Of course, it wasn’t that easy. I was studying for an exam. That exam involved a tremendous amount of writing. Any fooling around with muscle memory and keyboard layouts spelled doom for my exam.
So I held off until June 2021 to give the ZSA Planck EZ an honest try.
And an honest try I’ve had.
It’s been a full three months since the Planck arrived. I’ve already published a range of first impression thoughts over on The Sweet Setup. Please start there if you haven't already.
I have some additional thoughts after a few more months of use.
Since that first impressions piece, I’ve made three major layout changes which have added extra functionality to my Planck:
- I’ve added a Tap Dance feature to the left Shift key. I now hold the key to shift (like normal), but I tap it very quickly to engage Caps Lock. It seems nobody else uses Caps Lock, but I use it all the time when filling out tax forms.
- The “?/“ key has become a multi-use key. Holding the key inserts a “/“. Holding the Shift key and holding the key inserts a “?”. And tapping the key initiates the up arrow key. In short, this Tap Dance implementation has enabled an inverted-T layout. This key is now the blank keycap ZSA provides in the box.
- I put the “Escape” key in the top left corner and put the “Tab” key below the “Escape” key. Turns out I naturally felt for the top left key before CMD + Tabbing through my apps.
By creating an inverted-T arrow key layout, I freed up a key to the right of the Raise key in the Planck’s bottom row. (Can you believe I was able to scale back a 40% board even further?!) I’ve used the extra “Fn” key here, which initiates yet another layer on my Planck. This layer is dedicated to Sage 50, a bookkeeping and accounting program which we use heavily in the office.
So, a few thoughts on the above changes:
- Generally, the tap/hold implementation of these Tap Dance keys works well. But when I get going — and I can really get going on this keyboard after a few months of practice — the hold timing is actually too long. I’ll initiate Caps Lock when I mean to hold for the Shift key, and I’ll often send an iMessage with no question mark at the end because I was too quick in holding down the key.
- I will never get used to a one-row arrow key layout. This inverted-T layout is far superior, even if there is an ever-so-slight pause each time I tap the key as the Planck ensures I am tapping rather than holding the key.
- The extra Fn key is nice and unlocks a few extra layers if I need. However, I initiate it quite often without wanting to.
- Having a dedicated Sage 50 layer is fantastic. I have specific keys that initiate a post and a print (rather than having to hold down the Alt key), and I’ve built specific workflows all into a single keypress. My favourite is a macro that works through an Alt keyboard shortcut sequence in our office’s PDF editor and automatically adds our company’s letterhead to a PDF. One keypress that takes the place of six or more mouse clicks. Amazing.
Obviously, with time comes comfort. Raising to hit F-keys has become natural now and I find I can move through our ProFile tax software as fast as I can on a regular QWERTY keyboard. Lowering to insert punctuation is a breeze after memorizing where each key is located. I also now hit the bottom left key on regular keyboards before typing numbers — on the Planck, the QMK key in the bottom initiates my 10-key number pad layout.
There are two facets to the Planck EZ’s comfort level I want to touch on. First, the amount of finger movement for standard typing. Second, mechanical keys.
Finger travel — There really, truly, definitely is a difference in finger travel when typing on an ortholinear keyboard like the Planck. You’ll pick up on this the moment you try an ortholinear for the first time — the “Y” key is much closer to the “J” key and the “B” key is much closer to the “F” key. These two keys alone cut down significantly on finger travel.
If you consider the need to raise and lower to reach your number row and the F-key row, you cut down even further on finger travel. Typing the number “3” is as easy as shifting to type an uppercase “E”. On a regular five or six row keyboard, most people have to either look down or have to shift their entire hand up and away from the home row to type a “3”.
At first, I thought this was mostly a gimmick. But it makes a genuine difference. My hands and fingers stay in one spot longer. There’s less up and shifting of my wrists. And there’s less time searching for those little nubs on the “F” and “J” keys to ensure I’ve returned to the home row.
This discussion completely disregards the implementation of a 10-key number pad layer. Gone are the days where I have to shift my entire shoulder to the right to type out a number sequence in Excel. Now, a simple tap of the Super key and my right hand can do all the number typing required, all without moving from the home row.
