The ErgoDox Infinity looks like the ErgoDox with a screen! image property of Andrew Lekashman

So it looks like a new ErgoDox is being released. It is called the ErgoDox Infinity. This time it has been created and HaaTa in collaboration with Massdrop, but with the blessing of Dox. HaaTa being the creator of the Infinity and the KLL. This new ErgoDox comes with new features, most notably “keyboard interconnect”. This seems like a very interesting addition to the keyboard as it allows for halves to work independently or joined together with others.

It is also going to be sold with everything pre-soldered. I assume with all smd components. I don’t really know if this in an overall improvement as one of the great parts about getting an ErgoDox is assembling it. Now all that is required is to solder the switches and add the keycaps. It also comes with support for alps as well as cherry switches. This is also something the original ErgoDox also had. Having the boards come pre-soldered will certainly make the keyboard more accessible to a wider audience. An audience who might have been put off by the fact they had to solder all the components themselves. It will also be interesting to see how this affects the Ergodox EZ indiegogo. I think this will mainly come down to price at this point.

The other interesting feature is the RGB backlit LCD screen. This is something I have seen on a couple of keyboards in the past, and thought of it as semi-useful. It may be useful to display the layer you are on. However, this is only really useful if you have an incredible amount of complicated layers. You may argue if you need a screen to see what layer you are on you just have too many. I don’t see this is entirely a negative point though. I am excited for a bit of keyboard innovation and difference. But it certainly effects how it looks and I can’t say I really like the look of it sticking out in the corner.

One of the other major points stressed in the announcement post was the online configurator that is being worked on. It will function for both the Infinity and of course the ErgoDox Infinity. I expect this to have functionality exceeding the current ErgoDox configurator that is exceedingly out of date. This is great as it makes it much easier for people to customize their layouts and use KLL which I find a bit daunting. I can only imagine the configurator gets support for more boards in the future as KLL has partial support for the teensy 2.0. Which of course is the most commonly used controller for custom keyboards. I hope this means that MassDrop will be updating their configurator for the Original ErgoDox (as it may now be called) to use KLL. But I am not so sure this will happen as it has been neglected for quite some time.

I thought it important to mention that backlighting was not mentioned at all. This was one of the main requested features of the ‘Original ErgoDox’ and I believe a pcb with backlighting support is still in development.

Conclusion

I was fairly excited to hear about a new version of the ErgoDox, however I’m not sure it is really all that impressive. The screen is a bit of a gimmick, but I am most definitely intrigued by the chaining together aspect. But I am not blown away by the features. I do like KLL and HaaTa’s use of Latex for his documentation. At this point I am not blown away by what it has to offer. But I might be wrong. It does seem like thought has been put into it. If it is anything like the quality of Infinity, I’m sure it will be fine.

Read the original announcement post here

Update

The ErgoDox Infinity is now available! for $299.99. This price is a little disappointing but understandable. But I am sure the drop will reach the lowest price of $199.99. This is certainly a price I would be willing to pay for this new ErgoDox. Even without any ‘killer’ features, as it’s the same price as the original you may as well go for the ‘Infinity’ version.
At the time of writing this article there have only been 9 purchased. This seems a bit slow to me. I was expecting a lot of initial excitement. But I still hold firm in thinking this will go to the cheapest price option. All ErgoDox drops in the recent past have always made it.

The kit will is available to purchase with matias alps, cherry switches and gateron switches. This is a better selection that they have ever given. But more importantly there is an option for keycaps with the alps. This means you won’t have to find an alps donor board. There is still no comment on backlighting. But there do however appear to be two additional holes beneath each switch. These do appear to be LED holes. If you look at another keyboard pcb with LED support, the poker 2 for example, you will find a similar layout.

