Ergohaven K:02 review
The K:02 is a prebuilt split keyboard designed and sold by Ergohaven. Wired, 58 keys, hotswap with OLED displays.
Published March 10, 2023
The K:02 is the current flagship model of Ergohaven. After their Velvet and Remnant (two boards with keywell), the K:02 is a split with flat plates. Actually, it seems like the flattened variant of the Remnant.
The name simply indicates it's the second prebuilt keyboard offered by Ergohaven:
We came up with a bunch of cool names for the keyboard, but at the end we weren't able to agree upon any. So I decided to just name the keyboard K:02, which literally means Keyboard 2, our second keyboard release (Velvet doesn't count since it's a DIY kit and not full release from us) and the K:02 is just a fancy spelling of it :) – Evgeny.
Yep, this is a prebuilt split keyboard, working out of the box. When designing it, Ergohaven had two types of users in mind:
- Obviously, newcomers to the ergo space who wanted to try a split keyboard for the first time.
- Secondly, people who used keyboards similar to the Lily58/Sofle but wanted more advanced features available from QMK firmware, thanks to the more powerful controller.
We made it possible to include almost every advanced feature that is available in QMK. And with the support of Vial graphical interface it is easy to customize the keyboard to your liking without knowing anything about programming – Evgeny.
- 58 keys, MX, hotswap
- Pi Pico
- TRRS cable between the halves (will be USB-C in V2)
- OLED displays
- Per-key RGB
- Magnetic tenting feet
TLDR; The K:02 by Ergohaven is a decent prebuilt split keyboard, ready to rock right out of the box. It's affordable, hotswap, comes in a 3D printed case with magnetic tenting feet, and it won't disappoint you even if you're into OLED displays and RGB.
Two things before we start with this review:
- Ergohaven's Evgeny offered me this keyboard for free. (I paid VAT/customs/custom handling fee.)
- Yeah, this comes from Russia. Before buying, consider if that's in accordance with your world view. (If this helps, I had an interview with Evgeny last year.)
Obviously, my experience may not represent a normal purchase, but I guess it has to be pretty close to it.
The small package, which took 15 days to arrive, concealed the split keyboard itself with keyswitches mounted (no keycaps), two cables (more on this later), magnetic tenting feet and an Ergohaven logo (not a sticker). Plus the inflated bubble thing preventing these parts from moving around during travel.
No keycap/switch puller, which is totally fine if you already sit on a heap of these tools. However, it would come in handy for somebody new to the mechanical keyboard hobby. (I was told it will be included once they find a proper supplier.)
I'd like to highlight the small box the K:02 comes in. It's barely larger than the footprint of a single keyboard half (17x15x7cm), and it's perfect for transport. (Because of the flat TRRS cable you can pack up your rig without even disconnecting the halves.)
Design, build quality
You get a good old split with slight columnar stagger. It's a decent, proven split keyboard design, nothing revolutionary or experimental.
Build quality: Although I'm not into 3D printing, so I can't judge the quality of the print, it looks fine for my untrained eyes. Black PLA, chamfered edges with minor imperfections in some concave corners – that's part of the game I guess. You can see the printing lines, but the case (top and bottom part) snaps well together, no creaking.
You can only see these small imperfections on close inspection, they didn't bother me at all.
The left half rocked a little, at least on hard surfaces. You could probably adjust the bumpons, but I simply ignored it. And a deskmat solves the rocking as well. Or the tenting feet.
One thing I was expecting is a too light plastic case which I would accidentally toss around on my desk. That's not the case at all, the K:02 sits very stable and doesn't move around unless you want to.
The tiny OLED displays sit quite deep and somewhat funnily in the center of the relatively vast flat area of the top housing – with plenty of bevel around them.
Physical layout, form factor
6x4 halves – so full number row --, plus 5 "thumb keys"(?). Well, three thumb keys + 2 keys in the bottom row I'd say. I wouldn't call these inner two ones "thumb keys" since you had to curl your thumb very unnaturally to reach them. They are probably meant to be used with your middle and ring fingers, but they are quite far away from the home row. I tried to ignore them.
58 is much more keys than I'm used to, but more keys can't hurt, right? Or can they? While the number row came in handy for some functions I usually hide on a layer, I found that the extra two keys of the "thumb cluster" are often in the way, and they may cause misfires and typos. At least for me.
After four years spent on my own layout, I'm quite picky when it comes to the pinky stagger.
The K:02 comes with a very conservative columnar staggering, which falls short of my preference which some of you may call an extreme pinky stagger (No, it's the proper way of doing it! :D). The funny thing is, the K:02's offset of the pinky column is exactly 1U less than I'd prefer, so I could program and use it that way: with my logical layout shifted by one row on the pinky part.
The K:02 works right out of the box, at least if you type in English. This was a pleasant experience after many handwired boards and kits. No need to solder and flash anything. ;)
It's VIAL compatible, so it's quite easy and self-explanatory to adapt the layout to your needs.
[…]the RPi Pico controllers grant users the ability to flash the keyboard without any additional software, just by dragging and dropping uf2 files to the internal storage. So basically all our users can download the newest pre-compiled firmware from us and update their keyboard to get the latest features from QMK firmware – Ergohaven.
I tried this for the sake of the test, reflashing both halves, and it works flawlessly. It seems the uf2 package is regularly updated with new features and fixes here.
