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CLEAVE Review

posted on 2022-07-27

The nice people at Truly Ergonomic sent me a CLEAVE keyboard to review, so here we go.

First impressions

Ever since the original Truly Ergonomic keyboard I’ve been loving the design. Many ergonomic don’t look particularly good, but I think TE does an awesome job on the aesthetics.

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Figure 1: Truly Ergonomic Cleave

The case is made from aluminum and is beautifully anodized in a dark gray, with a blue shine. The edges are chamfered and shiny, which gives a nice touch. The case also acts as a plate for the switches, so they sit on top of the case, which gives the keyboard a barebones but spacey look.

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Figure 2: Truly Ergonomic Cleave profile

The wrist rests are comfy, and are a big improvement compared to the previously model. Because the case is less thick, the rests are taller, and have a little more give to it. But they are made from high quality material, and I’m sure they will last a long time.

When taking the keyboard from the box I noticed the cable is attached. The keyboard has a fixed USB cable, and it has a USB type-A connector. I’m sad it’s not detachable. It would be more convenient if the keyboard had female USB type-C connector which would allow you to plug in any cable you like. Personally that’s something I’d expect from a keyboard in this price range. Nevertheless it’s nice there are gutters in the bottom of the keyboard to guide the cable to the left or right side of the keyboard.

Keycaps

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Figure 3: Truly Ergonomic Cleave backlight

When I plugged in the keyboard, the backlighting lit up. It makes the keycaps pop. They did a great job positioning the LEDs under the switches so the legends light up brightly and evenly. The sublegends on the function keys, on the top row, don’t light up though, that gives them a nice contrast.

The feel of the keycaps is a bit flimsy, comparing them to high-end custom keycaps. The walls of these keycaps, so the thickness of the material, is about half of what I’m used to. It will be fine for most people, but I would have appreciated thicker caps.

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Figure 4: Truly Ergonomic Cleave back to back to Model 207

The 2U keycaps in the thumb area feel great. I’m happy they moved away from the custom shaped caps in the center, and use standard sized keycaps now.

And because the switches have standard Cherry MX styled stems, you can always replace the caps with most of the sets you find on the aftermarket.

Switches

The unit that was shipped to me came with clicky switches. That would have been my least favorite choice, but I didn’t chose them. For clicky switches they deliver what they are supposed to. They are noisy and tactile.

The switches are custom made for Truly Ergonomic and don’t use mechanical metal contacts to determine actuation. Instead, they operate optically, where the switch will let a beam of infrared light pass through when pressed. This is very reliable. This mechanism should be completely free from any key chatter, in contrary to the previous model I own. But it’s a custom solution build by them and does not allow you to interchange switches with other brands.

One thing I noticed though, and it might only be true for the clicky switches, but it seems to me these switches sometimes actuate before you get the tactile feedback. So you can type a letter without having the switch do click. To me this is annoying. In some cases I thought the keyboard suffered from chatter, but I think in these cases I might have pushed a key twice, while it only clicked once. Confusing.

Backlight

You can tweak the backlight of the keyboard with a few hot keys, which is nice. You also can program backlight patterns where you can program for each key individually if it’s backlight is ON/OFF. This is cool, but it’s a gimmick and not very useful.

Programmable

In terms of being programmable, I think this is where the keyboard lacks some features. There are a limited number of keys (i.e. the 2U keys in the thumb area) you can reprogram, but that’s about it. You can also switch between Windows and Mac modifier keys.

For me this is a big issue. I’ve been using Colemak for quite some time now, and there is no way how I can load this in the keyboard. So I’m stuck at relearning QWERTY again, which turned out to be more painful than expected.

I asked their support about it, and they gave me a lengthy response basically saying I should remap the keys in the computer OS or with a third-party software tool. Quite disappointing.

On my other keyboards I also use home row modifiers, which puts Ctrl/Shift/Alt right at my fingertips. This means when I for example tap and hold T, it acts like a Control. So on the CLEAVE I have to reach far with my pinky to find Ctrl & Alt. The Windows key is positioned right in the middle of nowhere, really annoying if have it attached to a lot of shortcuts in your window manager.

So I’m sad something like QMK, ZMK, or VIA is not supported. Using one of these would have given them so many features for free. For example Kinesis adopted ZMK in their newest Advantage 360, and that’s smart.

Maybe they considered using a open-source firmware, but didn’t because they wanted to keep the implementation details of optical switches a secret, and not publish it as open source software. But it goes at the cost of adding a ton of customizations to the keyboard.

Conclusion

This keyboard is definitely a big improvement compared to the previous version. It is a great entry point for people into ergonomic keyboards. Owners are limited to only 3 types of switches, that’s probably plenty for most users who don’t plan to dive deep in the rabbit hole of mechanical keyboards.

I’ve tested this keyboard for a couple of weeks. I could get used to the QWERTY layout, but having the modifier keys so far out of reach stopped me from using it as a daily driver.

This CLEAVE is absolutely great from hardware perspective, but it lacks in software. If Truly Ergonomics would manage to make it more customizable, I would definitely recommend this keyboard.