georgi'ous

saturday, 17 april 2021

keyboard and how i have become a chording engine convert.

A couple years ago, g Heavy Industries introduced the Georgi for steno advocates using Plover. It is one of the few dedicated split steno keyboards and i am writing this review with it now..

Georgi

i had been eyeing this diminutive keyboard since being made aware of it on Mirabai Knight’s Plover blog, to acquire it as a complement to my Splitography keyboards. What made me finally purchase this keyboard was discovering during this prolonged Covid isolation, Reddit user u/DennyTom’s chording engine which intrigued me with the possibility of implementing BEAKL Wi as well on this 30% keyboard!

out of the box

it took several weeks for my order to be fulfilled, g Heavy Industries being a cottage industry serving a small demographic, the likes of which i am a part of.

When the parcel arrived, it came packaged in a small tight bubble wrap envelope. i wasn’t sure what the package contained at first, it was that nondescript. Opening it, the two halves of the keyboard were wrapped together forming a sandwich which could easily be popped without difficulty into a shirt pocket, keycaps attached! This is definitely, for this alone, going to be my travel keyboard.. (when that day comes when we can do so again).

Small vinyl bumpers adorn the bottom of the PCB to minimize sliding on whatever typing surface you are using. A TRRS cable connects the keyboard halves, a MiniUSB connects to the computer – cables must be provided separately.

choc low profile

the key to the Georgi is the Kailh Low Profile Choc Linear Red keyswitches with custom installed 12g ultralight springs. Yes, that’s 12g’s! (i have built Planck’s with Gateron Linear Clear keyswitches rated at 35g operating force and they felt a touch too light even for me!)

But this works! With the home row being between the top and bottom keycaps (steno position), the effective home row spring force is doubled. Still incredibly light – desirable for steno chording – by conventional keyswitch standards but sufficient to prevent accidental actuations, allowing the fingers to rest between the key rows.

The Low Profile Choc keyswitches differ mechanically from the Cherry MX switches i am so fond of, as well, with their actuation point and total travel almost half the distance. Add to that, the almost imperceptible vertical (column) travel from home position to the top and bottom keycode rows and you have an incredibly responsive keyboard that is effortless to type on.

i chose the optional scooped MBK keycaps from g Heavy Industries to round off the build. Others may prefer the traditional flat keycaps.

beakl wi

while steno is the target audience for the Georgi, it does not lend itself easily to programming with its syntax and use of mnemonics (though some persist and create powerful personal programming dictionaries for use with Plover).

Enter BEAKL Wi..

Georgi BEAKL WI

BEAKL layouts work out particularly well IMO with the Georgi chording scheme because the pinkies, being the most problematic finger, not only in the matter of strength but in terms of dexterity and finger accuracy, benefit from BEAKL’s pinkie avoidance.

feelings

it always comes down to this.

i did not have any prior experience with Kailh Low Profile Choc keyswitches and certainly nothing even remotely approaching the sensitivity of 12g springs.

The keyswitches do not have the tactile silkiness of the Cherry Silent Red MX switches with Gateron Yellow springs and the deeply sculpted SA keycaps. That is, in part, a benefit of the longer keystroke travel. (Keyswitch, keycap profile and spring – and lubing! – preferences are as diverse as the community is opinionated about them.)

But by golly, this keyboard is addictive to type on! In only the week’s time i have had the Georgi, my fingers have gotten so used to the mechanical effortlessness of this keyboard that everything else on switching, initially feel more strenuous to type on. (Of course, a round with the old standards becomes familiar quickly enough but..)

i find the typing action for my fingers almost more of a sliding action than a distinct tapping action – the movements required being so shallow. The home row presents the usual resistance but the upper and lower chord rows with the 12g springs almost trigger the moment the fingers move in their direction. Total columnar travel is really only one keycap, top to bottom row.. and not even that, for the entire layout! It is difficult to describe the sensation as there is no other keyboard like it (that i have typed on).

In the metric of keyboard layout performance, the finger travel champ is definitely the Georgi in all axes. This drastic reduction in finger travel takes quite a bit of getting used to – typists used to keyboards with strong springs might find the Georgi frustratingly sensitive – but the payback is a result of that very same effortlessness.

It is not a keyboard for everyone without the tactile feedback of physically separate rows of keys with their distinct activation zones. i still find it a bit jarring first thing in the morning getting used to the partial finger movements required to switch chording rows. But once warmed up, it’s a delight to type on.. and if speed is your game, steno is a toggle away.

The Low Profile Choc keyswitches are definitely well matched for chording. i don’t know that i would find them satisfying on a larger traditional keyboard even with stock springs. Their sensitivity works with chording, much less so IMO for traditional typing – the linears, at least. i have no experience with the tactile or clicky versions of the keyswitches. That being said, there is huge fan base for these keyswitches.

Having been raised on manual typewriters, it is no wonder i prefer highly tactile keyboards, making the Georgi all the more exceptional in overcoming my biases.

caveats

a week is not really sufficient time to review a keyboard, especially one as unique as the Georgi. That being said, there really is not much not to like about the Georgi – unless a chorded home row is just too radical to consider.

If your intent is to use the Georgi as more than a steno keyboard, then it behooves you to take the time to configure and install a non-QWERTY keyboard layout with the appropriate layers to address your use case – that is where DennyTom’s chording engine comes in.

If anything, i wish there were a more deluxe build. Not so much because the existing build is lacking. But because it’s so darn light! (Mirabai Knight’s “heavy” review model appears to sport acrylic plates sandwiching the PCB suggesting an earlier design using Kailh “Box” Choc keyswitches versus the current Low Profile keyswitches.)

A coloured LED on the board that can be controlled by the firmware would be nice. It is so easy to inadvertently switch layers – dependent on one’s particular key assignment for layers – a visual indicator would be helpful. For now, whenever i find the Georgi in an unfamiliar or unintended state, i simply toggle back to the default layer.

A case of sorts – perhaps a bottom plate under the PCB – could add a touch of mass (and elegance) to the unit to make it less prone to shifting – this is very typing surface dependent and how grippy the vinyl bumpers are on them – and maybe some travel protection (but if it’s in my shirt pocket i’ll probably be in worse shape if it comes to that!).. But not too much! A great deal of its charm is from the low profile of the keyboard.

Tenting of said case options would also be nice. And, of course, being able to simply drop the Georgi’s PCB into the appropriate case befitting the occasion would be even better! Sign me up :)

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