There are some presets for various languages, but I'd recommend to play with your own layout. (Beware of another rabbit hole though! I warned you.)
It took me some time to reproduce my pretty elaborated layout, probably hours, but that has nothing to do with this particular keyboard, rather than the fact I type in various languages which are hardly compatible with each other. Not to mention the symbol layer when changing languages…
Since the K:02 has 58 keys, all 1U caps, it may be pretty challenging to populate the board with sculpted ortho sets like e.g. my MT3 sets from Drop, but also the OEM set I used for the majority of the test (two-part "OEM" Morse with Cyrillic sublegends I received from Keytok). At least with proper caps in the outer columns and the 10 "thumb keys". (Again, it all depends on if you consider these thumb keys at all.)
Ergohaven recommends blank uniform caps. An obvious choice for touch typers, but if you – like me – are not too enthusiastic about uniform XDA/DSA on a flat plate (blank is fine though), then you may need a full 100% keycap set for this layout. And you may still struggle to come up with a proper combination for the bottom/thumb rows.
Let me not pretend I'm a switch pundit routinely recognizing recolors in blind tests by their sheer sound, of course with 100% accuracy. ;)
If you are a switch collector/hoarder, you can get the K:02 as a barebone kit. For others there are some basic switches on offer (Gateron Brown Pro 2, Black or Yellow Pro 2). I got the Gateron Yellow Pros which are OK. I daily drive Momoka Frogs (54cN) but the Gat Yellows (50cN) somehow felt a bit heavy for me (maybe because of the different caps?), and maybe more wobble than usual.
No panic though. Since the K:02 is hotswappable, I could easily test my Frogs, some clicky switches laying around, and also the linear Kailh This is Plastic which came with the Mojo 84.
For the switch replacement, I would have preferred to disassemble the board to be able to support the hotswap sockets, preventing lifting the traces. The two-part housing of the K:02 is simply snapped together, very tightly, there are no screws at all, but with a little work (take care of your nails...) you can take them apart. However, it seems this is not recommended, and the K:02 was apparently not meant to be disassembled by the user.
Anyway, after opening up the housing there were some pointy and precariously looking cold-solder joins on the backside (maybe I was too cautious after my Philips PM 4422 disassembly) so I ended up not supporting the sockets. Anyway, I had no problem with replacing the switches.
The fixed angle magnetic tenting feet (about 15°) snap firmly into their place. My first impression was how fundamentally they alter the overall sound – in a positive way.
I use monoblock splits most of the time and I've never felt that the lack of tenting would cause me any discomfort. Regardless, I tried the K:02 with tenting for you: it's very stable, doesn't rock, flip or tip over.
The magnetic feet work well, you can mount them in a fraction of a second. It's a great solution if the fixed tenting angle fits your needs.
Tenting takes some getting used to, especially repositioning your right hand and finding the home keys after a keyboard-mouse change. But after adjusting the arm supports of my chair, typing this way was very natural. Still, I think I can live without tenting. I'm still changing between tented and flat modes to observe myself while typing. Anyway, it's good to know there are tenting legs if you'd need them, e.g. when having problems with forearm pronation.
Per-key LEDs, if you are into them. I had to remind myself to put back the RGB functions for the sake of this test after I've overwritten them in VIAL with more useful stuff.
Do I need elaborate on this? The LEDs work like you'd expect, with lots of preset modes.
In general, I'm not entirely sure what the real purpose of displays on keyboards would be.
These particular OLED displays on the K:02 are so tiny that I can barely read the text on them – when I'm looking at them from the natural angle and distance while sitting at my desk. But even if they would be larger, I wouldn't stare at my keyboard while typing, and I don't need any feedback on which layer I am on.
If you do, then good for you: there are displays on both halves. On the left (or master) one you can see the mode (Win/Mac), active layer and state of Caps Lock. On the right (slave) one bongo cat types in a rather weird vertical position, and your real-time WPM is indicated as well.
(Plugging the USB-C cable into the particular half makes it automatically the master.)
The displays go to sleep after 60 secs of inactivity.
As you'd expect from a 3D printed case, the sound is quite hollow – until you use the tenting feet. Using the feet make the sound more pleasant, however, I couldn't describe how exactly.
[Sound test coming soon...]
Yep, version two is already around the corner with an updated PCB, e.g. type-C connectors between the halves (instead of the TRRS of V1), and also white case.
I took the K:02 to my office and have been using it for almost a week now. This very article has been written entirely on it, just like numerous emails and a lot of code.
Just like any new keyboard and layout, the K:02 requires some time of getting used to, but if you're looking for a prebuilt split which is easy to set up, I can really recommend it.
What I love about the K:02:
- Works out of the box.
- Easy to set up and to adapt the layout to your needs (VIAL).
- Can be packed up and carried around in its original box...
- ...thanks, among other things, to the flat cable with L-connectors.
- Hotswap: easily replaceable switches.
What I didn't like:
- That pesky 4th thumb key was in the way all the time, at least in the first few days of usage. Even if I set it to transparent without any function, it is disturbing when hit accidentally.
- Too conservative pinky stagger for my taste.
- Manual soldering – may be inconsistent.
Where to buy?It's available from $150 at ergohaven:
- ergohaven.xyz with the K:02 splash page
- K:02 product page
- Ergohaven has now a Canadian reseller and they are looking for partners around the world.
Published on Fri 10th Mar 2023. Featured in KBD #115.