Another slightly different review today. In fact, it’s a rather special one. We’ve been sent a prototype of something we first met back in October 2017 in my follow-up article entitled “Crowdfunding & The Mechanical Keyboard Industry.” It’s the X-Bows Ergo Board that could possibly change the face of typing.
In terms of first impressions, the X-Bows presents itself very well. It’s presented in a rather neat and tidy white box and comes well-packaged along with a handy and detachable USB cable (specifically a USB-C cable after further examination, which is a nice touch) for the idea that this can be taken anywhere, like the older version of the MX Board 3.0 for instance. However, portability is not the USP of the X-Bows.
Design wise, it’s presented very sturdily with a metal top plate and smooth plastic underside which make it look very well-made and indeed it is. The keycaps are two colour injected ABS plastic caps that feel nice under finger and let the RGB lighting shine through like a treat. I’ve never really been the biggest fan of RGB lighting on keyboards, but, with all fifteen settings present on the X-Bows, there’s sure to be something for everyone. It also features two little nifty and retractable plastic feet for making it even more ergonomic; if that’s what you’re into. It also comes with a couple of accessories from their Shopsify store such as a handy wrist-rest (for an even more comfortable experience) and an external number pad.
The switches present in this particular board are Gateron Blues, which are Cherry MX Blue clones that have a 55cN actuation force as opposed to the actual Cherry’s slightly heavier 60cN force. Also, the actuation point on the Gateron switch is slightly higher in comparison to the Cherrys which doesn’t really make a difference to the feel of the switch. Numerous sources state that the Gaterons are smoother than the Cherry switches. However, in the case of these Blues, I disagree. For example, the tactility of the switch is lost by comparison to the MX Blues and the slightly heavier typing feel is more suited to myself. The click, however, is considerably louder than on the Cherrys which could be looked on as a good thing, in that it makes the sound distinguishable from other clicky switches. The overall feel of the switch is slightly down on the Cherrys, but overall, in terms of value for money, the Gaterons are not a bad switch. There are various other switches available for the board as well: Gateron Reds, Browns, Blues, Greens and Blacks, as well as the Silent variants of the Reds, Browns and Blacks. The X-Bows also comes with its own built-in software that is fully programmable with any key on the keyboard. Unfortunately, we didn’t have access to the software at the time of review but we envisage it would have been pretty good!
The idea behind it is that it is designed to be ergonomic and more comfortable to use than your regular mechanical keyboard. The keys are placed in a columned system at all manner of angles wit the thought that it is much more comfortable than your usual keyboard (in my case, a trusty CHERRY G80-3000 with MX Blues that has seen all manner of replacements for reviews; still, it returns every single time) all, the it has a large split down the middle of the board which shifts and angles the G & H keys to a more natural position for our wrists to sit in. In the new gap that has been created sits a new thumb-orientated Backspace and Enter key, along with adjacently placed Control and Shift keys. These keys have not been completely replaced however and you can still find them in their usual place. The space-bar has also been split into two for usage by both thumbs. The number keys along the top also follow this same columned pattern and the 1 & 0 keys in particular have been made much more rectangular to cover the oddly placed Q & P keys. Most other keys are in their usual position, although that a large number of them have had their sizes fiddled with for the purpose of cosmetics. In particular, the Alt key is now massive and the plus and minus keys are doubly sized to usual. Unfortunately, the X-Bows does appear to lack some key parts of the ‘Nav Cluster’, namely the Insert, Home and End keys. For those who want to customise their X-Bows, it may be rather difficult due to all these differing keycap sizes.
Personally speaking, it took a while to adjust from typing on a ‘normal’ keyboard as such and it opened me up to a rather significant learning curve that turns out to be rather mind-boggling. It took a few hours on a Saturday to get used to typing on this as my brain is set on where keys are. However, most of these changes are designed to facilitate a much more comfortable typing experience and honestly, these changes in places do offer the latter.
In terms of pricing, the Kickstarter pre-order bonus of $120 was justified. Now it’s been fully funded and available for pre-order on Indiegogo, the $160 price tag does seem perhaps a little steep but, by comparison to its usual $250 price tag, it’s not so bad for what it is.
Overall, the X-Bows presented me with something a little different in the industry; ergonomics from a different angle and for a different price too. Comparing it to its potential ‘rivals’ at Kinesis for instance, it holds up extremely well and targets a different area of that market segment, adding a little more style to the ergonomic sector. It’s very nice aesthetically speaking, the switches aren’t necessarily for me, but some may prefer the Gaterons. The typing experience was alright after a little period of adjustment. It gets a big thumbs-up from us over here at Mechboards!