This is my very first encounter with the “world’s first Truly Ergonomic Computer Keyboard”, aka the TECK. I received the keyboard today after inquiring about a review sample—the reason for me being the reviewer this time around is that Dustin has no interest in an ergonomic/split key keyboard. The company that makes the TECK goes by the name Truly Ergonomic, and right now this is the only product they make.

Several years in the works, the main claim to fame is that the keyboard is designed from the ground up for ergonomics. To that end, they’ve ditched the traditional layout and staggered keys in order to provide an optimized layout that offers better comfort while typing, but the changes are something that will take a lot of practice typing before you can type anywhere near your regular speed. And Truly Ergonomic makes no claims to the contrary—they recommend spending days if not weeks with the keyboard before you decide whether or not you really like it, going so far as to offer a 60-day money-back guarantee. Oh, and let’s not forget that the TECK also comes with mechanical switches, specifically Cherry MX Brown switches that are relatively quiet compared to many of the other mechanical switches out there.

Initial impressions are shocking—if you’ve ever tried the Dvorak key layout, I don’t think this could be any more alienating. Just about every "special purpose" key that I have become accustomed to locating by instinct is now in a new location—delete, tab, backspace, and enter are in the center column, with the spacebar split around the enter key. On the left, the Shift key is moved up one row, with CTRL where Shift normally resides and the ALT key at the bottom-left where CTRL usually sits. The right side gets the same treatment, and the enter key as noted has been relocated to the middle of the spacebar. Even the main body of the keyboard with the normal seeming QWERTY layout can feel equally alien to a “formerly” touch typist at first (I find that staring at the keys a bit while typing helps a bit right now). Elsewhere, where I normally find backspace is now an equal sign, the backslash and forward-slash are at the left where tab should be, there’s an extra key in the top-left that shifts all the numbers right one key, and we haven’t even gotten to the document navigation keys. The cursor keys reside under your right hand, down from the JKL area; Home/End/PgUp/PgDn are similarly located under your left hand.

The above paragraphs are the first paragraphs I’ve tried to type on the keyboard (plus some editing after the fact) and it has taken me fully twenty minutes with nearly constant mistakes to get them out! I’m already getting a bit more competent, but when the documentation suggests taking a while to adapt, they’re not kidding around. Truth be told, the whole experience can be a bit maddening at first—if you’ve ever been frustrated to the point where you feel a bit queasy in the gut and want to quit what you’re doing and go find something else more pleasant (like maybe beating your head against a wall)…well, I’m feeling a lot of that right now! I’m mostly writing this to give me a small amount of practice before trying some speed typing tests. I don’t think that the test is going to go well the first time around, but let’s find out.

I will be taking the tests twice on the TECK: once earlier in the writing process and a second time much later. Scores are expressed as “Gross WPM/Errors=Net WPM”. I found these tests on TypingTest.com, and I’m using three different text selections: Aesop’s Fables, Rules of Baseball, and Tigers in the Wild. And yes, these tests are hardly scientific, as typing the same text repeatedly on different keyboards can potentially skew the results. To help mitigate that, I’m serpentining through the keyboards and taking each test twice (so six tests on one keyboard). I’m starting at the top of the list with my old Microsoft Natural Elite, moving to the Rosewill RK-9100, and then finishing with the TECK before heading back up. I’m going to take each test four times and report the best result. (And for the final TECK result, I’ll revisit the test later.)

Round One Typing Test Results
Keyboard Test 1 Test 2 Test 3
MS Natural Elite 69/1=68 67/0=67 64/0=64
Rosewill 71/0=71 74/0=74 67/1=66
TECK (30 minutes) 24/2=22 27/7=20 31/8=23
TECK (90 minutes) 44/2=42 56/4=52 45/5=40

Ouch. I am still very clearly on the early part of a rather steep learning curve, but we’re talking about overcoming roughly 25 years of muscle memory as I adapt to the layout of the TECK—yes, in case you weren’t aware, I currently hold down the fort as the old fuddy-duddy for AnandTech, having just celebrated my 20-year high school reunion last summer. Another major difficulty for me is that I shift routinely between my desktop and various laptops, and if you’ve read my laptop reviews you probably already know that I’m quite particular about keyboard layouts. Here however the TECK isn’t a slightly tweaked layout just for kicks and giggles; it’s a completely whacked out (at first) arrangement that’s designed to be more ergonomic. And honestly, even in the short time I’ve been typing this, I’m starting to think they might be on to something, but change is never easy.

