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Keyboard Builders' Digest / Review

Standard Keys TWS review

Keebmonkey sent me a TWS, a fully wireless split by Standard Keys with some nice features and twists. I've been using it for a week now and here is a quick review of this cool board – to be released in a couple of days.

KBD.news
Published April 21, 2023
Creators! Feel free to tip me off about your keyboard related projects to bring them to 120K readers.

The TWS (True Wireless Split) – or Split54 as it is displayed on the OLED screen – was designed by Standard Keys. As of my understanding, the kind folks at Keebmonkey are both investors and global distributors in this project, and that's why they offered me a sample of this board.

Asking about the target audience, Keebmonkey pointed out – surprise! :) – wireless ergo lovers:

Ergo keyboard lovers that are looking for an ergo split keyboard without the cord that connects the two parts. Our product is a much more finished product compared to other versions of wireless split keyboards, and we are one of the first to use 2.4G on a wireless split keyboard – Keebmonkey.

While the release/GB date is imminent (before May 1), my sample may be a prototype so I'm not entirely sure if the content of the box or the product itself is the final version. As far as I know, the firmware has been updated in the meantime, so take everything I write with a grain of salt.

Contents

Basic box which is totally fine. When it's about a fancy box with higher price vs basic packaging for less money, I’d always vote for the cheaper option.

Pic: I forgot to take some shots before putting switches in…

I forgot to take some shots before putting switches in…

I received an assembled barebone keyboard, had to put switches in (hotswap) and caps on, and it was ready to rock.

Accessories: USB dongle, self-adhesive bumpons, spare screws, a small screwdriver, two USB-A to USB-C cables.

Indeed, despite being a fully wireless board with no cable between the halves or the host and master side, my TWS came with not one but two USB cables: to be able to charge both halves simultaneously. That's nice. As you'll see, the cables are for charging only, updating your keymap works wirelessly.

Pic: Accessories in the box

Accessories in the box

First impressions & Build quality

Milled and frosted acrylic case? Cool. I like it. It gives the impression of a quality product. I like its mass, the look and feel. A single thing to note: it looks prone to scratches. Maybe it's not, but there was a visible scratch already out of the box. Again, this is a sample, not the final product, so this may be a special case.

Pic:

I'm not sure what happened here and what this scuffing and inconsistencies are, but it's on the back side so I don't really care:

Pic:

Nice black countersunk screws. Really tiny ones. I'm glad a screwdriver was included in the box, because I'm not sure I had such a tiny one at home. And you may need it right away because the batteries came unplugged inside of the case, and to access the connector on the PCB you have to remove four screws first.

Pic:

Also, the black case showcases every single dust particle landing on it, well, just like any other black case. If this bothers you, choose the similarly cool white version.

Layout

You get a pretty standard 6x4 split layout with 3-key thumb clusters. 54 keys in total. This means the TWS comes with a full physical number row.

The layout is similar to the Lily58, Sofle or the Ergohaven K:02 I reviewed earlier, just without the extra thumb keys.

Pic: TWS (left) vs K:02=Sofle? (right) layout

TWS (left) vs K:02=Sofle? (right) layout

As always, I personally would love a more aggressive pinky stagger, but that's just me, and I know this design was intended for a more general audience, maybe even first-time split users who would look horrified seeing what I consider the perfect pinky stagger. ;) By the way, the outer pinky column is offset by an additional 0.4U or so, which makes its relative position equal to that of Sofle/K:02.

Thumb cluster

Compared to many popular split keyboards, the thumb keys are slightly rearranged on the TWS. This is probably my only small concern with this board.

Pic:

For my taste, there's a bit too much room between the keys, thus you have to use larger than 1U keys to bridge the gaps and can't really slide your thumb across them like I normally do on my all-1U daily driver.

The inner two keys are very slightly shifted towards your palm, while the outer thumb key seems pushed a bit up too far. You can get used to this pretty quickly, but it definitely requires a 1.5U key. Or maybe it's just my hand/thumb and it may work for you perfectly. (However, the need for larger keycaps may kill compatibility with some ortho sets.)

Keyswitch & keycap compatibility

Speaking of keycap compatibility, this is a hotswap, MX-compatible board with MX spacing, which means you have plenty of choice when it comes to both switches and keycaps. And thanks to the hotswap sockets it's easy to replace switches, without grabbing a soldering iron.

Adaptation phase

Despite the thumb key offset, I didn't have any difficulty with typing on the TWS. As the layout is pretty standard, there's practically no adaptation period if you've ever used a similar flat split keyboard. I'm writing this post on the TWS right after recreating my custom logical layout.

(If this is your first split with columnar stagger, do expect slowing down and some time needed for adaptation. The learning curve is unavoidable if you're new to keyboards of this kind.)

Slope

One of the hallmark features of the TWS is the positive typing angle (about 6 degrees) which may be common on keyboards with more standard layouts but not in the genre of flat splits.

