What are Alice Keyboards?

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One of the first things that any mechanical keyboard enthusiast will tell newcomers to the hobby is that the best place to start is deciding what keyboard layout or size works the best for you. Despite all the different keyboard brands or names in the market, they can all be best categorized based on their sizes and layouts. While most keyboards look the same in their typical rectangular shape, unique styles deviate from the mainstream, such as the ergonomic layout.

The Alice or “Arisu” keyboard layout is one of the most popular ergonomic layouts, featuring a space that separates the board visually into two halves with the keys extending outward in a wingspan-shaped form. This layout style claims to be “ergonomic” by forcing users to position their hands and wrists to reduce the strain on the muscles.

While visually pleasing, the typing experience is an acquired taste. Some keyboard enthusiasts swear by Alice/Arisu-style boards, while some cite that they experience difficulty adjusting to the unusual layout. Despite this, learning more about the layout can help users identify if they see this ergonomic layout as something to explore.

Quick Introduction to Keyboard Layouts and Sizes

Correctly labeled modifier keys for the ANSI Keyboard layout. This diagram includes denotations for the common form factors or 60%, 80%, and 100% sized keyboards.
Image Credit: Rumudiez via Creative Commons

Before diving deeper into discussing the specific qualities of the Alice/Arisu layout, it helps to establish a baseline by outlining what the most popular keyboard sizes are. The most common layouts on the market now are the full-sized layout featuring all 104 keys, TKL (Ten Key Less) with 87 keys, 75% keyboards, 65% keyboards, 60% keyboards, and 40% keyboards. These sizes are essential as their features are directly connected with what users may need for their daily routine.

What is the Alice/Arisu Keyboard Layout?

As stated earlier, the Alice/Arisu keyboard layout is considered an “ergonomic” layout due to the position of the keys on the board. The keys are separated by an uneven gap between the halves, staggered and extending outward.

It features a split keyboard, meaning a short spacebar on both halves. While this style of keyboard layout is relatively new, 2020 saw numerous group buys go live from different designers and manufacturers. With Akko teasing an Alice layout keyboard at the tail-end of 2021, it seems that this layout isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Origin of the Alice Keyboard Layout

TGR Alice Prototype

The earliest release of the popular Alice keyboard layout dates to April 2018 with Malaysian designer Yuk Tsi’s interest check (IC) on the TGR Alice. Tsi based this model on the Kustom EM7 and merged aesthetics with ergonomic features.

This reportedly was a very limited release at the time, with only 40 keyboards going into circulation. Since then, the boom in Alice keyboards can be attributed to designers providing the layout files needed for others to redesign, experiment, and explore.

What are the Benefits of Alice Keyboards?

Axol Studio Yeti Custom Ergo Keyboard

Alice keyboards are often compared to the ergonomic keyboard layout. The goal of ergonomic keyboards is to position the hands and wrists in a natural position for typing.

Unnatural positioning of the hands and wrists can lead to physical problems such as wrist, arm, shoulder, and neck pain. This is common among those who spend long hours at a desktop or laptop doing work or studying. In its absolute worst case, the prolonged strain on the muscles can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive stress injury (RSI).

However, what truly separates the Alice keyboards from standard ergonomic keyboards is their customizability. Alice keyboards can come in different sizes, case materials, layouts, and finishes. The almost infinite possibilities draw many users to this style of keyboard.

Downsides of Alice Keyboards

Seigaiha Throughole Alice Keyboard Kit

While the Alice layout provides excellent benefits for a more healthy typing experience, many have cited difficulties adjusting to the different placement of keys. There is a steep learning curve, especially among users who developed muscle memory with the keys on a standard layout. Those new to the layout may have to spend a significant amount of time paying closer attention to their keyboard than their screen, which may slow users down.

Alice Keyboard Sizes and Variants

The most popular Alice keyboards come in 60% and 65% keyboard sizes, patterned after Tsi’s original layout. There have been some attempts to create 75% layout versions, such as the Adelheid. With the recent boom in Alice-style keyboards, these come in various materials such as aluminum and acrylic.

Many designers have been generous in providing open-source files on Github to produce your own Alice-style keyboards through 3d printing, laser cutting, or the like. There are countless resources on the mechanical keyboard Reddit and other community areas that continue to experiment with the limits of an Alice-style layout.

Popular Alice Keyboards

Vulcan x KBDFans Maja V2 Alice Mechanical Keyboard Kit

Some of the most popular Alice-style keyboards in the market include the Maja, AVA, Switch Couture Alice, and more. The Switch Couture has been noted as one of the most customizable Alice keyboards in terms of color customization on everything from the color of the case to the plate.

Alice keyboards tend to be more expensive than the average keyboard, and there aren’t many pre-built budget options on the market. However, with larger manufacturers such as Akko exploring the Alice layout, we can expect to see more budget versions coming out soon. 

Alice Keyboard FAQs

Are Alice Keyboards Comfortable to Type On?

Gerald65 Alice Keyboard (Image Credit: Zion Studios)

Whether keyboards are comfortable to type on is that it depends. The placement of the keys is supposed to reduce strain on your wrists, arms, and shoulders. Still, since this is an entirely different layout than what others are used to, there’s an adjustment period to make the typing experience compared to the standard layout.

Will Alice Keyboards Make You Slow at Typing?

The different layout will need some time adjusting, meaning that even those who can type without looking at the keyboard itself will need to pay closer attention to the placement of their fingers to avoid pressing on the wrong keys. Given this adjustment, you may start slow at typing, and however, over time, it becomes easier to type as normal.

Are Alice Keyboards Good For Gaming?

Axol Studio Yeti Alice Mechanical Keyboard Kit

While it depends on what kind of games you play, many users have stated that there is difficulty adjusting to the WASD due to its staggered columns. Some who enjoy the Alice layout’s aesthetics often remap their keys based on the comfortability needed during gameplay. If you’re not willing to go through this extra step, you may want to reconsider an Alice-style keyboard for gaming.

Are there Pre-built Alice Keyboards?

As of now, there aren’t any pre-built Alice keyboards that come with a full set. This is mainly because the demand isn’t high compared to keyboards with a standard layout that makes it easier to switch from a membrane or a laptop keyboard to a mechanical keyboard. This may change in the future if Alice keyboards continue to maintain their popularity.

Are Alice Keyboards Expensive?

As stated before, the demand for Alice keyboards isn’t currently comparable to those of a standard layout, and the prices are steeper than typical keyboard form factors. 

Are There Hot-Swap Alice Keyboards?

Switch Couture ElectroType Acrylic Alice

Many of those who manufacture Alice keyboards offer full customization. For example, Switch Couture allows you to choose between a hot-swappable or soldered PCB. Many sellers sell separate hot-swappable PCBs for Alice layouts. At this point, it’s just a matter of making sure that it’s compatible with the case of your choice.