the presence of an internal USB hub as well. And they couldn't un-bury one port?

  • They sell the clip-on tenting legs separately. They are overpriced flimsy junk -- and even though this keyboard is the same shape as every previous Kinesis two-piece keyboard, the Gaming Freestyle Edge is gratuitously incompatible with the tenting legs from the Freestyle2, which was gratuitously incompatible with the tenting legs from the Freestyle. How nice. You can kinda make it work with some zip-ties, but they poke out. Jerks.

  • I do prefer the double-height ESC and bottom-row of the Matias, but I can live with it.

  • It has a bunch of crazy-assed features I'll never activate except accidentally, like the ability to throb the backlight or quickly switch to EBCDIC or Esperanto or some shit.

So can anyone tell me where to buy replacement keycaps for this that say "Opt" and "⌘" to replace the Win/Alt keys? It's the principle of the thing. The caps appear to be standard sizes, but they have cut-outs for the backlight. I wrote Kinesis asking but they didn't write back.

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47 Responses:

  1. yypppvz says:

    that 4 MB drive can be emulated in software and by no means implies the presence of a USB hub

    • Grey Hodge says:

      I most certainly does IMPLY a hub, but I think you meant to say it doesn't necessarily mean there is one.

      • L says:

        Maybe you're visualizing that the keyboard controller and a small 4MB drive are plugged into an internal USB hub which is then plugged into the computer. How could that work? The keyboard wouldn't be able to read the drive to get its configuration without the host coordinating it.

        It much more likely that it's a microcontroller that has a 4MB flash partition dedicated to the configuration, and it can expose that to the host as a usb storage device for easy editing/backup/restore.

        • Grey Hodge says:

          Hub doesn't necessarily mean a fully populated multiport hub, it simply means a USB hub controller IC. Traces would then go to the KB controller chip, and other traces to a tiny flash chip on the board. Or as you said, the KB microcontroller that also has flash onboard that is exposed on the USB bus through a hub IC.

  2. phuzz says:

    Kinesis claim that they're using standard Cherry switches, so these ones might work.

    • jwz says:

      Cool! Do you know how to tell whether I need 6.0, 6.25 or 6.5?

      • Aaron says:

        Those are spacebar widths as a multiple of regular key width, which I'm pretty sure is not useful here, since treating spacebar width as dispositive is typically predicated on the meta key caps all being the same size, and this keyboard doesn't hold to that. So your best bet's going to be a set designed for this keyboard, although new as it is that might take a while. It'll probably show up on Massdrop first, and doesn't appear to have done so yet.

        Failing that, you might be able to find caps that fit from other sets. From left to right, the left-side meta keys look to be 1.5. 1, and 1.25 respectively, although that's a guess and I wouldn't trust it too far; you've got the actual keyboard and can measure the width of the keycap bases directly. Assuming they are those sizes or very close to them, you might have a chance on Amazon or Ebay, both of which have many cheap-but-good PBT sets some of which are not hideous crimes against fashion. The 1-wide option key seems like it's going to be the hardest to find; sets designed for 40% boards might be helpful here. There are also sets of just metas in various sizes. But it wouldn't surprise me at all if you ended up having to buy two or three sets in order to get all the meta caps you want.

        (You could also recap the rest of the keyboard that way, which you might find you find preferable. PBT caps feel a lot like the ones old Sun keyboards used, and don't shine up like ABS ones do with wear; I ended up recapping all my keyboards with them just because they feel nicer, although not everyone likes them and YMMV.)

        Anyway, hope this helps, and good luck. Enjoy the new keyboard!

      • phuzz says:

        You could try emailing them with measurements of your keys and keyboard, if they have the correct ones they might sell them to you individually.

    • jwz says:
      Old and busted:

      New hotness:

      Via Max Keyboard.

  3. Sam says:

    Glad to know Ergo Pro unreliability isn't just me.

    Does F7 being (only) on the left bother you? (I use F7–F12 as prev/play/next/mute/vol-/vol+ (like on a regular Mac keyboard) and I think having "prev" so far away from the rest of them will bug the hell out of me.)

    • jwz says:

      I rarely use the function or media keys, so not really. The Matias and Kinesis also have the media keys on different function keys (Play/Pause is F6 versus F8, etc.) so I'm not even sure what's considered "normal". If I did use function and media keys I'd probably be worked up about whether the Fn key was a chord (Matias) or a toggle (Kinesis), but I'm not.

      • Sam says:

        I hadn'd considered that Fn would be anything other than a chord. Toggle sounds like it could be annoying. I guess I'll find out. (By "normal" I mean "the way Apple lays them out on their keyboards".)

  4. Glaurung says:

    I made the mistake of buying a Matias quiet pro a couple years ago. I went through four keyboards before the warranty expired, each and every one had a key just stop working within a few months of normal use (not heavy typing).

    They claimed that they had gotten a bad batch of keyswitches from their supplier, but reports like JWZ's make me think it's more that they make shitty products. Which is a pity - there aren't many quiet mechanical keyboards with built in USB hubs out there. But if they're not competent to make a mechanical keyboard that will last until you wear holes in its keycaps, then they don't deserve my money.

    • J Greely says:

      I'd go with "they make shitty products". The original Tactile Pro was a good keyboard in a flimsy case, version 2.0 was a random keypress generator (with bonus horrible customer support: the RMA they sent me had the previous owner's food still on it), and the less said about their other products, the better.


      • relaxing says:

        Twice! Matias sent me a PC keyboard despite my ordering the Mac version. Customer support finally confirmed for me that they were just out of the Mac edition. Infuriating.

        I went with the Kinesis.

