The Kinesis Advantage
I lied. I told Will Hargreaves, CEO of Kinesis, that I would dutifully spend a week on his Advantage contoured keyboard. I didn’t. Instead, I gave it to my wife and asked her to log in the time. Look at the pictures and you can guess why. The Advantage makes the split in Microsoft’s 4000 look like a hairline fracture. Again, the idea is joint neutrality. Even though the Microsoft Natural promotes wrist and forearm pronation neutrality, you still have to bring both hands inward to meet near the keyboard’s center, in effect making a near-triangle with your body and forearms. This isn’t natural. We don’t hold our hands together when relaxed. So the Advantage seeks to get your hands closer to that natural amount of separation for less tension through your elbows, upper arms, and shoulders. For this same reason, the Advantage dispenses with an integrated numeric keypad.
“A lot of people develop mousing strain because the reach is so wide from adding the split and keeping the numeric keypad,” Hargreaves said. “I think nearly all what we call ‘professional’ or ‘high-performance’ ergonomic keyboards leave off the number pad and have it as an option so the mouse is closer, because people use a mouse a lot more often. Probably two-thirds of our customers never use a number pad.”
Hargreaves says that customers often describe using a Kinesis contoured keyboard as feeling like they’re “typing downhill.” This makes no sense until you actually try it for yourself. It’s true. The fingers of each hand dip into a bowl lined with keys positioned to correspond to finger lengths. A lot of the normal stretching done to reach top and bottom rows simply vanishes. There’s no more needing to use your arm to lift your palm and make those reaches. Space and Enter are under the right thumb while Backspace and Delete are under the left. This makes editing much easier and quicker than on a traditional keyboard. Kinesis arranges keys in vertical columns rather than in diagonal lines, which is much more intuitive. (For an example, run your right pinky up from “;” to “p” to “0." See how it’s diagonal? On the Advantage, the line is practically straight up and down, which is far more intuitive and comfortable on your fingers.
Kinesis isn’t shy about warning customers about its learning curve. Hargreaves told me to expect an adjustment period of about one week and advised me not to try doing deadline-oriented work during that period. (Yeah, that’ll happen.) After one hour each on the keyboard, my wife and I took turns writing a sample paragraph. It’s telling that it took us almost exactly the same time to complete the task. Her touch typing skill was of less use here as she constantly had to fight the habits of using diagonal orientation lines, particularly in the bottom row. After three hours, though, her speed and accuracy had visibly improved.
“We’ve had countless people tell us they were hunt-and-peckers, that they could never get past the split of a Natural keyboard,” Hargreaves said. “But with the Contour, it not only forced them to work more by touch but made it easy. They became better typists because the reach is easier and you’re anchored in a specific location. They keys are straight ahead instead of at an angle. The benefits are worth the initial frustration.”
Hargreaves assured me that if I devoted the learning time, I would emerge a faster, more accurate typist than I am today, and I believe him. The key action on the Advantage is incredibly comfortable. It actually feels good to use, and you can always add on a numeric keypad if necessary. This is how keyboards were supposed to be made. The thought of what this keyboard with a Dvorak layout (the Dvorak/QWERTY switchable version is another $26) could accomplish is terrifying in a good, change-your-life sort of way.