You can see the results from the table above, and when I get into a sort of zone while typing with the TECK, my speed seems to be better than before and I feel less strain/discomfort. The problem is that I’m not in the zone most of the time (yet), so I’ll go really fast for a few words or maybe even a whole sentence before the wheels fall off and I start hitting “=” instead of backspace. The layout definitely feels more compact and requires less movement, and I like everything in theory, but in practice I’m still making a lot of errors. But with only 90 minutes of typing on the TECK that’s hardly surprising; I’m at least getting closer to where I was on my previous keyboards. Where will I be in a week’s time? We’ll have to wait to find out, which is why this is only a “First Imoressions” rather than the full review.

I’ll post a complete review of the keyboard once I’ve had enough time with the device to really say how much I like (or perhaps dislike) what they’ve done, but as someone that has enjoyed using an MS Natural Elite PS/2 keyboard for most of my time writing for AnandTech, there’s a lot on tap here. I’ve long heard the benefits for touch typists of mechanical keys, but until now I haven’t seen anyone doing a curved/natural/ergonomic keyboard with mechanical keys (not that I've really looked around much--see the comments for a couple other options). The TECK is the first I’ve seen that’s readily available in the US, and while the current $222 price will almost certainly make you think twice it's actually lower than some of the alternatives, and I can tell you from personal experience that the costs of dealing with RSI, CTS, and other similar health problems are far higher than that. You’ll hear more about the TECK in a couple weeks, but for now I’m very intrigued. I’m just not sure how I’m going to go between desktops and laptops without feeling baffled for a little while if I end up sticking with the TECK!

Here’s one final parting shot to consider, taken after the rest of this article was written. I’ve now spent over two hours playing around with the TECK, and my speed and accuracy continue to improve. The worst part for me continues to be finding keys like quotes as well as accidentally reaching too far into the center keys (delete, tab, backspace) and messing things up. I’m getting better, and I can see the potential for the layout, but it will take some time….

Final Typing Test Results
Keyboard Test 1 Test 2 Test 3
TECK (120 minutes) 55/5=50 62/8=54 51/2=49

While I try to come to grips with the TECK, I’d love to hear any suggestions on ways to better adapt to a completely different keyboard. I’m also happy to entertain requests for any specific tests you’d like me to try, or if you have questions about the unit itself I can answer those as well. Incidentally, the keyboard is very solidly built, with far more weight to it than the diminutive size would suggest. I actually like the weightiness, though it would be less ideal for transporting it in a backpack. The palm rest is also removable and attached securely via multiple screws, which is a great way of doing things. Aesthetically, there’s a lot I like about the TECK, which is part of the reason I was so interested in getting a review sample. The only question is how well I can type after spending some quality time with the TECK.

To be continued….

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  • Pete Magsig - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Another +1 vote the for Kinesis. I saw the original papers that drove the design of the Kinesis presented at SIGCHI many years ago, so TECK's claim isn't exactly true. But more importantly, I've been using Kinesis for over a decade, with great results. I started having wrist and hand issues back in the late 90's. I bought a Kinesis, spent the time adapting to it, and haven't had a problem since. I'm a programmer, and spend a lot of time behind a keyboard.

    Another great side effect of the Kinesis is that once you've become familiar with the keyboard your typing speed will increase noticeably if you're writing prose.
    Reply
  • Exirtis - Thursday, January 24, 2013 - link

    Thanks for mentioning Massdrop. I'd never heard of it before, but I'm glad I have now.

    It's a nice concept, and so belatedly obvious that I'm surprised that the site is so new (the domain registration isn't even two years old) and that the open crowdsourcing of group buying hasn't been done before, that I'm aware of.
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - link

    She came from a standard, flat, Danish keyboard to a standard QWERTY TECK"109" key, and had little problem adjusting - her job is mostly to type English every day though - technical documents mainly. She loves it, has it with Cherry MX Blues, yet she still uses a normal, flat, Danish keyboard at home.

    So there is certainly a good chance some people will find it easy to adapt.

    The Truly Ergonomic to me looks great, but I wish they would actually listen to feedback. I'd probably buy one if they allowed me to customise my keycaps like WASD does! (I use a fully custom layout, based on Dvorak, at home and at work, at work on a normal QWERTY keyboard..)
    Reply
  • twoscomplement - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - link

    I stumbled upon and purchased this keyboard about 8 months ago. It took me a good week or two using it at work to become accustomed to the layout, but afterwards I absolutely would swear by it. As a developer I find its relocating of CTRL, SHIFT, and ENTER as one of the most important changes. On a typical QWERTY layout the typical emacs shortcuts require a lot of pinky stretching which would always cramp up my hands after a long day of programming. On a QWERTY I usually remap Caps Lock to CTRL to alleviate the strain some, but TREK's moving of more used keys to more dominant fingers/positions does create a more comfortable typing position.