Second, mechanical keys — It took a little while to break-in these Kailh Thick Gold clicky keys. They’re even more springy and spongy now, and even more fun to type on. I’m concerned they won’t stay like this forever — I’m sure a million actuations on any spring is bound to wear the spring out eventually. I also find, when I really get going, the keys feel just a tad lighter to click than I’d like.
When I’m waking up in the morning, the click is perfectly satisfying. When I’m warm and in a groove, the keys tend to bottom out just a little bit on the downstroke.
I’m almost certainly going to buy a Moonlander at some point in the near future. The hardest question to answer will be whether to stick with these same Kailh Thick Gold switches or go with the heavier Gold set.
Some Small Complaints
I don’t have many complaints about this diminutive keyboard. But I do have a few.
- I wish there was an automatic sleep mode of some sort built into the QMK software. I’ve used the keyboard exclusively at the office the last three months and will leave quickly at the end of the day. When I return in the morning, the keyboard is brightly glowing and capable of keeping a sleepy baby up at night. I’d like to see an inactivity setting baked in somewhere which turns the Planck’s backlights off after 30 minutes of inactivity. (If you accidentally plug into a laptop which isn’t plugged in, yes, the Planck will kill that laptop battery.)
- The Planck EZ has just a little thicker chassis than I’d like, specifically for longer typing sessions. For typing out quick messages and emails, I can hold my wrists in the air easily enough. But for longer sessions (like this one), I find I need to rest and take a break every 15 seconds or so. An ever so slightly thinner chassis would improve this, as would a wrist rest. (Any recommendations?)
- Uniform key sizes means there is quite literally no way to differentiate between keys based on feel (other than the “F” and “J” keys). For most keys, this isn’t important. But I’d like to be able to feel for the CMD key or the Return key, especially when filling out tax schedules or working in Excel. Copying and pasting values, formulas, and formats in Excel is an exercise in patience when using three uniformly-sized keys. I have cut when I meant to copy and pasted when I meant to bold far, far too often. (This is especially bad when working in Parallels on a Mac, where standard Mac keyboard shortcuts are replicated inside Windows, but where the Windows shortcuts also work.)
Update: A very important individual from ZSA Technology Labs reached out shortly after publishing this piece to point out that you can, indeed, set an inactivity slider in the Planck's online configuration tool. It's in the Advanced Settings section > RGB section — "Disable RGB when suspended". You can also "Disable RGB after inactivity" in case the "when suspended" setting doesn't work with your setup.
And there you have it. One of three complaints solved.
I’ve Walked the Planck
The fact I’ve brought the Planck home and switched back to the Microsoft Surface Ergonomic at the office shouldn’t alarm anyone. I absolutely adore this Planck EZ 40% keyboard.
It’s my favourite keyboard so far. It’s almost, genuinely perfect.
I’ve moved back to the Surface Ergonomic simply due to accessibility for my co-workers in the office. It’s rare where someone else would need to type something on my computer. But when they do, you should see the look on their faces when they peer down at my 40% keyboard. It’s sheer terror. (And I secretly love it.)
I’m also somewhat tired of getting comments from clients about the keyboard. The larger Surface Ergonomic, oddly, attracts way less attention.
But I am undoubtedly enamoured with this Planck EZ keyboard. The mechanical switches are sublime. The comfort and ergonomic improvements in finger travel are truly welcome. The shortened distance from keyboard to mouse and back again is surprisingly noteworthy. And it photographs so, so well.
Were I to go down the path of the ZSA Moonlander, I don’t know if I’d care for the extra keys spread across the board. I’ve grown used to the limited layouts and I quite like them overall. I’d simply like to separate my shoulders to improve posture and ergonomics.
Perhaps I’d find great efficiency in getting used to having more keys in a Planck-like keyboard. Who knows. I’ll have to try it soon.
In the meantime, this Planck EZ has been the best technology investment I’ve made in the last 6 months. (I’ve had the Peloton for 8 months, so take that for what it’s worth.)
Switching to the board was easier than expected and I recommend others give it a try. I bet you’ll be as surprised with the Planck EZ as I have been.