Author Topic: Review: KBDFANS KBD75v2 Split spacebar/left shift/backspace with Gateron Yellow  (Read 568 times)

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Offline gh_pp

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Review: KBDFANS KBD75v2 Split spacebar/left shift/backspace with Gateron Yellow

I have been using the TKL layout ever since it became available (full size prior to that), and one of the things that still bothers me is that I hate holding the shift keys with my pinky fingers.

There are lots of ergo style keyboards out there trying to address this problem, but I have no need for split keyboard (no shoulder pain) nor do I want to switch to ortholinear layout (I can touch type with good enough WPM, and thereís no proven benefit of ortho over staggered).

But I like the idea of having a thumb cluster advocated by ergo keyboards, so that I can have 3 modifiers and the spacebar under my thumbís control. I used to have a kinesis advantage, I sold it after a year as I don't want to switch between ortholinear and staggered layout (on my laptop). Plus it doesnít run QMK.

So, the hunt is on with a TKL with a 3 way split spacebar, and that has proven to be extremely difficult. The closest I can find is something like the LZ-ergo, but it only appears in aftermarket once in a blue moon at an exorbitant price, and the spacebar split on the right doesnít allow easy access of two keys at once.

If anyone knows a good TKL with 3 way split spacebar, please kindly let me know!

The next best thing is a 75% layout, and kbdfanís kbd75v2 fits the bill and is readily available.

Although hotswap is a common feature nowadays, 99% of hotswap PCBs donít support obscure layouts like split spacebar. (Side notes: Ikki68 hot swap pcb is one exception, but the spacebar split is not optimal for the right thumb like the lz-ergo, epomaker GK series being the other exception, but no GMK and no function keys).

I donít have the time or soldering tools to assemble my own kbd75v2, but luckily kbdfans offers assembled keyboards for a mere $2 more than their DIY kit. Professional assembly services in the states would be in the $100-$150 range, two way shipping not included. So thatís a no-brainer. They also offer lubing ($50+) and switch filming ($10+) service, but I opt out of those as this is my first time buying from them, and gateron yellow is known to be good enough stock if you are not picky.

The total comes out to be $172 + $2 for the bandit mod on the stab, +$18 for switches, and I upgraded to the GMK screw-in stab for $2 more, polycarbonate plate for $2 more, added the $10 sound dampening foam and another $34 shipping (I also bought the DSA chalk keycap set as pictured). They donít charge tax so the shipping is just what you would normally pay for tax if you buy from the states.

The keyboard shipped with the keycap installed, but I had to rearrange some of them on the nav cluster. The board also comes with VIA firmware flashed, if all you need is remapping keys, youíre all set after configuring your layers with VIA.

I however use some QMK features not available on VIA (one shot modifier, spacecadet/ mod-tap, 3 taps tap-dance), and with my custom firmware, the final binary size is approaching 98% max (It has an atmega32u4 MCU, which is the only weakness of the PCB IMO, so are other custom keyboards that use AVR MCUs).

The aluminum keyboard is very solid and heavy. I move my keyboard around to make room for my notebook when I need to take notes, so the keyboard is a bit heavier than Iíd like.

The PCB comes with underglow RGB which the acrylic middle piece is designed to show off. Thereís no per key RGB pre-soldered, and I donít use shine through caps or have a need to look at the legend in the dark, itís a non-issue for me.

The keyboard is assembled quite well. For my layout, thereís only 3 stabilizers used - in the 2.75, 2.25 spacebar and the enter key. Those donít need to be tuned as high of a standard as 6.25 spacebar stab, so I canít comment how much care is taken when kbdfans installed them, as they feel good enough to me for those shorter keys.

Next is the most important part of the review, how good is the layout for my intended usage?

TLDR: I canít go back to my TKL now that Iíve set up all the mods under the thumb cluster.

Everyoneís typing style is different, when I rest my fingers in the typing position (index fingers on F and J), my left thumb naturally rests under C & V (closer to V) and my right thumb rests under B & N.

