Hardware

10 ergonomic keyboards that actually do their job

If you do a lot of typing -- or if you have employees who do a lot of typing - ergonomic keyboards make a great deal of sense. Jack Wallen reviews 10 outstanding keyboards that will prevent the strain that standard keyboards place on the body.

If you do a lot of typing -- or if you have employees who do a lot of typing - ergonomic keyboards make a great deal of sense. Jack Wallen reviews 10 outstanding keyboards that will prevent the strain that standard keyboards place on the body.


I type a LOT. As a freelance writer, I am currently writing around 14 articles a week, as well as working on novels. Add to that the barrage of email I send out day in and day out. And if that weren't bad enough, I have issues that stem from elbow and wrist overuse. So you can see why an ergonomic keyboard is a necessity in my life. In the corporate environment, the problem is compounded by a loss of work when an employee goes down with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Now, I know there are those out there that dismiss "ergonomics" as nothing more than a buzzword or waste of time and costly resources. I generally tell those people to wait around and see how it feels when continued overuse and misuse of their hands and arms brings them to their knees in pain. But no one needs to suffer like that. There are too many outstanding solutions that can aid in the prevention of such disorders and discomfort.

These issues can be avoided with exercise, rest, and the right keyboard. But which one? Many keyboards claim to be ergonomic -- and some of them actually do work and work well. In this article, I will highlight only the ones that do actually make good on their claims. These will be in no specific order, and you'll notice a number of keyboards from one company - Kinesis - because it has nearly perfected the ergonomic keyboard.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Kinesis Freestyle VIP

This is my own personal choice in keyboard. It's the Mac Daddy of ergo-keyboards. Not only has the keyboard been split in half, you can adjust the splay (the horizontal plane angle) to any degree of separation that the tether will allow. And with the addition of the VIP kit, you can adjust the tent of the keypads. The tent refers to the tilt of the keyboards. You can go from flat to roughly 10 to 15 degrees. You can even have each keypad at different tent angles and different splay angles.

The only downside to the Freestyle (with or without the VIP) is the learning curve your fingers will have to go through. Some of the keys (in particular the Delete, End, and Home keys) are not in their standard locations or reach. Outside of that, the Freestyle is the ideal candidate for anyone suffering from pain associated with poor keyboards and improper use. For more details on the VIP, see this Product Spotlight.

2: Kinesis Advantage and Advantage Pro

If you can pay the price for one of these keyboards ($359.00 for the Advantage Pro), your arms and wrists will thank you for it. So will your back, and your shoulders, and your neck... This keyboard forces you to use good habits. The keypads are on the outer edges of the physical keyboard and rest in a scooped-out hollow, forcing your hands to work in a near-perfect position.

This keyboard also has programmable keys that allow unlimited remapping of keys, with 24, 36, or 48 macros of up to 56 characters. You can switch these keyboards between QWERTY and Dvorak layouts. You will not find, anywhere, a more versatile keyboard focused solely on proper typing position, ease of use, and comfort.

3: Kinesis Maxim

The Maxim takes the standard "natural wave" keyboard and gives it the ability to pivot on an axis. What's nice about this product is that it can be used as a standard keyboard or it can be easily configured into a naturally fitting position. The beauty of the Maxim is that it can resemble the layout of the Freestyle VIP without requiring a kit of any sort (although the tent and splay do not expand as far as they do on the Freestyle VIP). It's also nice to have the option of using the Maxim as a standard keyboard, which will come in handy when you have little space to work with.

4: Adesso Tru-Form

The Tru-Form is for those who don't want to pony up for a Kinesis keyboard but need as much of the benefits as possible at a lower price. This keyboard has what seems like the standard split and contour of the Microsoft Natural Wave keyboard. However, when you use it, you realize it has taken the idea of the Natural Wave and improved upon it greatly. The split and the contour are much more in line with the natural typing position. One feature you will greatly enjoy is the added trackpad beneath the space bars. This will keep you from having to use your mouse, which is another culprit that adds to the wrist/arm issues. It also offers both USB and PS/2 connections.

Although this keyboard will not save you from carpal tunnel, as the Kinesis keyboards will, it will not break your budget. At nearly one-half to one-sixth the cost of the Kinesis keyboards, the Tru-Form is the best of the standard Wave keyboards. There is one problem with the Tru-Form: The keyboard sits at an incline from the space bar, which can put you in an unnatural position. I have alleviated this problem by propping up the side of the keyboard closest to me by about an inch. This changes the position enough to bring my arms and shoulders into a much more normal, ergonomic position.

5: Goldtouch Go!

The Goldtouch Go! was, at one point, the gold standard for ergonomic keyboards. Then, the Kinesis keyboards were released and usurped the throne. But that doesn't mean the Goldtouch Go! is a piece of hardware to ignore. It's the ideal external keyboard for on-the-go users. It has a tiny footprint with keys nearly the same size as those on a 14" notebook. With the added ability to splay and tent, it's like you have an ergonomic laptop. And unlike the Kinesis Freestyle, the Go! can actually adjust from 0 degrees all the way to a 30-degree tent. That is some serious angle that will accommodate nearly any hand position need.

