As I mentioned some time ago on Google Plus, I ordered an Input Club Infinity ErgoDox from Massdrop this past spring. Well, it finally came, then I finally got a chance to build it, and now I’m typing on it. And I’m pleased.
I got the non-full-hand case, Cherry MX Brown switches, and black DCS unmarked keycaps. In the meantime, I ordered ABS QWERTY double-shot keycaps from Pimp My Keyboard that match the blank keycaps. The PMKs are ABS while the blanks are (I believe) PBT, and the ABS caps have a bit more lustre than the PBT, but the profiles are identical and I am quite pleased with the results.
This kit is expensive. All told, it cost me right about $300 for the keyboard kit and the extra key caps. That's probably in the ballpark of what it would cost to source one yourself, though (and maybe a lot less, depending on your access to things like a laser cutter), particularly since there are a lot of square inches of circuit board involved — which is pretty expensive in small quantities. For me, the price was worth a try, since I use a keyboard constantly and I do most of my extended typing at a single workstation. YMMV.
As far as initial experiences, I had to immediately remap the thumb clusters and number keys because a) I use my left thumb for space and always have (though that’s “wrong”) and b) I’ve been using an ergonomic split keyboard with 6 on the left half for about 20 years. The default ErgoDox layout puts space in the right thumb cluster and the 6 key on the right. This necessitated some other changes, so I made those, and then cleaned up some other things I thought I’d like better. I’ll get a picture of my layout up once it settles.
The ortholinear key layout gives me a tiny bit of trouble on the b, n, m, and y keys. I get a lot of extra ] characters (which I have mapped to the left of y) and n/m often include the other. I hit the key right of b along with the b key pretty often, but it’s a function key that doesn’t cause an actual typo when it happens. Also, it appears (and I had no idea) that I type cd wrong. I use my left index finger for c and the middle finger for d, which is easy and convenient on a staggered keyboard, but leads to vd on an ortholinear. Who knew. This is of course only a major distraction since I’m an inveterate Unix command-liner.
The Cherry browns are rather pleasing so far. They don’t feel exactly like my old keyboard, but they are definitely familiar, and they’re not super loud while providing good feedback. If anything, I suspect they’re quieter than my old keyboard. They do have a little bit of a ringing sound in the springs (particularly toward the bottom of the keyboard, I assume due to the mechanicals of the case) that I am not a huge fan of. It’s not a deal-breaker, though, and putting rubber feet on the keyboard (I haven’t put feet on it, yet) might help.
I’m not entirely pleased with the behavior of the LCD; in particular, it glows all the time. It also changes colors when function keys are pressed, but that is easily fixable by configuration (more on that below). It also displays and Input Club logo on both sides when in the base layer, and large block numerals when on another layer. I’d much rather have status indicators (e.g. shift, caps lock, ctrl, etc. and a smaller layer stack. I may address this at some point.
The included laser-cut acrylic case is OK. It’s solid and functional, but while I know it’s a popular design choice these days, I’m not a huge fan of stacked acrylic enclosures. It did allow Input Club to start shipping the keyboards without large tooling costs, but they’ve shipped enough of them now that I imagine injection molded ABS will start becoming a possibility — I don’t know if it’s in the cards or not. Third party cases are rather popular, maybe it’s not worthwhile.
The Infinity ErgoDox comes as a kit, with the surface mount components and LCD screens pre-installed to the PC boards on each half, the laser-cut acrylic case and aluminum mounting plates, stabilizers for the four 2U thumb keys, screws and posts to assemble the case, key switches, and key caps. Some components are optional or available in multiple configurations. Assembly consists of installing the key switches to the mounting plate, soldering them to the PC board, and then assembling the case and installing key caps. All of these steps are reasonably straightforward, and good instructions are provided for everything but the key caps. Assembly took me about half an hour per half (give or take) and went down with no hitches. Two extra key switches were provided, and though I did bend a couple of pins getting switches into place, they were easily straightened and I did not use the extras.
No documentation is provided for identifying and placing the various non-1u keys, the intended orientation of key caps on the thumb cluster, etc. By laying out the provided keys, I was able to determine that the four vertically-oriented 1.5u caps are row 2 (as I recall; possibly row 3), the two 2u keys on each half have row 3 closest to the main keyboard and row 2 outside of that, and that I prefer row 1 1u caps along the outside edge. I chose to install a row 2 1u cap beside the row 2 2u cap. I’m not sure what the provided key caps intend for those 1u caps, because I had enough extras that I wasn’t going to count them. I had one row 3 1.5u left over, but I imagine that was a mistake.
As mentioned above, I have already tweaked my layout to some degree. This is rather easy to do using Input Club’s online configurator, or indeed with the “Keyboard Layout Language” (KLL) that the firmware ultimately uses to describe the keyboard.
The keyboard uses a firmware called kiibohd and the KLL keyboard description compiler to describe layouts. Compiling a new firmware is very easy (at least on Linux), as the build scripts are well-designed and complete. Furthermore, the complete open source nature of both the keyboard description and the firmware means that modifying the keyboard for personal use is very easy. As mentioned above, I’d like to see some changes made to the LCD backlighting and information display, and it’s very possible to make those changes myself. The quality of the firmware code seems to be pretty fair from what I have seen, although there are certainly some decisions that I would not have made. (In many cases, to reduce latency or ensure n-key rollover, both things that I have little interest in but which are reasonable concerns for some people.)
A The case lays flat on the desk as it comes, which is how I used my old keyboard, but as the halves of the Infinity ErgoDox are separate, I would like to experiment with tenting it. I believe I will start out by making some simple wedges of wood to put under it and see what I think, then design something more stable and practical from there. The provided case is secured with nine standoffs and screws on each half, providing plenty of opportunity for stable mounting.
So far, I’m impressed. Physical build quality and comfort is good. My typing speed has suffered some, but not a lot (while I haven’t done any testing, I think on day two I’m probably up to about 80% or more of my typical speed — somewhere around 100 WPM — except that when I start making mistakes I sometimes get good and fouled up before I can get untangled). Learning to use the thumb clusters was faster than I expected, and I already do reasonably well with space and backspace (on the left cluster) and enter (on the right cluster). I’m still getting used to modifiers, and for that reason I have placed them in their usual places on the left hand — which may be a crutch I come to regret. The C-] keybinding I use for screen is rather convenient (using a control key in the right thumb cluster and ] mapped to the vertical 1.5u key left of y). Alt+backspace gives me some trouble, as the default ergodox mapping of alt (the farthest key in each thumb cluster) is quite hard to reach, and my crutch position leaves me pressing the alt key with my middle or index finger and backspace with my thumb — not impossible, but requiring some unfortunate contortions. Subtle layout changes and experience will no doubt smooth some of these things.