Author Topic: Review: MALTRON L89 DUAL HAND 3D after 4-week hire  (Read 948 times)

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Offline chandy

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Review: MALTRON L89 DUAL HAND 3D after 4-week hire
« on: Wed, 20 May 2020, 17:22:03 »
This is my overview of the Maltron keyboard after hiring it for 4 weeks. From the get-go, I think it's a fantastic product, and I'm kinda sad I'm returning it anyway ;D

Background: I'm a code monkey, full time job from home, relevant RSI: smartphone thumb (not proud of it but what can I do), my priority atm is ergo and the keyboard is one part of a more general effort to better my home office ergonomics. I've been wondering about the Maltron for months as I knew it is very well regarded between ergo-focused people as the "endgame" (RIP Datahand), so I rented one for 4 weeks looking for my endgame keyboard. I lurk this forum somewhat but I don't have much experience with mechs myself, my only previous mech is my Tada68 with gateron browns, which I'll keep using until I get my new dactyl manuform in the mail.

What I liked:

- Concave + ortholinear + split shape: The legends are true.
- Malt layout: Great for writing copy.
- Big fat thumb keys
- The MX Browns! Had only used Gaterons before, turns out I like these better
- Being able to rent such an expensive device before buying was great
- Learned to touch type on this thing. I don't touch type qwerty because I tried it and I think its an unnatural and insane thing to do, but malt is a different story. Spend 2-3 hours a day for 2.5 weeks then started using it for work (sloooooooooowly but you can afford that while working remote ;) ).

What I didn't like:

- Symbols are in awkward places, relevant for programming
- The thumb cluster: Great in theory but not in practice when you rely so much on chording the keys in there (ctrl + alt + tab, arrow keys, start/end... too much action in there for a thumb that's stronger than it is dexterous)
- The keycaps feel cheap: I know they are durable, but still.
- Not programmable: This might have KILLED it for me as I could have replaced the keycaps and remapped what I didn't like... oh well
- The keywell in the middle: Great in theory but for me this was a space consuming, glorified arrow key matrix with a bunch of useless keys
- The blank space where the trackthing goes except I didn't want the trackthing and it's too small for my actual trackballs :(

Expanded review with pics / rant:

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The Maltron

Layout: I can totally see the research that went into the maltron, its great as long as you are writing copy (I don't hate using it on spanish btw), the Malt layout is pretty well thought of.

However, it's not quite as optimal if you are using lots of symbols and/or rely a lot on modifier keys + chords + arrow keys to navigate many windows or text, because its all under the thumb cluster, so you either get your whole hand on the cluster so you can use your less strong, but more dexterous fingers, or you do some sick thumb-fu I was not able to master (I'm a lifelong console player with hundreds of hours on Smash Bros, so I WANT to think I know how to navigate my thumb, and still).

Shape/Feel: I'm 50/50. The plastic shell I'm fine with, texture too, and the shape is perfect for the hands. However everything between the hands rubs me the wrong way: lots of blank space that you canít use for something else (there's just not enough flat room for a trackball for example), and a gigantic key matrix with a numpad I don't want/arrow keys that are cumbersome to use and a bunch of useless keys (perfect candidate to program shortcuts buuuut....).

It's also quite big. Here's some size comparisons with my Tada68:

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Programmability: The lack of programmability means I could not do anything about many of my complaints. Was the maltron equipped with QMK, I'd have only half of the things to say. But for now, the thumb cluster having ALL my modifiers + the weird symbol placement just beat me.

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Thumb clusters of the maltron. For the "real" experience, try doing some Ctrl+Alt+Tab and Start/End/Arrow + Ctrl + Swift action only with your thumbs. There's also the fact I was constantly reaching out for the outer keys

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.. we start good ...

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... still comfy ...

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... not so ergo anymore ...

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... welp

The thumb keys are far enough I have to extend my thumb BUT close enough that its more convenient than moving my hand off the home row. Maybe I'm the problem.

Keycaps: What I liked the least. I know for a fact the company does super durable keycaps as you can find them in good condition on maltrons that are like 30+ years old now; also the spherical shape on the top of the keycaps is pretty nice, I think its deeper than on most DSA.

But the things just feel like cheap abs (I've liked pbt better btw), and it didn't help it also had some plastic bleed residue:

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Notice the edges of the "D" and "Windows" keys. There's more like that, altho I think "D" is the biggest culprit.

Overall, had I kept the maltron I'd have looked for blank DSA or XDAs (SA R3????).

Switches: I've never tried cherry browns for extended periods of time, only gateron browns on my Tada, and I ended up liking them a lot more! However, do note the maltron puts the switches in a way which I believe is non-standard, where the dents of the switch are looking left, not bottom. Check the pictures to see what I mean.

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Also, some of the switches aren't really glued to the shell, so you can rip them off while pulling up the keycap. I believe it's the thumb cluster switches only, but I didn't sit and pick them all off to confirm  :)) .

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For the record, I removed some keycaps while I was experimenting with putting in a couple DSA caps (that I have from a switch tester) in a test to make the thumb cluster easier to navigate. That was working fine-ish, but it didn't feel right to rely on this.

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Overall verdict:

Everything you hear about Maltron and how its better for your hand posture, is pretty much true. Going back to my Tada68 I can feel the weird arm and wrist angles. Heck, if Maltron was the only option around, I'd "keep calm and carry on".

But it's not, and if I can sum up my feelings in one sentence, is "I can do better" (especially in this day and age and for that price). I get maltron is the best alternative for certain people (disabilities etc), but until I have one of my arms chopped off, I think the health benefits of a maltron vs other split/concave/ortho boards aren't that far apart. Maltron has been in the game for decades now, but now we have keebs that learned from it and work on top of the formula Maltron set, so I've decided to look in that direction.

I'm cheating by writing this with my Tada (don't feel like using the Maltron anymore since I'm about to return it).

JIC, I didn't feel like testing a kinesis advantage since looking at the shape I think its not as good as Maltron's and I've read bad things about the thumb cluster and Fn keys. I have a Dactyl Manuform coming that has the shape AND programmability (and all caps are nice) so it made more sense to me, but might try a kinesis in the future as I see the merits of having it as a single piece vs 2 split halves (or, any of the other DIY boards that are single piece). We'll see.

Would recommend? Yes for secretaries/court reporters/data clerks/writers/etc. For accountants idk how useful the numpad is. For code monkeys and/or people who use a LOT of shortcuts, read up ^.

Hope this is useful for folks wondering about the maltron!

Update 1: Typo fix (GMK -> QMK lol) and rephrasing my perception of the spherical tops of the keycaps.
« Last Edit: Thu, 21 May 2020, 16:21:29 by chandy »

Offline chyros

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Re: Review: MALTRON L89 DUAL HAND 3D after 4-week hire
« Reply #1 on: Thu, 21 May 2020, 05:35:14 »
Hahaha I'm reviewing a Maltron in two days and I could not have come to a more different conclusion than you xD .
Check my keyboard video reviews:


Offline chandy

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Re: Review: MALTRON L89 DUAL HAND 3D after 4-week hire
« Reply #2 on: Thu, 21 May 2020, 06:31:08 »
Hahaha I'm reviewing a Maltron in two days and I could not have come to a more different conclusion than you xD .

Awesome! Looking forward to it, most reviews I find of the maltron are from people that have it since way back so I'm not sure they gauge it against newer DIY stuff.