Eteknix.com reviews the Zergotech Freedom Ergonomic Keyboard

(* this article first appeared at www.eteknix.com)

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It’s not every day we get to review a completely new brand here on eTeknix. Ironically, I spotted this product on a Google Ad banner on our very own website and reached out to them. A small company has a partnership of investors into the start-up for a next-gen ergonomic keyboard design to relieve typing related pain. Something I can strongly relate to myself, my fingers aren’t as youthful and spritely as they once were. It’s not just an ergonomic design though, as this thing is fully mechanical, and packed full of cool and rather unique features.

Zergo Freedom Review — A Keyboard Split in Two?

It’s certainly not lacking in cool features either, with a fully mechanical design using the Kailh Box Switch Brown, easily the best switch Kailh produce at the moment and easily compatible with the other big names. There’s a funky sliding wrist rest configuration, that’s like something from an air-hockey table. Then you have the built-in “KEYKORTEX integrated programming module” which is just a fancy pants name for their macro system. You can even order blank caps to change up the default layout. Then there’s the 4-point multi-height adjustment and the obvious fact that this keyboard is completely split in two.

What Zergo Tech Had to Say

SEMI-ORTHOGONAL DESIGN. You’ll be typing at speed in a few short hours! Our unique layout is designed specifically to minimise any learning curve associated with new keyboards. We’ve changed only what we’ve had to, ensuring you have a familiar typing experience while enjoying the full ergonomic benefits. All keys are positioned for symmetry of reach for all your fingers.” — Zergo

“Quality and attention to detail define our brand. We’ve considered all aspects of build quality including materials, textures, components, and durability. We have even considered acoustics, inserting sound-absorbing foam within the keyboard to reduce key clack echo. The Freedom is solid and durable with no flex in the boards. The cables have double over-moulded strain relief ensuring the keyboard can support its own weight. The slider base is made of a proprietary anti-scratch tempered and textured glass for durability and maximum slide-ability for the life of the keyboard.” — Zergo

Packaging

This keyboard is pretty chunky, and the box reflects that. You could easily fit TWO mechanical keyboards in this box, likely four if you don’t mind stacking them. It’s pretty heavy too, it’s a thick and durable cardboard that really reinforces the fact this is a premium product. I’m not sure why the keyboard photo is so small though, they’ve got a lot of white space there that could show off the design.

Around the back, they’ve got the Zerogo logo and a little list of the main features. Nothing too crazy really, but a good quality and durable box overall.

Open the box, and you’ll find all the usual documentation. This isn’t your everyday keyboard though, it has a strange layout, so best to read up on this.

Below a layer of thick foam you’ll find another layer with custom cut interests ensuring all components of the keyboard are exceptionally well protected. They shipped this all the way from Australia to the UK for me, and it’s here in fantastic condition.

A Closer Look

Not I should point out, I’m not the first to open this box, I assume it’s been a demo model somewhere along its life. With that in mind, cables are a bit pre-twisted, erratic and used. Plus there’s a few bits of dust and debris kicking about. I tried cleaning it up, but it’s a hot, sweaty and dusty day in the office and I was getting nowhere, so apologies for that.

In the box, you’ll find these two compact size wrist rests. I was a little confused by these at first, but it’ll all make sense soon enough.

They have slip mats on the bottom, much like you would find on the bottom of a gaming mouse.

Plus they offer up some really nice padding that should keep your wrists nice and comfortable.

You also get a key-cap pulling tool included in the box. It’s two sided, one for standard, and one for those custom large caps on the bottom row.

The Keyboard

Well, it’s not exactly standard, is it? You can obviously see it’s split in two, but it’s not just that. The layout is VERY unique. You can’t push the two halves together and have it look like a standard keyboard. It’s semi-orthogonal, so unless you space it like the image below, it’ll also way at an angle; as are your wrists and hands, so that makes sense!

Each half kinda looks like a normal keyboard. It’s a QWERTY layout, well, QWERT, the Y is on the other side of the fence now. The bottom row is a big chance though, as you’ll notice Num Shift, Fn Shift and Enter are on the left side of the keyboard. However, you can reprogram this if you desire.

The F1-F5 keys offer up a few multimedia controls, allowing for play/pause, stop, and volume adjustments.

In the top left, you’ve got all your usual indicator LEDs, as well as a small Zergo logo.

The bottom row of buttons are much larger and designed for ease of access and thumb control. It seems obvious, but each half really does have to be designed for one-handed control. However, they don’t want you taking your hands out of that ergonomic position either.

You’ll notice that QWERT and ASDF rows are aligned any symmetrical rather than offset as they commonly would be. However, the ZXCV row is still offset. It’s a small change, but one that is very easily adapted too, even if you touch type. This as Zergo say better themselves “creates an asymmetry of reach for your fingers. You have under-reach for your left fingers and over-reach for your right fingers. We’ve aligned these by pushing the rows to the right. It just feels right.”

the right side of the keyboard is equally familiar and strange at the same time. You’ll notice there’s no enter key on the right, as that’s now on the bottom row of the left side. There’s no real number pad, instead, you get a Num Lock button on the bottom row and a built-in number pad on the keyboard its self. You can see 1, 2, and 3 on J, K and L, etc. The same is true of the arrow keys, which are on J, K, L, and I, which can be used with the Fn Shift or the Fn Lock.

The number lock button id printed in yellow and the Fn in blue, which colour matches the additional functions on the keyboard. I’ll be honest, this looks very busy at first glance, but it’s not a far cry from most laptop configurations.

Up on the top row, you’ll find a few more multimedia controls for skip oon the F6 and F7.

I do like these larger buttons though, they’ve change a lot, but at the same time they’ve not changed it to anything you can’t quickly learn.