6: Logitech Cordless Desktop Wave

I used this keyboard for a long time, before dropping the cash for the Kinesis. It probably has the lowest learning curve of all the ergonomic keyboards. What this keyboard suffers in range of position, it makes up for with a multitude of multimedia and special buttons that keep the user from having to reach from mouse to keyboard and back again. So if your biggest problem is pain from using a mouse, this keyboard might be a great replacement -- and it won't have you pulling out your hair trying to figure out where the keys are. The price won't break your IT budget, either.

7: Fentek Comfort Keyboard System

The Fentek will have you staring at your desk like a child at Christmas when you first lay your eyes on it. This system has three pieces: left hand, right hand, and numeric keypad. Each piece is separate and is held aloft on a stand that adjusts from 0 to 90 degrees. This system holds a seemingly infinite number of possible positions, and it locks into place. It also has programmable macro keys that allow you to configure a series of keystrokes to a single keypress. The price is steep, $349 to $369, but for those who need the most flexible keyboard available, the price is worth it.

8: Fentek Keyboard Control Foot Pedals

This pedal system is factory programmed to emulate a mouse, but it can be reprogrammed to emulate any keystroke, saving serious wear and tear on your digits, arms, and shoulders. It works with nearly all operating systems. However, only Windows 2000 and XP enjoy the full range of features. (The programming driver currently doesn't work on Vista.) You can create macros for up to 1,200 characters per unit. If you have serious issues with carpal tunnel or shoulder issues and you need to save as many keystrokes as you can, these pedals can be a lifesaver.

9: orbiTouch Keyless Ergonomic Keyboard

When you first look at this piece of hardware, you'll think, "There is no way I could use that." Yes, the orbiTouch does take some getting used to, but it truly is a revolutionary way to interface with your computer. Instead of using your fingers to type, you use your hands and arms to manipulate two domes that slide into various positions to type numbers. This keyboard has made it possible for users with physical barriers to be able to "type." Each dome moves approximately 7mm into eight positions. Obviously, the learning curve is much steeper than for other keyboards, but this keyboard has enabled quadriplegics to use a PC. The price is steep, at $399.

10: SafeType

The SafeType looks like it came out of a Star Trek Next Generation episode. It's a full-on 3D keyboard that completely eliminates extension, ulnar-deviation, and pronation. Extensive research has gone into creating a typing position that has near zero negative effects on the structures of the arms and wrist. SafeType claims that most ergonomic keyboards simply move the stresses placed by normal keyboard use to other locations in the body (the shoulders, neck, and elbows, primarily). You can watch the instructional video to see how well the SafeType keeps these stresses from the body. The SafeType costs $295.

Worth the price

Those are 10 possible solutions - each of which will help relieve the strain that standard keyboards place on the muscles, ligaments, bones, and nerves. If you do a lot of typing, or if you have employees who do a lot of typing, it's worth investing in one of these solutions. The money you will save from the loss of work caused by keyboard-induced repetitive stress injury will pay for the product in no time.


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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

16 comments
Barc777
Barc777

The site for the orbiTouch seems to be up for sale.  Of the split keyboards, only the Kinesis Advantage, Fentek, and SafeType would work for me, since their split design puts the numeral '6' on the correct side (the right), which is how I learned to type many moons ago, and still do.

daringdave57
daringdave57

I would recommend using the Microsoft Sculpt. The only drawback that I can think of is that it is wireless, which means that there is more input lag. If that is a problem for you then I would recommend using the Kinesis Freestyle2. I have found great information about both of these on this site.
Site : http://ergonomicoffice.hubpages.com/hub/Top-Ergonomic-Keyboard

Hallejai
Hallejai

I really appreciate your effort in checking out ergonomic keyboards for us who want, need and will buy them. I had already done my research but your article showed me the one that would do the best for me. I wanted to take the time to tell you I bought the Kinesis Freestyle Vip at Amazon.com with attachments for $125.00. I bought a Microsoft ergonomic keyboard six months go and it broke down three times. It has a 2 year warranty. I was sent a replacement the first time. The second time they fixed it online and the third time I could not find any help at Microsoft for any malfunctioning warranted product. I live in costa Rica and it is nearly impossible to deal with warranties here. Hopefully I have a good one. Thanks again. Halle

lamilo
lamilo

I've used a Kinesis advantage for years and I am very happy with it, however, it is loud and now I am sharing office space with coworkers. Which of the keyboards above is the quietest?

jmiceli
jmiceli

One problem that many people gloss over as 'relatively unimportant' deals with the placement of certain number keys. As a touch typist that never uses the 10 key pad, the number keys above the letters are extremely important. The first finger on each hand controls more than one key (4 & 5 for the left hand, 6 & 7 for the right hand). However, of the 8 keyboards listed above that use normal keys (discounting #'s 8 & 9 above), fully half of the keyboards (#'s 1,3,4,5) have the '6' key in the wrong place. They have that key on the left hand side of the split, making the left pointer finger control 3 keys (4,5,6). As a touch typist, this drives me nuts! Anyone else find this to be an important issue? I won't buy a keyboard that has it in the wrong place no matter how nice it is. I have had to work with this issue since I started using ergo keyboards and it is a royal pain. I have tried using the wireless Microsoft Ergo keyboard, but it can't consistently keep up with my typing speed. Maybe I just have too many issues ... issues ... issues... ;p)

skimonkey
skimonkey

Spot on. I switched years ago and will never go back to a standard keyboard. Would love to see you do the same list for the most ergonomic and pain-free mouse.

