X-Bows Keyboards: A Review

X-Bows’ Kickstarter page is live now! If you’re interested in buying one of these great keyboards, check out their Kickstarter page here

Beautiful, isn’t she?

As a full-time software developer and casual gamer, I understand the importance of a keyboard that is designed to your needs, whether your keyboard needs require comfort or having an attractive design. Personally, I choose to go for the ergonomic ones. My body screams at me when I am using a straight keyboard for a few hours. Having a job and hobby that requires you to sit in front of a computer banging on the keyboard for hours can take its toll on the health of your wrists and fingers. This is where the importance of ergonomics comes in, enabling users to type with better form and posture. The tradeoff, however, often comes at the expense of having a not-so-pretty keyboard. Many would agree that gaming keyboards are packed with attractive features such as mechanical switches and RGB lighting. These features add to the look of your keyboard but do little to aid with long-term usability. X-Bows stands out amongst competitors by combining ergonomics and design into one great keyboard.

Specifications

Keycaps: ABS+PC Two Colour Injection Molding Keycaps
Casing: Durable Plastic
Backlighting: Programmable RGB
Switch type: Gateron — Available in Blue, Brown, Red, Black
Interface: USB-C -> USB-A
Wrist Rest: Optional
Anti-ghosting: Full N-Key rollover
Weight: ~0.8 kg
Dimensions:
345mm x 137mm x 30mm
Cable Length:
150cm

First Impressions: Quality You Can Tell

My initial reaction to this keyboard was the unique design and amazing build quality. I have used many split keyboards in the past, yet I can confidently say this one stands out in terms of look and feel. For the latter, this keyboard is made to last. At first glance, I thought the casing was aluminum. I soon found out that the casing is made of some type of plastic. But I was still impressed with the quality of the materials considering the price you would pay for one of these. Finally, the premium MX-style mechanical switches is just the cherry on top when it comes to this well-built keyboard.

The out of the box experience does not end there. Every time you turn on your computer and this keyboard is plugged in, the beautiful RGB lights cascade through each key in a spiral until it reaches the center. For me, this lighting affect never gets old. It adds as a constant reminder that you’re using a unique keyboard whenever your computer boots up.

Views from under

Learning the Ropes

“There is beauty when something works and it works intuitively.” — Jonathan Ive (Chief Designer of Apple)

No matter how much of an expertise one may be at typing, there will always be that adjustment period when it comes to using a new keyboard layout. While pure WPM alone is not a good way to gauge the learning experience of a keyboard, it does provide insight for others on how a person adapts to it. I would say that it took me about 3 weeks to get to a typing pace that I was fairly happy with. My experience will differ from yours. Therefore, as always, your mileage will vary.

My improvement over the weeks

Overall, my full five-week experience of adjusting to this keyboard is fairly positive. As each week passed, I was making more use of the ergonomic features of this keyboard. The biggest improvement was in Week 1 of using this keyboard, where I was purely adjusting to the new layout.

Week 2 was where I began making full use of my pinkies to type, which felt great. I almost never use those fingers on any other keyboard. However, the neat thing about the XBows Keyboard is that it encourages the use of all your fingers. Because the placement of the keys are laid out so that your fingers are in their natural resting positions. So when I began using my pinkies, it naturally felt natural.

For Week 3, I began using the enter and backspace keys in the center of the keyboard. Breaking the habit of using enter and backspace at the right of the keyboard was probably the hardest habit to break. Nevertheless, it felt much more comfortable to use the keys in the center and contributed to an increase in WPM for me. I would highly encourage you to take advantage of these keys if you aren’t.

The improvement I made after Week 4 was getting used to the spacing of the keys. For me, this was probably the my least favorite part about learning this keyboard. Adjusting to this keyboard made me feel like I had to stretch my fingers a bit, especially when it comes to using the keys towards the center (ie. T-G-B-Y-H-N). However, it didn’t take long before my fingers got used to the spacing and my frustration was no more. Just like learning to play the guitar, you’re going to need practice stretching your fingers a little before it gets comfortable to use. So, do give your fingers a break if they start to feel a little stretched out. After all, patience pays off.

By Week 5, I was able to consistently reach 100 WPM. However, the most important thing to note here is that I was at my peak of typing quick and ergonomically. I should also note that the graph alone doesn’t do justice to how well I’ve adjusted to the keyboard. I personally feel like a better typist from using this keyboard due to how it has encouraged me to utilize all 10 fingers and be able to type in a healthy posture. Which leads me to the next section.

