Skip to main content

Ergonomic Gear For A Better Life

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.

  • Luscious
    I'm quite surprised your focus is on ergonomics yet you haven't mentioned anything at all about trackballs. I've been using a Logitech Track Man Wheel for close to 4 years paired with my notebook. They have many advantages over mice, not the least being ergonomically superior.
    Reply
  • ryanegeiger
    I agree... what about trackballs?
    Reply
  • Supertrek32
    I've been using the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 for a few years now and must say that I love it. Very comfortable. I also reprogrammed the back/forward buttons to control media player (via Microsoft's intellitype software), which is incredibly hand for someone like me who has a large music collection and might not be in the mood for a certain genre one day.
    Reply
  • IzzyCraft
    ryanegeigerI agree... what about trackballs?trackballs are perfect for work only situations esp with limited desk space.
    Reply
  • ddrcoder
    I've used a Kinesis for years (I'm typing this with one right now), and I must say they're the best keyboards ever made. I've found that they relieved stress in my hands/wrists. I recommended them to a friend who couldn't touch type and as he got used to the keyboard, he quickly learned. He can now type at 60WPM, I can type at 100WPM.

    -Tom
    Reply
  • Trackballs, why have they been blackballed? Everyone I loan my spare, I have three new ones just in case they stop selling them, Logitech mouse man marble to they immediately buy one for themselves.
    My friend has CTS and cannot use a regular mouse with one hand because of the strain, trackball fixed him right up. Not only are they friendlier on the wrist the require vastly less desk space, they are easier to control and for precision work nothing beats a trackball.

    My Gaming (counterstrike: source, UT2004, UT3, half life, team fortress, day of defeat,etc) buddies all have crazy expensive uber dpi programmable gaming mice that have lasers, and my 20$ trackball whips 'em every time. Why? no wasted movement, my arm is completely stationary when mousing, my fingers can keep the ball fluid and moving in one direction without having to lift it up, move it ove,r set it down, and continue mousing, one quick flick of the finger and the ball goes spinning in the desired direction, all while my arm is relaxed and stationary.

    They are in fact perfect in play situations too.
    How about some trackball love?
    Reply
  • coconutboy
    I like these kinds of articles. Currently I own a logitech MX Revolution, it's my ~5th logi mouse (I also own a cordless logitech trackball), but really all these have just been because I couldn't find anything better including the gazillion specialized ergo mice on the market. I just wish someone would make an upright/joystick-like mouse that also includes-

    a trackball
    scroll wheel or similar device
    4 buttons minimum (5+ preferred) that users can define as forward/back/whatever.

    I've tried many mice including the 3M joystick, Zero Tension Mouse and Evoluent upright. Those were somewhat better in terms of comfort but sacrificed buttons/functionality. As a result my last 4 or so mice have all been Logitech with my current being the MX Revolution but that's because of the extra buttons and its awesome scroll wheel, NOT the comfort which is just average.

    William Van WinkleI was able to try out Logitech’s MK605 notebook kit ($100)... The keyboard and mouse are okay, and they are decently compact for travel, but I wish the stand were available separately.
    The stand can be purchased individually for $30. Linkage-

    http://www.logitech.com/index.cfm/notebook_products/stands/devices/5494&cl=us,en
    Reply
  • williamvw
    The stand can be purchased individually for $30. Linkage-http://www.logitech.com/index.cfm/ 4&cl=us,en
    Oh, bonus! Thanks for pointing that out, coconutboy. Again -- highly recommended.
    Reply
  • tapeglue
    Less known help for wrist pain can be a computer armrest. I have been using one called Restman 1 for a few months now and it indeed makes me forget about my wrist problem. I got it from http://restmans.myshopify.com/products/restman-1.
    Reply
  • trifler
    I find that mice with higher dpi allow me to turn up the speed without losing any of the control. This greatly reduces the amount of necessary wrist movement to use a mouse. Therefore, I actually choose the Logitech G500 (5700dpi) for ergonomic reasons rather than for gaming reasons.
    Reply