Truly Ergonomic Cleave Keyboard Review

A pre-built ergonomic option

I’m no stranger to strange keyboard layouts, but the pre-built Cleave keyboard by the “Truly Ergonomic” company is a truly odd one. The layout on the Cleave is similar to static split layouts, with some big changes. Typical keyboards have the keys arranged in an offset grid layout with both columns and rows staggered in almost the same way they have been for over a hundred years. Static split mechanical keyboard layouts like Alice and Arisu boards split the keyboard down the middle and angle the keys for more ergonomicness (a scientific term), and retain that typical keyboard staggering of both columns and rows that put your S D and F keys offset with the W E and R keys above. Here’s my review of the Wings for an example of an Arisu layout custom mechanical keyboard.

The Cleave rejects tradition and only staggers the columns, which leaves the rows in a more grid-like layout that isn’t as unfamiliar as a truly ortholinear keyboard. Entirely ortholinear keyboards have an exact grid where each key is lined up next to each other in the four cardinal directions without any staggering. Typical full-size keyboards have their number pad in a grid, ortholinear layouts expand the grid that to the entire keyboard and often remove the majority of the keys to concentrate on the letter keys and put the punctuation and quotes and brackets and everything else into layers of modifier keys around the grid.

There is still quite a bit of challenge even beyond the un-staggered rows on the Cleave. Many modifier keys are not where you would expect them. Enter is below and to the left of N and M. Backspace is a tall key just above Enter. Capslock is wisely replaced with a second Control key because Capslock is often a wasted key. I use it to access different layers of keys on truly programmable boards. The second cluster of Cleave directional keys between the left-hand modifiers and the space key are home, end, page-up, and page-down. Handy.

Unfortunately, the Cleave doesn’t work with QMK or VIA and instead uses key combinations to access remapping options with some defaults for different operating systems. This might be preferable if you work with computers where you are locked out of installing software like some workplaces, or if you just don’t want to have install software to remap your keyboard. I’d like more options for what each key does and so it feels a little limited to go back to keyboards that aren’t fully remappable.

The design Truly Ergonomic chose takes up way less space than a Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard without losing as many keys as most of my custom keyboards. You’ve still got an entire F-row here and dedicated keys like reverse-tab, cut, copy, and paste that could be very useful for developers and anyone else who does a lot of writing. The columnar stagger layout may be more ergonomic, I’m not an eronomicist so I wouldn’t know for sure, but it also puts a little more distance between some keys and the modifiers. That’s a little frustrating.

The Cleave has a shape as odd as the key layout with a metal plate in what custom mechanical keyboard nerds would call a low-profile position where the key switches are more exposed. The split halves have a small amount of space between them, and dedicated wrist rests for each half that are pretty tall and aren’t replaceable. These polyurethane foam pieces feel very firm and hopefully will take a long time to disintegrate. Without them the keyboard would look very odd, but you also can’t easily remove them if you didn’t want them at all. I don’t mind the wrist-rests, they work well for me and it is usually difficult to find a wrist-rest that suits this type of split keyboard.

The underside of the keyboard is plastic and has options for channeling the keyboard’s USB cable to the rear, left, and right. The USB cable is not replaceable, and only supports USB Type-A ports. Some computers and devices only support USB Type-C ports now, so a replaceable cable would have been great for compatibility and durability. There is also a sticker on the underside with various certifications, and reminders of a few key combinations to adjust the Cleave’s functionality for Windows, macOS, Europe/ISO and “Custom” along with those for adjusting the backlight and a warning that this keyboard won’t magically prevent your hands from disintegrating.

The Truly Ergonomic company guarantees their keyboards for up to 60 days with a money back guarantee unless it’s damaged by the user. However, they also recommend that users give the keyboards 30 days to learn the layout. It is definitely a substantial change as I haven’t used a solely column-staggered layout before. It took me a few hours to be able to play video games with the Cleave and then a few weeks to get up to full typing speed. Truly Ergonomic also claims that the Cleave is a patented design, so it is disappointing that anyone else would have to license it were they to want to replicate any ergonomic benefit. I’m not sure someone else would, it is a very unique layout, but it would be nice for anyone who does become attached to this layout to know that other keyboards could use it in perpetuity.

There are a few other fully split (two pieces of keyboard that can be positioned anywhere within cable distance) columnar keyboards available but none that I know of that have a static split layout with a columnar stagger like the Cleave.

The Cleave’s keycaps have shine-thru legends and adjustable white backlit SMD-mounted LEDs. The font is very fortunately not the cheap gamer font with broken legends that is so common on some pre-built mechanical keyboards. The legends are fine and it is almost always immediately apparent which key does what. Unfortunately, I don’t think most people will be able to find replacement keycaps to suit the Cleave’s unique layout.