Ergonomics: Staying Healthy

This layout was invented over 100 years ago. Not much has changed since then… (until now)

One of the primary selling points of this keyboard is the health benefit of the unique layout. The keys are positioned where you hands, wrists, and fingers naturally want to go. Because of split-angled layout, there’s no need to pivot your wrists at an angle when typing on this keyboard. Each key column’s height is adjusted so that they align with the normal resting position of your fingers. In addition to that, some keys have different sizes which makes it easier to reach.

One thing that I had to get with the keyboard is a wrist rest, which I highly you recommend you buy regardless of whatever keyboard you have. Like many other mechanical keyboards, the keycaps are more elevated than most normal keyboards. Having the wrist rests will help elevate your hands up to a position that keeps the wrists straight while typing.

Resting hand position

Any use of the a computer will always require you to move your hands between a mouse and a keyboard. The 10-keyless form factor of this keyboard reduces amount of strain on your shoulder and wrist from having to reach for the mouse. If you’re going for something ergonomic, I highly doubt that you’d want a full-size keyboard anyways.
(Note: X-Bows will give you the option of bundling the keyboard with a wrist wrist that their team designed specifically for this keyboard)

Good for Gaming?

“Yes? No? Maybe so?”

C’mon, what is a keyboard if you cannot play some games without it. While I would recommend everyone to buy this keyboard for the ergonomic use, I found that it can be great for some, but not all, games. It works best for FPS games where most of the time you just need the W-A-S-D keys and a mouse to play (ie. Overwatch, League of Legends). A lot of gamers tend angle their keyboard when playing games so that their left hand is in a comfortable position (like me). However, the downside to doing this happens when you want to chat message with friends while gaming. Your keyboard is now in an awkward position for typing with both hands. With X-Bows, the left hand side is already angled for you, so there’s no need to adjust the position of your whole keyboard. In general, I would say most games are perfectly fine to play with for this keyboard.

However, if you are playing a game like, say, StarCraft, it is very difficult to adjust to. If you intend to use this keyboard also as a gaming keyboard, then it’s worth it to think about how your fingers would adjust to this keyboard for the type of games you play.

Would you do Coding Work with X-Bows?

“YES”

Alright, so being a software developer, I have to mention how this keyboard puts up when it comes to office/professional use. The environment for a software developer differs greatly from person to person. So, again, your mileage may very if you are also a developer interested in this keyboard. Nevertheless, I can provide some insight from sharing my experience using this during my job.

Working at a startup means things move quick. When you need to get things done fast, it can be risky to your time to adjust to a new keyboard while at work. It was actually in my workplace that I first used this keyboard. Despite the initial adjustment period, I was quite happy with how much work I put in for my first day of using this keyboard. This is mainly because using this keyboard didn’t stop me from using hotkeys and macros. While the X-Bows keyboard has a different layout for the keys, all the keys you have in a 10-keyless keyboard is still there. This means there is no need to rebind any of my hotkeys or macros that I am already used to.

Other popular ergonomic keyboards such as the Kinesis Advantage 2 and the Ergodox EZ will likely force you to remap some of your hotkeys and re-macro other keys. Having used all three keyboards, I found X-Bows to have the easiest learning curve.

Warning 1: Serious remapping required (Kinesis Advantage 2)
Warning 2: More remapping required (Ergodox EZ)

Remapping hotkeys and changing your macros is very, frustrating. But because X-Bows did not require that, I had a pleasant experience using it in the office at work. Overall, I was able to adapt this keyboard very well for my professional use (much better than I expected).

Conclusion: Is this keyboard for you?

I definitely would not say this keyboard is not for everyone, but almost everyone. If you’re not a hardcore gamer, I can’t imagine how this keyboard wouldn’t benefit you. It offers amazing ergonomics, is beautifully designed, and is definitely going to survive years of use.

Some questions to ask yourself to see if X-Bows is for you:
-
Do I care about ergonomics to protect my wrist and finger health?
- Do I like to type with mechanical switches? (Who would say no to this?)
- Do I want a keyboard that is durable, well built, and will last me years?
- Do I want my keyboard featured with RGB lighting?
- Do I want a unique keyboard that nobody else has?

To readers out there, do not hesitate to reach out to me if you want more insight on this keyboard. I will be happy to answer any questions you have!