There are many reasons why enthusiasts gravitate towards custom keyboards. However, unique alternate keyboard form factors that promise better comfort and ergonomics certainly draw many towards the keyboard hobby. Alice keyboards and Ortholinear keyboards are two examples of unorthodox layouts that promise better efficiency compared to standard layouts.
Like Alice-layout keyboards, ortholinear keyboards are known for their ergonomics. The ortholinear layout of the keyboard minimizes finger movement. Users of ortholinear keyboards praise the columnar layout for its minimal strain on the fingers, even after long hours of use. Typically, you’ll find these boards in a 40% form factor.
If you’re a busybody that needs to get more hours in your workday without the trouble of finger fatigue, then look no further. In this article, we will be discussing the nuances of the ortholinear keyboard and why you should consider adding one to your mechanical keyboard roster.
Keyboard Form Factor vs. Layout
Keyboard form factors are crucial in deciding your mechanical keyboard build. Your chosen form factor will determine the number of keys present on your keyboard. If you need a Numpad, you need a full-size keyboard or acquire a separate Numpad. If you’re looking for more desk space and compact carrying, you can opt for smaller builds such as the 60% or 65% form factors.
On the other hand, keyboard layouts are the style in which the keys are laid out on a keyboard. There are exploded layouts, which make more space for aesthetics and easier touch typing. As the name implies, compact layouts provide more keys in a smaller space and are compact.
Most keyboards come in a staggered QWERTY layout you can see in laptops and most prebuilt keyboards. The keys do not line up in a straight column but are oblique to the degree of diagonal lines.
In contrast, ortholinear keyboards have keys laid straight up and down, left to right. They are often found in 40% form factors, while bigger form factors with ortholinear layouts are more difficult to find and acquire.
What is an Ortholinear Keyboard?
Ortholinear keyboards are keyboards that implement the unique ortholinear layout. The ortholinear layout aligns keys up and down, left to right, in straight columns. The idea behind this kind of layout is to facilitate minimal finger movement from one key to another. This type of layout aids the user in typing for longer hours without getting tired.
If such is the case, why not use it on all keyboards? The staggered keyboard layout that came from the typewriter design is so popular and well-loved. People are so used to typing already that manufacturers decided not to disrupt the norm.
Still, owning an ortholinear keyboard can boost productivity significantly after you learn to get used to its unique layout. It’s excellent for typists that endure long hours, such as writers, developers, and data entry workers.
Can You Customize an Ortholinear Keyboard?
The customizability of a regular ortholinear keyboard is not something to scoff at. Like any other customizable keyboard, you can add layers to maximize the typing experience from your original keyboard. Of course, it would depend on whether the keyboard is customizable, let alone programmable.
Using additional keyboard layers can take your small ortholinear keyboard from typing just the letters (the alpha keys) to having all the keys of a full-sized form factor keyboard. To do so, you must remap the keys of an ortholinear keyboard using the traditional QMK software or the user-friendly VIA software.
You can also add different macros to these layers through keymapping software. In essence, you have the power of a full-sized keyboard jampacked into an ergonomic, compact, and portable powerhouse of a keyboard.
Perks of Using an Ortholinear Keyboard
Typing Experience and Portability
As mentioned earlier, the typing experience in ortholinear keyboards is much more endurable after long hours compared to the usual staggered layout.
Users report that the finger movement between keys is more natural and comfortable in ortholinear keyboards. Moreover, the fingers are less strained because of their compacted layout and small form factor.
After getting used to this new layout for your keyboard and memorizing your customized layers, it’s easily the best daily driver you can use. You can bring it anywhere, and you can easily customize it to your needs and wants on a keyboard.
Customizability and Price
Customizing your ortholinear keyboard lets you get the most from its small form factor. Adding layers to the typically programmed keys grants you access to the same range of keys and functions from a full-sized keyboard into a compact keyboard.
Additionally, building layers in an ortholinear keyboard with a 40% form factor allows users to maximize the use of each switching mechanism. You get more bang for your buck when using an ortholinear keyboard in a 40% form factor.
Likewise, its typical small form factor requires a smaller number of switches for your build. This small size makes the ortholinear keyboard a good experimental hot-swap candidate as you would spend way less on the number of switches and keycaps compared to buying switches and keycaps for bigger-sized keyboards.
Some Ortholinear Keyboards that You May Want to Try
Planck EZ Keyboard
The Planck EZ keyboard is a prebuilt ortholinear keyboard composed of 47 keys. This ortholinear keyboard boasts of its compact nature having “all that you need” in a single mechanical keyboard.
The Planck EZ keyboard is highly customizable and is easy to mod. The board has a hot-swap PCB and uses only Philips screws, so it’s easy to open and fiddle with.
One of the Planck EZ’s best-selling features is the fact that “it talks back.” The buzzer inside the board can play Gameboy-style tunes to accompany you in your workday.
BM40 Keyboard from KPRepublic Website
The BM40 keyboard is one of the easiest to hot-swap ortholinear keyboards because it is already famous in the keyboard market. Many parts are made to fit this custom keyboard.
You can either order it prebuilt or assemble it yourself with the different kits available in KPRepublic. You can also buy the PCB only and have a 3D-printed case for a fully personalized build.
ID75 Keyboard from Amazon Website
If you’re looking for a bigger-sized ortholinear keyboard, then the ID75 keyboard is the perfect candidate for you. Unlike other ortholinear keyboards, it comes in a bigger form factor with 75 keys.
This board is hot-swappable with great underglow shine, perfect for keyboard hobbyists that love their RGB. The case also comes in various colors (black, dark blue, light blue, silver, and purple) to perfectly complement your work-from-home setup.
Should You Buy an Ortholinear Keyboard?
An ortholinear keyboard is an excellent buy for keyboard enthusiasts looking to expand their collection. The board’s novelty and perks are great once you get over the expected learning curve from getting a new layout.
If you’re a professional that works with typing, it’s worth looking into the ortholinear keyboard landscape. You might find the perfect keyboard built for you.
The KBE team is dedicated to sharing our knowledge and creating useful resources about computer keyboards. This article was written as a team collaboration, combining our knowledge and years of experience using, building and modding keyboards. Meet the team here.