Just after I got my head around building the actual firmware I realised that I did not really understand how to customize and utilise the TMK firmware to make use of its unique features. This of course is necessary to do anything interesting at all. Even though there is some quite comprehensive documentation on the firmware, I still found it quite hard to get my head around. In this post I am aiming to make it a little easier to understand. I would just like to make it a little more understandable so more people can use it.

Introduction

I do all of my layer editing in keymap.c. You can split your keymaps into multiple files but I do not find this helpful. For the purpose of this guide I do everything in keymap.c. To edit your general layout is quite simple. When you open keymap.c you will see layouts set into the shape of the keyboard of your choosing (depending what directory you are in e.g./keyboard/ergodox, /keyboard/hhkb). Layouts can easily be changed using the keycodes found in the /common/keycode.h file found in the TMK firmware. You will notice that you don’t need to use the full keycode names in the main keymap. You can omit the KC_ prefix. However, when creating custom functions you have to use the full name as listed in the keycode.h file.

The Concept of Layers

The first thing you should attempt to understand is the concept of layers. I found this quite incomprehensible at the beginning and I sometimes still find it hard to understand how I should organize my layers and how this affects how they work. But I would like to say now that if you don’t understand it is not at all the end of the world. You can easily learn by experimentation. The best advice I can give you here is to just not over think it. The layers act like physical layers would work in real life. Higher layers have higher precedence because they cover the one below it.
One of the common keycodes you should be familiar with is the TRNS keycode. This is a transparent key. I think of this just as a hole in the layer. Imagine pressing a TRNS key, it will just go through it to the keycode that is underneath it. This key will become useful if you have overlays you want to have over your main layout.
A usage example is a gaming overlay for a specific game. I use this on my ErgoDox as most games require the usage of space which is on the right section. My gaming layer puts all the necessary keys on the left hand so I only need to use one section.
Another use may to have a mouse layer that is activated on a momentary layer.

The FN Keys

First I shall introduce you to FN keys. Do not confuse these with regular “F” keys you would find on many keyboards. FN keys are function keys that you define their function. You are only able to define 32 of these, this is a limitation of the firmware. There is a certain way I recommend laying out your FN keys. Firstly all your ‘FN’ definitions should go under the static const uint16_t PROGMEM fn_actions[] = { and before the closing };.

Begin the line with the FN key number. This way you can keep track on what the FN keys number is. Example:

static const uint16_t PROGMEM fn_actions[] = {
	[0] = ACTION_FUNCTION(TEENSY_KEY),        
	[1] = ACTION_LAYER_MOMENTARY(2),           
	[2] = ACTION_LAYER_TAP_TOGGLE(3),		
	[3] = ACTION_MODS_TAP_KEY(MOD_LALT, KC_DEL),
   		[4] = ACTION_LAYER_OFF(3, ON_RELEASE),
	[5] = ACTION_MODS_TAP_KEY(MOD_LCTL, KC_BSPC),
	[6] = ACTION_MODS_ONESHOT(MOD_LSFT),
	[7] = ACTION_DEFAULT_LAYER_SET(0),  			
	[8] = ACTION_DEFAULT_LAYER_SET(1),  				
	[9] = ACTION_LAYER_MOMENTARY(4),  	
	[10] = ACTION_LAYER_TAP_KEY(3, KC_QUOT),
	[11] = ACTION_LAYER_TOGGLE(4)         

};

As you can see the numbers on the left relate to the FN key. To implement the first in the list you would use FN0 in your keymap. The Fn keys are in a zero based number system so the first of course starts on “0”.
I recommend keeping FN0 as it is. The teensy keys is always useful. It allows you to restart the teensy into programming mode. This means you do not have to have access to the button on your teensy so you do not have to remove your case.

Layer Switching

Momentary Layer

The first type of layer switch is a momentary switch. This switches to the designated layer when the FN key is held down. You define a momentary layer switch like so.

[1] = ACTION_LAYER_MOMENTARY(1)

In this example the “1” is the layer that is being switched to. It is always important to remember the numbers that feature in functions are layers do not confuse them with anything else. The numbers that prepend them are only there to indicate and keep track of what key they are. This is just to make life easier.

