levinson keyboard review

Categories:   productivity   tech  
Tags:   dvorak  

The levinson Split Keyboard Review

This is the review of the levinson keyboard, a 40% ortholinear split keyboard from keeb.io.

If you’re new to DIY keyboards, you may wonder why people use these kind of keyboards.

tl;dr:

  • Improved productivity.
  • Reduce or prevent wrist injury.
  • Cool factor.

Let’s clear up some confusion:

  • Why is it aligned in a grid?
  • But it’s so small.
  • Where are the letters?
  • Why is it split in two?
  • Is this a practical keyboard?

Why the grid layout

This layout is called the ortholinear layout and is well known in the mechanical keyboard community. The grid layout is designed for intuitive typing. Whether you’ll grow to like or not it is completely personal. Some people will get used to it within hours, some never.

It took me a few days until it stopped feeling awkward. But once I got used to the grid, I didn’t feel like going back to staggered keyboards. The grid layout is very intuitive to type on and makes it very easy to remember where all the custom macros were set.

Why is it so small?

Since a full sized keyboard has over a 100 keys, how can 48 keys be enough?

This keyboard runs on the QMK firmware, which provide layers to access different layouts.

For example I’m using three layers for the levinson keyboard:

  • The default layer has all alphabets
  • The second layer enables the numbers and symbols
  • The third layer enables useful navigations and some macros

You activate a specific layer by holding down certain function keys.

This concept is genius for small keyboards as every button is within easy reach.

Why are there no letters?

This is a personal choice as I thought blank keycaps were easier to find. The letters probably won’t matter because you’ll probably use multiple layers anyways.

Why the split keyboard?

This is my 2nd custom keyboard, the first one being the 60% Preonic from olkb. I actually wanted the Planck keyboard but since the levinson was cheaper, I thought I’d give it a try.

Split keyboards are nice because of the flexible placement. This can help reduce the strain on your wrist and fingers.

Is this a practical keyboard?

This keyboard is absolutely amazing.

This keyboard will probably give you better performance than typical full sized keyboards under two conditions:

  • You can touch type.
  • You plan the layout thoughtfully.

I’ve been using the levinson for several months and I can’t imagine using full-sized or staggered keyboard anymore. Once you set this up right, your productivity will shoot through the roof. The quick access to the different layers will save you a ton of time in the long run.

Personally I think the 40% is the sweet spot for both productivity and portability.

My current levinson layout

Here is my current layout for the levinson keyboard.

Layer 1 - Dvorak

,-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------.
| Tab  |   "  |   ,  |   .  |   P  |   Y  |   F  |   G  |   C  |   R  |   L  | Bksp |
|------+------+------+------+------+-------------+------+------+------+------+------|
|Lower |   A  |   O  |   E  |   U  |   I  |   D  |   H  |   T  |   N  |   S  |Enter |
|------+------+------+------+------+------|------+------+------+------+------+------|
|Shift |   ;  |   Q  |   J  |   K  |   X  |   B  |   M  |   W  |   V  |   Z  |Shift |
|------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------|
| Ctrl |      | Alt  | WIN  |Lower |Space |Space |Raise | LANG | INS  | DEL  | Ctrl |
`-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------'

This is a standard Dvorak layout with the exception of the - (hyphen.) I had to sacrifice this space for the more frequently used Enter key.

The LANG key is mapped to alt+shift which toggles between languages.

I got in the habit of using the DEL key in addition to the Bksp key. A small habit like this makes a huge difference over time.

I have the lower & Raise button next to the space keys, as well as another lower key on the left.

When held down, these lower & Raise keys activate the other layers.


Lower

,-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------.
| Esc  |      |  up  | Back | Next | Vol+ |      |      |      |      |      |      |
|------+------+------+------+------+-------------+------+------+------+------+------|
|Lower | left | down |right |      | Vol- |      |      |      | HOME | END  |      |
|------+------+------+------+------+------|------+------+------+------+------+------|
|Shift |      |      | Copy |Paste | Mute |      |      |      | P.Up |P.Down|Shift |
|------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------|
| Ctrl |      | Alt  |  WIN |Lower |Space |Space |Raise |      |  INS | DEL  | Ctrl |
`-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------'

The lower key enables my navigation layer which reduces the switching between the mouse and keyboard.

