This is a great keyboard. Not perfect. But really, really great.
The Zergotech Freedom is described as a ‘friendly ergonomic keyboard’ and that’s probably the best place to start this review.
Unlike something like the ErgoDox EZ, the Freedom is actually quite simple to get to grips with. You see, although still split design like the ErgoDox EZ, with the two board halves separated with a cable, the key layout of the Freedom is more conventional.
Having used both for some time now, I believe the Freedom and ErgoDox EZ serve distinctly different users. The ErgoDox EZ suits tinkerers far more — you can do basically anything you want with it, layout wise. And the accompanying software accommodates that approach well.
The Zergotech Freedom, on the other hand, has strong opinions on how you should be doing things, well, certainly when it comes to key-layout.
To be clear — this opinion is not a bad-thing. I’ve found the design and layout decisions Zergotech have made to be incredibly well considered. But if you’re looking to completely remap your layout every few months, this isn’t the board for you. It’s well considered, well made, and, as we will see, has enough unique selling points to provide itself a unique position in the market place.
The Freedom is, unashamedly, a premium orientated product. The price should tell you that but the packaging and build quality, thankfully, reflect it. Inside the hefty box everything is laid out beautifully. Although, as ever, there’s probably more plastic than needed in the packaging and hopefully future versions might use more easily recyclable materials instead.
Now, don’t be an idiot (like me) and forget to set the board to your OS at the outset. I’m on macOS so out of the box that meant pressing Left Num Shift + Left FN Shift + DEL and then F2. What I thought was especially cool here was that if you are in a text editor when you do it, it actually prints instructions into the screen.
As mentioned prior, the Freedom is opinionated. What I mean specifically by that is there is a defined key layout and it’s ‘on you’ to get to grips with it. You don’t bend the Freedom to your will, it bends you to its. However, the upshot of that is, as it’s not massively different from a standard keyboard layout, it’s far quicker to get up and running with. Straight of the bat, after an hour or so I was getting by fine with it. Not what I would call normal typing speed but decent enough to get on with a days work.
In fact, it’s so familiar feeling, it took me over a day to notice the key layout is semi-orthogonal, only glancing down to notice the staggered bottom ‘zxcv’ row was offset as I read the specs.
Best. Switches. Ever.
The typing feel of the board out of the box is incredible. I’d go so far as to say I think in terms of sheer click satisfaction, this is the nicest keyboard I have ever typed on. I’m not sure what the secret sauce is but typing feels incredible.
Update: I was so intrigued with the phenomenal typing feel of this board, after a few hours use, I went in search of answers. I had already established they were Kaihl box brown switches when I swapped the ALT/OS keycaps over (aside: there’s a keycap puller included with one end for standard key caps and the other end for the larger, non-default size ones) but it turns out the switches are custom box-browns: https://www.zergotech.com/pages/mechanical-switches. These switches are incredible. I want more of them! As ever switch choice is subjective but if you like tactile switches I think you’ll be very happy with these!
Limited split distance
The distance you can place the two halves apart is a little limited (up to 50cm), and as it is a fixed lead (non-removable) that may be a concern for some. I’ve seen plenty of folk with split ergo boards place a trackpad between the two halves. You can probably, just about, do that here — but not easily. I don’t do that but I do have quite broad shoulders and I found the distance just wide enough to feel the benefit of the split.
Missing OS keycaps, smart design and random observations
If you are a Mac/Linux user you might be slightly miffed at the lack of an OS specific meta key. This is doubly frustrating as all the keys are so well labelled. — Update! Turns out the Freedom ships with the correct meta key if you choose the right OS at checkout. This also means the board is set for your OS out of the box! In addition, there are ISO and language specific Keysets on the way!
As good as the legends are, I’m not sure how well the legends will last as they aren’t double/triple-shot, just surface printed. However, if you are anal about these things, at least you can get a replacement set in future.
Sadly, there are no dedicated arrow keys. Instead they are behind the I,J,K,L keys as a ‘layer’. If you are a hard-core Vim user that subtle difference (Vim uses H,J,K,L) may be semantically infuriating! Personally, even when using Vim, I could never undo the muscle memory of standard dedicated arrow keys. So the Freedom presents a different issue for me; I don’t have dedicated arrow keys. That’s something that stopped me using a HHKB day to day, and as such, I don’t think I could live with this board full-time.
