A Fortnight With the Moonlander Ergonomic Keyboard

I’ll be honest: I turned to the Moonlander mechanical keyboard in desperation. I couldn’t find a keyboard that met my standards: ergonomic, no 10-key number pad, fully functional on Macs, wired (preferred). The Microsoft Sculpt I’d been using for years has worked well for my body, but its connection was unreliable and would disconnect at random when I started using a Mac. This was super disruptive and frustrating when I was in the flow of writing, so it set me on a quest to find a new ergonomic keyboard.

I tried every Mac-compatible ergonomic keyboard I could find that met my specifications and was around $100 or so, but none of them worked for my wrists and hands. The Kinesis Freestyle2 was a solid choice (though closer to $200 with the tenting kit) since it was fully split and Mac-friendly, but it was a bit clunky, and I thought something better had to be out there.

I was right: Moonlander.

The Moonlander is a fully split mechanical keyboard with a columnar or ortholinear layout. It’s hot swappable and the layout is highly customizable with layers. You can use a layout other than QWERTY, like Dvorak or Colemak. You can also change what a key does based on if it’s tapped, held, or tapped then held, and program the modifier keys to do what you want based on how you work and what you need most often.

This isn’t a review since I’ve only had the Moonlander for two weeks, but I wanted to talk about my experience so far and will likely post an update after a couple months.

If you’re interested in more about my experience with the Moonlander, check out the related posts below:

This keyboard has been a revelation, and (spoiler alert) I’m sorry it took so long for me to invest in one.

Click a link below to jump to that section.

  1. The buying experience
  2. What’s in the box
  3. ZSA’s Moonlander 101 and tips from me
    1. Don’t worry too much about lubing
    2. Get up to speed with the included typing game
  4. The joy of customizing special keys
  5. The ergonomics
  6. The RGB lights
  7. My biggest complaint so far
    1. How I resolved the Moonlander tenting issue
  8. In closing

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The buying experience

I was super nervous about buying the Moonlander. I’ve never had a mechanical keyboard, and I was worried about spending so much on a keyboard that I’d have to pay to return. My friend, who loves keyboards, assured me that the Moonlander is a good keyboard to start on, especially since I was already on a split keyboard, but if you want to read more about my decision process, check out ZSA Moonlander Keyboard: Before-You-Buy Tips.

ZSA estimated a 2-week lead time when I placed my order on July 24, but I received my keyboard on August 1, only 8 days later. I was a little concerned about the delivery since it is shipped via FedEx, the worst courier in my area, but it was thankfully delivered safe and sound directly to my door.

What’s in the box

I would describe the Moonlander unboxing experience as understated and minimal — but not in a bad way. The box is nice enough that I’m keeping it a while to see if I can find a storage use for it but not so nice that I’ll feel wasteful for recycling it. The lid had a simple message and the getting started URL on the lid, which is an efficient alternative to printed instructions. The Moonlander itself is packed into its included travel sleeve with the necessary cables plus a USB-C adapter, a key cap and switch puller, a hex wrench for the tenting legs, and a couple extra key caps. I appreciated that they didn’t waste any materials on the packaging and used the case instead.

Many of the reviews I read prior to purchase complained about the soft neoprene case, which reminds me of the material used for some soft insulated lunch bags. Traveling with the Moonlander would be a huge pain: To prevent damage to the tenting mechanisms, the Moonlander should be flat for transportation, so you’d have to undo then redo the thumb clusters and tenting legs over and over.

I don’t plan to bring the Moonlander around with me, but even if I wanted to, I would be deterred by having to flatten it out. Plus, the included case doesn’t inspire confidence that the keyboard would be safe from damage if placed in a laptop bag with other items. I do wonder if they used the neoprene bag just to ship it safely from the manufacturer instead of using disposable packaging material; if that’s the case, I appreciate it.

ZSA’s Moonlander 101 and tips from me

ZSA has a great Getting Started site to walk you through the Moonlander setup process, including some helpful videos. I went through the whole guide and found it mostly useful.

I say “mostly useful” because they strongly recommend starting with the Moonlander flat. They claim “the board is extremely comfortable flat” and this reduces the “quite steep” learning curve, but that wasn’t my experience. The Moonlander was super uncomfortable for me to use when it was flat, and I didn’t find the learning curve that bad (see more below in the Get up to speed section).

Here are some other tips and things I figured out along the way as I’ve been learning Moonlander the last couple weeks.

Don’t worry too much about lubing

Since I’m new to mechanical keyboards, I thought I would have to lube the switches. After a lot of research, I discovered that isn’t necessarily true. Mechanical keyboard switches are made to operate without being lubed, but if you want to change the sound or feel of your keyboard, you can lube them.

Lubing switches seems like a skill in itself, though, so I decided to try my keyboard without the lube. Certain switch types benefit more from lubing than others, and my aforementioned keeb friend mentioned the switches I chose (cherry MX reds) benefit from lubing. So I might decide to lube my switches in the future, but I’m happy with my switches for now.