I have the arrows keys next to the left lower key for easy access.

The HOME & END keys are crazy useful in coding, especially when used with the left shift key.

I have the volume adjustments on the left board.

The copy is mapped to Ctrl+insert , the paste to Shift+insert. This is bread & butter for Dvorak users since the C, V, X are scattered on the Dvorak. In case you didn’t know, Ctrl+insert & Shift+insert also works in the terminal.


Raise

,-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------.
| Esc  |   1  |   2  |   3  |   4  |   5  |   6  |   7  |   8  |   9  |   0  |      |
|------+------+------+------+------+-------------+------+------+------+------+------|
|Lower |      |      |      |      |      |      |   [  |   ]  |   `  |   -  |      |
|------+------+------+------+------+------|------+------+------+------+------+------|
|Shift |      |      |      |      |      |      |   /  |   =  |   \  |      |Shift |
|------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------|
| Ctrl |      | Alt  |  WIN |Lower |Space |Space |Raise |      |  INS | DEL  | Ctrl |
`-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------'

This layer is for the numbers and symbols.

You can see the - makes it’s appearance here. This was annoying at first but ‘meh’.

I find the symbols to be very intuitive here and better than any layout I’ve tried.

The symbols are placed right above the Raise button so that they align and start with the index finger.

The shift keys are on both sides for every layer to allow easy access to all secondary keys.

I use my palms to hit the ctrl keys to reduce strain on the Littlefinger.

How can I get one?

You can purchase the levinson PCB kit from https://keeb.io.

It will include the PCBs and a bunch of components.

The kit will not include:

  • The case/plates
  • TRRS cable
  • Micro usb cable
  • Switches
  • key Caps
  • Rubber Feets

You can purchase the case/plate, TRRS cable and micro usb cable on their site.

This board is compatible with cherry mx or alps switches.

You’ll need to purchase the switches separately.

You’ll also need some keycaps (size: 1U) for either the cherry mx or alps respectively.

Note: The mx and alps switches are different and thus require different types of key caps.

If you want add LED lights, you’ll also need to purchase the LED support add-on kit from the same site.

You’ll have to find the LED lights yourself though.

Note: You’ll also need to solder the components and switches to the PCB.

You’ll need:

  • Soldering Iron
  • Solder
  • Flush Cutters
  • Screw drivers

You can follow the iris/levinson build guide on their site.

Installing the QMK firmware

Once you built the keyboard, you need to flash it with the QMK firmware.

I won’t go in details on the flashing process here.

The documentation here on https://docs.qmk.fm is good.

If your on a windows, here’s what you probably need:

The github page will have some instructions along with a levinson folder with the default keyboard layout.

You can customize this layout to your liking before you flash it on your board.

You’ll need to run a few commands in the terminal for this.

Conclusion

It may seem difficult to get started but there are lots of good documentation online. If your profession requires you to type all day, you’ll save a ton of time in the long run and also prevent injuries.

If you feel that the levinson keyboard is too difficult to build, you can start with the Planck keyboard from olkb.com. The Planck already has most of the components on the PCB so you’ll only need to solder on the switches.

From personal experience, a split keyboard like the levinson is easier on the wrist when compared to single boards like the preonic. I feel there’s less strain on my fingers with the ortholinear layout and even less strain on the wrist with the split keyboards.

Anyhow, if you’ve never typed on a mechanical keyboard you should give it a go. They really are amazing to type on, ortho or not.

A popular choice is the “Anne Pro 2”, a 60% bluetooth RGB keyboard with Gateron switches.

I hope you enjoyed this article. I’m actually waiting for my Planck and Gherkin keyboards to arrive. I’ll try to post a build log and a review for both of those keyboards. In case your wondering, the Gherkin is a 30% keyboard.

If you’re interested in learning touch typing or the Dvorak layout, you can check out that article too.

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Categories:   productivity   tech  
Tags:   dvorak