Momentary Switch with Tap Key

This is a useful function to use as it allows you to have the layer switching key practically anywhere on your keyboard without losing functionality. This is because it works the same as a normal key (which you assign) when tapped but a momentary switch when held. Example:

[10] = ACTION_LAYER_TAP_KEY(3, KC_QUOT), This is an example taken from my own configuration. When the key is held layer '3' is activated as a momentary layer. In my configuration that is a mouse overlay on the right hand. You can see my full configuration [here.](https://github.com/RoastPotatoes/tmk_keyboard/blob/roast/keyboard/ergodox/keymap.c) When tapped the key still functions as `KC_QUOT` so it does not disrupt typing. ### Momentary Switch with Tap Toggle This works in a similar vein to the 'Momentary Switch with Tap Key' but the layer can be toggled this time. This is done by pressing the key a number of times (you specify the number of times), this is useful so you do not have to hold down the key to use the keys you have on another layer. Example:

[2] = ACTION_LAYER_TAP_TOGGLE(3), This example taken once again from my own configuration enables my mouse layer when held down but also toggles my mouse layer when tapped 3 times. Please note that the three times required to toggle is not defined by the action above but in `config.h` under `TAPPING_TOGGLE`. ### Toggle Layer A toggle layer is a layer that is activated on press and release. To turn it off you then have to press the same `FN` key again. Example: 
 
[1] = ACTION_LAYER_TOGGLE(2) In this example using `FN1` as it is defined would enable layer '2'. It is important to remember you must have the same `FN` key in this case `FN1` on the destination layer. The destination in this example is layer '2'. ### Dual Role Modifiers Dual role modifiers are created with the use of 'Tap Keys'. These 'Tap Keys' have one function when 'tapped' and another when they are held down. Example:

[5] = ACTION_MODS_TAP_KEY(MOD_LCTL, KC_BSPC), This function means when held the key will function as a left control (MOD_LCTL), but when tapped it functions as backspace. In my configuration I use this on the first thumb key on the left hand and it replaces the traditional backspace. So in place of backspace I have `FN5` on my keymap. ### One-Shot Modifiers Are perhaps slightly useful. They act as normal modifiers when held down. So they don't interrupt normal typing but when tapped they stay on for a specified time. They are called 'One-Shot Modifiers' because you are given time to press a key after releasing the modifier and it will be as if it is still held down. I will try to explain it a bit better in an example:

[6] = ACTION_MODS_ONESHOT(MOD_LSFT), This defines `FN6` as left shift but as a one-shot modifier. This means when it is tapped  you can press the `FN6` key once then press an alphanumeric key and for one key press it will be shift modified. This is useful as it can avoid double capitalisation errors such as "MArio" when shift has been held too long. This does not happen with a 'One-Shot Modifier' (shift for this example's purpose) as it is set to only 'shift' the next key press.

Closing Comments

That is all I will be including in this guide. However, I will cover some additional features in another. This will include features such as macros and using the mouse keys. It’s not that complicated but I just wanted to keep the guides simple without overloading them with information.

The Main ErgoDox The ErgoDox is one of my favourite keyboards. It was also the first that I built myself. It is both advantageous because of its layout but also because of its easily customisable nature.

The Parts

I purchased all the parts through falbatech . I found Falbatech to be a great company that was helpful when I contacted them for help over the forums. Another good thing about the ErgoDox is the amount of support available. If you have a problem, it is very easy to contact others who have built them themselves. FalbaTech are really the only place you can buy the parts pre-built and even at a reasonable price. I was eager to get into mechanical keyboards but really wanted to get something impressive. For myself I really enjoyed the idea of an ErgoDox. At the time this was the cheapest way to get hold of an ErgoDox that wasn’t the massdrop (which started after I bought it). This has however just recently changed due to a new indiegogo that is producing ErgoDoxs. I chose to get the signature plastics DSA keycaps because I really wanted a complete set. I knew it was possible to create a set from various keysets but I just wanted a complete set that fitted.

