Ultimate Hacking Keyboard vs Dygma Raise. Split decision.

Submitted by cjdmax on Mon, 03/16/2020 - 18:10

Temp version. no photo's. Nasty layout

There's a reasonably sized group of people on the internet that really love mechanical keyboards, and a small group of people looking for ergonomic keyboards. The groups overlap quite a bit, and there have been some DIY, kit and commercial offerings in the past. People with a passing interest in PC's and/or keyboards might know that almost all conventional keyboard manufacturers offer some kind of split keyboards where the two halves of the QWERTY keyboards have been split and angled slightly inwards, but are still in one piece. These keyboards often also offer a slight tent, where the middle of the keyboard (on the split) is higher than the sides, for better ergonomics. There are various commercial offerings from companies that specialize in ergonomics (Kinesis) and there's the slightly unconventional Matias Ergo pro, which does come with mechanical switches. There have been split keyboard kits like the Ergodox, with some or all assembly and soldering required as an ortholinear key layout (no overlap or bricklaying pattern between keyboard rows).

Mechanical keyboards and/or ergonomic keyboards can be an expensive hobby, and the high prices tend to make it easy to agonize and dither over which keyboard will finally be the one to buy. As I'm a bit worried about RSI in the medium term and I like mechanical key switches, I was on the lookout for a split, non-ortholinear mechanical keyboard, perhaps with LED's, and no assembly required

I noticed the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard going up on CrowdSupply, and hemmed and hawed for a bit until I finally ordered the keyboard halfway through 2018. At this point the project had been funded since early 2016, and shipped late 2018. I was very happy with the UHK, enough to perhaps order a second. I was aware of the Dygma Raise project, but only ordered mine in April 2019. The Raise was shipped in the first days of 2020. At present both suppliers seem to have stock, and can deliver promptly, though the Raise is almost sold out.

Both keyboards are designed by small companies right here in the E.U. that as far as I know were formed just to develop and deliver these keyboards. The UHK was made by the Hungarian company Ultimate Gadget Laboratories, and the Dygma Raise was made by the Spanish company Dygma Lab S.L.  It's nice to know that small companies in the E.U can conceive and deliver world-class, small-batch products, and their location cuts down on arguments and bills from our customs agents. The Raise was manufactured in the P.R.C. and the UHK was assembled in Hungary, under supervision of the designers involved.

The keyboards are very similar in the sense that they're normal "ten-keyless" keyboards broken in half. The UHK offers add-on modules and a no-nonsense understated hacker aesthetic, while the Dygma Raise offers programmable RGB LED lights, extra thumb keys and replaceable key switches. Both support Linux as a matter of course. The differences and similarities are very apparent, and people who are interested in this type of keyboard will most likely be choosing one or the other. Let's get into a terse mini-review of the keyboards, category by category, juxtaposed in this here table:

Dygma Raise Ultimate Hacking Keyboard

The Dygma Raise is built on a metal plate, with no recess for the keys. This should make it easier to remove the keyswitches themselves, and makes cleaning out dust easier. The space keys, including the low-profile space keys seem a bit loose, most likely due to missing stabilizers, though this does not bother me in the slightest while typing.

The USB-C cables from the keyboard into the Neuron "brainbox" click into place very crisply and positively, and take some non-trivial force to separate. The Neuron will lie just above the keyboard, with separate cables connecting to the two keyboard halves. This seems like more clutter, but does enable you to disconnect the right half when unneeded, freeing up space for your mouse.

You are provided with optional wrist-pads, which are nice and firm, and stick to the non-removable metal wrist rests with a seeming half-glue half-static adhesion. They won't move, but are still easily removable.

The UHK comes as a slim split keyboard, with wooden wrist rests that bolt on to the main keyboard with metal plates extending from the wrist rests. UHK supplies little rubber nipples as an anti-slip measure, but those immediately are dragged out under normal use. In the absents of these the keyboard is unstable, so you'll need to use the extra tenting clips to stabilise it. Putting these clips on but not extending them limits the amount of tilt you can get out of the keyboard with the extended clips.