Get up to speed with the included typing game

If you’ve never had an ortholinear keyboard, be prepared to feel that awkwardness of learning something new. Ortholinear doesn’t seem so different, but you’d be surprised how strong muscle memory is, especially if you’ve been typing for decades. Even though I’ve been typing on a partially split keyboard for at least a decade, I still needed time to get used to the ortholinear layout since the keys are laid out differently.

ZSA provides free access to a typing game called Epistory: Typing Chronicles with your purchase to help you adjust to the new keyboard. To get your free access to the game, respond to shipping confirmation email.

I took a 5-minute typing test before switching my keyboard and my typing speed was 88 words per minute (wpm). I took the same test when I first received the Moonlander and my wpm was 28. This was due to the ortholinear layout, yes, but also some of the keys in the default layout are in different positions than I’d expect (like the space and backspace).

The good news is, after playing the typing game for less than 8 hours, my typing speed was up to 71wpm, which is good enough to get some actual writing done — on this blog post, for example. (I blocked out an outlying score since I got distracted and didn’t actually complete that test.)

This graph shows that, with Epistory, my typing scores with the Moonlander are quickly progressing to my speed with the previous keyboard.

The story mode of Epistory is actually pretty fun, though it’s quite subtle. I think I missed some important plot points in the beginning. In any case, I’m enjoying working my way through the story mode, though I’m more interested in fighting in the Arena. Read more details about my experience learning to type with Epistory here.

The joy of customizing special keys

Before my Moonlander arrived, I already had a list of keys I wanted to program. For example, hold the C key to copy. I made those changes to test out changing the layout, and then I went about my business. As I used the keyboard and played the game, I started to see quite clearly what was most natural to me through experience. For example, the default layout on the Moonlander has the space bar on the left, but I kept using my right thumb when attempting to tap the space bar. So I simply switched the default, moving the space bar to the right and the enter key to the left. This made my typing much faster and more natural for me. Feel free to check out my current layout.

What I’m trying to say is, don’t make it more difficult on yourself than it has to be. It’s great to look at other layouts to get a good idea of what you might want to do, but don’t force yourself into using a certain layout – unless you have a reason for trying it.

For example, I’m trying to use the default arrow keys just to see what it’s like to use them separated instead of in the expected triangle-ish shape I’ve come to expect. I am also trying the Moonlander’s default for the backspace and delete keys. I find the placement intriguing and could see why they would be more ergonomic on the left rather than the right side.

The ergonomics

When I typed on my other keyboards, I always felt like my fingers had to fly all over the place. Though I’m still not up to my previous typing speed, I feel like with the ortholinear layout of the Moonlander, my hands barely move, and that’s a good thing.

I wasn’t experiencing any pain since I was already on a split keyboard, so I can’t say that the Moonlander resolved any pain, but I will report back if I discover any significant findings in this area. Definitely when I switched to my first fully split keyboard a few months ago, I felt a huge difference in my neck, shoulders, and chest, so I’m sure Moonlander would’ve relieved that pain if this were my first split keyboard.

With the Sculpt, I always complained of chest tightness and needed chest-opener exercises — that’s how I knew the split keyboard style would be beneficial for me. But why not address the root of the problem instead of only addressing the symptoms? Now I find it’s much easier to sit and stand up straight with my shoulders back instead of hunched inward.

Because Moonlander is ergonomic, I was able to get reimbursed for the purchase from my flexible spending account (FSA) with the receipt and a letter from my doctor. Every FSA is different, so check with your particular FSA if you’re interested in doing the same.

The RGB lights

When I ordered the Moonlander, I thought I would find the lights distracting. I’ve mostly been annoyed by most gadgets that have unnecessary lights on them and figured I’d turn them off on the Moonlander other than to indicate which layer I’m on. But I left them on my primary layer (Layer 0) just for fun and discovered that they were not distracting.

Then the RGB lights on Layer 0 somehow got turned off. They still worked on the other two layers, but the main layer was dark. I decided to try typing without the lights, but I was surprised to find that I missed them!

So I set about figuring out how to turn them back on. I remembered that while color controls were assigned to Layer 1 by default, I had a color assigned to Layer 1, which meant I couldn’t see color changes to another layer live like I did before. To turn my lights back on, I had to toggle to Layer 1 to make any RGB changes on Layer 0, then switch back to Layer 0 to actually see the change.

This is my first keyboard with lights, and the only thing I have to compare it with is my husband’s Keychron. But I think they look nice, and they really pop on the white keyboard. If you prefer a more subtle look, you might go for the black keyboard.

My biggest complaint so far

My biggest complaint so far is that the thumb cluster acts as a support for the Moonlander when it’s tented. Even though I read about this issue before purchase, the consequences of that fact somehow didn’t sink in until after mine arrived: You can’t tent the Moonlander with the thumb cluster angled in an upward position.

I don’t mind the flimsy case, but the fact that I can’t use this keyboard in a way that’s ergonomic for my hands right out of the box is not the experience I would expect for a premium device that’s advertised as for everyone’s hands.

