first hand review of Dactyl Manuform

. Well, now to me – Dactyl Manuform, an even more unusual keyboard than those that were reviewed in our blog earlier. Overview and features (and there are just a huge number of them) – under the cut.

What is this keyboard and why did I start working with it

Let’s start from afar. Caviaturs appeared several decades ago, but there have been no cardinal transformations in them since then. In general, all that we have now is a keyboard from IBM that has changed slightly to suit modern trends. Someone releases backlit keyboards, someone with fashionable optical switches. But this is still the same keyboard, which correlates very weakly with human physiology (well, or anatomy).

When you type, your hands are in an uncomfortable position. You get used to it over time, but still, most of the keyboards available on the market have little in common with the physiological characteristics of the human hands and wrists.

There are exceptions – ergonomic keyboards, which appeared a long time ago. Their developers have tried to do a lot to improve the quality of user interaction with the device. So, some make comfortable pads for the wrists, have buttons in an unusual way, add functional elements like a scroll wheel.

The most unusual of ergonomic keyboards I came across a couple of years ago. This is Microsoft Sculpt (I’m not the only one who tried it out of my colleagues). It differs from others in that it is almost a split keyboard. More precisely, this is a half-split keyboard. It was difficult to adapt to it, I got used to it for a couple of months. And after I adapted, I found that I was typing on a regular laptop keyboard with difficulty – I had to restore the experience gained earlier.

The typing speed has increased, the hands have become much less tired. Then I read a review of Lily58 Pro and tried to work with it a little – I really liked it outwardly.

Already on our blog

review was published

, where it was said that during the operation of Lily58 Pro, a colleague had problems. He reflashed it, after which the backlight disappeared, the screens and a couple of other elements stopped working. Then he accidentally saw almost the same keyboard on eBay and, not hoping for anything, turned to the seller for help. And the seller, which surprised me, helped almost immediately. He advised me to turn to his GitHub, where there was both a firmware and a link to an application that allows you to change the assignment of buttons, backlight, add macros, etc. on the fly.

During the conversation, it turned out that the eBay seller from Russia has been manufacturing custom keyboards for a long time. And he offered to try another keyboard, promising a completely new experience from its use. As a tribute I will provide a link to the seller. I have already received this keyboard, which I am very pleased with.

There is another kind

The custom keyboard model that came to me is called Dactyl Manuform, it became my experimental keyboard.

Keyboard assembly and some features

She came to me already assembled, so once again I lost the opportunity to painstakingly collect everything myself. By the way, it came from Russia to Spain in about two weeks, quickly and without problems. Having unpacked it, I saw that inside the package there was only an assembled case and switches, without keycaps.

I had to order them on AliExpress, I chose the simplest ones for the MX profile. The purchase cost 14 euros, the keycaps were delivered in about 10 days. Yes, there are several keyboard options – with 62 and 50 keys. I chose 62 for more options. I was not sure that I would immediately and unconditionally get used to multi-level (I will also tell you a little lower).

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A parcel came from Aliexpress just the other day. I began to assemble the keyboard and realized that for some keys there are no normal keycaps. For obvious reasons, a long Enter or an even longer space was in no way suitable for a bulky keyboard case. Fortunately, I have a 3D printer, so I printed some keycaps. I placed them and suitable keycaps from AliExpress on the keyboard and began to get used to it.

The peculiarity of Dactyl Manuform is that it can also be customized – the assignment and layout of the keys. But not with the help of the Via application, as in the case of the Lily 58 Pro, but with the help of a similar Vial application. As it turned out, it simultaneously recognizes both one and the second keyboard, so there were no problems. The configuration also changes on the fly: the microcontrollers that serve as the basis of the keyboard do not need to be rebooted.

Here is a screenshot of my current layout, which I will continue to expand and supplement. So far, there are even two “empty” buttons, that is, I haven’t attached anything to them yet. In the process of work, I think about what to add where, the purpose of which buttons to expand, and which ones to change. By the way, the keyboard is multi-level. If you click on certain buttons, then a new level of values ​​“opens”. The easiest way to explain this is with the screenshots that I posted below.

Specifications, first impressions, usability

The keyboard case certainly makes an impression on the first try. It is heavy and unusual. The microcontroller and keyboard board are located inside. The switches are very durable, and do not fall out when taking out the keycap, as happens with Lily58. The inside is protected by organic glass. The keyboard has a backlight, by default the RGB backlight changes gradually, but you can choose another mode – everything is done using simple key combinations.

Socket controllers can be easily removed and replaced without soldering if necessary. The connector for connecting to the keyboard is USB-C, with a securely soldered connector. True, in any case, I use a cable with a connector that is attached with a magnet. The connector is quite simply and effortlessly disconnected from the main platform on the cable and is constantly inside the connector. The cable, by the way, has its own backlight, so it all looks futuristic.

As you can see in the photo, inside there is a recess that corresponds to the structure of the human hand. When typing, if, of course, you own a ten-finger typing blindly, the brushes hardly move, but the fingers work. You don’t need to go far, everything is at your fingertips.

But it was all good to read in the description. But personal experience began with fear – well, how can you get used to THIS? Fear turned out to be in vain – after a couple of hours of communication with the keyboard, the fingers more or less got used to it. A day later, I was already typing quite freely, and more confidently every hour. I was surprised, but came to the conclusion that the most difficult thing is to get used to the split keyboard in general. But if you mastered one, then the rest is not a problem. Of course, if the others are not


. The typing speed is still slightly lower than on the previous keyboard (it’s the fourth day of use). But I think that in a few days it will equal and then exceed the previous figures.

The advantage of Dactyl Manuform is that the fingers gradually begin to get used to the unusual volumetric configuration. Then, having touched the button, it is already difficult to make a mistake. If it is not the same, it is felt, and the finger immediately withdraws. That’s right, I’m talking about a reflex reaction, without thinking about actions and thinking about the location of the buttons.

A few tips for those who are on fire with the idea of ​​​​acquiring such a keyboard

  • Don’t buy a keyboard if you don’t know how to touch ten-finger typing. Otherwise, you can just go crazy – nothing will turn out. Many owners of such keyboards, by the way, buy keycaps without alphanumeric designations – pure white, black, and what else.
  • Do not buy a keyboard if it will be your only one and you need portability. You will not carry such a system with you at the conference. In addition, it should be located exclusively on the table – you can’t place it on your knees.
  • If you are afraid of controllers, firmware, etc., you should not buy either. Something suddenly fails – it will be hard.
  • If you do not program for hours or you are not an editor, a copywriter, such a keyboard is also not needed. It will make your existence easier only if you and the keyboard are almost a single entity (if you know what I mean).

As you can see, there are quite a few conditions here. But if you meet the criteria, then I strongly advise you to try working with Dactyl Manuform. This is something new, the sensations are not at all the same as from working with a conventional keyboard. In addition, such a thing is the envy of geek friends or just those who like all sorts of cool things. It looks absolutely futuristic: with backlight, LED magnetic cable and prominent keys.

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