First impressions: Overall, fantastic!
Now, it ended up being a fair bit thicker than I’d planned, which means the keys are higher than I’d like, and that leads to slightly annoying ergonomics (though after comparing to a couple of other keyboards I have on hand, in reality, my wrist placement doesn’t end up changing much, so I think it’s fine). And the stabilizers rattle a fair bit, a problem I plan to remedy with a little grease (and as an aside, that fix wouldn’t be possible that I not gone with a hotswap build, as lubricating stabilizers requires switch removal… so… yay!)
Edit: I greased the stabs under the Space, Enter, and Backspace keys and man, what a difference! The keyboard has a nice, consistent sound, now! And, as a side benefit, I got to see how easy it would be to hotswap the switches on this thing, and as expected, it works great!
But man. It’s solid as all heck, with a nice heavy thock with each keypress. The Kailh Hako Violet switches are fantastically smooth and have just the right amount of tactility. And the keycaps turned out to be very nice.
Ironically, at nearly the exact same time I was finishing this build, the Keycool 84 2s that I picked up on Massdrop arrived, and now, comparing the two, I can’t help but be a little disappointed with the Keycool. The general feel of the Alpha is so much more sturdy and solid compared to the plastic on the Keycool. Oh well!
The two biggest challenges with the layout are the control key position (which I’m slowly getting used to), and the exclusion of the function row, which leaves some of the keys less accessible. Now, if this board was going to be a daily coding driver that’d be a problem; the biggest challenge is the fact the tilde key is buried under the ESC key in a function layer. But coding isn’t the primary use case for this keyboard, so I don’t think it’ll be a problem in practice.
So, all things considered, for a first build, this thing has been a fantastic success!
Of course, these are just first impressions.
It’ll be interesting to see how this keyboard fares at work with a solid week’s worth of mileage on it. At minimum, I could see needing to alter the firmware a bit to optimize the key mapping. Fortunately, QMK is so darn flexible I could make this thing do anything I wanted.
And the switches are a very different animal from the Browns I’ve been using day-to-day at work. The tactile bump requires some additional force to overcome, and the spring weight definitely increases on the down stroke. So it’ll be interesting to see if I find this board fatiguing in the long run (though, again, if it turns out the Violets just don’t work for me, I can always replace them!)
As for the project itself, I gotta say, it really was a surprisingly rewarding experience. The feeling when that first key press worked exactly as planned was incredibly difficult to describe; I suspect I felt the same way when I wrote my first working computer program.
So, while it definitely wasn’t the cheapest of projects (oy… not by a long shot), I do think it’s been a heck of a fun challenge to take on! Now here’s hoping I get years of mileage out of this thing!