A Split-Design Gaming Keyboard: The Freestyle Edge

Although not exactly novel, split-design keyboards are relatively rare, which is why it's notable that there’s a new contender raising Kickstarter funds to produce one focused on gaming. Kinesis Gaming is looking to drum up $50,000 to finish funding production on a keyboard it’s calling the Freestyle Edge (which kind of sounds like a 1990s skater kid clothing line, but who are we to judge).

Reformatting The Layout

The company’s big idea is that most gamers don’t really use the entire keyboard; primarily, they’re making use of the WASD cluster, several of the keys around them (depending on the type of game), the spacebar, and dedicated left-side macro keys. For many, the numpad is just in the way and takes up valuable desk space--some keyboard makers, including Asus and Tesoro, developed removable numpad modules to address this very issue--and so as part of its design plan, Kinesis Gaming nixed it. Therefore, the Freestyle Edge is technically a TKL keyboard, but Kinesis Gaming saw fit to add ten additional keys on the left side. Eight of those are programmable, but the two on the bottom have dedicated functions (toggle layers on/off, toggle LEDs on/off).

This makes sense, although the company’s implementation results in a rather odd key layout. For instance, note that the Esc key is double wide and positioned above the macro keys instead of above the main key area, and the F keys are shifted to the left of where they would normally be.  Further, on the right side, Kinesis Gaming added a vertical row of  a few of the keys you’d normally find on the numpad, such as Scroll Lock, Print Screen, Home, End, Pg Up, and Pg Dn.

The arrow keys are there as well, but instead of being set off by themselves, they’re sort of crammed in there with a bunch of other keys. For example, the up arrow key is right underneath the Enter key. This cuts off the right Shift key, making it narrower than normal.

It’s hard to disagree with the decision to include some of those keys, although because they’re in a non-traditional spot, some users will likely have trouble finding them intuitively.  

Kinesis Gaming’s split design implementation keeps the two halves of the keyboard connected by a 20-inch cable that connects to the top/back of the two parts. This lets you squish the two halves together, position them at whatever angle(s) are most convenient for you, keep them wide enough that you can place a joystick between them, or move the right-side one out of the way and use just the left-side one for gaming.

They also each have a removable palm rest.

The Lift Kit

The Freestyle Edge also has a Lift Kit. Like ergonomic keyboards, part of the allure of the split design is that you can position the pieces in a way most comfortable for you, and propping them up in the middle gives you a nice ergonomic slant. Kinesis Gaming did not overlook this feature.

The Lift Kit consists of two risers that let you “tent” either or both of the keyboard halves at 5, 10, or 15 degrees. You’ll need to employ the palm wrests if you use the Freestyle Edge in this configuration.

The Lift Kit is not a standard feature of the Freestyle Edge, though; you’ll have to pay extra to get them. However, that’s not an unwise decision on Kinesis Gaming’s part; some users won’t be interested in the Lift Kits, so keeping them as an optional accessory reduces the cost of the keyboard itself.

Key Caps, Switches, And Lighting

Kinesis Gaming is in the tank for Cherry. Its Kickstarter reads in part, “Some keyboard manufacturers are moving away from Cherry to 'clone' switches to save money, but they aren't always passing those savings on to you, the customer. In gaming, every key stroke counts, which is why we insist on using only authentic Cherry switches.

The Freestyle Edge features Cherry MX switches, mostly; the four keys in the “Programming Cluster” actually have Cherry ML switches. For now, you have the option of choosing Cherry MX Red, Brown, or Blue switches. The Kickstarter noted, “Down the road we hope to be able to offer the Edge in the full-array of Cherry switches, but for our first manufacturing run we had to make some tough choices.” Thus, for now, there will be no Cherry MX Blacks, Greens, Clears, Silent, Speed, etc.

One capitulation Kinesis Gaming made was on lighting. The Freestyle Edge has blue LEDs only, although there are nine brightness levels and a breathing effect you can switch on.

The key caps are ABS plastic, and the company boasted that its key cap legends will show up in the dark with the LEDs off better than other key caps thanks to its three-step “paint-and-laser” process:

Here's how it works: 1) each keycap gets a base-layer of translucent white paint, then 2) a top-coat of black paint is applied, then 3) the keycaps are laser engraved to remove just the black layer of paint to create the bright white key legend (not gray plastic).

Kinesis Gaming also noted that although the Freestyle Edge’s layout is unorthodox, (almost) all of the keys are standard sizes. A notable exception is the split spacebar, which has two separate 3.5x lengths. Although the right-side Ctrl and Shift keys are not standard sizes for normal Ctrl and Shift keys, they are 1.75x width. To replace them, you’ll have to find 1.75x with custom legends.

Configuration: On Keyboard Or “On Keyboard”

You can configure the Freestyle Edge via either onboard controls or a GUI. It’s worth noting that the GUI, which is called the SmartSet App, is not software that runs on your PC; instead, it’s a 1MB application that runs on the keyboard itself. Thus, you get thoroughly portable configuration software. The keyboard is plug-and-play, too, so ostensibly you should be able to bring the Freestyle Edge to any PC, plug it on, and pull up the GUI. No installation required.

You can see it in action here:

Freestyle Edge SmartSet Programming

For on-keyboard programmability, Kinesis Gaming focused on four additional hardware buttons that are located at the top of the right half of the Freestyle Edge: Layout, Macro, Remap, and the “SmartSet” key.

Because the Freestyle Edge has 4MB of onboard memory, you can create and save up to 10 key layouts and “hundreds of additional layouts”, and you can remap any of the 95 keys. You can also record and bind macros on the fly, and the SmartSet key gives you control over the lighting brightness, and lets you toggle NKRO mode and Game mode, get the Status Report, and update the firmware.

Note that within layouts, there are actually two programmable layers. For example, the “top” layer in a given layout may be a WYSIWYG situation, but the second layer could map media controls onto the F keys. The bottom left key in the extra bank of keys toggles these layers on and off.

Specs And Pricing

The Freestyle Edge is not cheap. The basic model--sans Lift Kits but with the palm rests--will run you $219. If you add the Lift Kit, you’ll add $30 to the total, bringing the cost to $249. There are deals if you back the Kickstarter, though.

The “First Edition” round of the Freestyle Edge--a small initial run of 210 of the devices--will be in buyers’ hands in the July-August timeframe. The mass production run will start in September and be distributed to buyers thereafter.

However, the Kickstarter campaign has less than half of that $50,000 raised so far at press time, and if it's not fully funded, Kinesis Gaming won't move forward with the project. There are 29 days left in the campaign.

ProductKinesis Gaming Freestyle Edge
TypeErgonomic, split, TKL
SwitchCherry MX Red, Brown, or Blue
Microcontroller32-bit Atmel microcontroller
Onboard Storage4MB
LightingBlue LEDs only
Key RolloverNKRO
InterfaceUSB
CableBraided
Additional PortsNo
Key CapsABS plastic, three-step “paint-and-laser” process for legends
WeightApprox. 2.5lbs
SoftwareSmartSet App (runs on keyboard, not PC, compatible only with Windows)
Misc.-Plug-and-play
-Windows, Mac, Linux, Chrome
-Plate-mounted switch design
-2-year warranty
-Lift Kit (detachable, sold separately) and Palm Pads
-Onboard macro, layout, remapping, and lighting controls
-Halves connected by 20-inch cable
Price$219 for the basic model, $249 with Lift Kits
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