Tech Republic.com reviews the Zergotech Freedom Ergonomic Keyboard
(* this article first appeared at www.techrepublic.com)
Some ergonomic keyboards are full of gimmicks that do little to serve the purpose of protecting your wrists and digits from repetitive stress injuries, while others come seriously close to perfection. For me, the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard (UHK) is the perfect combination of form over function, and it would take a miracle of a keyboard to pull that UHK out of my hands. And although the Zergo Freedom keyboard didn’t quite achieve that seemingly unattainable goal, it did come pretty close.
The perfect keyboard is very subjective, and muscle memory tends to work against manufacturers and designers. When I first adopted the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, it took a hot minute for my fingers and brain to get in sync with one another; but once that happened, it was pure magic. Typing was incredibly comfortable and efficient. And given how much I type on a daily basis, the patterns of strokes and distance of keys became deeply ingrained in my muscle memory. Because of that, migrating to another keyboard is a huge challenge.
The Zergo Freedom came dangerously close to usurping the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, and that is a testament to how well this keyboard is designed. And for any developer, writer, or admin who suffers from the threat of wrist pain due to the frequent pounding of keys and who hasn’t found that perfect keyboard, the Zergo Freedom might be the perfect piece of hardware.
What is the Zergo Freedom keyboard?
The Zergo Freedom is a split-design keyboard with plenty of cable to separate the two halves as far apart as your wrists need. Many ergonomic keyboards offer such a feature.
The Zergo Freedom also includes eight legs (one on each corner of each half), so you can tilt each side of the keyboard to perfectly fit the needs of your hands and arms. This is one of the unique features to the Zergo Freedom, as most ergonomic keyboards only include tenting legs on the inside corners, which limits the angles you can create for your keyboard.
The “tenting” legs of the Zergo Freedom make it easy for you to angle the halves independently. The fun doesn’t end there.
The Zergo Freedom examined the wrist pad situation and came up with a unique feature: You can either opt to go with wrist rest pads that encompass the entire lower portion of the keyboard, or you can use the smaller pads that skate about as you move your hands. This is a great option for those who feel traditional rests prevent their hands from moving freely about the keyboard.
Programming macros and keys
This is another area where the Zergo Freedom outshines most of its competition. Unlike most keyboards of this nature, the Zergo Freedom doesn’t require software for the programming of keys and macros. With the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, you must install the UHK Agent in order to program or configure the keyboard, and sometimes the Agent is seriously flaky or won’t even run.
With the Zergo Freedom, everything is on board. For example, to switch between Windows and macOS layouts, press and hold the Left Num Shift + Left FN Shift + Del, combination for five seconds. To copy a macro, press and hold the Left Num Shift + Left FN Shift + F2, for two seconds. To toggle the Right Alt key double tap option, press and hold the Left Num Shift + Left FN Shift + F8 combination for two seconds.
For more programming options, check out this manual page. This is a welcome change, as so many keyboard programming tools are poorly designed and executed. The Zergo Freedom nails this to perfection.
When the muscle memory in your fingers has already settled on a keyboard layout, it can be a challenge to get them to acclimate to something new — this is especially true when the said layout is a serious departure from the norm. This was the case with the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, as the cursor keys and delete key were replaced by a key combination using a Mod key. After a week or so, I grew accustomed to how the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard functioned, and it became quite efficient. Now after months of usage all other keyboards are too inefficient for my needs.
The same holds true with the Zergo Freedom. The key that confounded me the most it was the Enter key. Instead of this key being in its usual spot, it was on the left half, opposite the space bar. And the Backspace key is above the spacebar. These shifts in major keys caused serious confusion with my fingers. Granted, like with the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, given enough time, my fingers would get accustomed to the new layout. And with the Swap Macro, it’s possible to swap any two keys on the keyboard, so with a bit of work, you could lay the keys out to better suit the way you work.
No keyboard is created equal, and to conclude one keyboard superior over another would be a bit shortsighted. Although the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard is the perfect hardware for me, it might not be for you.
Ultimately, a keyboard boils down to key placement and travel. With the Zergo Freedom’s ability to swap keys, seriously impressive key travel, and an amazing build quality, if you’re willing to drop the $339 for a customizable keyboard, the Zergo Freedom might well become the savior of your wrists and your fingers.