I have mixed opinions about the mechanical keyboard phenomenon. From one point I can totally understand spending 400+ bucks on a thing you are interacting with 8+ hours per day, every day. It should be nice. From another point, I'm all about sourcing nice things for a minimal price. Also, I have all skills and resources to build one from scratch except for time.
For a long time, I wanted to try an ergonomic mechanical keyboard (real ergonomic means button rows aligned with the wrists' natural position) but was not sure if I'll like it in the end. So it was hard to justify investing much in that experiment.
Recently I found out about X-Bows Lite — an entry point ergonomic mechanical keyboard. I was able to get mine for 55 bucks, and I'm enjoing typing on it since.
At first, the keyboard seems weird. As somebody pointed out, it looks like buttons just randomly scattered on the table. So I've decided to make it look even weirder by putting crazy keycaps. Now the look is complete :)
In the mechanical keyboard world, the most important things are switches - the actual mechanical part which defines how buttons are pressed and clicked. X-Bows features ones from Gateron, which is somewhere in the middle of the quality tier. Not the cheapest ones, and far away from the elite options. Personally, I liked it. My previous reasonably priced mechanical keyboard had Kalih switches, and what I can say for sure, I like Gateron more. The device is heavy and solid (don't bend or move around easily) and the metal plate feels nice.
Type-C cable is detachable so I've replaced it with a shorter, coiled alternative. It's crazy how people can pay 50+ bucks for that, especially when you can craft one in 10 minutes or buy for 3 bucks.
It also has a backlight, and most importantly to me, you can turn the backlight off. When you replug the keyboard, the light stays off. Personally, I never look at the keyboard while typing but extra light (or god forbid blinking) annoys me a lot.
Most interesting thing was to try the "weird" layout. As I mostly use the keyboard for programming, I immediately felt the absence of the
End keys, which I need all the time. These are available by
PgDown, but I still found it inconvenient. There were two was two ways to address it.
The first option was buying a dedicated macro pad (one more device with an additional row of buttons). I know that this sounds stupid, first getting something without crucial functionality and then going an extra effort to get it back. So I decided against it.
The second option was to remap an existing layout. There's an app for that. The app is Windows only, but it re-flashes the keyboard permanently so you only need it once. Or you can always use KMonad to remap keys on operating system level, and as a bonus get fancy features expensive keyboards have, like layers. Speaking about more expensive keyboards X-Bows have, they have better software (QMK) that works on proper OS.
So I've remapped the right
Home, and the right
End. The way these buttons are located on X-Bows Lite I found even more convenient than the traditional layout. I've never used the ones on the right anyways, and X-Bows have an extra
Shift in the center.
Once I realized that I've reached the point of no return by changing button locations that I'd gotten used to over decades, I tweaked the layout even further. Extra
Caps is super handy and also swapped
Del is located on top of
Backspace. Much better!
Biologists say that the best trait of human nature is adaptability, and humans can adapt to almost any condition. So I was able to get used to the "new" layout over a couple of days, and type in multiple languages without looking. The trick is that the layout is not so different from the traditional one, buttons are just shifted a bit, which you re-learn pretty quickly.
On full-size keyboards, I usually was remapping
PlayPause for media controls. On X-Bows there are no such buttons (media controls are also available by
F...). But this ingenious device addresses this better.
As you might notice, X-Bows line also has an extra
Enter in the center. That's handy, but before I got used to it, I was hitting
Enter by accident a lot, resulting in funny situtations in chats and terminal. So temporarily disabling it before learning the new layout might be a good idea. Also in the center, there is some free space. I will tell you how to make use of free space in the next post ;).
In a summary, I can say that this is a nice gadget to try and understand if you need a mechanical ergonomic keyboard in your life. I figured out I am, so it became my main keyboard now.