First, per the ZSA’s getting started guide, I tried to use it flat. That worked fine until my wrists started to hurt. Then I tried using the tenting legs from the Kinesis, but that was too unstable to type on since they weren’t attached. Then I tried to use the tent with the thumb cluster in the downward position as intended, but that wasn’t comfortable for my short fingers.

How I resolved the Moonlander tenting issue

I resorted to using my heating pad filled with rice to prop them up when I first received the keyboard. This worked well enough to type, but the heating pad doesn’t keep its shape properly, so I constantly had to adjust it. If I wanted to move the keyboard in any direction, I had to fuss with the heating pad to just the right height again. Plus, it just doesn’t look nice, I’ll need my heating pad in the winter, and my heating pad is long, which doesn’t work for keeping my mouse between the two keyboard halves.

I thought about getting small bean bags permanently, but I knew I’d have the same issues, so this was clearly not the long-term solution. I looked at ZSA’s Printables section for the Moonlander for a few options for tenting, but I also did a bit of trial and error and my own research trying to figure out how to resolve this issue.

If you’re having the same tenting issue, check out the many options available and consider your own usage and style. After some digging, I narrowed my Moonlander tenting choices to the following options (all photos are property of their respective creators):

I liked the minimal look of the second design and appreciate that it matched the stock leg and used an existing screw. But when I was using the stock leg with the heating pad, the stock leg didn’t stay in position, and I was worried that would worsen or at least not improve with a similar leg.

I was initially going to use the third tenting style shown above because the height is adjustable, but I had a couple concerns. The photo doesn’t show the palm rests, which I use, and it’s also multiple pieces that are meant to fit together, so I was concerned about stability and longevity. Also, you can’t adjust how far apart the keyboard halves are from each other, and the photo shows them too close together for me.

Ultimately, I went with the first design because it:

  • Is one solid piece (per side).
  • Tents higher than the stock legs.
  • Allows independent placement of the keyboard halves.
  • Seems to provide better support for the palm rests.
  • Eliminates the need for the stock legs.

Once I chose the design, I went to /r/3dprintmything and posted a request to have it printed. After less than 3 hours, I had 7 offers starting at $21. If you decide to go this route, please use caution (and follow posting guidelines) since you’ll share your shipping address with this person. For safety, I went with the person who had a 5-star Etsy shop, CyberPrintsUS.

Side note: Nick from CyberPrintsUS was super friendly and responsive. I ordered on a Wednesday afternoon and received the order by the following Monday. I highly recommend this shop!

This tenting option for the Moonlander also needs 8 M2.6×8 cap head screws (4 per side), and it took forever to find them. None of the local hobby stores had them in stock, but I found an eBay seller with flat head screws in the right size. They shipped right away but the package got lost, so I ended up getting a refund and no screws. After a lot more searching, I finally found cap head screws in the right size on Adrenaline Racing. It worked out that my first order ended up getting lost because the button head screws would not have fit.

Con-Tact Grip Premium Non-Adhesive Shelf Liner pieces for the Moonlander tenting kit

While I waited for the screws, I wanted to use the tenting kit, so I cut Con-Tact Grip Premium Non-Adhesive Shelf Liner to the proper size and shape for the bottom of the tent piece (on the right in the photo) and added a strip on top of the tent piece where the keyboard sits (on the left in the photo).

This solution worked much better than expected! The Moonlander didn’t move as I typed, and the shelf liner was basically invisible. I’m still going to attach the tent pieces with the screws when they arrive, but I will keep the shelf liner for the bottom so they don’t slide around on my new favorite desk mat.

This won’t be the case for all tenting designs, but figuring out the tenting solution was a project in itself that cost extra money. I’m satisfied with my tenting setup now, but the extra work and expense are something to keep in mind if you’re considering the Moonlander and want the thumb cluster to point upward.

In closing

The Moonlander was a pretty scary purchase because it’s my first mechanical keyboard, it’s expensive, and if it didn’t work out, it would have been a considerable loss after return shipping.

The good news is, I’m pleased with it so far — other than not being able to tent the Moonlander with the thumb cluster in an upward angle out of the box. And trust me, I’d know by now if it wasn’t going to work out. The other keyboards I tried made my wrists ache within a couple hours, and I’ve used the Moonlander over 40 hours.

Learning to type on the ortholinear keyboard didn’t take as long as I thought it would, and I’m already happy with the efficiency of programmable keys. I’m also very satisfied by the feel and sound of my switches.

If you’re considering the Moonlander or even if you’ve already decided to buy, check out my ZSA Moonlander Keyboard: Before-You-Buy Tips.

Now I have to worry about becoming a full-on keeb nerd. To keep track of all the beautiful themed sets and artisan keycaps and fancy cables I might be interested in, I started a Keeb Collection on Etsy, which amassed nearly 70 items before I even ordered the Moonlander. Some of these keycaps are legit works of art!

hippopubco’s mascot Harley

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