"Another keyboard?! I thought you did not want or need any more? Especially not with screens and lights?"
Yeah, but you know … this one was all soldered and done! And it can hotswap switches!
And yes, it also has coloured lights underneath each switch, and a OLED screen on each half.
Plus, it took so long to deliver after the group buy that I had both forgotten exactly what I had ordered, and somehow misplaced my password so I could not log in and find out either.
This keyboard is called Corne R2G, where R2G stands for "ready to go", meaning it was soldered (and flashed with firmware) and ready for switches and a case right out of the box. Controlling the lights apparently required some custom code, so in the QMK firmware this counts as a sub-type of the more general Corne firmware.
The main exploration has of course been about the lights and screens, but my keymap has actually evolved another little bit as well. I have put in a layer with some useful system shortcuts - undo, redo, cut, copy, paste, and a special which invokes my clipboard manager Flycut so I can browse recent clips before pasting.
I also added a very basic "game" layer, where no keys you may need to hold down have other functions. I realized my home-row modifiers were completely incompatible with any reasonable WASD-type controls. This layer is also toggled on and off, unlike all the others which are only on while a modifier key is held down.
Not much excitement here, really. After I found Matt Gemmell's layout to reference, I pretty quickly got layer-specific lights working. I light up my numpad and arrow keys in blue, and most other modifiers in green. The shortcut keys get individual colors since they are so few and varied in function. Oh, and the reset button lights up bright red. Feels right.
I have no even partially transparent keys (but I have of course started looking for some), so I only see my lights between the keys. Even so, more light than I expected shines through. Once I do find more translucent keycaps, I expect I will need to lower brightness levels significantly.
To make space for pther things (i.e. playing with the screens as described below), I had to disable some stuff the default firmware for the Corne R2G enables by default. Namely, a lot of fancy rgb animations. They look great, but provide absolutely no other value. I am tempted to enable one or two as some kind of demo or screen saver mode, but not all fifteen or however many they are.
There is not all that much you can do with the screens, as they can only work with information on the keyboard itself. However, they can do a lot with how that information is presented. I found a wonderfully exaggerated source of material in Hell0 navi - a firmware for a different board which was easy to copy and adapt (here is my current version). Check out the readme for animated images of what the screens display - they have a stylish boot animation, layer display, typing speed indicator, and keypress indicator. And optional visual glitches. It is all quite meaningless, but very fun to look at and brings yet another layer of uniqueness to the keyboarding experience.
The only real problem was getting the firmware down to size while also having room for the code driving the lights. Most of that challenge was solved by disabling all those light animations, but I have some work left for the right half of the board, which currently can not have lights enabled. I think I can get there by creatively hacking away or re-writing stuff though, it might be fun to try and shave bytes off of compiled code every once in a while. I have also added support for displaying more than three layers - the Navi code was set up for three, but it was trivially easy to add more, and for successfully displaying the chracters for my home-row modifier keys.
Enough of setting up and playing around: what is it like to actually use? After a few months as a daily driver, I ended up moving from my Kyria back to the KBD4X, and then I pretty much stuck with that until the Corne arrived. Somehow, the differences to a non-split, completely ortholinear keyboard did not quite feel worth it in my Kyria time. But I did pick up a lot of keymap improvements which moved with me, and I do think my Kyria time laid a lot of foundation for the Corne, because getting into it has been both fun and faster than I expected.
During the past few months, I have been practicing my typing regularly using Monkeytype. It did feel very hesitant to do my first runs using the Corne, unwilling to ruin my statistics with the expected drop in speed, and wondering if switching back and forth would only further ruin my form.
Speed did drop, but it is picking back up pretty nicely. I have also logged a handful of runs with 100% accuracy, which I do not think I have ever reached before. Practice makes perfect, right? I think the layout of the Corne - with quite a bit less offset between columns of keys - suits my hands just a little bit better than the Kyria, and I do not miss the six extra keys at all.
All my key switches so far have been on the clicky side, with a clear bump as you press, and plenty of audible feedback. But since this board supports swapping switches, I figured it was time to try something new and picked up a set of Gazzew boba U4 switches from Splitkb. Described as "silent tactile" switches, the difference from all my others is marked but not at all unpleasant. They feel … soft-spoken. Solid, but solid with smooth edges, not solid like metal. I think I prefer the distinctness of some of my clickier switches more, but it is very nice to have something more quiet to type on as well. I imagine the next time I type on clickier switches I will be amazed by how they feel and sound. Then being amazed again when I go back to these and find myself able to type anywhere without disturbing neither myself nor others with the sound.
(I also bought a set of Kailh choc switches and transparent keycaps before reading up properly and discovering they do not fit this board. I could theoretically re-solder my Kyria to try them, we will see if the energy for that appears some day. The Kyria has no lights, so the transparency is kind of moot in itself, but I do also want to try what such a low profile feels like.)