The keyboard halves are joined by a standard (optionally coiled) 4P4C old school phone-style RJ jack, and the right half of the keyboard then connects via mini-USB to your PC. The connectors are nicely tucked away and protected.

The wristrests are made of wood, and fixed to a metal plate that connects to the main keyboard. Wooden wrist rests might seem like a strange, uncomfortable idea, but in practice I never noticed any discomfort. They are varnished with a weird type of gummy clearcoat, which I may have damaged when cleaning and scraped off by accident thinking it was a thick layer of crud. The good news is that some sandpaper, a sanding machine and some hard-wearing varnish is all you will need to refurbish these in the event you are as clumsy as I am.

One of the extras the UHK promised was optional keyclusters, to be snapped onto the inside of the split keyboard. They offer a keycluster+mini trackball option for the left half, and trackball, trackpoint or touchpad modules for the right. These are still being designed and manufactured, and may take some time to be delivered.

Tenting wasn't in the cards for the dygma raise, and the underside is completely flat and devoid of any mounting or screwholes for a tenting kit. This really bothered me, despite typing on normal keyboards half the day; some part of me just expected a split keyboard to be tented, and I could not get used to to using the keyboard flat. I had to spend some time bodging together hardware store bits and bobs into some sort of tenting kit. This is not ideal but the one-piece keyboard and wrist rest plates make sticking something simple under the middle of the keyboard a nonstarter; the keyboard would be unstable and wobbly. If you really need a tenting kit that works 100%, and doesn't elevate the keyboard too much off the table you're going to need custom 3d-printed wedges, or some precision woodworking skills.
 

The UHK comes with tenting clips that can be affixed to any and all corners on the bottom, in whichever configuration and alignment you like. This gives you an immense amount of customisation of tenting and tilting, even though you lose some range due to the aforementioned rubber feet problem.

This keyboard was my intro to tenting, and it's hard to go back; using a split keyboard now without tenting just feels weird, and a normal keyboard is more preferable to me than a non-tented split keyboard in a way.

I had no health reasons to go split+tenting (except perhaps to get out in front of any RSI-like injuries), and cannot speak to any benefit this might offer people who have health issues typing.

LED lights are obviously front and center in the device design; the Raise features 100% programmable key switch LED's, and and amazing 60-LED fully programmable backlight array for the keyboard backplate itself. This backplate is plastic and sits behind the metal body on the very bottom of the case, and can light up amazingly well due to some lightpipe trickery. Keyboard users using tenting might want to disable the 'inside' edge of the split keyboard halves, as it might be too bright and shine in your eyes. I've myself disabled the 'inner' and bottom LED's to make the backlight less distracting. The backplate LED's let themselves be mixed exquisitely due to the (I assume) lightpipes, and you can make some very nice color transitions and mixes.

The Neuron itself features a LED light on top, which can be distracting. Keep in mind that you can dim any LED by choosing a less bright color in the software, or indeed use black to power the LED's off.

The keycaps have a distinct purplish tinge to them perhaps due to the black dye in the doubleshot keys letting through purplish light. You can balance this out a bit by tinging your colors slightly yellow, I suppose. You can also get the white Raise, with white keycaps.

For some reason colors with low 'lightness' may turn off suddenly after changing the colors in the software. This might be a software issue, and I cannot reproduce it well. I imaging this could be an issue for people that prefer very very very subtle backlighting, think tritium watch-hand levels of lighting.

All this LED lighting seems cosmetic, but you should remember that you will need these LED's to indicate layer changes and key functionality changes. Having these LED's also offers possibilities for notification lights, though the software doesn't support anything like this yet.

The UHK goes for the understated approach compared to the Raise. It has a 3 character 14-segment screen at the top left that can be used to show which keymap is active, and not much else. You can dim the screen down real low, and there's no backlighting for the keys.

The UHK people say there is definitely a backlight upgrade kit coming in the future. They're also planning an upgraded UHK with per-key RGB lighting, replaceable keyswitches and USB-C.

