August 15, 2020

My notes on the Ergodox EZ keyboards - selection and purchase

I placed my order for an Ergodox EZ "Shine" with sculpted and unlabeled keycaps on Monday 8/17/2020. I received notification that the unit had shipped (from Taipei, Taiwan) on Friday 8/21/2020. On Monday 8/14/2020 it was on a UPS truck in my neighborhood. Delivery requires a signature, buy UPS allowed me to waive that online prior to delivery.

So, I am getting this only a week after ordering it, which is far better than I expected. My expectation was a 3 week wait -- and perhaps it would be in some circumstances. It is far better for a seller to make a pessimistic prediction and then do far better than to promise something and then not deliver.

Which Ergodox?

I thought my troubles were over when I settled (or thought I did) on buying an Ergodox EZ keyboard. For one thing the "Moonlander" keyboard came out the same week I was making up my mind. Next, I discovered there were numerous choices to make about the exact Ergodox EZ was was going to order. I'll take these one at a time. I should also point out that it is possible to build your own Ergodox. This could save money as well as be an exciting adventure, but for whatever reason I never really seriously investigated this option.

Moonlander versus Ergodox EZ

There are any number of significant differences, but here are the things that significantly pushed me towards the Ergodox. It is hard to know for sure. It seems that it is unlikely to go wrong with the Ergodox.

When I bought my Ergodox, the Moonlander was just becoming available, so there was no information via reviews. What I am reading now a year later is that neither is better than the other, they are just different. On either keyboard people typically only find 3 keys on the thumb cluster useful. The bigger modifier keys on the extreme left and right of each side on the Ergodox are more distinctive and allow for a more sloppy typing technique. The big advanatage I see people cite for the moonlander is portability, which matters not at all for me. The moonlander wrist rests are attached to the keyboard, which is liked by people who use them. So apart from portability, either is a "side-grade" not an upgrade and it is all about preferences and/or what you get used to.

What switches do you want

There are two brands you can choose from. The legendary Cherry MX and the newer Kailh. Each is available in several "colors". The basic choice is linear (red), tactile (brown), and "clicky" (blue). Gamers like red, I am not a gamer. There is enough noise in the world, so I think I will avoid blue. So it is Cherry MX brown for me. This is also said to be the most popular choice and recommended for developers and writers.

Switches on the Ergodox are hot swappable, so I could in theory change to a whole different set down the road if I wanted to. Or if I wanted to, I could buy a handful of blue switches let's say, and install them in selected spots on the board.

There are three Ergodox models

You can choose the original, the "shine" or the "glow". Do I even want lights in my keyboard at all? Will they help me keep layers straight, or are they just a gimmick? If I hate them, can I just turn them off?

I settled on the "shine". It has lights that provide backlight (sort of). The glow has transparent keycaps, so each key has its own light that passes through it. A decision to go with "sculpted" keycaps pushes me away from the "glow", as well as away from the Moonlander. If I don't want lights, I could just order the original model and save money, but I decided to give myself the option.

The light on the "Shine" doesn't dome from behind the keys, it comes from behind the keyboard. So if you aren't using the tilt kit, you won't get any light. Also, if I don't like it and can't turn it off, some tape will cover it up. (But I am confident that I will be able to turn it off.) People do say that the light gives them a hint from their peripheral vision as to which layer is active (when programmed appropriately).


There is a crazy world here that I never knew existed. You can get deep into this, spend lots of money and make keyboards your new hobby. I have plenty of hobbies already, so I just want to make good basic choices and get on with life. Consider the following quote -- it depresses me because I don't even know what is being talked about and I see hours of research just to figure it out.
If you want a nice sculpted set of keycaps for your Ergodox, an alternative to SA is the MT3 profile. If you’re thinking of DSA keycaps, look into XDA and MDA.
Wow! What is that all about? We will pass on all of that and talk about sculpted keycaps.

Sculpted caps mean that keycaps on different rows have different shapes. This makes things more ergonomic. It gives you a different feel if your land your fingers on the wrong row. It also makes it impractical to swap keycaps around. In fact, when you go with sculpted caps, you are going "full ninja". The caps are not marked and you better know how to touch type (and I do, I virtually never look at my current keyboard). The Ergodox sculpted caps are "DCS" (cylindrical).

The sculpted caps Ergodox offers are PBT plastic, which are prefered over the more common ABS plastic caps. ABS is not necessarily bad, and the non-sculpted caps with markings that Ergodox offers are made from ABS plastic. The keycaps (except for the Glow) are made by Signature Plasics, which is a highly regarded maker.

Reading a number of reviews, many people prefer the cylindrical shape of the DCS caps over the spherical shape of the non-sculpted but uniform caps.

So I can understand part of the mysterious passage above now. SA is one sort of sculpted keycap, taller and different than DCS. DSA on the other hand is not sculpted.

The sculpted (and unlabeled) keycaps offered by Ergodox are DCS and made from PBT plastic.
The uniform (non-sculpted) keycaps offered by Ergodox are DSA and made from ABS plastic..
The keycaps on the "glow" are uniform, OEM-3 and made from PBT plastic.

Keycaps can be spherical or cylindrical.
DCS is cylindrical (they look flat viewed from the side) and are used on most keyboards sold today.
DSA is uniform. Invented by Signature plastics. Spherical.
SA is sculpted. SA stands for "spherical, all rows".

Have any comments? Questions? Drop me a line!