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My thoughts on the Kyria and split boards moving forward

// 2021-06-24

This small ramble is about my thoughts on the Kyria keyboard which I've used for the past 3-4 days now and also my thoughts on split boards as a whole. Please note that all of that I am saying is personal preference. If you like something, I may not like it or vice versa. With that said, I'll start with the Kyria first:

It's a nice concept. The row stagger works pretty well in terms of comfort and there is a certain flexibility when it comes to adjusting your keyboard (because it is two halves, after all). However, there are a bunch of things about the keyboard that made me go back to my trusty Filco. I'll list them as follows and then go into detail for each thing I'm pointing out.

Thumb clusters

They're pretty damn nice. I like the idea of being able to do a bunch of things with your thumb, where on regular keyboards, all it does is, well, press space. Having a bunch of hotkeys at your thumb is very handy for things like screenshotting and whatnot. However, of course, you still need a spacebar. I've put in one 2u key on each side because of it, but it just feels odd to have the spacebar aligned that way compared to a normal spacebar. I've then tried a 1u spacebar and while it feels nice at first, eventually my hand feels a bit cramped. Also, since I don't really have a clever way of putting enter where it normally would be, it's on the thumb cluster too, which is kinda confusing, I'll talk more about that later.

Numbers row

I need one. Period. I cannot get used to it being behind a function layer, regardless of whether it's behind a numpad on my right hand or a full numbers row on the home row, both using a function key. It's just confusing and my head refuses to switch. I've tried very hard, believe me. I just really, really need a numbers row in order to keep thing as non confusing for me as possible.

Backspace/Enter locations

As I said in the first section, I have no clever location for enter... or backspace, really. It just confuses me a lot and I result in a lot of typos because of it. I look for the backspace key, turns out I hit shift by accident, or when pressing space, it actually turned out to be enter. Granted, this may very well be my own fault because I've messed with my own layout a lot, but having those things on the thumbs just seemed the most logical and efficient. My brain however refuses to work that way.

Random input drops

This is the big one. I've had inputs drop during speedruns of mine at complete random and I cannot figure out why. I reflashed my keyboard, I've used different configuration parameters to try and mitigate it somehow but it'd just keep coming back at some point, which is very annoying. I have no idea where this issue is from and whether it's the firmware or some sort of hardware defect, but I'm too tired to try and experiment further with it. In fact, during a speedrun session of mine, when the input drops were happening, I ended up just switching back to my Filco because it didn't have these issues. I will not blame the PCB or the manufacturing or whatever here, because I cannot pinpoint where the issue is coming from. This may very well be a case of PEBCAK, for what it's worth.

Anyways, those are the bad points about the Kyria. Mind you, I do enjoy the columnar stagger itself quite a bit, even if it took a bit to get used to, and the idea of thumb clusters letting you do more with your thumb is pretty dang nice. However, overall I think this keyboard just isn't for me. It's in no way representative of the quality of the product, it's just how I personally feel about it. So now, what are my plans for future keyboards?

Well, there are a few. Using the Kyria has made me realize that I really don't like using heavy linear switches (I have Gateron Black Ink switches in mine), or linears overall for that matter. I may try using a light tactile switch again, like 62g Boba U4/U4T. Sound is cool and all but doesn't matter much, I wear headphones anyways. Even then, I have keebwerk Tacit switches inside my Filco, so I'm pretty used to that kinda switch, and I really like it. As for what form factor, I was thinking of getting the YMDK Wings (or any other Arisu-Layout keyboard that I can find), a split 75% or a planck-like ortholinear keyboard with 75 keys on it, so it's technically split by 3 keys in the middle, has dedicated arrow keys and a bunch of hotkeys in the middle, and a number row that I really need. I am not sure what I will pick next however, so we shall see.

But bottom line is, the Kyria is a cool idea and I liked it at first, but now I'm just kinda "meh" about it and kinda wish I got something else. At least I tried it for myself to realize that hyper-efficient small keyboards are not for me.

