Best Ortholinear Keyboards For You

July 28, 2023

Innovation and ergonomics have consistently driven us towards more efficient, more comfortable, and healthier solutions. While the traditional staggered keyboard layout has been the standard for decades, a new contender has emerged to challenge the status quo---the Ortholinear Keyboard, also called ortho keyboards. This intriguing alternative presents a unique arrangement of keys that promises to revolutionize the way we type.

Unlike the familiar QWERTY staggered key layout where keys are arranged in a diagonal pattern, Ortholinear Keyboards organize keys in perfect columns and rows, resembling a grid-like formation. This seemingly subtle shift in design carries remarkable advantages that resonate with ergonomic enthusiasts, programmers, writers, and anyone seeking a more intuitive typing experience.

We will delve into the world of Ortholinear Keyboards, exploring the benefits they offer and why they are gaining popularity among tech-savvy individuals.

What is an Ortholinear Keyboard?

An ortholinear keyboard is a type of computer keyboard with a unique key layout characterized by keys arranged in columns and rows, forming a grid-like formation. In contrast to the traditional staggered layout commonly found on most regular keyboards where the keys are offset in a diagonal pattern, ortholinear keyboards align each key vertically and horizontally.

The term "Ortholinear" comes from the Greek words "ortho," meaning straight or upright, and "linear," denoting lines or rows. This naming reflects the straight alignment of keys in the keyboard's design.

Ortholinear keyboards have gained a dedicated following among mechanical keyboard fans and those seeking an alternative to traditional layouts. They offer a fresh perspective on typing ergonomics and present an exciting choice for those who want to explore new and innovative keyboard designs. These are some of the benefits you get from switching to this layout.

Benefits of Using Ortholinear Keyboards

Here are a number of benefits you get from using ortholinear keyboards, all of which contribute to improved typing comfort, speed, and overall typing experience:

  1. Ergonomic Comfort: The straight vertical and horizontal alignment of keys in ortholinear keyboards allows for a more natural resting position for the fingers. This ergonomic design can reduce finger strain and promote a more comfortable typing experience. This is a boon especially during prolonged typing sessions.
  2. Reduced Finger Movement: With the keys aligned in a grid-like formation, there is less lateral finger movement required to reach keys in different rows. This reduction in finger travel distance can lead to decreased hand and wrist fatigue. This makes typing more comfortable and less physically demanding.
  3. Improved Typing Speed: Many users report increased typing speed on ortholinear keyboards. The logical and consistent key positioning makes it easier to memorize key locations, leading to faster and more accurate typing over time.
  4. Typing Accuracy: The ortholinear layout can also enhance typing accuracy. Users are less likely to hit adjacent keys by mistake due to the orthogonal arrangement, resulting in fewer typing errors and a more efficient typing experience.
  5. Customizability: Ortholinear keyboards often come with a high level of customizability. Users can easily remap keys, create macros, and configure the keyboard layout to suit their specific needs and typing habits. This level of customization is particularly valuable for programmers and power users who rely heavily on keyboard shortcuts and specialized key functions.
  6. Aesthetics: Some users appreciate the aesthetic appeal of ortholinear keyboards, finding the grid-like layout visually pleasing and distinct from traditional keyboards.

Disadvantages of Using Ortholinear Keyboards

While ortholinear keyboards offer numerous advantages, they also come with a few potential disadvantages that some users may encounter. It's important to consider these drawbacks before you switch to an ortholinear board.