The one standout feature for the UHK is the extra functions printed on the front side of the keycaps, so you can easily see the alternate functions of the keys on the FN and Mod layers (assuming you keep the default setup.

 

Dygma's Raise comes with software called Bazecor to program the keys and LED's. On Linux it's provided as a AppImage bundle. This works fine, but due to the communications protocol the Raise uses you will need to add your user to the 'dialout' system group, and restart your computer. The Raise apparently communicates on the /dev/ttyACM0 device, which is a bit non-standard. The Windows installer works fine, can't speak to the MacOSX installation method. 

Configuring keys involved choosing a layer, then clicking on keys and clicking again to select the intended function of the keys. You can configure the color of the backlighting the same way.

Switching layers can be done with 'shift to layer X keys', or with 'lock to layer'. Using the lock to layer keys involves also configuring a duplicate 'lock to layer' key on the layer you locked, to get out of the locked situation. When you're locked into a layer 'shift to layer' keys no longer work, which is an unfortunate side effect of the layering setup the Raise uses (based on https://github.com/keyboardio/Kaleidoscope). The setup here is one keymap, with multiple layers (optionally with transparent key bindings to the underlying layer). This doesn't really enable quick switching between keymaps such as on the UHK. Bazecor seems to be missing some functionality, and not all key choices seem to work.

Bazecor does seem to offer the F13 to F24 keys, which is a nice blast from the past and might be useful in a pinch. The development plans for Bazecor are public on a Trello board, and can be voted on.

I recommend immediately unsetting the CapsLock key, because it's useless. The UHK has a mouse shift key in that place, but mouse keys don't seem to work on the Raise yet.

The UHK agent is a soberly designed and solid, and comes as an AppImage. The UHK is setup to offer different keymaps, with multiple layers (Basic, Fn, Mod and Mouse) for each keymap. You can define keys to switch to different layouts. This setup is best for switching back and forth between exotic keymaps such as Dvorak, compared to the Raise

 

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My Dygma Raise came with Kailh speed bronze, which are a tactile clicky switch, but not the most clicky switch available. Compared to the Cherry browns on my UHK these seem more click, but not quite as noisy as Cherry Blue switches. One of the most compelling selling points of the Raise is that the key switches are removable. This enables you to easily replace misbehaving switches, or replace switches with other variants. Dygma ships a demo set of other switch types with your keyboard as well, so you know what to order when switching out types.

The Raise has one key difference from any other keyboard I've seen; multiple thumb keys next to the space. Your spacebar is effectively split into 4 seperate keys, and there's an extra 4 keys (with low-profile switches and keycaps) under those 4 space keys. I have not been able to find any use for these keys yet, but use half of them for space, half of them for 'mod' keys to get to layer 2

My UHK came with Cherry brown switches, which seem less clicky than normal (without O-rings). One of the things you may want to do is switch the left Space and Mod keys for games.

The bulbous profile (vs standard scalloped) space and mod keys are a nice touch. The buttons directly to the bottom of those keys are mouse-style switches, and can be a bit hard to press blindly.

The keycluster addon (as-yet unfinished) would allow you to do some of the things that the Raise can do with extra thumb keys.

 

They’re both awesome, with different aesthetics. Tenting vs extra keys vs mod clusters vs backlighting. Buy both, put the one you like more where you do more typing. The pricing for the Raise is at USD 266 (approx. EUR 246), and the UHK comes in at USD 275 (approx EUR 254), with the in-progress accessories at USD 60 a piece. If you're a serious typist, or want one for work, get the UHK. If you're looking for some more bling for your gaming rig at home, get the Raise.

Errata:

  • My Raise has Kailh Bronze, not Cherry browns
  • Ultimate Gadget Labs would like to emphasize that their keyboards are manufactured in Hungary, under their own supervision.
  • UHK rubber feet issues may be solved due to a manufacturing change
  • The UHK display shows the keymap abbreviation, not the layer.
  • The UHK backlight upgrade kit is for sue coming in 2020
  • They're planning a UHK version with hot-swappable switches, per-key RGB, USB-C and improvements. Exciting!