Although the Cleave has hotswappable switches, and you can pick from either quieter browns, loud clicky tactile blues, or red linears when purchasing the keyboardit only supports optical switches  Truly Ergonomic wisely doesn’t refer to these by their color, it has always been confusing for new mechanical keyboard users to understand the differences especially when the colors go beyond brown, blue, and red. There are hundreds of non-optical switch choices out there and you can only replace these with certain other optical switches I couldn’t find any Outemu replacement optical switches online, even Aliexpress didn’t seem to sell them beyond one listing that doesn’t specify a quantity of how many you’re buying. Truly Ergonomic doesn’t even sell packages of switches for their users to replace them. That seems like a missed opportunity. The clicky blues on my review version of the Cleave are fun to type on even if they’re too loud for my family.

Truly Ergonomic claims that the Cleave is dust, water, and snack resistant, I did not test that functionality but one benefit to the Outemu optical switches is the box around the key switch stem that should help prevent crumbs or spills from getting inside the switch mechanism. Another nice thing about optical switches is that the most popular hotswap socket for mechanical keyboards, the Kailh hotswap socket, is notoriously unreliable due to the pin insertion popping out the socket which leaves the user with a damaged circuitboard that requires soldering skills to repair. The way to work around this is to support the socket with your hand while inserting the switch. So these optical switch sockets may be more durable in the long term because the switches don’t have pins to push out the socket.

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The overall look of the Cleave isn’t bad to me, but almost everyone I asked said they didn’t care for the style. I think the long-term health of our bodies is more important than how the tools we use look. The Cleave could be an improvement for some people over traditional keyboard layouts and I am glad to see more ergonomic layout choices although it is difficult to recommend any specific layout, you have to try these keyboards for yourself to know if they’ll help prevent or ease pain. I found that my hand pain was as diminished with the Cleave as it was with other ergonomic keyboards I use, but I can’t say that you’ll have the same experience and the Cleave definitely takes some time to get used to.

The way Truly Ergonomic prices the Cleave keyboard is weird, you can pay either $250 or $330 if you’d like the keyboard to be shipped sooner. Truly Ergonomic labels these options as different “support levels” in some odd conflation of crowdfunding and buying things from a business which is what you’re doing if you choose to buy the Cleave. I don’t know why anyone buying this keyboard would be willing to pay nearly a hundred dollars more for the keyboard to ship slightly quicker. The price for the Cleave is similar to higher-end ergonomic mechanical keyboards like the Kinesis Advantage series, the Matias lineup, and the Ergodox-EZ or ZSA Moonlander, so it isn’t outrageously expensive. A lot of people just won’t be able to afford an ergonomic keyboard that costs this much and will end up with the standard Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard if they’re able to get a replacement at all. That’s what I did for years before getting into custom mechanical keyboards. It’s even costlier to go through multiple types of ergonomic keyboards and switches to find one that actually feels more comfortable as we destroy our hands and wrists through repetitive strain injuries.

If Truly Ergonomic were to update the Cleave I hope they add more material options for the wrist-rest so that it can be replaced if it wears out, switch to regular Cherry MX clone switches, change to a detachable USB Type-C cable for durability and so that you can use it with C-only devices without a hub or adapter, enable full programmability using VIA and QMK, and maybe consider a higher profile design if they haven’t already. However, the layout overall is one thing I don’t think they should change. It is clearly an important choice on their part and you don’t end up choosing a static split layout like the Cleave unless you believe it’s the right one and they should stick with it. I’ll be switching to another keyboard for the switch options and programmability, though this is a perfectly fine choice if you don’t care about switch options and need a static split layout ergonomic mechanical keyboard with a lot of keys that ships soon and fully assembled.

3 out of 5 Keyboard Halves for the Cleave Keyboard.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Cleave keyboard was sent for free by Truly Ergonomic. Truly Ergonomic did not have any influence over this review.

Update January 5th, 2022: An earlier version of this review said that the only switches that would fit in the Cleave’s hotswap sockets are Outemu Optical Switches, this is incorrect and other optical switches may fit though I wasn’t able to test that. The review text has been updated to reflect this.

James Webb Space Telescope Launching Today

The James Webb Space Telescope is finally launching today, at 7:20 AM Eastern Standard Time or 12:20 UTC. 30 years in the making, NASA has a video feed that starts very soon of the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 rocket that will carry the new telescope to space where it’ll take a good trip to the other side of the moon, and then spend a month unfolding the delicate internals.