The Switches

As this was my fist mechanical keyboard I chose to make it with Cherry Clear switches. I thought of these as a good starting point as I was coming from using a IBM Model M. I chose them on the basis that they are both fairly stiff and tactile. In hindsight I feel that it was a good decision. They quite perfectly capture the very elements that make mechanical switches great. You can feel them and you can hear them. Even though they aren’t clicky, they certainly have a clack to them. This is an oversimplification of mechanical switches, but it will do.

The Keycaps

The keycaps I choose were signature plastics DSA. I chose the grey and white colour scheme because I was coming from an IBM Model M and really liked the pearl and pebble colours. This was the closest I could get. Thinking back I would have liked to do a bolder colour combination, maybe something more exciting. I think my colour choice is a little generic, but I am by no means unhappy with it. It is hard to get the aesthetics of a keyboard right and this was my first try.

This was also my first set of DSA. I was quite worried about this as It seemed very strange to have flat keys. After typing on them for a couple of days I could not really find and drawbacks to the flat profile. But this may also be due to other factors. This was the first keyboard I had chosen to build and with it I was going to learn to touch type properly. When using blank keycaps, it is necessary. So you could say that this was the first keyboard I properly typed on and therefore the first keycaps I typed upon were DSA profile. My typing skill was brought up on DSA so I can vouch for their feel. Going into this I knew there were a couple of factors that would affect the feel of the keycaps:

  • Material (often dictates the texture)
  • Texture
  • Thickness
  • Profile

Coming from the two piece construction of the Model M keycaps It is not really easy to compare them in that way. As you can see the keycaps have some thickness to them but they are not the thickest. But I can say that they work well on Clear switches quite well. They give it enough weight and feeling to really complete the sound of the clack!

The Keycap thickness

The texture of the keycaps is exactly what I am looking for in a keycap. But trying to convey the feeling of a keycap is obviously quite a task. The keycaps feel like you are gripping them the right amount. It is a much nicer experience than typing on a shiny keycap. In some situations when typing on an old keyboard with shiny keycaps the feeling can be almost sticky. This is not the case with these. I believe this is what the Model M keycaps would have felt like new but since I haven’t used a new one this is only speculation. I can say that I have spent some time getting to know these keycaps as I when I began using the ErgoDox I typed in qwerty. On a good day I get around 60wpm. But I learnt colemak on an ErgoDox and reach speeds of 75 wpm.

Keycap Texture

Conclusion

At the beginning of my mechanical keyboard journey, I saw pictures of the ErgoDox and thought I would never type on one of them. At that time it seemed like the most foreign object and faraway goal. Nothing that I would have ever considered. It was the epitome of the mechanical keyboard. But at this time I was not looking for this. Nevertheless, the idea of the ErgoDox was stuck in my mind. This was what really started my interest into mechanical keyboards. Because it was a keyboard that required manual assembly it really gave me an in depth look at how I could create and build my own in the future. Building the ErgoDox was an educational experience which made the hobby more than owning keyboards. The fact that I had to assemble it myself was probably one of the main things that drew me to the keyboard and I’m really glad that it did.

It also taught me how to type in a better way. By this I mean a traditional touch typing method. It really pushed me in two ways. The blank keycaps obviously had an impact on how I could type but the new layout also pushed me into learning where all the keys are. I was a little apprehensive about the profile at the beginning but quickly grew accustomed to them. The only thing I would change is the colour.

Overall I have really enjoyed the whole experience of making and using an ErgoDox. It cemented my hobby whilst also teaching me how to type in a better way. It also introduced me into the more technical side like building firmware and choosing and learning the alternate layouts.

I really recommend anyone who is even just thinking about getting themselves an ErgoDox to do so.