  1. Steep Learning Curve: The problem with transitioning from a staggered keyboard to an ortholinear layout is that it doesn't come right away. It may require an adjustment period. Users who are accustomed to the traditional staggered layout may find it challenging to adapt to the new key positioning. During this learning phase, typing speed and accuracy could temporarily decrease.
  2. Limited Availability: Compared to normal keyboards, ortholinear keyboards have a smaller market presence. This means that the variety of ortholinear keyboard models and brands available might be more limited, making it potentially harder to find the specific features or switches you prefer.
  3. Keycap Compatibility: The keys on an ortholinear keyboard may be hard to come by. Some ortholinear keyboards use non-standard keycap sizes and layouts, which can make it challenging to find compatible replacement keycaps.
  4. Non-Standard Layouts: Ortholinear keyboards often deviate from the standard key layout of typical keyboards, which could lead to compatibility issues with certain software or games. While most modern operating systems can handle custom keyboard layouts, some software may not recognize the unusual key arrangement.
  5. Limited Ergonomic Benefit for All: While many users report ergonomic improvements with ortholinear keyboards, it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some individuals may find that their typing comfort and performance do not significantly improve with an ortholinear layout. They may prefer the familiarity of a staggered layout, full-sized keyboard.
  6. Higher Price: Due to their specialized design and often niche market, ortholinear keyboards can be more expensive compared to mainstream staggered keyboards. The higher price might be a deterrent for budget-conscious users.
  7. Limited Support for Some Keyboards: Because this is a new development, this type of keyboard has limited support versus normal mechanical keyboards. Depending on the model and brand, some ortholinear keyboards may have limited firmware support or fewer updates compared to mainstream keyboards.

Ortholinear Layout vs Staggered Layout

The battle between the ortholinear grid layout vs the staggered layout has sparked passionate discussions among keyboard enthusiasts and the mechanical keyboard community. The staggered layout was originally implemented in typewriters to prevent mechanical jams. However, this layout was adapted to modern keyboards. While familiar and widely adopted, some users argue that the staggered layout contributes to increased finger movement and strain, potentially leading to discomfort during extended typing sessions.

Ortholinear keyboards are different. With keys arranged in a straight vertical and horizontal grid, it promises a more ergonomic typing experience. Advocates of the ortholinear layout argue that this ergonomically logical and consistent key positioning reduces finger travel distance, promoting a more natural hand posture and minimizing strain. This arrangement aims to improve typing speed and accuracy as users can easily memorize the keys' positions, fostering an intuitive connection between the fingers and the keyboard.

The choice between the two paradigms ultimately depends on individual preferences, typing habits, and the willingness to adapt to a different typing experience. As technology progresses, the keyboard landscape continues to evolve, offering users an exciting array of options to enhance their productivity, comfort, and enjoyment during daily typing endeavors.

Ergonomic Features

Ortholinear keyboards are designed with several ergonomic features that aim to enhance typing comfort and reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries (RSI). Some of the key ergonomic features of an Ortholinear keyboard include:

Vertical and Horizontal Aligned Keys: The primary ergonomic advantage of the Ortholinear layout is the straight vertical and horizontal alignment of keys. This design minimizes lateral finger movement, as keys are placed in a grid-like formation, reducing strain on the fingers and hands. It encourages a more natural hand posture while typing. Users can maintain a straight and relaxed alignment of their fingers, wrists, and forearms, which can help prevent discomfort and RSI associated with awkward hand positions.

Grid Arrangement: With keys aligned in a grid, users don't need to stretch their fingers as much to reach keys on different rows. This reduces the risk of overextending the fingers and helps maintain a more comfortable and efficient typing experience.

Programmable Keys: Many Ortholinear keyboards offer programmability and key remapping options onto your keyboard. This allows users to customize the layout to their unique typing preferences, hand size, finger length, and typing habits.

Symmetrical Layout: The Ortholinear layout is characterized by symmetry and consistency in key spacing and alignment. This predictability contributes to a more reliable typing experience, as users can develop muscle memory more effectively.

Macro and Shortcut Keys: Some Ortholinear keyboards provide dedicated macro keys or layers that can be programmed with frequently used commands and shortcuts. These customizable shortcuts help streamline workflows and reduce the need for excessive finger movements.

Compact Designs: Ortholinear keyboards are often small keyboards coming in compact layouts such as the 40% or 60% variants. These compact designs reduce the reach required to access keys, allowing users to keep their mouse and keyboard closer together, promoting a more ergonomic desktop setup.