For more on why you should care about the James Webb Space Telescope I highly recommend this video from an astronomer and scientist working on the telescope, Kevin Hainline:

You can also find out more about the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA’s site.

Deathloop (2021) Review

A loop for death!

Deathloop loading

I just finished playing Arkane’s Deathloop. It is a blend of time-looping first-person shooter with some interesting characters, light RPG style looting as is the norm these days, and other elements you might be familiar with from Arkane’s older games, to bring a great deal of good to what would otherwise be just four levels and a dozen or so weapons.

You play as Colt, a guy who wakes up with no recollection of his past which is the perfect narrative device for explaining a wild situation like the plot and gameplay of Deathloop. Colt gets to be ignorant of his surroundings due to the forgotten past as well as being a great character to learn about Blackreef, the island everyone in Deathloop is trapped on.

Blackreef has a ton of well done 1960’s style that is pretty fun and colorful, and the levels change a little bit as you progress between the time periods of morning, noon, afternoon, and evening where you can enter into one of the four different parts of Blackreef and shoot them up only to do it all again the next day. Time does not really progress while you’re in the levels, only in-between them. So you might go into one area in the morning and find that more of it is only accessible in the afternoon due to more ice forming on the water which is otherwise deadly to dip your toes into.

Colt wants to break the time loop in the world of Blackreef with more confidence and attitude than I’ve seen out of any previous protagonist from Arkane. Colt has a fantastic antagonist in Julianna who wants to protect the time loop and harasses Colt both over the radio, a very video game trope that I don’t honestly mind. Julianna also harasses Colt as an invader played either by the computer or other players who can drop into the otherwise single-player Deathloop and hunt down Colt. Blackreef is also protected by the Eternalists, and Visionaries. Eternalists are your run-of-the mill cannon fodder enemies of various stripes and the Visionaries are the rich people and other elites that made their way onto the island of Blackreef either by being rich and terrible, smart and terrible, or just terrible. Visionaries also have similar abilities to Colt and Juliana, so they are tougher to kill.

Deathloop title

Julianna and Colt both share an array of abilities acquired via Slabs, some of which are so familiar to players of Arkane’s prior catalog, like Shift which lets Colt or Julianna teleport for some distance or Karnesis which lets them telekinetically annihilate enemies. Players can upgrade those abilities by killing Julianna or Colt through the invasion process and looting their dropped items, or those dropped by the Visionaries and Eternalists. For example you can get an upgrade to Shift that extends the distance that you can teleport, or pauses any fall in mid-air to select where to teleport to.

Only Colt’s gameplay gets to really progress the campaign and unlock secrets and lore about Blackreef and you can (as Colt) turn off the online invasion system which restricts the game to an AI that is easier to cheese when it invades. Julianna’s progression seems to be strictly level-based progression and she cannot collect items from the levels to bring back to use later. The single player mode with AI invasions is also the only way to get an actual pause while you’re in-game, something I did not understand until I got got by another Julianna while I thought the game was paused.

Speaking of things I did not understand, the time loop on Blackreef lasts for one in-game day and you have the option to infuse weapons and their RPG-loot rarity tiered upgrades with an in-game currency of Residuum and keep them to the next day or choose to sacrifice them for more Residuum.

I had the wrong-headed idea that somehow you could infuse an item like a weapon and then still sacrifice it and get it again the next day. This is not the case and I’m sure the game explains it, but somehow playing well past midnight without enough sleep I must have forgotten that detail and kept starting with hardly anything and not realizing the loss. Embarrassingly, it wasn’t until I streamed Deathloop and someone watching pointed out the mistake I was making that I realized what was going on. Fortunately I at least had some trinkets and weapons that hadn’t been sacrificed and once I reacquired Shift through killing the visionary that drops it, I was more prepared than ever to re-run over the rest of the game and get more and better upgrades and weapons. Like a Souls game, the knowledge you pick up about Deathloop might let you speed through it even when you’ve lost everything else.

Deathloop inventory

I almost exclusively found myself going into levels carrying only the Shift slab that lets you teleport and leaving the second slab slot empty because I didn’t want to miss out on picking up a slab or losing one I cared about. This was in retrospect a real waste because I missed out on gameplay possibilities that are only available if you’re playing with a variety of the slabs. The same thing happened with the weapons, and I only brought one or two guns into the levels so that I wouldn’t risk dropping a weapon I cared about and would have one or two open slots to pick up new weapons of the three total you can bring into a level.

