I’ve spent the last couple of months translating with a Matias Ergo Pro keyboard as part of my workstation set-up. Here’s an account of how I adapted to its ergonomic layout, its best features and some minor niggles.
The Keyboard Company kindly sent me an Ergo Pro to review here on my blog. I’m not a keyboard expert (in fact I’m only a fairly recent mechanical keyboard convert), so this report is my honest opinion of the keyboard, from one translator to another.
Ergonomic and mechanical
The Ergo Pro combines two aspects that are rarely found together: ergonomic features and mechanical key switches. Ergonomic keyboards, such as the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic or Kinesis Freestyle2, almost always have a membrane mechanism (with a rubber dome under each key). Mechanical keyboards, in turn, almost always have a classic layout. The Ergo Pro, however, is a mechanical keyboard with split, tilt and tenting positions.
The switch mechanism is a Matias proprietary “Quiet Click” switch, which, unsurprisingly, is quieter than the Filco keyboard I was used to (with Cherry MX brown switches). The Ergo Pro keys felt very slightly stiffer in comparison and I noticed they have an almost papery sound. The split spacebar, in particular, has a lovely smooth and silky action.
Split, tilt and tenting
The keyboard comes in two separate halves, with a neat retractable audio-type cable that connects the two sides. You can nestle the two sides together (jigsaw puzzle fashion) or separate them by up to 50 cm, depending on how broad your shoulders are. I’ve ended up with a gap of a few centimetres, although I also experimented with a wider separation and positioning my mouse between the two.
I’ve tried out the Ergo Pro in all its positions by tucking away or extending the three rubber feet on the underside of each keyboard half. It’s not possible to achieve a negative tilt and tent position at the same time, but I found tenting on its own very comfortable and natural from the start. It prevents hand pronation by lifting your thumbs and index fingers slightly up and outwards in a gentle arch shape.
Key layout – general
The compact layout (without numeric keys to the right) means you can bring your mouse right in beside you. The numeric keys are available as an extra layer under your right hand home position, in a similar fashion to many laptop keyboards. I didn’t like this integration (activated using a NumLock key) because it automatically disables all other keys. That’s a show stopper for languages that use a comma as a decimal point.
Key layout – specific keys
There’s a set of extra keys on the far left, for cut, copy and paste. I found them useful for file management tasks but not during regular typing.
The navigation keys are at the bottom right of the keyboard and are very easy to locate by touch. I found it harder to use the home/end/pgup/pgdn keys bunched together immediately to the left of the arrow keys.
My biggest issue was with the strange position of the right control key, up on the first row beside the ‘n’ key. I use Rt Ctrl + nav keys frequently in my work and couldn’t find it without looking down. Even then it was an uncomfortable stretch. In the end I remapped Rt Ctrl and switched it with the PgDn key, using AutoHotKey. This solution let me regain full control with Ctrl+arrow combinations.
I switched the left spacebar to backspace, since deploying the normal backspace key implies a big stretch with your right hand. I loved this feature and it definitely reduced overstretching. However, I ended up switching back to the conventional method because the difference was too big compared with my laptop keyboard (which I use when I’m not at my desk).
There are three USB 2.0 ports at the back and sides of the keyboard. One has limited access because it faces inwards, but the other two are useful for connecting extra peripheral devices like a mouse or numeric pad.
Tuning my keyboard
Unfortunately, the Ergo Pro isn’t available with a Spanish layout, so I had fun switching some keycaps to match my Windows keyboard layout. I touch type, so it’s not too much of a problem, but, for example, seeing the opening bracket over the 9 instead of the 8 is distracting, and I do like to see where pesky keys such as the asterisk are. I chose white keycaps rather than black ones so that I could mark them more easily.
So, at the end of the day, what is it like to type for hours on an ergonomic, mechanical keyboard? I find it very comfortable. The keys are a pleasure to type on – every bit as enjoyable as my Filco Majestouch. The split keyboard means I can position the two halves in the very best position for me, and since each side comes with a cushy gel palm support, typing – and thinking time between typing – is comfortable, very comfortable indeed.
Want to give it a try? Read on to the end of this post!
* Update Dec 2017: Reader Bill Burns asked Matias about the Mac configuration and has kindly shared the response he received:
The Mac and PC versions of the Matias Ergo Pro keyboard use the same base hardware, the main differences being the functioning of some of the special keys and changes to a number of the keycap legends.
Most functions of either keyboard model will work when connected to a computer of the opposite type, and complete functional compatibility can be achieved by changing the position of the PC/Mac dip switch. For PC set the switch to the left, for Mac, to the right.
In PC mode, the Mac keyboard output codes for “option” and “cmd” are replaced by the Windows output codes for “Windows key” and “alt”.
For the four editing keys at the left side of the keyboard (cut/copy/paste/undo), the Mac setting sends the Command codes associated with these operations (Cmd-X/C/V/Z), and the PC setting sends the Control codes (Ctrl-X/C/V/Z).
Mac keycaps (option, cmd, delete symbol and F13) are available for purchase at $1 each.
I thought it would be fun to start a Keyboard Corner on my blog, so that other translators can chip in and tell us which keyboard they use and why. According to the survey I ran last January, over 75% of translators just use their laptop keyboard or a basic external keyboard, so I hope the Keyboard Corner will give them some ideas about the wide range of keyboards available. From the individual comments made in the survey, I also know there’s a fair number of translators who share my passion for keyboards, so I hope they will use this space to tell us what makes their keyboard special for them.
To contribute to the Keyboard Corner, check out this introductory post.
Looking forward to hearing from you!