brochat
brochat

I am disapointed that you do not say a word about the fantastic Typematrix ( www.typematrix.com )

santeewelding
santeewelding

Nor do I understand "natural position", except with, ah, other acts. If God had meant us to type...instead of to...ah...

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Microsoft's Natural Ergonomic keyboard. Best keyboard switch I ever made. The end of wrist pain, and my typing speed near doubled. lol Won't go back to a 'normal' keyboard. As Palmetto noted, moving back and forth between an ergonomic and a regular keyboard is a pita. etu (Must be this lappie non-ergonomic keyboard.)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If you're a technician who frequently works on other people's systems, try the most inexpensive ergonomic keyboard you can get. You may find, as I did, that constantly switching between the ergo on your desk and the conventional keyboards on your customer systems will drive you nuts. Try a cheap one, and if you stand switching back and forth then go for a good one.

Ron_007
Ron_007

I had RSI issues within a few months of starting my first IT job. Some physio therapy and a careful re-organization of my workspace/desk took care of it. That experience brought ergonomics to the forefront of my consideration when looking at a potential workspace. Years later I 'inherited' a MS Natural Pro keyboard. The receptionist who had it left, and luckily for me secretary who wanted it couldn't fit it on her keyboard drawer. It was just a little too wide and a little too high. So I got it. I liked it so much that when I saw it on sale I bought 2, 1 for work and 1 for home. That is the PRO, not the Elite version. I hate the reorganized "optimized" "home" etc and arrow keys on the Elite. Although the ergonomic features of the MS Natural are minor compared to some of your extreme examples they are enough for me. I feel a twinge almost immediately when I have to use a "normal" keyboard. It would be interesting to be able to try many of the variations to see which is "best", for me. Ergonomics is the one place in "PC" computing that the Personal is truly PERSONAL! The "advantage" of having a touch pad immediately below the space bar is lost to me. I have that layout on my laptop built-in keyboard. The problem is that I tend to drag and tap my thumb on that exact spot so my cursor and insertion point is constantly jumping around on the screen. Very annoying. My next ergo project is to re-train myself to touch type using the DVORAK layout.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've noticed that on a couple of keyboards my users have. I reach with the right index finger and there's nothing there. I recall a model that moved the 'B' over to the right side, but that may be a 'senior moment'.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've uses a Perfit Contour mouse for over five years. They're pricey ($90), but they come in four right-handed sizes and three lefty sizes. Check the sizing template on their website before ordering. www.contourdesign.com

doug
doug

I've often wondered if the best ergonomic keyboards were the old IBM AT keyboards, and the Keytronic keyboards sold a bit later. Those keyboards were huge, and shaped in a curve so the middle row was lower than the top and bottom rows. And the keytronics were even better, with just an amazing key action. I don't remember people getting carpel tunnel back then. Later, of course, all the computer manufacturers went to the real cheap keyboards we use today. I'd love to get one of those keytronics today.

jdesmond
jdesmond

Unfortunately, the main problem with keyboards isn't addressed here. Standard keyboards have their keys separated .75 inch 'on center', and this spacing was set over 60 years ago, when the 'average American typist' was 5'4" in her high heels. Now everyone needs to type, and big people with big fingers are trying to keep from hitting three keys at once. Where can one get keyboards with the keys 10% bigger / farther apart - .9" center-to-center seperation ?

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

But hey, that's me. I'm the first to say use whatever you like best! :) But I used ergonimic mice of varying types and prices for years and continued having wrist pain. Having used a Razer Copperhead for over a year, my pain has gone away. It was odd getting used to, but I like it so much I bought a second one for work. That's saying alot cause I'm a cheap sob! :) The copperhead is of decent size, but it is more of a fingertip mouse and took some getting used to. The back of my palm rests on the mouse pad most of the time and I (unknowingly until recently) use my thumb and ring finger to control movement. Sounds awkward and ridiculous, but my wrist pain is gone. The mouse's really, really light weight may contribute. I hated that at first, but again I now love it so much I have two. Not to mention the pulsating blue logo screams uber geek. :) On another note, I started going to the gym on a regular basis over a year ago or so when I bought my first copperhead, so that may well be a contributing factor as well. Either way, the mouse is comfortable and I've never been so fond of a piece of hardware that I bought a second one for workk. Most importantly, I have no wrist pain anymore and I'm satisfied. Edit!!: I also messed up my wrists and broke a few metacarpal shafts in both hands so that may also skew my results a bit. It was a case of motorcycle vs Cadillac when I was younger, guess who got the short end of the deal!

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