Initial ZSA Moonlander Review
I have started searching for improvements to my work environment. I posted that I was trying an ergo mouse and one additional change I decided to make was a big one, I bought an ergo mechanical keyboard. I had looked at a few different options and decided that I wanted a split design. After careful research, countless youtube videos, and some personal recommendations, I landed on the ZSA Moonlander. There are two color choices and a multitude of switches that I could choose from. I have been using a Das Keyboard Model S Professional with Cherry MX Blues since 2010 when I purchased the Das Keyboard. The Das Keyboard still functions as it did the day that I bought it. With only one minor tweak, I added some damper rings to reduce some of the clacking from bottoming out the keys. After using a mechanical keyboard, I can no longer use the average keyboard. My hands and fingers hurt after using a standard keyboard for just a couple of hours. That is why I knew that an ergo keyboard that I chose needed to have mechanical switches. I highly recommend anyone experiencing hand fatigue to give a mechanical keyboard a try. You can find some great deals out there to try without dropping a lot of money.
ZSA offers a ton of different options when it comes to switches. I have personally spent a lot of time using Cherry MX Blues and Browns. I have tested a few of the Cherry MX Reds and Blacks, but I don’t like linear switches. My advice would be to spend the money and order a few critical testers. Once key tester with Cherry switches and a second with the [Kailh](https://www.kailhswitch.com/info/kailh-switches-introduction-list-27266403.html switches offered by ZSA. I have found both on Amazon. This will give you a good idea of what you may prefer.
After testing a few Kailh switches, I decided to go with the tried and genuine Cherry MX Blues. After testing all the different keys, 10+ years of usage of Cherry MX Blues has made it hard to consider switching to another switch. Now I put o-rings on the Blues on my Das Keyboard to reduce the noise; I will say that the Moonlander having the keys on top of the board, not “embedded,” reduces the noise. I also discovered that the columnar switches have reduced me bottoming the keys, further decreasing the clacking noise.
Everyone has slightly different ergonomic needs, and we know that some items are given as better ergonomics; some are subjective based on each individual. I personally that this keyboard ticks three significant areas for me. Mechanical switches, columnar keys, and a split design.
Over the years of using mechanical switches, I have found these produce less strain on my fingers and hands. They are easier to press, not taking as much effort as a membrane keyboard. I almost exclusively use mechanical keys when I have a choice. With that said, I know that linear switches like the Cherry Reds or Blacks are not for me. They require too much force and make my hands hurt.
The next area is the columnar keys. This is the feature that I think I appreciate the most about this keyboard. For me, it really does reduce a lot of strain. I believe that I could use something like the Planck EZ and realize 80-90% of the benefit. When I use a regular keyboard, just for a few minutes of typing, my hands start cramping and feel like they are stretching to press keys. I didn’t think I would quickly feel that difference.
Lastly is the split design, which may be the oldest one. I do feel the difference in my neck, shoulders, and forearms. My neck doesn’t feel as stiff, and my chest feels more open. I also feel like my posture has improved from it. I think it is a feature that I would want on future keyboards, yet I wouldn’t trade the columnar keys.
Now, this is a huge selling point for all of ZSA’s keyboards. They all come with QMK open-source firmware. As part of that, you can customize your keys, their functions, and also multiple layers. The Moonlander layout can be customized with a tool called Oryx and then programmed with a tool called Wally. Oryx is browser-based, and Wallaby is cross-platform. There are tons of layouts available online, and I will cover the approach I took.
I decided when I first got the board that I would use the default layout. After a couple of weeks using the default layout, I now agree with the copious amounts of posts that say it’s not good. It’s just a little weird, so what I did was tweak a few keys, like putting escape back where it goes. You can see my layout here.
Another thing that I didn’t realize initially is that you don’t have to use the layer to get to the symbols. The shift modifier on the number keys works as expected. With that said, I hardly use any of the layers. I haven’t adapted to using them and haven’t really found a need.
I thought I wouldn’t like the one customization as much as I do the home row mods. These are game-changer and transformed my typing experience. These mods will be a requirement on all future keyboards, and I have been even trying to figure out how to do it with my laptops. I would encourage anyone with a programmable keyboard to give them a try. I hardly move my fingers performing all kinds of combinations.
The last mod that I want to mention is the copy-cut-paste combinations. I enabled the on hold to add the CTRL modifier to the key allowing a single long-press to perform the actions. This makes these operations extremely fast, and it also reduces those actions on the CLI because now you just have to add the shift key. Combine this with the home row mods; you don’t move your hands at all.
The Thumb Cluster
I really like the thumb cluster. I don’t even think about it, and I wrote the whole review without even mentioning it.
Tenting and Wrist Rests
I took the advice of ZSA and had been using the board flat. I have tried the tenting after a couple of weeks, and I agree, flat works best for me. I do like the wrist rests, which I think adds to the comfort of the keyboard when not tented.
Hopefully, this detail provides the information that you need to tweak your own setup. Do I think the keyboard is worth the price? Yes, I would say yes for me. Would I suggest this be your first mechanical keyboard? Not really. There are plenty of really lovely mechanical keyboards that you can pick up to give them a try and to try different switches. I wouldn’t want to pay the premium for a keyboard like this without knowing that I liked mechanical switches and which ones that I prefer.
The next item is the columnar keys which I think is the best feature. Again, I would say that it’s another feature that you may not adapt to. I couldn’t imagine combining mechanical switches and columnar simultaneously as I wouldn’t know which one was the issue if I found I didn’t like the keyboard. I don’t know of many low-cost options that provide columnar to try, but it may be worth considering.
So I have already said I think it’s worth it. Do I feel it is overpriced? No. I can confidently say that I have gotten ten years out of the least expensive keyboard that I purchased. If I looked at the cost per day, I paid $150, which comes out to about $0.04 a day. That is an excellent value for something I know has helped my hand health. There are plenty of options out there when it comes to the keyboard. I know that it had only taken me two tries before I knew what I preferred, and I’m sure it is the same for most. I hope you found this helpful.
Thanks for reading,
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