Matias Ergo Pro: an ergonomic, mechanical keyboard

IMG_20160317_172957320I’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.

Disclosure:

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.

Switches

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

Ergo_pro_connectionThe 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

Extra keysThe left control key is huge and slightly curved. Its extra width means it’s less of a stretch for your left pinkie – good news for translators who use lots of shortcuts that start with Ctrl+…

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.

nav-keys_1The 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.

Dip switches

DIP switches_1Hidden under the Alt Gr key is a set of DIP switches. By removing the keycap, you can choose between mac/pc layout, capslock/control, and change the Lt or Rt spacebar to Backspace.

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).

USB ports

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.

tuning_1

Typing experience

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!

 

Keyboard Corner

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!

P.S. Come to METM16 in October, where you’ll be able to try out the Ergo Pro and other keyboards yourself!

 

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8 Responses to Matias Ergo Pro: an ergonomic, mechanical keyboard

  1. Good Review, Emma.

    Matias used to use Alps switches, until they were discontinued and Matias took it upon it self to clone them, and did a very good job at that.
    The Quiet Click switch (which is misleading name because they do not click per se) is based on the Alps Black, if I’m not mistaken, and the noise damping is achieve by little bumpers (or dampers) built into the the slider (a guide rails moving plunger like mechanism on which the keycap is situated).

    A similar noise damping effect could be achieved with MX Cherry switches (mostly with Browns, Reds, and Blacks) by installing ring (readily available and inexpensive) dampers at the bottom of the stem, but It reduces the travel distance and changes the experience a little (which some love, some are indifferent to, and some hate). Although both the MX Cherry Brown and the Matias Quiet Click are classified as tactile switches, they are based on a different switch design and therefore intrinsically offer a slightly different typing experience.

    For those who prefer a liner switch Matias also offers the Quiet Linear switch design, which as the name suggests is liner (i.e. non-tactile) and quiet (using the same noise damping mechanism as the Quiet Click). They are very smooth, but I’m not sure about their availability at this point.

    Another good switch design for those who prefer their keyboards on the quieter side is the Topre switches. They are capacitive switches (meaning they are actuated by sensing an electrical charge and not by a direct contact between conductive surfaces) and are based, god forbid ;), on a rubber dome which provides most of the resistance and tactility. Therefore, they have a noise signature similar to that of a (arguably high quality) rubber dome, but they offer (arguably) a refined or more pronounced typing experience than a traditional rubber dome and one that (arguably) reminiscence of what many people like in mechanical switches.
    They offer a similar experience (a little quieter and arguably smoother) to the MX Cherry Red switch, and a very similar experience in terms of smoothness to the Matias Liner Quiet.
    Whether or not they should be classified as mechanical switches is a subject for an on-going debate — but this is semantics. What’s important is the user experience.

  2. Many thanks for your expert insight into key switches, Shai. Actual noise levels aren’t too important for me, as I work from a home office. Since using mechanical keyboards, I’ve found I actually like the clicky sound. It makes quite a good rhythm and helps me keep a good pace.

    I thought O-rings would only have a dampening effect for people who bottom out their keys, which I’ve been working hard to avoid. Isn’t it a bit like learning to ride a bicycle with stabilisers? Better to end up without them!

    • I think most people bottom out the keys when they type, and the O-ring both absorbs the impact, and shorten the travel distance so the bottoming out point is now closer to the actuation point. I’m personally not a fan of the O-rings, I prefer the organic typing experience of the mechanism — travel distance and noise included — but some sear by them. Usually these are the one who likes a “flatter” and quieter experience.
      They are also practical in that you can add or remove them at will and it is an inexpensive way to alter the typing experiment with different traveling distance and noise signature without changing the keyboard.

      I tried to practice not bottoming out the keys learn to hover around the actuation/reset points, but I didn’t have much success. When I type full steam ahead I tend to bottom out or near bottom out the keys despite best of efforts, and if I concentrate on not bottoming out the keys my typing speed suffers. So I mostly gave up on that attempt. I guess there is only so much accuracy an average person can achieve when the margin of error is less than 2 mm and the actuation force is quite light.

      • Sorry for some typos. Typing on my phone again.

        *but some swear by them
        *Usually these are the ones who like a “flatter” and quieter experience.
        *I tried to practice not bottoming out the keys and learn to hover…

        Oh, and I forgot one more thing:
        “Isn’t it a bit like learning to ride a bicycle with stabilisers? Better to end up without them!”

        Yes. Using O-rings as “training wheels” for learning not to bottom out the keys is unlikely to succeed. One has to develop that touch, if at all possible, and using O-rings is not a good way to do that.

  3. coffeebreak says:

    Wow! Magic keybord! I love it and I want it;)

  4. John Taylor says:

    I’ve been using the Filco Majestouch “cherry brown” flavour (http://bit.ly/29pbRnU) for almost a month now after quite a while with a Microsoft ergonomic keyboard (http://amzn.to/29r3auG), and I am a lot happier than when I started. The change has proven to be surprisingly challenging, but I’m a no-holds-barred convert to mechanical nonetheless.

    The bad – back to a trad layout

    Firstly, the ‘old-school’ layout has been hard after ergonomic. I have always had a stronger left hand and a ‘wandering’ right hand, so on a traditional layout my right tends to drift over to the centre keys, but also tire more easily. The ergonomic forced me to use my right hand properly and not encroach on left-hand territory. Old typing problems are now coming back to haunt me (do I type “b” with my left hand or my right hand? – I can’t tell anymore!).

    Secondly, I’m struggling with the function keys because they are in such a different place. This may be a problem with my lazy right hand again, but when it’s on the home keys, it seems a long way to such memoQ shortcuts (for example) as F8/F9 tag insert and F11 to toggle the layout. I also mix up the Ctrl+J (join) and Ctrl+K shortcuts when moving back, to the extent that the cats have had to leave the room to escape a torrent of profanity on occasion.

    More seriously, it feels like there’s the pressure on my wrists is greater just from pushing them closer together. What size hand do they design keyboards for anyway? This may be the biggest problem, ultimately.

    The good – tapetty tap tap

    In the flow on my Microsoft ergonomic, I would be counting time with feet and fingers, subdividing one tap of the foot with four or eight keystrokes and getting text onto the screen blindingly fast (not sure how fast – but FAST). When I get into a roll on this mechanical though, the rhythm just takes over. So sweetly that when my right hand is in the ‘wrong’ place I can get through a whole sentence before I realise it is total gibberish. The clicks just lock into that rhythmic bit of the brain that makes it all so much easier.

    Conclusion

    It took a while to appreciate the touch and feel because of the ‘bad’, but put that aside and this mechanical wizardry is really something special. If I hadn’t just sunk £120 on the Filco and somehow had had divine prior knowledge of the joys of mechanical, I’d probably be all over the Ergo Pro. I suspect, however, that by the time I can justify the price, I’ll probably find it just as hard to switch from trad to ergo…….

    • Thank you for sharing your experience with the Filco Majestouch, John.

      I agree that a traditional layout feels cramped after an ergonomic one, but after the initial frustrations, the Filco is a joy to type on. Like you, when I switch from one to another I also find that I’ve typed several words before dosavperomg tjat O¡, (discovering that I’ve) shifted my hand one key to the right. I’m surprised you still get that problem after a month though.

      Sounds as if the Ergo Pro would be right up your street. I guess you could splash out and buy it and then sell the Filco when you’re sure of your decision. There must be a market for almost-new keyboards among translators.

  5. Pingback: Keyboard Corner | Signs & Symptoms of Translation

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