Are Ortholinear Keyboards Better?


Do your wrists to tighten up, fingers stiffen, and body ache when typing?

There’s got to be a better way! (Read in an infomercial voice for the full effect).

If you use a boring keyboard everyday, the secret to faster typing speed and improved ergonomics is just a small fix away! Your friends and family will finally accept you!

The fast & easy switch to an ortholinear keyboard instantly guarantees perfect ergonomics, no pain whatsoever, and a whopping typing speed of 200 wpm.

For 5 small payments of $19.99, you’ll get a superior ortholinear keyboard! OK, this is getting out of control now. The intro is done now, sorry.

Back to reality, are ortholinear keyboards actually better than a standard keyboard layout?

Ortholinear keyboards are not definitively better than normal keyboards. There is no evidence that confirms ortholinear keyboards are ergonomically better, although some users might find the layout more comfortable.

Upon switching to an ortholinear keyboard, you can expect an estimated 20 wpm decrease in typing speed as you adjust to the new layout.

You know what they say, the grass is always greener on the other side.

Informercial aside, let’s take a look at the neighbors yard and see if the ortholinear layout is actually better.


Ortholinear Keyboards Are Not Always Better

While ortholinear keyboards are fun and interesting to use, the number of benefits you get from switching to this layout are quite disappointing.

For the majority of people out there, ortholinear keyboard will not be better than a standard layout.

Here’s why:

Smaller Sizes = Harder To Use

Ortholinear keyboards come in a tiny size.

Imagine your typical keyboard, but you remove everything except the letters and a few extra modifiers.

This means the numbers, function row, and everything else is gone. You can only access it on a lower layer.

While there are benefits to a smaller layout, the sheer amount of time it would take to fully adjust to such a limited number of keys is quite the time investment.

Put aside the fact that the keys themselves are aligned differently, just getting used to keys itself is quite the project.

Maybe after a few months of usage you can eventually get up to your old typing speeds, but during that time period you’ll be missing out on a productivity as you adjust.

At the end of the tunnel there is no guarantee that you’ll be any faster either.

Plus, if you need to go back to a normal keyboard, everything will feel foreign again.

They Are Not Actually Ergonomic

One of the main reasons people may switch to an ortholinear board is for improved ergonomics.

The theory is, that by aligning the keys, your fingers don’t need to travel quite as far when typing. The reduction in overall finger movement should reduce pain or the likelihood of a repetitive strain injury.

Although this may be the case, there is actually no concrete data saying that ortholinear boards are more ergonomic.

It should be taken with a grain of salt.

If ergonomics are your goal, switching to an ergonomic split keyboard is proven to improve ergonomics and reduce pain.

While some may find the ortholinear layout more comfortable, you can’t know for sure unless you try it out for yourself.

Takes A Long Time To Adjust To

One thing to consider about ortholinear keyboards is the time it takes to switch. Someone who wants to switch to an ortholinear board will need to think about how it will affect their workflow.

You will need to get used to a new layout.

The modifiers will have a different shape and may be represented with a foreign looking icon instead of the usual English description.

Switching to an ortholinear board will take weeks or months to get used to which is a deal breaker for most.

While switching you may type slower, produce more errors, and spend more time finding the next key.

You will need to reprogram your muscle memory. Even after weeks of usage, the format can still feel alien-like to them.

If you’re committed to trying out an ortholinear keyboard, you should be able to persevere for the first few months as you adjust.

Fewer Options Available

As an uncommon choice, ortholinear keyboards only really have a few options to choose from.

As a matter of fact, most ortholinear keyboards will require you to assemble them yourself. This means you’ll need to buy the parts and then buy the mechanical swtiche and keycaps separately.

After all that’s done, you’ll need to build the keyboard.

The only pre-built ortholinear keyboards out there are by Ergodox. Otherwise, you’ll need to build them yourself.

The number of features are quite limited as well. You’ll have trouble finding scroll wheels, LED screens, and more on an ortholinear keyboard.

Plus, the keycaps will need to be a specific shape to work properly.

Reasons To (Maybe) Switch To An Ortholinear Keyboard

Now that’ve outlined why ortholinear keyboards aren’t all they are cracked up to be, let’s take a look at why you might want to try one out.

A Novel Typing Experience

You can’t deny that typing on new keyboard layout can be fun.

If you’re looking to try out an ortholinear keyboard, this is the reason that would make the most sense to me.

It’s probably the fact that the keyboard looks and feels different, and can be a nice change of pace for the experimental people out there.