As you can see, the keyboard leans off to the side just a little bit too.

What really cool is that you can level it out again by deploying the feed on one side, increase the angle by using the feet on the other side. You can tip it forward or back and even just full-on raise the height.

There are four feet on each half of the keyboard, so you really can plant it on your desk however you like.

It doesn’t look like much, but that height adjustment is pretty significant from the flat layout.

The key cap removal tool is simple enough, just jam it over the cap, push down and you can get it removed with a firm pull.

With it removed, you can clearly see they’ve used the latest Box Switch Brown from Kailh, easily one of the best typing switches on the market today. Each comes rated for 70 million clicks and a 1.8mm actuation with a 3.6mm travel. The extra “box” around the + is to prevent additional cap wobble.

The large caps at the bottom use the same design.

The caps are fantastic quality, really sturdy and thick plastics. No LED or RGB here folks, just good quality hardware.

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Performance

OK, so this keyboard is unlike ANYTHING that has crossed my desk. It’s not just split in two like a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard, although they do both employ some similar concepts. Angle the keys on each side to align with a more natural wrist position and provide some height towards the middle. I must admit it looks cool too, it’s certainly going to grab peoples attention.

There are two wrist rests included in the box that are much smaller than the part you insert them into. HOWEVER, they slide around like you’re playing air hockey. You just pop them under your wrist and they glide around with minimal effort.

Slide to the right.

Slide lower down, honestly, it’s pretty fun, but does take some getting used to. If you want a more traditional one, they sell a rest that’ll fill the whole area too.

The layout will take some practice to get right. Not having the enter key on the right is a bit strange to me. However, I noticed you can swap the space on the right with the enter key on the left, and program the keyboard as such, which worked for me. I guess that’s their whole idea, is that while it’s already custom, you can really setup a lot of it as you desire.

Is it comfortable to use? Absolutely, being able to angle both of the sides just how you like them is awesome. Your wrists are never in a natural position with a standard keyboard. I do feel my arms and wrists are much more relaxed using this.

The level of adjustment is very interesting to me. I did find having it closer like this was easier at first, as visual and physically my hands are so used to typing next to each other. But as I said, you can have them however you like. Whatever feels the most comfortable is the order of the day. Such as this angle, with more back height added. It’s the little details that add up though.

The use of the Kailh Box Switches is a nice choice. They’ve got a good tactile “click/bump” to them that gives you a nice typewriter type feel, but without the more audible clicky noise of the blue switches. It also has more feel overall than just simple on-off feel of the blue switches. What’s really cool is how quiet the keyboard is. Brown switches are fairly quiet anyway. However, the use of thicker keycaps and a very sturdy chassis helps reduce noise, but also improve per switch tactile feel.

They’ve even added a durable metal interior mount and a thick layer of noise dampening materials inside the keyboard, reducing unwanted vibration and echo completely. You can smash away at this thing in peace. Keep in mind they sell a full set of blank caps too if you wanted to go down a fully custom route. I can see an option for Programmers Devorak being an interesting option here. I mean, if you’re going to go for something this different, you may as well as all-out, right?

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How Much Does it Cost?

The Zergotech Freedom Ergonomic Mechanical Keyboard is available right now from their own website. Prices start at $339 (USD), and the price remains the same for the Windows OS or the Mac OS versions with either Kailh White (equivalent to MX Blue) or Brown switched versions.

You can purchase additional sets of slim or tall profile wrist rests for $39, fixed palm rests for $39 or a bland keycap set for $39. You get a two years warranty and a 60-day money-back guarantee on that.

Keep in mind you get the Freedom Ergonomic Keyboard, Slim profile sliders, Keycap puller and a set of O-Rings included in the box.

Overview

I’m sure there are a LOT of our readers checkout out this review just because it looks odd. Did you know there are keyboards out there that don’t have the word “gaming” in their product name or “RGB” as their tagline? Well, today’s a learning experience for you I’m sure. This is not a gaming keyboard as such, but for those of us who have to type massive amounts of text every day, so that’ll be me then!

Gaming

I’ve used it on and off all week, and it truly is very comfortable to use. However, I DO game on my PC too and it’s a little bit of a mind bender for my usual stint of MMORPG gaming. It actually works really well for MOBA, RTS and FPS games though, as the layout doesn’t really stray for those key combinations.

With practice, however, it’ll come. This isn’t standard and it is a new approach, and you have to take that into consideration. I test new keyboards weekly though, so fully learning a new idea only to have to continuously switch would not be ideal for me.

Work

I wrote this review on the keyboard, and while I am more comfortable, I do feel a little odd working on it too, for reasons covered above. It takes practice and I am getting more and more used to it by the hour. However, I am having to glance at the board a little more often, which is slowing me down a bit (at least for now).

It’s super smooth to type on, the keys have great feedback and they’re exceptionally quiet too. It takes a while to find the right angles, height adjustments etc, but again, that only takes seconds to change.

Options

I’m endlessly amused by the sliding wrist rests too, I really like the idea. However, I’d be tempted to swap them out for full pads. I also don’t think they needed to include O-ring mods in the box, I mean, it’s awesome if you’re working in a recording or editing studio, but for my home office, it’s quiet enough already.

Should I Buy One?

I mean, if I had this keyboard ten years ago, it may have saved my completely shot to hell wrists and fingers. I haven’t finished a days work in years without sore hands. Regular breaks and exercise will still be king for maintaining your health at the desk. However, the Zergotech keyboard is really filling in all the blanks. It’s not cheap, but for such a well engineered, designed and constructed innovative product, it’s a small price to pay. If your life is typing, this can be the perfect tool for the job.

Zergotech is the company behind the award winning Freedom ergonomic mechanical keyboard.