I happen to use my right thumb for the spacebar (try a typing test on, so the 1.25 key in the middle is perfect for it. And even though it is short, I can hit it dead center every time.

No change is needed for the alt key and I always only use the left alt for alt-b, alt-f, alt-d, alt-backspace on the command line and in addition, alt-x in emacs.

I experimented with placing the shift key on the left 2.75 vs the right 2.25 spacebar. I found that a lot of the symbols are under the right ring and pinky fingers, having the shift on the left 2.75 makes it more natural to type those as a left-right hand combo.

That leaves right ctrl, which naturally falls on the right 2.25 and complements the left ctrl (in caps lock position) perfectly. Ctrl is the only modifier that I would use both hands to access. The left ctrl still gets more use for one handed operations while Iím using the mouse. But the right thumb ctrl makes emacs chords so much easier and less tiring.

BTW all modifiers except Winkey are one-shot modifiers, so when I type upper case or symbols, I donít hold shift, I just type tap shift with my thumb and then let go, and type the corresponding key next. This is also a strategy used by one of the fastest QWERTY typists (although caps lock is used instead). Iím not concerned with speed, but comfort. I used to hate typing sentences with capitalized words (why I donít like, but now after a few hours practicing left thumb shift tap on I am now fully adapted and donít mind typing everything properly with capital letters.

I also moved backspace to Ď\í (like HHKBís layout) because with the 75% layout I need both Ď\í and Del key so the regular 2u backspace is split for these keys. That proved to be quite easy to get used to, and the closer location to home row is also more ergonomic.

In the picture below, yellow keys are the critical changes in my layout that makes the typing experience more comfortable. White keys are everything I can touch-type or locate without looking. The grey keys are the ones that I canít reliably locate or hit without looking.

Compared to TKL, the keys that I used to be able to reliably locate are Insert, Del, Home, End, F1, and left shift (if I donít split it, I should be fine).

The left shift is not a big deal because I don't use it as a shift now. I changed it to space cadet parenthesis, but I donít really use it that much because one-shot tap shift and then Ď9í or Ď0í is just as easy now.

The right shift is now spacecadet underscore. Although I can still touch-type shift Ď-í, I found that Ď9í and Ď0í are at the boundary of comfortable typing for me, Ď-í and Ď=í are a bit far and fall into an error-prone zone.

Binding Ď_í to the right shift makes programming in python, c and bash so much more pleasant. If you are a programmer you should try this.

If I order again, I probably would not split the left shift as I canít reliably touch type with either keys when they are split . I would forgo the right parenthesis as my editor would auto insert it for me anyway. Then I can assign the left shift as another useful, touch-typable function.

The right alt is bound to QMK play dynamic macro (Fn-Alt = Record/stop recording)
I use the emacs dynamic macro all the time, and now with QMK this power can be used in all sorts of apps, having it bound to a dedicated key is well worth it.

Last but not least, I make the left ctrl a copy/paste key (on windows, double tap sends Ctrl-C, single tap sends Ctrl-V, triple tap sends Ctrl-X. on Mac replace Ctrl with Cmd) so I can use it one handed more easily with my right hand on the mouse. The right ctrl is a filler for space cadet Ď?í, until I find a better function for it. It canít be touch-type so itís like a dead key, but I occasionally still use it held as Ctrl for one handed Ctrl-home or Ctrl-end.

Conclusion: Iím super happy with my new input device, the only downside is that I wish this is a TKL with 3 way split spacebar & backspace. And that the MCU has more flash space for future expansion and features. ESD protection etc are all welcome of course. But if this keyboard is dead I would replace it with the same one unless a similar TKL comes along ;-)

« Last Edit: Thu, 27 May 2021, 00:03:45 by gh_pp »
QFR brown x2, Realforce 45G, Type-S, Keycool 22 blue

Previous keyboards: 55G, IBM Model M, Dell AT101W, Fujitsu FKB4725, G80-3000 clear, QFS green, QFS blue

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Offline suicidal_orange

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Nice review of the layout and an interesting guide to making the most of a fully programmable board :thumb:
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EasyAVR mod