However, what does work well with the Freedom is the dedicated FN keys, that allow you to access the layered key functions. If the term ‘layer’ is alien to you, it’s just the doubling of physical keys for different purposes. You already do this with shift for capitalisation.
I particularly appreciated the FN SHIFT and FN LOCK keys on the Freedom. They are both big fat keys on the bottom row and having blue text, in the case of FN SHIFT, and all associated keys having blue text for their function is fantastic. By the same token, the NUM SHIFT key and NUM LOCK is yellow and the associated numbers are printed yellow too. This signalling really helps the transition from a different board. Furthermore, all the Shift versions of keys (FN SHIFT, NUM SHIFT) are on the left half of the board, and all the Lock versions (FN LOCK, NUM LOCK, CAPS LOCK) are on the right. Better still: it lets out a lovely beep when you press NUM LOCK/FN LOCK or CAPS LOCK. I love that. All keyboards should do that!
I also feel compelled to point out I had the tiniest amount of wobble when pressing keys at the outer most corners of the right side of my board. F12 or Esc for example. This may bed in over time. Worse case a tiny bit of something behind one of the feet will sort it. But given the thoroughness of this product I can’t imagine a problem getting through QC in future.
Having the board flat on the desk is my preferred option but it is possible to alter incline/tented/decline. Feet on the underside flip out to make this happen. There’s not a choice of angles, like you get with the tilt kit of something like an ErgoDox EZ — it’s a binary thing but it’s there none the less.
Programmable but not open source
Much like the WASD v3 boards, the Zergotech Freedom is programmable, albeit with their own software. I’m a fan of QMK and the associated visual configuration UIs so Zerrgotech’s approach here wouldn’t be my preference. But then I undoubtedly change my keyboard more than most, which is why familiarity with an existing approach is preferred. However, as this isn’t the kind of board that lends itself well to constantly remapping layouts, it probably isn’t something to judge the Freedom too harshly for.
Those sliding palm rests
Perhaps the single biggest differentiator with this board is the sliding palm rests. There is a reservoir (which they call a slider bay) below each half of the board that can accommodate either the sliding pads (my unit shipped with two sets of differing height and I preferred the lower) or standard palm rests. When in place, the idea being you leave your hands in place resting on the pads and the pads skim across the reservoir allowing you to reach harder to hit keys. Think of those table-top hockey games where you slam a puck around with a hand-held bat that skims across the table. That’s the closest feeling I can think off in terms of the resistance.
Consider the following, significant, caveat before I cast judgement: I don’t have RSI problems that this solution is intended to solve/aid.
For me, they were unneeded and unwanted. There are plenty of other aspects of this board that more than make up for it. Plus the full size pads that are also included and fit the entire reservoir are fantastic, you won’t need to budget anything for a separate wrist rest, the standard ones are perfect.
Oh, also kudos to Zergotech for considered getting the various wrist pads in and out; a little plectrum like tool is included to lever them out without damaging the board.
This is a rock-solid, well made and incredibly well-considered keyboard. The key switches are sublime, it’s extremely comfortable, looks nice on the desk and for an ergonomic semi-orthogonal board, it’s incredibly easy to get to grips with.
I’m not qualified, even anecdotally, to tell you how well this board will help any typing pain you may be suffering with. I also can’t offer a fair judgement on whether the sliding palm rests are a genuine innovation of merit. What I can tell you is that it has won multiple design awards from ergonomics-centred publications so the fact I took nothing from them is more likely to be my shortcomings rather than the Freedom’s.
The lack of dedicated arrow keys, in their own cluster of some sort, is a bit of a deal breaker for me. I just use the arrows so much day to day that I get frustrated without the simplest way to access them. That said, I could certainly get by fine with this board using the FN LOCK if I wasn’t constantly swapping keyboards, especially as there is a homing bar on the ‘J’ and ‘I’ keys too but I do change keyboards like you change underwear so…
Would I recommend this keyboard? 100% yes. It has a hell of a lot going for it and it should be on your shortlist if you are in the market for a high-quality ergonomic keyboard.
I’ve not tried the Moonlander so can’t comment to that. If you are stuck between the Ergodox EZ and Freedom the choice is actually straightforward. Do you tinker? Would you like to tinker? Or do you want smart decisions made for you?
If you are likely to enjoy, or want, the option of endlessly customising your layouts or programming macros, the ErgoDox EZ should be your choice.
If you want minimal downtime, and prioritise getting back to productivity as fast as possible, go with the Freedom.