Top Ortholinear Keyboards

Here are some of the most popular ortholinear keyboards that were well-regarded in the community

ErgoDox EZ: The ErgoDox EZ is a fully customizable split keyboard that has an ortholinear layout. It features mechanical switches, adjustable tenting, and customizable RGB lighting. The split design allows users to position the two halves ergonomically for a more natural typing experience.

Planck: The Planck is a compact 40% Ortholinear keyboard with a minimalist design. It's highly customizable and favored by mechanical keyboard enthusiasts who prefer a more compact, more efficient layout.

Preonic: Similar to the Planck, the Preonic keyboard, made by OLKB, is another popular compact 40% Ortholinear keyboard. It shares similarities with the Planck but comes with an additional row for those who need a few more keys.

ErgoDox EZ Shine: Similar to the ErgoDox EZ, the Shine version offers an adjustable split design, mechanical switches, and customizable RGB lighting. It provides a more premium feel with its PBT keycaps and additional wrist rest.

Redox: The Redox keyboard features a split design with 76 keys, including a columnar staggered layout in the thumb cluster. This design aims to offer a balance between the ortholinear and staggered layouts for improved ergonomics.

Sofle: The Sofle is a split, 6x4+5 column-staggered keyboard with an ortholinear thumb cluster. It's designed for a more ergonomic typing experience and includes additional thumb keys for added functionality.

Let's Split: The Let's Split is a compact ergonomic split keyboard with an ortholinear layout. This ortholinear split keyboard is popular among DIY enthusiasts due to its open-source nature, allowing users to build and customize their keyboards.

How to Choose an Ortholinear Keyboard

When deciding to buy an ortholinear keyboard, it can be quite challenging considering that they're quite new and non-standard. Don't worry because we'll help you with some tips.

Factors to Consider

When choosing an Ortholinear keyboard, there are several factors to consider to ensure that it aligns with your preferences and typing needs:

Layout Size: Ortholinear keyboards come in various sizes, ranging from compact 40% layouts to larger options like 60%, 75%, and full-size layouts. The layout size determines the number of keys available, so consider the keys you frequently use and choose a size that suits your workflow.

Switch Type: Ortholinear keyboards can be equipped with various mechanical switch types such as tactile, linear, and clicky switches. The type of switch you choose affects the feel, sound, and actuation force required for each keystroke, so try out different switches to find the one that suits your typing preference.

Build Materials and Design: Pay attention to the build quality and materials used in the keyboard. Some keyboards feature high-quality aluminum or acrylic cases, while others may have plastic cases. A sturdy keyboard case contributes to the keyboard's durability and overall typing experience.

Ergonomics: While Ortholinear keyboards are generally designed for improved ergonomics, some models may offer additional features like adjustable tenting, palm rests, or split designs. Consider your ergonomic needs and whether these features would enhance your comfort during extended typing sessions.

Customizability: Many Ortholinear keyboards offer customization options, allowing you to remap keys, program macros, and adjust the layout to your preferences. If you value customization, look for keyboards that provide robust firmware support and programming capabilities.

Keycap Compatibility: Check if the keyboard uses standard or non-standard cap sizes. Some Ortholinear keyboards may have unique keycap layouts, making it challenging to find compatible replacement keycaps or customize the keyboard.

Price and Budget: Ortholinear keyboards can vary significantly in price. Set a budget and look for keyboards that offer the features you need within your price range.

Community and Support: Consider the availability of community support, firmware updates, and resources. A strong community can be beneficial if you plan to customize or troubleshoot your keyboard.

Aesthetics: Choose a keyboard that aligns with your preferred aesthetic style. Some keyboards offer customizable RGB lighting, which can enhance the appearance and personalization of the keyboard.

Reviews and User Feedback: Read reviews and user feedback to gain insights into the real-world experiences of other users. This can help you gauge the keyboard's performance, reliability, and potential issues.

Tips for Choosing the Perfect Ortholinear Keyboard for You

Here are some tips to help you choose the right Ortholinear keyboard:

Try Before You Buy: If possible, try out different Ortholinear keyboards before making a purchase. Visit local tech stores or attend keyboard meetups where you can test different layouts and switch types. Getting hands-on experience will give you a better sense of what feels most comfortable and suitable for your typing style.

