Al—MAJA in Wonderland - My Mechanical Machinations - A Keeb Story [Part 3]
It was 2AM, I got up to use the bathroom, then glanced at my phone. Congrats! You can now purchase a Vulcan x KBDfans MAJA Mechanical keyboard DIY KIT. Why did I sign up for the MAJA waiting list in the first place? Not entirely sure, but I blazed through the checkout process and went back to bed. Waking up to confirmation emails was a tad confusing. An ergo? I have never had, nor wanted an ergo. After unpacking some subconscious thoughts, I realized I am always curious. The MAJA was decently sought after, and if I hated it… well I would not lose much if anything. The experience would be well worth the cost of shipping if I came to realize I did not like it.
Fast-forward a week or two and the board arrives.
The box is heavy. The board ships in a cardboard box with a dense foam insert. Not sure how round 1 was shipped, but R2 seemed extremely carefully packed. I watched a few MAJA build streams, and scratches occurred in a few. I imagine this packaging is a countermeasure. The Maja came partially assembled and it was shockingly light compared to the overall box weight upon picking it up. I then picked up the weight and immediately understood why the shipping weight was billed as 6.2lbs. The brass weight is BEEFY.
Impulsivity spurs impromptu purchases
Typically, I have switches and stabilizers picked out well before I even order parts, but this was so impulsive, I hardly remembered it was on its way. The unbuilt MAJA sat idle a few weeks before I got an email from TKC about Infinikey Amalfi extras. I googled them to see actual photos and did not bother looking at the renders. TKC has an earned reputation for shipping sets that are a little more than slightly off from the renders. I liked what I saw, so I ordered them. I got the keycap set in about 4 days, and I loved it. A colorway I never would have chosen before, but figured I would never go out of my way to pick an ergonomic, ergo… an out of character choice fit perfectly here. It was still early in the week and it was a busy one. I decided build day would be on the coming weekend. A product of my haste soon reared its ugly head. I had no stabilizers. You cannot build a board without stabs! (Well, you can, but you would be a monster). I hastily ordered some Durock V2 stabs that were mercifully within Amazon Prime’s one-day grasp. This would be my first experience with them, as I have only used V1 up until now. I simply did not feel the need considering I have never had a bar pop out of the stabilizer housing. As for switches, I had Lavender Linear and T1s already, so I asked the cutest person I know which I should use, and she chose the Lavender Linear.
Build day arrived and whew… I was TIRED.
It has been busy at the office since projects halted by COVID are all resuming at once. I was missing a few days of sleep, but figured building a keyboard has always been more of an outlet than a chore, so what could go wrong? Heh… it turns out, everything. Let us rewind to the board shipping partially assembled. It was not in round 1 (from what I could tell from unboxings and build videos), so I thought something had changed and I was absolutely fixated on that for a while. The MAJA does not have a shred of included instruction and comes with more standoffs and screws than needed in any single configuration, so my sleep deprivation convinced me that something was different and the build videos I had seen were completely useless now.
Once that sleep deprived fog had passed, it became obvious that the board was shipped partially assembled to avoid shipping damage, and I just needed to unscrew the plate. The standoff positions were an intuitive guess, and everything went smoothly after that. Installing the weight was a slightly stressful moment. The sheer mass vs. the light polycarbonate body seemed like something would go wrong. I was mostly concerned about stripping the threading, but it was unwarranted. Everything went together as it should. The kit is well thought out, and the foam inserts drove that point home. This was my first time working with KBD’s stabilizer foam. It fought me a tad lining it up, but this was due to the angled nature of the MAJA. The Durock V2 stabilizers gave a more satisfying snap when assembling than the V1s. I can see why the revision was made. The bars are not going anywhere without something else giving way first. Once it all came together, you are presented with a package that looks and feels every bit of its $359 price tag.
You paid how much for that?!
I will pause a moment here to address the people reading this that may not be part of the mechanical keyboard community. It is a small group. Things are made in small batches. Tooling is expensive. It takes A LOT for runs like these to even materialize. We pay what seems like insane prices because we love this hobby. If there was a choice between high prices and having none of this exist, we will always pick the high prices. Nothing feels better than seeing something go from an idea to a drawing, and finally, a physical product. It is an art that is appreciated and SUPPORTED by many. We will never be at the scale a company like Corsair needs to make a $100 niche board. We want more out of our boards than that, so we pay what it takes to get it.
And now to cap it all off
Having chosen the Lavender Linear switches, I got them installed and prepared to install the keycaps. One of the reasons the Amalfi set worked out so well is because the extension kit was available. To say this board has a non-standard layout is an understatement. The kit had more than I needed for the split space and a few oddball key sizes. It also gives me peace of mind should I decide to change things up or move the kit to a different board.