The good news about those loadouts is that you can really pick and choose what kind of gameplay you’re going to have through the items you select. Colt always has the option of a stealthy approach with the accessible machete. Murdering any of Blackreef’s inhabitants does leave behind a bit of smoke when they get got that bothers enemies, and quiter firearms seemed rare to find. After finding a few silenced weapons I embraced them fully and could usually get through most of a level before alerting the entire zone to Colt’s presence. Julianna doesn’t have to worry about that, because she is protecting the loop along with the other characters.

After about 45 hours with Deathloop, played almost entirely as Colt even though there is a completely separate progression system for Julianna, I am very happy with the game with a few exceptions.

For me, Julianna’s invasions are impossible to play. The latency over the internet between my location and any other player was so great that anything I did as Julianna was rolled back, even turning the camera with the mouse. I could gradually fight through the lag but it was always impossible for me to actually be successful as Julianna and kill Colt. Other players on the Steam forums for Deathloop complain about the same thing. When rollback is that painful it isn’t a fun experience for invaders or Colt, and the game might do better to give Julianna the option to quit out and be replaced with a bot, and of course maybe the game could try not to connect players if the network latency between them is so high. I’m not a network engineer, so of course there could be other solutions but either way, the current situation stinks. Most of the people who tried to invade my game had the same problem, but I did see more success on their side in connecting to my computer with lower latency than the other way around.

Unfortunately, the ending to Deathloop is disappointing and feels unfinished. Deathloop could have lent some mystery to the ending, or explained more, but instead you have a few choices and I didn’t really feel like any of them did justice to Colt and Julianna who are the stars of this show. Throughout Deathloop I was pretty entertained by Julianna and Colt taking verbal potshots at each other until one day Julianna literally said she had run out of things to say to my Colt and the radio dialog ended, but this was after I had completed the main campaign and done a bit more.

It is difficult for players to avoid how much Deathloop as a game wants to hold the player’s hand through certain parts by placing objective markers in-game and having two different idea boards that you can access to keep track of where exactly you are with different storylines.

Still, Deathloop is a good time and I’m always down for more of whatever Arkane wants to do with the formula of first-person adventuring and violence that they improve with style and a lot of substance. The time loop is more popular than ever with other games, but the Deathloop is so uniquely Arkane. I loved exploring Blackreef and even up until the end I was enjoying finding hidden spots in the levels and secret areas with more lore about the game while optimizing my loadout.

4/5 Loops for Deathloop.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

MiSTer Multisystem’s 2nd Round of Pre-Orders Start Soon

Is it real, or is it a MiSTer Multisystem?

The MiSTer FPGA project brings old consoles, arcade machines, and computer systems back to life through something like cloning the original hardware’s processors and other chips on the fly. When we last discussed the new consolized variant of the MiSTer, called the MiSTer Multisystem, it promised an easier experience and had just launched and very quickly sold out of 500 units. This time the MiSTer Multisystem has been announced for a thousand more units to be sold on the RMC Retro Store this Monday, November 1st, at 4PM GMT which is also this time in a few zones: 

08:00 Pacific
US – 10:00 Central
US – 11:00 Eastern
UK – 16:00 BST
Europe – 17:00 CET
US – 05:00 HST

I don’t typically recommend buying anything before independent reviews are available, and as excited as I am for this project I do advise caution for anyone who isn’t familiar with your typical Linux type of rigamarole. The first group of buyers are scheduled to receive their MiSTer Multisystems in November. We could very well find out that future cores, which are the building blocks for each console or computer or arcade game that MiSTer resurrects, require something that the MiSTer Multisystem doesn’t provide. The big question right now is on RAM, the Multisystem PCB only includes 128MB of SDRAM, so I especially recommend doing some research before buying into this.

As it is I believe the MiSTer platform as a whole provides the most accurate and available method of preserving these old systems without buying stacks of consoles, computers, and arcade machines. As those older systems stop functioning projects like the MiSTer will become even more important. There are plenty of videos and other information out there that discuss the accuracy claims of the MiSTer project and I do not have one to evaluate it. The good news with this Multisystem project is that some of the components, especially the DE-10 Nano FPGA that is the heart of it, could be migrated to other MiSTer setups. Check out my previous post on the MiSTer Multisystem for more information on this subject.

Snell on the 2021 MacBook Pro’s Ports

Jason Snell has words about the new 2021 MacBook Pro lineup, highly recommended if you’d like to reminisce about Apple’s walk back of most of their laptop decisions:

If Mac laptops come in eras, one just ended.

It started in 2016 with the release of MacBook Pro models featuring butterfly keyboards, the Touch Bar, and a minimal selection of USB-C ports. It ended on Monday with the announcement of new MacBook Pro models that roll back most of the major changes introduced in 2016, putting the MacBook Pro in a new state of grace that recalls the middle of the last decade.