Consider Layout Size: Determine the layout size that fits your needs. Smaller layouts like 40% or 60% are more compact and portable, but they have fewer keys. Larger layouts offer more keys and functionality but may take up more space on your desk.

Check Switches and Feel: Pay attention to the type of switches used in the keyboard. Mechanical switches come in various variants, offering different tactile feedback and actuation force. Decide whether you prefer a clicky, tactile, or linear switch for your typing preferences.

Check the Build Quality: Make sure the keyboard is made with sturdy and high-quality materials. A well-constructed keyboard will be more durable and provide a better typing experience.

What About Ergonomic Features: Consider any additional ergonomic features the keyboard may offer such as adjustable tenting, split design, or wrist rests. These features can enhance your comfort during extended typing sessions.

Determine Customization Options: Key remapping, programmable macros, and customizable layouts can tailor the keyboard to your specific needs and workflow.

Check Keycap Compatibility: Ensure that the keyboard uses standard keycap sizes if you plan to customize the keycaps. Non-standard layouts can limit your options for keycap replacements.

Determine Your Budget: Set a budget for your keyboard purchase and look for options that provide the best value within your price range. Consider the features you truly need and avoid overspending on unnecessary extras.

Community Support: Research the availability of community support, firmware updates, and resources for the keyboard you're interested in. A strong community can be beneficial if you want to customize or troubleshoot your keyboard.

Read Reviews: Read reviews and user feedback from reputable sources to gain insights into the keyboard's performance, reliability, and user experiences. This information can help you make an informed decision.

Brand Reputation: Consider the reputation of the brand and the keyboard manufacturer. Established brands with a good track record of producing high-quality keyboards are often a safer choice.

Where to Buy Ortholinear Keyboards

You can buy Ortholinear keyboards from various online and offline sources:

Online Retailers: Major online retailers like Amazon, Newegg, and eBay often have a wide selection of ortholinear keyboards available for purchase. These platforms offer a variety of brands, layouts, and switch types to choose from.

Mechanical Keyboard Stores: Some specialized mechanical keyboard stores cater to keyboard enthusiasts and offer a diverse range of ortholinear keyboards. These stores often provide detailed product descriptions and excellent customer service.

Keyboard Manufacturers' Websites: Many companies that manufacture ortholinear keyboards sell their products directly through their websites. Visiting the official website of a keyboard brand can give you access to the latest models and any special offers they may have.

Custom Group Buys: Some unique and limited-edition ortholinear keyboards may be available through custom group buys organized by keyboard communities. These group buys allow you to join a collective order to get a custom keyboard with specific features.

Local Computer Stores: Some specialized computer or electronics stores may carry mechanical keyboards, including ortholinear models. Check with local retailers to see if they have any options available.

Keyboard Enthusiast Forums and Communities: Joining keyboard enthusiast forums and communities, such as Reddit's r/MechanicalKeyboards, can provide insights into the latest keyboard releases, group buys, and where to purchase Ortholinear keyboards.

Prior to making a purchase, read reviews and do some research to ensure you are buying from a reputable seller. Additionally, consider factors like warranty, return policies, and shipping options to make the best choice for your needs.

Transitioning from a Traditional Keyboard to an Ortholinear Keyboard

Transitioning from a traditional staggered keyboard to an ortholinear keyboard can feel a bit challenging at first, but with some patience and practice, you can adapt to the new layout and enjoy its ergonomic benefits. Here are some tips to help you make a smooth transition:

Give Yourself Time to Adjust: Understand that transitioning to an ortholinear keyboard will take time. Be patient with yourself as you relearn the key positions and build muscle memory for the new layout.

Start with a Smaller Layout: If you're new to ortholinear keyboards, consider starting with a smaller layout, such as a 40% or 60% size. The layout of the keys makes it seem intimidating, but it will help you focus on the essential keys and get comfortable with the grid-like arrangement.