One of my major worries with this predominantly blue kit was how it would clash with the unapologetically brass plate. Since the case is polycarbonate and the key spacing means you could see through to the plate regardless, it was always going to be part of the color scheme. I had nothing to worry about as I installed the last cap and ogled the finished product. Ergo boards have always had a unique look to them. One that just so happened to set off my OCD. I think the colors of the Amalfi kit worked well to lean into this disorder, paradoxically bringing harmony to something that should not work with my sense of aesthetics, but it does. Plugging it in and seeing beautiful, diffused light helped me remember why I had the impulse to buy it in the first place. Frosted polycarbonate looks so good. The MAJA LEDs are bright and fill the case completely from corner to corner. This is a good-looking setup.
But is it even comfortable?
I believe that it will be. I spent a bit figuring out what I wanted the bottom row to be. I went with left CTRL, left Win, Space, left Alt, Space, right CTRL. I do not remember what it was set up with out of the box, but it was a bit screwy. Originally, I planned to map the left shift to something else, but I found that if I needed to type with my left hand while I was on the phone, I needed that space bar. Having smaller keys to the left and right of the space meant I still had plenty of buttons to do what I wanted. The next step was figuring out which side of the board took custody of the letter B. You will notice in the photos I have it on the left, but in practice, I was striking what I mapped to be Fn constantly when going for B. I swapped that almost immediately. After getting all of that sorted, it was a shockingly easy adjustment to the ergonomic layout. I still have the infrequent urge to hit the Y key with my left hand, but that is going away with time. I am over 1,000 words into this write-up, and I have not caught myself doing it.
I feel the ergonomic positioning doing a couple of things. My hands are in clearly separated zones and I do not feel the need to leave those zones—with the diminishing exception of Y. This means I do not move my wrists nearly as often as I used to. It also means that I stretch my fingers A LOT more. This has forced me to realize that with traditional keyboards, I bring my fingers to the keys using my arms and wrists instead of reaching for the keys with my fingers. Another result of the angle change is the bottom of my hand/palms pushing—not all that hard—into my desk. This is the first time I have ever felt like I needed a wrist rest. So, I have one on order. These two things are the reason I opened the comfort discussion believing it will be comfortable. This is not to say I am uncomfortable now, but I need time to adjust to how different this feels. I am aware at all times of my hands touching the desk, and that gets distracting. It is a very hard wood desk, so a wrist rest will go a long way.
A switch stemmed side quest
I thought I was someone who liked every kind of switch. I have certainly built boards with each style, but my dailies have one thing in common. Tactility. The lineup includes BKE Redux Topre, Gazzew Boba U4t Thocky, Zealio V2, and I started with Kailh BOX Jades and Navies. I have builds with Alpaca V2, Black Ink, and Tealio V2, but I use them less often. Having gone into this build with the Lavender Linear switches, I came to understand something. Linear is fine when focus is not a factor, but when I am in the zone hammering away tens of thousands of words, the subtle feedback of a linear is not enough for me. In general, I am a white noise type of person. I cannot exist in complete silence, I enjoy bass and texture in music, and believe a little chaos is necessary. Linear switches are just a bit too polite. I do enjoy a good linear. I have some lubed and filmed Alpacas that are a dream to type on, but have come to notice they are missing the edge I need to be fully confident in my next keystroke. My style of typing does not see me bottoming out as hard as I would need to on a linear switch.
It was at this point that I switched the Lavender Linear out for the T1 tactile switches. The difference was stark. I used the linear switches for a solid week, so when I switched, I had a good amount of calibration. It must be said that there was a distinct lack of confidence with this board that I unfairly attributed to the ergonomic layout. It was not enough for me to dismiss the MAJA, but something felt off. With the T1s, I was off to the races. Being under the gun of a typing test always frustrates me, so I do not have any numbers to back it up, but I have a good gauge of my own productivity to say I was up about 20 or so WPM.
You know ergo is a rabbit-hole within a rabbit-hole, right?
Yes… yes, I do. I have a built-in defense though. Looking at split ergonomic boards, I quickly realized none of them had arrow keys. A lot of people responded to this by telling me I could map them to the bottom row, but one thing I hate about my Planck is exactly that. I need my up to be… up, not adjacent. The arrow cluster is simply too important to me to hide behind a layer or use in an unconventional fashion. So that is how I am currently justifying not digging any deeper.
I am satisfied for now. I know this hobby is a never-ending journey, but I believe I have successfully scratched an itch I did not know I had.
Leave us your opinion.