The keyboard is tilted towards the user by a bottom piece. While it's attached by screws, thus removable in theory, it also holds the battery, so you can't set the TWS to a completely flat angle.

Pic:

The slope gives the TWS a distinct appearance, and its target audience will love this feature. However, as an ergo-freak, I couldn't help but ask right at first sight: How do I flip this thing? :D I have to disappoint seasoned ergo users who'd like to try out a negative slope with reversed bottom pieces – it won't work because the screws and the hole for the wire don't line up that way.

Anyway, I haven't experienced any discomfort due to the relative/potential increase in wrist extension. However, this may depend on your working environment in general, e.g. arm rest, desk height, etc.

Firmware

The TWS uses proprietary software to update the firmware and your keymap – wirelessly! To be frank, I'm not particularly fond of installing unknown software, and it would be a real nightmare if I had to do this for each of my boards. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised this time.

Firstly, because you don't need any cables to update your keymap, not to mention to upload files to both halves. (This may be the common Vial experience, but we are on a fully wireless split board now!)

And secondly, because of the self-explanatory interface. While it's still work in progress I guess, and there's plenty of room for improvement, it works fine already at this stage, and it's really straightforward to use. I managed to recreate my quite elaborated custom layout relatively quickly. (As always, this may be more of a challenge for non-English, non-ANSI users.)

Pic: My symbol layer in the making

My symbol layer in the making

All in all, I really enjoyed to update my keymap incrementally, step by step, without the need of a single cable, resetting the board or jumping in and out of bootloader mode. As someone typing in multiple languages, there's always some trial and error involved when setting up my keymap, and this is the use case when the on-the-fly keymap update really shines.

Of course you have less options compared to e.g. setting up a local development environment for QMK, but I was able to recreate my keymap easily, including mod functions, mod/layer tap/hold combos. I'm not sure about the customization of the encoders though, and more advanced features are probably not available at the time of writing this.

Display, encoders

I don't use these features but for those who are interested: there are OLEDs (the common tiny one) and encoders on both halves. (No underglow or per-key LEDs, which is understandable with a wireless split, and it's always the first thing I turn off and eradicate from my keymap anyway.)

Pic:

Both displays show the state of the battery of the particular half, plus num lock, caps lock and layer states on the left one, and a logo on the right one. This may change later I guess, as the default firmware has been already updated compared to the one my sample came with, e.g. with anti-interference function added.

By the way, the displays react with a noticeable delay both after waking up from the autosleep mode, but also simply e.g. when pressing Caps Lock. This doesn't bother me at all, keypresses register instantly, it's just the display. And as a touch typer I don't really look at them anyway.

By default, the displays are turned off automatically after one minute of inactivity, which is customizable in the software.

Finally, the left and right encoders are mapped to volume and vertical scroll by default, respectively. They are quite nice infinite encoders.

Security

I'm not into wireless security, but here's a general warning: if you work for FBI/CIA/etc. in a position with slightly more responsibility than a gardener or cleaner, you probably need a wired keyboard.

Pricing and availability

Although the TWS isn't available yet, its estimated price will be around $140, which is quite affordable for a wireless barebone split in a milled acrylic case I'd say.

The Standard Keys website (wip) already lists regional distributors, including Keebmonkey as the global distributor.

Verdict

If you love the classic split layout but hate cords, and you'd like a fully wireless split with physical number keys, you should definitely consider the TWS. Clean and simple but stylish design, on-the-fly wireless keymap update, practically no adaptation needed if you're familiar with similar layouts. I really enjoyed typing on it and am glad Keebmonkey offered me this sample. Thanks again!

Pros

  • Affordable, stylish, fully wireless split
  • Wireless keymap update, surprisingly usable software (despite being proprietary and seemingly still work in progress)

Cons

  • Thumb cluster outer key position (for me personally, it may work perfectly for you)
  • No physical power switch or easily accessible reset button (there is one inside the case) – these may come in handy when you lock yourself into a custom layer out of sheer stupidity. Who would do this anyway? [:raising hand:]

Specs

This data is from skkeys.com:
  • Keys: 54, MX, hotswap (JWK sockets)
  • Weight: 300g (per side)
  • Material: acrylic
  • Connection: 2.4G
  • Chip: NRF52384
  • Dongle: Yes
  • Delay: <3ms
  • Connection type: True wireless, no slave machine
  • Battery: 2000mAh
  • Screen: 0.98"
  • Encoder knobs: 2
  • Battery Life: Around 150 hrs (with screen On, 75 days of battery life if you type for 2 hours per day) – This is pretty accurate as I see, the TWS indicates a daily drop of 3% with my usage pattern, which would result in a single recharge per month.
  • Remappable: Yes, with proprietary software
  • Layers: Up to 8

Btw, nearLucid made a quite comprehensive video review from the ergo split virgin's point of view. Not that I'd agree with many of his statements, but if you prefer video format, here it is:

Resources

  • Coming soon.
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Published on Fri 21st Apr 2023. Featured in KBD #120.


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