Practice Touch Typing: If you're not already a touch typist, now is an excellent time to learn. Touch typing will be incredibly beneficial as you adapt to the ortholinear layout. Focus on accuracy and gradually increase your typing speed over time.

Use Online Typing Tutors: There are various online typing tutors and games specifically designed to help you improve your typing skills. Some of them even have lessons tailored for ortholinear layouts. Practice regularly with these tools to become more proficient.

Customize the Layout: Many ortholinear keyboards allow key remapping. Customize the layout to match your typing habits and preferences. This can make the transition more comfortable, as the keyboard will feel more tailored to your needs.

Be Mindful of Finger Placement: Pay attention to finger placement and avoid reverting to staggered typing habits. Keep your fingers aligned with the grid layout and resist the temptation to stretch your fingers unnecessarily.

Use Typing Test Applications: Typing test applications can help you gauge your progress and improvements. Track your typing speed and accuracy over time to see how you're adapting to the new layout.

Practice with Common Shortcuts: If you use software with common keyboard shortcuts (e.g., Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V), practice using these shortcuts on the ortholinear keyboard. Becoming proficient with these shortcuts will help improve your overall productivity.

Join Online Communities: Join online communities and forums dedicated to ortholinear keyboards. Engaging with others who have made the transition can provide valuable tips, support, and encouragement.

Alternate Keyboards: If you're finding the transition challenging, consider alternating between the ortholinear and staggered keyboards until you feel more comfortable. Gradually increase the time spent on the ortholinear keyboard as you become more confident.

Everyone's learning pace is different, so don't get discouraged if the transition takes time. Practice consistently, and soon you'll enjoy the ergonomic benefits and improved typing experience that ortholinear keyboards have to offer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are ortholinear keyboards more ergonomic than standard keyboards?

Ortholinear keyboards are often considered more ergonomic than standard staggered keyboards for several reasons. While the ergonomic benefits can vary from person to person, many users find ortholinear layouts to be more comfortable and conducive to a healthier typing experience.

Are ortholinear keyboards suitable for people with large hands?

Ortholinear keyboards can be suitable for people with large hands. They offer a grid-like layout allowing more efficient finger movement and accommodating different hand sizes. However, personal preference and adjustment time should be considered.

Can ortholinear keyboards improve typing speed and accuracy?

Yes, ortholinear keyboards can improve typing speed and accuracy for some individuals. The unique layout reduces finger movement and can lead to faster typing. However, it may take time to adjust and reprogram muscle memory when switching to an ortholinear keyboard.

Do ortholinear keyboards require special software for customization?

The need for special software for customization on ortholinear keyboards depends on the specific model and brand. Some ortholinear keyboards come with built-in programmability that allows users to remap keys, assign macros, and customize the layout without the need for external software. These keyboards often have a set of onboard controls or a configuration interface accessible through key combinations.

On the other hand, certain ortholinear keyboards may require special software provided by the manufacturer to access advanced customization features. This software may allow for more extensive programming, per-key RGB lighting control, and fine-tuning of keyboard settings.

Are ortholinear keyboards more expensive than standard keyboards?

Ortholinear keyboards can vary widely in price, just like standard keyboards. Some ortholinear keyboards may be more expensive due to their specialized layout, premium materials, or additional features. However, there are also budget-friendly options available that offer the ergonomic benefits of an ortholinear layout at a more affordable price point.

Conclusion

When it comes to ortholinear keyboards, there are plenty of options to choose from. Whether you're looking for a DIY project like the Planck or a prebuilt option like the ErgoDox EZ, there's something for everyone.

Try an ortholinear keyboard. These keyboards offer a unique typing experience with their vertically aligned key layout, and many users claim improved ergonomics and typing speed. We hope that with this article, you'll find the ortholinear keyboard that is perfect for you.

Erickson, a certified Interior Designer and Ergonomist, has cultivated a unique career blending aesthetics, functionality, and well-being. Holding a Bachelor's degree in Interior Designfrom a prestigious institution, Erickson is well-versed in creating spaces that are both visually pleasing and conducive to human comfort and health.
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