Updated ErgoDox04 Apr 2015
As some of you have noticed, I use an ErgoDox keyboard. Iʼm currently in the process of writing a review of it which, I hope to have completed soon. In the process of writing the review, I discovered that MassDrop has started a drop for a new revision of the design. The new design was not created by Dominic Beauchamp, as the original one was but, is designed by Jacob Alexander and the team at Input Club. Iʼm deeply divided on whether or not I should purchase one.
This revision has fixed my two biggest issues with the Ergodox: the weak connector between the two halves and an awful job of shouldering all of the resistors to the board. One of the TTRS connectors on my current board is flaky due to me putting it in my bag without disconnecting the two halves. When I pulled the ErgoDox out, I grabbed it by the connectors and that has caused the left half of the keyboard to have issues. Basically, it requires me to unplug and then plug the keyboard back in several times per day. I have the replacement parts sitting on my desk but desoldering is quite a pain, so I havenʼt done it yet. This revision of the ErgoDox removes the week point by utilizing a standard USB connection between the two halves. There are a couple of posts on DeskAuthority with people saying that theyʼve replaced their ttrs connectors with USB connectors and it works much better but, I havenʼt yet took that plunge. The another issue I had with the Ergodox was shouldering all of the resistors. It was easily the longest part of the assembly. The resistor was so tiny that it was extremely hard to attach them. This was probably due to my relative lack of experience with soldering (it was the first time that I had assembled something in 4 years) but I found it to be extremely tedious. Iʼm glad to see that that step is gone since the resistors are now integrated into the board.
Theyʼve also added a couple of niceties to the keyboard. First off is that each key can now have an led. They can also be independently controlled. This means that you will be able to setup your Ergodox to be backlit if you desire. They have also added an lcd. Iʼm not really sure what the point of having an lcd on your keyboard is but, no doubt some people will come up with awesome uses for it. Iʼm a little bit concerned that it wonʼt be very visible due to the glare from the acrylic case.
I also have quite a list of concerns over the new design. Much of it boils down to this being a 1.0 product. They have come up with a custom protocol to communicate between the two halves of the keyboard. I really donʼt think that this is a good plan, they could have gone with what the original ErgoDox used and just switch out the connectors for USB. We have no idea how reliable this connection will be and if it turns out to be unreliable, then this new iteration is pretty useless. Iʼm also concerned that neither the PCB design nor the firmware has been open sourced yet. While we have their assurances that they will be open sourced when the keyboard starts shipping but, this would hardly be the first time that a company has promised to open source something and then simply never do it.
I also liked the ErgoDox because it built up a decent community of enthusiasts. This new revision leaves all of that behind. It’s possible that many of the fans will migrate to the new design but, that’s hardly a sure thing. The new design is not compatible in any way with the previous ErgoDox, its more of a spiritual successor rather than an actual one. To add all of the things that they were able to do no doubt necessitated these changes, I question whether those changes are worthwhile or not. In making the assembly easier, I worry that they have lost part of the charm of the original. I think it’s great that this will let people with little to no experience soldering use an Ergodox but, the repairability of this new keyboard is a significant regression from the original ErgoDox. If a component on my ErgoDox fails, I can simply desolder the failed component from the board and replace it with a new one. Sure, that is a pain and you would still have to get a new pcb if the pcb is the part that fails but, I feel like that was an important part of the original ErgoDox. With the new one, if a switch, led or lcd fails, you can swap them out. If anything else fails it will necessitate a whole new pcb. That seems to be a bad trade-off to me.
As I said before, Iʼm deeply divided on whether or not I should pick up one of the new revision. Iʼve wanted to get a second ErgoDox for a while so that I no longer need to transport one between home and the office but, this wouldnʼt be picking up the second one. It would be picking up a whole new keyboard with a similar layout to my ErgoDox. Still, that might be worthwhile. Perhaps this keyboard will gain a larger following than I fear it will. If that’s the case then I really want to get in on the ground floor and figure out what is possible.