Image: iStockphoto/vbacarin

After my review of the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard (UHK), Kinesis reached out to me to point out my comparison between the UHK and the Freestyle keyboard included an older model Kinesis Freestyle. To set right that particular “wrong,” Kinesis sent me a loaner unit to compare against my now daily-driver UHK.

When the box arrived, I opened it to reveal a Kinesis Freestyle Pro Quiet model. After unpacking the unit, I pieced it together to find one important feature had changed and some had not.

SEE: Flash storage: A guide for IT pros (TechRepublic Premium)

Kinesis Freestyle Pro Quiet specs

Before I dive into the comparison, let’s take a look at what the Freestyle Pro Quiet offers.

  • OS Support: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, Chrome
  • Mechanical key switches: Cherry MX Quiet Red, with an activation force of 45 grams and a travel distance of 4.1 mm
  • Dimensions: 15.5 inches by 7.25 dimensions
  • Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Adjustable linking cable length: 12-21.5 inches
  • USB cable length: 6 feet

That’s the base unit. Kinesis also sent along with the keyboard the Freestyle VIP3 Pro, which includes wrist rests and tenting units.

The Kinesis Freestyle Pro Quiet sells for $179.00 and the Freestyle VIP3 Pro accessory sells for $40.00. So your total for the keyboard, wrist rests, and tenting unit is $219.00 (without shipping/handling). In comparison, the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, complete with wrist rests and tenting sells for $275.00 (without shipping/handling).

Is the extra money for the UHK worth the price? Let’s find out.

Comparing the Freestyle Pro Quiet and UHK keyboards

First I want to address the keyboard. They Kinesis comes packed with some really interesting features, not all of which are available for all platforms. For example, the no-install SmartSet App, which allows you to view keyboard layouts and create/edit macros, is only available for Windows and macOS. Because there is no support for Linux, I couldn’t test that feature.

The UHK keyboard, on the other hand, does support Linux, so adjusting the layout or adding/editing macros is just a matter of installing the UHK Agent and learning the not-so-challenging task of creating macros.

Outside of that one slight, the Kinesis keyboard is just as good as I remembered. Even though I’ve grown accustomed to the UHK, the Kinesis was like coming home to an old friend. The layout is incredibly well designed and comfortable. One improvement Kinesis has made to the Freestyle is that everything seems to feel much more solid than with previous incarnations. It’s not quite as solid as the UHK (which is a tank of a keyboard), but it’s solid enough to withstand some pretty heavy daily pounding.

And, unlike the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, the Freestyle Pro has a standard set of cursor keys (Figure A), so there’s no need to train your fingers to use a MOD button in conjunction with the JKLI keys for cursor movement.

Figure A

At this point, the keyboards seem to be about even given the flexibility of the UHK macros vs. the Kinesis’ standard cursor keys, so the choice as to which is superior might be up in the air.


The wrists rests

This is where the Kinesis falls short. I can speak from quite a bit of experience on this issue, as I’ve had to replace a few sets of wrist pads on my old Kinesis (Figure B).

Figure B

The thing about the Kinesis wrist rests is that they are plastic and make use of a replaceable foam pad. That foam pad very quickly breaks down if you tend to lean your wrists on the rests. For whatever reason, I tend to only lean my left wrist down–or at least I did, until adopting the UHK. From my experience, if you want to keep those pads in good condition, you’ll be replacing them every six-12 months, depending on your usage. The good news is that the wrist pads are only $12.00 for a set, so you won’t be out too much.

On the other hand, the UHK uses a gorgeous set of wood wrist rests. You won’t be replacing those anytime soon, if ever. You might think that wood isn’t a good material for a rest. However, if you type correctly, you won’t be using those rests much.

Which brings me to another point. Kinesis has done something smart with the VIP kit. The old tenting unit used to extend beyond the keyboard and required the use of the wrist rests. The new tenting kit doesn’t extend past the keyboard itself, so it’s possible to use the Freestyle Pro with the tenting option but without the rests (Figure C).

Figure C

Not only does this mean you can bypass the less-than-stellar wrist rests, the keyboard will also take up less space. With the wrist rests attached, the keyboard takes up a significant amount of desk real estate. If you take this keyboard on the go, you’ll find yourself having trouble making room in tight spaces. Without the rests, you should be good to go.

Finally, the key action. This is probably one of the most important aspects of a keyboard, especially to those that spend a good deal of time typing. The action between the UHK and the Freestyle Pro is quite similar. In fact, both used red switches so the activation and travel was almost identical. The only difference is that the UHK keys were quite a bit louder (sounding like a very tiny horse trotting around on your desk). Although the Freestyle Pro wasn’t silent, it produced quite a bit less noise than the UHK. If you or those around you are sensitive to keyboard noise, the UHK can get a bit annoying.

If you’re like me, and you work alone and listen to a lot of music (at loud volumes), the tiny horse hooves of the UHK aren’t a problem.

The verdict

I almost hate to admit this, given my long-term relationship with the Freestyle Pro, but the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard is still the ultimate. Because of the cheap wrist pads and the lack of support for macros on Linux, I won’t be returning to the Kinesis keyboard anytime soon. That doesn’t mean the door is shut. Hopefully future iterations of the Freestyle Pro will add Linux support to the no-install SmartSet App and do away with the cheap wrist pads, in favor of something that will last.

Outside of those two issues, the Kinesis is still a stellar keyboard, and one that will bring significant relief to anyone who suffers from chronic fatigue from too much typing.