    Some other minor details: It's quite solidly built with dip switches that allow remapping keys in hardware. The relocation of HOME, END, PGUP, and PGDWN as a second dpad encouraged me to use them quite a bit more. And the small the width of the keyboard keeps mouse hand travel to a minimum. Just keep at it and it'll become second nature in no time. I often find myself reaching for tab, and enter when coming home to my desktop.
    Reply
  • BedfordTim - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - link

    Somewhat similarly I found that Dell's relocation of the PGUP and PGDwn keys a revelation. As a programmer I make a lot of use of these, and grouping all the movement keys into one area works very well for me. Oddly others here hate Dell's arrangement, so I guess it remains a very personal thing, and probably related to usage patterns. Reply
  • Azethoth - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - link

    With this amount of futzing they should have just gone full Dvorak.

    I do like the idea of redesigning the keyboard though. the standard one has so many dumb features. NumLock needs to be shot in the head for example.

    It is also time for dedicated cut copy paste undo keys.

    Their arrow key layout sucks coconuts. The down arrow should be in line with the left rights. Moving it back is NOT ergonomic. Your middle finger is long and already reaches the standard configuration. Moving it back means its already curled to reach up, and super curled to reach down. Yuck.
    Reply
  • UpSpin - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - link

    That keyboard looks nice and fixes a lot of issues I currently have with my QWERTY keyboard. The middle column is a great idea (finally return accesible with both left and right hand) and also the other button placements (control keys, navigation keys) seem well optimized.
    But I think the name is too much. It's definitely not a truly ergonomic keyboard, because it still uses QWERTY layout which is, on purpose, not ergonomic. There are alternative layouts, better suited for modern computers, sadly they aren't the standard and adoption will take much longer. Luckily you can change to an alternative layout, you'll just miss the correct key labels.
    The overall button placement (especially numbers and symbols) of the TECK isn't that much different either, so I doubt that it's much more comfortable to type symbols or numbers with it than with a normal keyboard without a number block.

    I still use QWERTY on the normal sized keyboard, because every other computer / every available keyboard has QWERTY.
    However, I learned a new layout for a one handed keyboard I primarily use. Its physical layout is totally different and also the way you input text. Thus typing on it was difficult the first days/weeks, but here's how I managed to learn it quite fast. (good speed after a month) Because the majority of buttons remain in the old place in TECK, just some control buttons got moved, it shouldn't be take too long to adopt the TECK.
    - if you have huge difficulties, use some typing tutor software to train specific keys/combos.
    - train daily at least an hour with the keyboard and type as much as possible with it.
    - test your words per minute with some software which gives you long texts. Repeat this test daily with the same text. You will advance pretty fast with this text, but on others you'll be slower. Still, it makes more fun to see larger progress, thus the same text.
    - It takes time, at least a week. After a month of daily usage you should be more than familiar with the keyboard.

    It's nice to see that you really try to use this new keyboard. Lots of other keyboard reviewers testing strange keyboards try the keyboard one day and conclude, it's awkward.
    Reply
  • coffeetable - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - link

    I switched to DVORAK a few years back, and my typing went from maybe 70WPM to 85WPM over the course of , which was nowhere near enough to be worth the hassle. What was worth it though is the way my typing pains vanished inside a month, but I've no idea whether to attribute that to the new layout or simply to new, better typing habits - fingers on the home row, etc - instead of the hodgepodge of seek'n'peck that I picked up as a teenager.

    I upgraded to a MS Natural Ergonomic recently, and while I don't think it's improved my typing speed, though the reverse-incline and split design do seem to reduce stress on my wrists. That said, I'll be surprised if you manage any measurable, statistically significant gains on the TECK.

    The numpad elimination is an interesting idea, though I would've preferred if it'd been moved to the LHS, as it does come in useful sometimes. Rather than decrease the time taken to switch, using the mouse is something that should be avoided in general, and stuff like

    http://thegleebox.com/

    has helped me a lot towards that end.
    Reply
  • Nihility - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - link

    "I switched to DVORAK a few years back, and my typing went from maybe 70WPM to 85WPM over the course of "

    You missed an important word there.
    I'm interested in switching. I tried colmack but the OS support was so terrible that I gave up on it after wasting a month of learning.

    How long did it take you to get back to QWERTY typing speeds?
    Reply
  • Skidmarks - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - link

    I can't blame him for not wanting to do the review. Reply

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