  5. James says:

    quickly switch to EBCDIC or Esperanto or some shit

    Can it do LINCOS?

  6. cxseven says:

    If you type with your arms far enough apart, you could consider using two full-sized, daisy chained keyboards with all the features you want.

  7. CdrJameson says:

    PrtSc presumably doesn't do screen shots on the Mac then?

    • jwz says:

      No, it copies the first 39x23 columns of text as an Excel spreadsheet.

      • Oh, you laugh but have you ever dealt with a Japanese car manufacturer? The only file format they understand is Excel. Specification document? That'll be an Excel. Image file? Yup--Excel. One pixel per cell. Can you imagine the poor salaryman who had to make that?

  8. Vincent Janelle says:

    Kinesis on twitter suggested http://www.maxkeyboard.com/custom-backlight-compatible-keycap-for-backlit-keyboard.html, and they have a tech@ email list for sizing help.

  9. Interested Party says:

    jwz, what about the advantage2 what is your opinion? This whole flat keyboard thing seems ergo unfriendly.

    • jwz says:

      I've never taken the time to learn any of the oddball layouts that have a bunch of keys under your thumb. Too tough of a learning curve. QWERTY may be dumb but I've got a lot of investment in muscle memory.

      • Philip Guenther says:

        Interesting. I started using an Advantage (one? two? got me) back in late 2000 after I switched from college sysadmin (Sun type 5, hallelujah!) to .com remote employee on a Sony VIO laptop and after two months my arms were killing me. Family chiropractor pushed and prodded and told me to get a better keyboard and get a chair with arms (standing desks being a decade away) and team-mate talked coherently about the kinesis advantage.

        1) It will utterly break you of any cross-hand typing you do. I used to do 'y' with my left and 'b' with my right. Nope, took less than a month to end that.

        2) I use a normal (touchbar-less) Mac keyboard in meetings every work day, while using an Advantage at my desk. No problems switching back and forth, though days which involve too much typing while in meetings are painful not just psychologically but somewhat physically

        3) Advantage at standing desk@work & both up+down @home, and I've hauled one to OpenBSD hackathons on at least three other continents, because goddamn it, I would be crippled by the end of a week if I didn't. Yes, other devs have commented about its volume, but fuck'em it's what I need when grovelling in code

        QWERTY to the bone, though I briefly had a coworker who used an Advantage in Dvorak mode...until the .bomb happened and he was one of many whose blood ran in the aisles.

        I do two, or maybe three, keyboard remappings on mine:
        1) replace caps lock with =/+
        2) replace =/+ with ESC
        3) exchange backspace and delete? I no longer remember if I do this and have rubbed off the keycaps on both, so, uh....

        • Jon Konrath says:

          I went with Advantage because Freestyle wasn't around when I switched. It took about a week of work, and I like it now, but those rubber Fkeys sure do suck. I don't know if the new ones on the Advantage 2 are any better, but I remapped Home+1-10 to f1-10 and End to Esc and that's good enough. I might switch to the Freestyle Edge if the Advantage eventually shits the bed (or I drop an entire can of Coke in it, which is more likely.)

          One tip: the Advantage has a bug where every once in a while, Caps Lock randomly comes on, and pressing Caps Lock won't turn it off. If that happens, rapidly hit shift 4-5 times and it will reset itself. Not sure if this issue is specific to the Advantage, or is in all Kinesis keyboards, but it sure beats unplugging and re-plugging.

  10. Matias has been off of my buy-list for more than a decade... There used to be an excellent Free and OSS plugin for macOS which allowed for half-keyboard input in-software, along with some there clever and useful keydict modifications... Until Matias patent-trolled them off the tubes based on their overpriced garbage hardware half-keyboard.

  11. Eric says:

    How would I figure out which of the Cherry switches feel right to me? Is there a nerd keyboard showroom somewhere?

    • jwz says:

      This is a good question!

    • rc says:

      You can get so called "sampler" kits, that range from $9 to $17, depending on how many different kinds you want to try.

      Still a bit pricey, and I can't imagine it's as useful as having a full keyboard to type on and try. +1 for nerd keyboard showroom

      • jwz says:

        Neat, if I'd known those "samplers" exist I might have tried that out before I settled on my switches. But yes, a full keyboard would be a much better test.

        Max Keyboard's "novelty" sets are kind of funny, but sadly they do not have the Nostromo Futura Self Destruct kit. You have to make due:

    • pagrus says:

      I had the same question and after looking around a bit discovered that I don't live too far from WASD Keyboards. I got in touch with the guy and he said I could come by and check out some different switches and stuff. I don't know if that offer still stands or if you also live in/near SF but it's worth a try.

  12. OMG it's not just my Matias randomly dropping keypresses.

    What I want to ask is, is there a good set of threaded screwholes on the bottom and are there any unfortunate protuberances to take into account in bolting it down? Example

  13. Patrick says:

    Dear Jeremy, HUGE longtime fan writing from an Evolution + Aeron upon your old, old, old advice. My Evolution still mostly works, but month or so it sometimes freaks out and puts some key in semi-keylock for a day or so and seeeeemees to typeee that leeteteeer a lot more than I type it.

    So I'm finally accepting the fact that it won't last forever. Did you basically just give up on having a chair mounted keyboard, or are you able to mount the Freestyle to a chair? Thank you for doing what you do and continuing to share useful things!

    • jwz says:

      I gave up on having a chair mount. I also gave up on having a chair: I stand now.

      Evolutions still pop up on ebay from time to time...

      • Patrick says:

        Thanks - I still spend a lot of time in my chair but I think I'd rather have a more fully reliable keyboard, so maybe now's my time to switch. Adios!

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