This is a review of the Dygma Raise. A $319 keyboard that is literally, a split design. I’m going to be considering that aspect, and it’s other unique features, and weighing it up against my current favourite ‘off the shelf’ ergonomic split keyboard – the Moonlander from ZSA.
There is a video version of this review on YouTube if you would rather?
The Dygma Raise is available in black or white and you can see it’s a largely traditional staggered key layout. There are ISO and ANSI US layouts too.
It’s what’s termed a 60% board; there’s no separate arrow key cluster, function row or num pad.
You can also enhance it with the $89 tenting kit which I’ll look at later in the review.
Two things jump out though. First, it’s got a built in wrist area, with detachable pads. You should be aware that there’s no way of using this without that wrist area.
More interesting is the space bar area. Rather than a traditional space bar, there’s a group of 8 keys; what Dygma terms the ‘8-bar’. More on that shortly.
The board slopes up on a slight angle, and is apout 35mm thick at it’s thickest with the standard keycaps. Compare that to say the Moonlander which is flat and 24 thick. I don’t have a judgement in that regard, I find them both very comfortable, it’s merely an observation.
Incidentally, for the vast majority of keys, the Raise uses standard MX mount keycaps and whatever MX compatible switches you want. Dygma have a bunch of choices. I opted for Kaihl Coppers and they feel great. The keys feel super solid and only the largest of the keys, which use stabilizers, have any kind of minor rattle.
If you have read or watched any of my previous keyboard or Vim related articles/reviews you’ll know I’m an arrow key fan. I know that’s not ‘cool’ but I like a separate arrow cluster. I’m ‘out’ as an arrow key user.
The Raise does not have a dedicated arrow cluster but as it’s programmable, you can decide where you want it and at what cost.
Using the bottom right keys for arrow keys works well enough but if you go for a T shape, because you are using the shift key as the up arrow that extra resistance is a little tiring. I’d say you probably want to look at layers instead. Or maybe just use up those bottom right four, which gives a more uniform feel but you are using 1.25u width keys so … hmmmm… definitely something to think about.
No homing keys for alternative layouts
None of the off the shelf split keyboards I have had have come with any kind of provision for homing keys for Dvorak or Colemak users. For the uninitiated, these are the keys that either have a bar or different shape to help touch typists orient their hands without needing to look at the board. The Raise is no different. It’s got homing keys for QWERTY users and that’s it. So, if you use an alternative layout variant, you’d better get used to the wrong key legend on the homing keys or start looking for 3rd party alternatives.
This is something I think more of these ergonomically focused keyboard companies should have options for. If you are going down the split keyboard path, I’d think it’s more probable you will be left-field enough to maybe have an alternative layout too. The option to buy alternate homing keys for at least Dvorak and Colemak would be most welcome.
I want to call out the lighting. If you are a fan of RGB lighting you are in luck. The Dygma has not just per key RGB lighting, it also has underglow lighting. And if even that isn’t enough to bring on a seizure, It even has lighting in the ‘Neuron’ where the cables between the two halves meet.
If lighting is your jam, the Raise definitely has you covered!
It’s not something I would usually bother mentioning but the included case for the Raise is excellent. With something like the Moonlander you get a case of sorts but it’s really just to keep everything together. There’s no real protection for the hardware inside. The Raise case is something else, it’s hard, sort of semi-rigid, and even has a compartment in here for all the extra bits and pieces. It’s a really good case, the kind of thing that would usually cost you an extra $40 but you get it included with the Raise and it sets the bar in this regard.
In fact all the presentation is top notch, and Dygma have clearly got their marketing chops together. Now I’m too old and jaded to feel warm and fuzzy when you get an email at various intervals referring to you as a ‘Dygmate’ (wretches off camera) but the attention to detail is impressive. Dygma are going to great lengths to make their users feel part of a community or club. It’s not just a case of shipping the product and leaving you to it, they want to get you into this product and make the most of what it can offer. They also have a excellent YouTube channel with tips on the Raise and typing in general.
There is a little pinging from odd keys but I can’t imagine the average user would pick up on that. As it’s hotswap, you can always switch out or lube the offending keys if that’s something that bothers you.
But it generally feels very solid and premium. If you’ve ever closed the door on a BMW and just felt that beautiful tight, solid, ‘thunk’, that’s the kind of feeling I’m talking about. It feels solid. I don’t think it’s quite as solid as the Zergotech, which is built like a tank, but apart from the manner in which the two halves join, it feels reassuringly solid.
And lets talk about that. It does feel flimsy in the middle. I never feel entirely confident picking the Raise up with one hand. It feels like it’s going to damage the pins that locate the two halves together.
Obviously with almost all other splits boards, you can’t even have the two halves together but you should be aware that it only really feels like one piece on the desk. And Obviously you can change the way you pick it up and move it but when a keyboard can masquerade as a standard board so well, it does invites you using it like one.
No sound on boot up
There is no sound when you plug the keyboard in. I know that’s a rarity on a keyboard anyway, but I have it on a few of my boards, and I miss it when it’s not there.