// UPDATE: 2021-07-09

So, I've been thinking a bit about my Kyria a bit more and why I really, truly dislike it. I'm gonna try and write the points down that truly bother me, two of which are, well, my own doing. Here's a quick rundown:

I used the wrong switches

Yeah, this one is entirely on me, I'm willing to admit. I was gonna spring swap the Gateron Black Inks that are inside my Kyria, but they would've caused immense pinging and extra scratchiness (despite being lubed and everything), so I went with stock springs. In hindsight, I regret that. Next time I'll either have Tactiles that are light or medium, or very light linears - in fact, I was thinking of trying out gChoc switches (20g spring weight) or those Pro Red choc switches (35g spring weight, I think?), they're low profile and with some modding, they can be incredibly quiet. I dunno, sounds like a win to me, I guess. But yes, no more heavy linears. My fingers hurt after a while, even if they're pretty clacky and sound nice and all. I'm still figuring out my preferences.

I do still need a numbers row

I've tried very hard to get used to having the numbers on a numpad layer or a layer row, I can't do it. I gotta see where exactly the numbers are on the keyboard, or else my brain just stops working. Next time, I'll get a board like the Lily58 that lets me use a dedicated numbers row. This is my biggest detractor of using the keyboard, honestly. I don't need numbers often, but when I do, it does get quite frustrating when I have to actively think about what button to press for 3 seconds, just to get the correct number. I imagine that if I brute forced number and symbol typing, at some point, it'd stick in my head, but I'm not sure if I really want to do that. Unless I get extremely bored, in which case, I just do other things instead. I might give it a proper go though.

I asked the keyboard to poll too much

Yeah, turns out the Kyria can't really deal well with a 1000hz polling rate with 4 scans at the same time. I thought it could, I was wrong. I now dropped it down to 500Hz (because really, that's all I need from it, even from a speedrunning perspective) and it now scans one key per poll instead of 4. Suddenly no more issues.

Cable orientation is a thing too though. I noticed that if the TRRS cable touches the microcontrollers, it'll short out, causing input dropouts. I only have a low profile case, so I can't really just have the cable run upwards, I'll let it loop around towards myself so the cable stays away from the microcontrollers as far as it can. Thinking about it, the TRRS jack could be at a better location, but alas. I make do with the cable.

Sometimes, the thumb cluster switches don't actuate

This is partially because I reused the Inks that were in my Filco before... which sustained a bit of heavy abuse from playing rhythm games. I didn't punch my keyboard or anything, but I had very heavy keytaps. This might've contributed to the switches not working 100% anymore. However, the other reason is because I have the keycaps on backwards, so the way the keycap curves is more comfortable for the thumbs (so I don't just hit the edge of the keycap, I actually hit the top face of it like you're supposed to). This may change when I get choc switches for a keyboard, as those usually have a very low but also flat keycap profile - I think even with the low profile case, the Kyria is a little bit too high profile to work comfortably with thumb keys. At least that's how I personally feel.

A word on layouts (Backspace, Enter, Space)

I found a configuration which works for me now, so this isn't really a big issue anymore. It's still confusing sometimes, but I will say this - using my left thumb for backspace is incredibly comfortable. I do have backspace in the top right on the right half of my Kyria, but I noticed that I don't really use it, because I'd rather have my fingers on the home row. It's just faster. Now, this might sound interesting, because I noted my struggle with numbers earlier, but with those, that's 10-12 additional keys I have to learn, and my brain just... doesn't do that, even if I try very hard. It's weird. Either way, I found a nice layout that works for me when I want to type. Sometimes I still wish I had a space bar on the left side too, so if I get another Kyria (which will potentially be the case, unless I genuinely cannot learn where the numbers are on my layout), I'll probably configure it that way. I have a few good ideas for layouts when all 50 keys are actually 1U keys. That's another thing: I have two 2U keys, one on each half. While they're nice and everything, I feel like I could make better use of two 2U keys instead.

But yeah, that's that. My true issues now just boil down to having heavy switches on it and not being able to get used to the numbers row. Other than that, I can use the keyboard relatively comfortably. I still need to get used to my arrow keys sometimes, but other than that, I can type more than fine.

I've also converted my current layout a bit so it works with the system keyboard set to QWERTZ but it still outputs colemak letters. It's... weird, I'm not gonna lie. But also, it works surprisingly well. I like it.

But yes, that's that update out of the way. Maybe I'll write a third update when I feel like it and did some improvements in regards to numbers, if that ever happens?

// sinefuse