The standard layout, while it works, can get a little boring and mundane after a while, especially if you are a keyboard enthusiast.

Ortholinear keyboards require you to learn and adapt, not to mention the level of customizability present.

Lots Of Customizability

Ortholinear keyboards offer a level of customizability that you can’t often find on keyboards.

With the powerful software, you can remap all of the different layers and find out exactly what works best for you.

There are two common layout options: one where the spacebar is larger and the grid layout where each of the keys are the same size.

If you don’t want to use stabilizers, you can ditch those too.

Being able to adjust almost everything is a lot of power at your finger tips.

Efficiently Packed Layout

While we’ve already stressed how small the layout size is, there are some upsides to a smaller keyboard.

With a small keyboard you have improved portability, which makes it easier to pop in your backpack and take with you to your favorite coffee shop.

You can easy take it on business trips or in the next room if you want to change your working space.

With smaller size comes a lot more flexibility.

Another benefit is that you don’t have to reach quite as far for the mouse.

You can place the mouse right next to your keyboard where the number pad would have otherwise been.

This makes is more efficient to grab the mouse and put your hand back on the keyboard. Perfect for when you need to move the mouse slightly then get back to gaming/typing.

Coming in at 40% size of a normal keyboard, ortholinear keyboards use roughly 60% less switches and keycaps, so you can save money on your build.

It Ultimately Comes Down To Preference

While I can talk all day about the benefits and drawbacks of an ortholinear keyboard, it ultimately comes down to what you like.

If you enjoy experimenting with new layouts, you can give ortholinear keyboards a try. If you’re comfortable with a normal keyboard, more power to you.

It’s hard to say if ortholinear keyboards are definitely better or not as it comes down to what you are looking for.

What Exactly Is An Ortholinear Keyboard?

The literal meaning of ortholinear is “straight straight”.

While not the most elegant description, it is referring to the perfectly aligned nature of the keys. Everything is packaged into perfectly lined rows and columns.

It’s quite satisfying to look at.

Let’s break down the main differences between a normal keyboard and an ortholinear one.

Staggered (Normal) vs Ortholinear Keyboards

There are two types of styles for keyboards in the way that the columns of keycaps align. Staggered and ortholinear.

A staggered layout is the standard layout. The keys are slightly offset and align diagonally. This is purposeful so some keys can be bigger than others like backspace, enter, shift, and other modifier keys.

The ortholinear layout has key align vertically and horizontally. This achieved by making most of the keys the same size. With the except of the spacebar (sometimes).

Staggered keyboards are the norm because of how keyboards were designed in the past. As time went on, the layout stopped changing and has been the same since ideation.

Unlike normal keyboards that use a staggered layout, ortholinear keyboards have a more even look as all the keys are laid out in a grid-like fashion. Typically the keycaps that you may find with ortholinear keyboards are uniform styled. This means they have a constant height between all the rows of the keyboard.

Ortholinear keyboards are different from regular keyboards both in looks and in the way you use them.

Should You Switch To An Ortholinear Keyboard?

Trying out an ortholinear keyboard can be a fun experience but completely switching to one is typically not recommended.

Deciding to switch to an ortholinear board is purely related to your preference. If the ortholinear style appeals to you, you should go for it. If you find this layout confusing and alienlike, sticking to a normal mechanical keyboard is probably a better option..

The standard keyboard design is the standard for a reason.

It is widely adopted and people are comfortable with it. The layout works and as they say in the south, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it“.

Investing in an ortholinear board is not necessary by any stretch. Many things are a better buy and the benefits that ortholinear boards provide are not always worth it.

Conclusion

Ortholinear boards are great for many reasons but also have many limiting factors that make them not the best option for most people to daily drive. They are different from the standard staggered layout boards that we are used to as each column lines up with one another.

This style of board has a lot of functionality, supports many layouts, and there are many of super compact options with the ortholinear layout.

If you’re willing to dive down the ortholinear rabit hole, you can find freedom and functionality if you work for it.

For most people, it is not worth it to switch to an ortholinear keyboard. It may not provide what you are looking for and will take time to switch to. Even after spending time switching to this new layout you still may find that the layout is still not for you and potentially have wasted time.

Even though an ortholinear board may provide a lot of great benefits over normal style boards, that does not mean they are necessarily better. What truly matters is what suits your preference the best.

Jake Harrington

Jake has been an avid mechanical keyboard user for the past six years. He has a background in Mechanical Engineering and wants to apply his expertise to break down how mechanical keyboards and other tech work to show the world all of the cool aspects of the hobby.

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