The 8-bar uses Kaihl low profile Choc switches for the bottom 4 keys. This is a smart choice as it gets around the issues of not being able to easily discern one key from another. That’s a problem I have with the Moonlander’s thumb cluster where I rarely use the middle key as it’s hard to find with your thumb amongst the others.
So, I’m a big fan of the 8-bar. I think it’s the Raise’s biggest contribution and innovation. You get to feel the difference between all the keys in this area far more easily which means you tend to find more useful things to do with them.
Flashing the firmware is incredibly quick. If you are used to QMK and the like, where you need to make a file, download it, open an app, stick your board in bootloader mode and then flash it, then this is like a breath of fresh air. You make your changes, click the button to send it to the Dygma and that’s it. Very slick. It gives you a lovely short feedback loop where it costs you nothing to just try something out.
However, it’s not all bunnies and flowers. It is lacking some of the more advanced features I have grown accustomed to on the Moonlander.
For example, even using the latest BETA releases of the Bazecor software, there is no way currently to do auto shift. That’s a feature available in the open source QMK software and by extension in the Moonlander, where, for example, if you wanted a captital
s character, you just hold down the ‘s’ key a fraction of a second longer.
It also doesn’t support other more advanced QMK features like ‘space cadet shift’ where, a single press on a key is a
( character but if you hold it down it gives you a shift.
In the latest beta software I have looked at, it does have ‘tap dance’ functionality, called ‘Super Key’, which is a feature where you can have a key do one thing when tapped, another thing when double-tapped and another when pressed and held.
So right now, in terms of features, the Raise is definitely a little behind what’s possible with the Moonlander or flashing your own keyboard with QMK firmware.
I asked Dygma about this and they advised that this is stuff on their radar so I suspect it is coming, it just isn’t here right now as I review this keyboard in January 2022. But these are the kinds of features that, for me at least, really make an expensive keyboard worth it’s asking price. I hope we see them in the Raise soon, as it certainly doesn’t seem to be any kind of technical limitation.
If you go anyway down the split keyboard Rabbit-hole, you will encounter the notion of tenting; raising the angle of your keyboard to alleviate ulnar deviation, and in turn, improve comfort.
I’m going to say right now, I don’t suffer from discomfort in my wrists when typing so there is a real limit to how much I can usefully tell you in this regard. But lets take a look at the raise kit and we can at least consider build quality, design, and my subjective opinion on the comfort.
It’s very straightforward to install. Remove 10 screws from the bottom with the included screwdriver, put the plates in place and replace with the screws with longer ones provided. You then have a number of different tenting positions to choose from, ranging from moderate to bonkers.
Let me tell you. This thing is solid and VERY well made. It has rubberised feet and feels wonderful. You have to really lean on the bottom of the wrist pads intentionally to get it to move. $89 is a lot but if you want a rock-solid tenting solution, Dygma really nailed it.
Having a keyboard that can give you the benefits of being split when you want it but ‘normal’ when you don’t isn’t unique. It’s the kind of keyboard that’s like a gateway drug because if your friends come around and you’re worried they will find out your a closet keyboard nerd, you can just stick the two halves back together and you have a really nice looking standard keyboard. But when you want the benefit of splitting it out for comfort you can, and you have all the power of the customisation software to make the keyboard your own. In fact, even without the ability to split, this is still a really nice looking premium board that does well enough in so many areas it’s worthy of consideration.
If you are coming from a normal staggered keyboard, the Raise adds just the right amount of oddness, super powers and aesthetic flair to make it worth your while. I wasn’t sure about the 8-bar initially but I really like it. You can use it for mundane tasks or go wild but the differing heights for tactile discernment really works. You’re seldom having to look around to find which one you’re pressing.
So, if you have no desire to go the ortholinear layout route, the Raise is a very complete package with great support and ever improving software. It’s got lighting all over the place, you can add the tenting kit for additional ergonomic comfort, the carry case is excellent, and as it’s hotswap, you never have to worry if another switch might have been a better choice; you can just pull them out and replace.
There are however some things to be aware of:
You need to take a little care with the split. It may be fine to lift one handed but it doesn’t feel like it.
If you are are a big arrow key user, I think you need to be happy with having your arrow keys on the home row. It’s fine as an inverted T-shape at the bottom right but because the keys don’t have a uniform size or feel I struggled to get used to it that way. You can use the bottom row right hand keys in a line too. That works but you just need to get used to the wider (1.25u) keys.
There are some custom keycaps going on here on the 8-bar, so switching things up, keycap wise, is straightforward apart from those. If you have thoughts of switching up the keycaps at some point down the line, that’s a consideration.
There’s a couple of things there that are blockers for me using this as my daily driver. I’m out of the habit of using staggered layouts now, as all my other boards are ortholinear. And as I mentioned, I like dedicated arrow keys so that makes it more problematic for me.
However, if none of those caveats apply to you, you should seriously consider the Raise. It’s a quality bit of kit and I certainly look forward to whatever Dygma decide to do next.