Earlier this month I posted my review of the TECK, an ergonomic keyboard with mechanical switches that’s looking to attract users interesting in a high quality, highly ergonomic offering and don’t mind the rather steep learning curve or the price. The TECK isn’t the only such keyboard, of course, and I decided to see what other mechanical switch ergonomic keyboards I could get for comparison. Next up on the list is the granddaddy of high-end ergonomic keyboards, the Kinesis Contour Advantage.

Similar to what I did with the TECK, I wanted to provide my first impressions of the Kinesis, along with some thoughts on the initial switch and the learning curve. This time, I also made the effort to put together a video of my first few minutes of typing. It actually wasn’t as bad as with the TECK, but that’s likely due to the fact that I already lost many of my typing conventions when I made that switch earlier this year. I’ll start with the video, where I take a typing test on four different keyboards and provide some thoughts on the experience, and then I’ll provide a few other thoughts on the Kinesis vs. TECK comparison. It’s far too early to determine which one I’ll end up liking the most, but already I do notice some differences.

Compared to the TECK—as well as many other keyboards—the Kinesis Advantage feels quite large. Part of that is from the thickness of the keyboard, with the palm rests and middle section being much thicker than on other keyboards. Looking at the way my hands rest on the Advantage, though, I have to say it seems like it should be a good fit for me once I adapt to the idiosyncrasies. I discussed some of the changes in the above video, but let me go into some additional detail on the areas that appear to be causing me the most trouble (and this is after the initial several hours of training/adapting to the modified layout).

My biggest long-term concern is with the location of the CTRL and ALT keys. As someone that uses keyboard shortcuts frequently, I’m very accustomed to using my pinkies to hit CTRL. Reaching up with my thumb to hit CTRL is going to take some real practice, but I can likely come to grips with that over the next few weeks. Certain shortcuts are a bit more complex, however—in Photoshop, for instance, I routinely use “Save for Web…”, with the shortcut CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+S; take one look at the Kinesis and see how easy that one is to pull off! Similarly, the locations of the cursor keys, PgUp/PgDn, and Home/End keys is going to really take some time for me to adjust. On the TECK I actually didn’t mind having them located under the palms of the hands, but here the keys are split between both hands and aren’t centralized.

With that said, the Kinesis keyboards do have some interesting features that may mitigate such concerns. For one, there’s a built-in function for reprogramming any of the keys, so it’s possible with a little effort to change the layout. Of course, for that to be useful you also need to figure out a “better” layout than the default, and I’m not sure what that might be—plus I wanted to give the default layout a shot first. The Advantage also features macro functionality, allowing you to program up to 24 macros of approximately 55 keystrokes. Truth be told, I haven’t even tried the macros or key mapping features yet, but I can at least see how they might prove useful.

There are a few other items to mention for my first impressions. One is that I didn’t like the audible beeping from my speakers at all; I think the keys sound plenty loud when typing (not that they’re loud, necessarily, but they’re not silent either), so adding a beep from the speakers wasn’t useful for me. Thankfully, it’s very easy to disable the sounds with a quick glance at the manual. Another interesting feature is built-in support for the Dvorak layout (press PROGRAM+SHIFT+F5 to switch between QWERTY and Dvorak; note that switching will lose any custom key mappings). Finally, unlike the TECK, Kinesis also includes a USB hub (two ports at the bottom-back of the keyboard near the cable connection).

As far as typing goes, the Cherry MX Brown switches so far feel largely the same to me as on the TECK. I haven’t experienced any issues with “double pressing” of keys yet, but then I didn’t have that happen with the TECK for a couple weeks either. Right now, it’s impossible for me to declare which keyboard is better in terms of ergonomics—and in fact, even after using both for a month I fear I might not be able to come to a firm opinion on the matter—but one thing I do know is that looking at the video above, I can see that my hands and arms move far less when typing on both the TECK and Kinesis. I also know that at least from a technology standpoint, the Kinesis is more advanced than the TECK, what with a USB hub, key remapping, and macro functionality, but it’s also more expensive thanks to those features.

Reviews of this nature are inherently something that will take a while and they end up being quite subjective, but within the next few months I hope to have a better idea of which mechanical switch ergonomic keyboard I like the most…and I have at least one if not two more offerings coming my way. Hopefully you can all wait patiently while I put each through a month or so of regular use. If you’re looking to spend $200+ on a high quality ergonomic keyboard, you’ll probably be willing to wait a bit longer, but if not I believe many of the companies will offer you a 60-day money back guarantee—the TECK and Kinesis both offer such a guarantee if you’re interested in giving one a try.

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  • jejeahdh - Thursday, April 18, 2013 - link

    I wish there was a normal ergo/natural keyboard with mechanical keys. Like so many others, an MS natural 4000 with cherry browns . . . it would rule. Reply
  • Steve S - Saturday, May 04, 2013 - link

    Great review, Jarrod. Have you incorporated a track pad or other pointing device into your workflow? I'd appreciate suggestions from you and other Kinesis Advantage users on how to do it. Reply
  • Proword - Wednesday, May 08, 2013 - link

    Granddaddy of high-end ergonomic keyboards? Maltron started producing ergonomic keyboards in 1975, so this would probably rate as the grandson.

    A keyboard really can't claim to be "ergonomic" if it uses the QWERTY layout. Maltron uses the Malt layout, which reduces the amount of work the arms and hands do, by reducing moves away from the home row keys.

    These two videos show just how much difference the key distribution alone can make. Both are using identical Maltron dual hand keyboards, except one is an operator using QWERTY and the other using Malt layout. With the Malt notice how seldom the hands move from the home keys, while the QWERTY has the hands hovering almost permanently ready for the next keystroke.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4H931A3BDE

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYJtF1I3PRs
    Reply
  • Azteca - Friday, May 10, 2013 - link

    I agree with Proword, Kinesis is not in any way the granddaddy of ergonomic keyboards. Kinesis is a mere imitator of the Maltron (available since 1976) to make the Advantage (1996). Kinesis just renamed the KBC-5600 Fujitsu Siemens keyboard as the Maxim (1997) which is also sold as the ErgoSplit. Kinesis have moved away from mechanical keyswitches and matrix style key layout with their Freestyle2 (2007) – a keyboard using the staggered key arrangement and rubber domes, a copycat of the Goldtouch (1992) and the ErgoFlex (1991). No innovation whatsoever for a company that claims to be.

    Moreover, everybody should also consider than to take 'advantage' of all these keyboards, you need to be a touch-typist, otherwise, you will be worse than a hunt-and-peck on a conventional keyboard and possibly develop abundant neck pain.
    Reply
  • Spiff412 - Wednesday, June 12, 2013 - link

    When my M$ Natural Elite took a nosedive in 2007 after 8 years of daily usage, the Natural Ergo 4000 I got to replace quickly stood out as a no-good replacement. Trawling the web for alternatives I came to remember a futuristic looking keyboard from Men In Black years ago and the course for a Kinesis Advantage was inevitably laid down.

    Having used the Advantage now for the past 5 years I can truly say I'm not going back to traditional keyboards as I can feel the CTS sneak up on me after just minutes of typing...
    Currently on standard QWERTY with a few keys reprogrammed to accomodate for special characters in the Norwegian alphabet, but I have been dabbling about trying Colemak, I just need the time to make the switch....

    However the most productive change to the layout I have made is to re-map the CapsLock and left Shift key so that CapsLock=Shift and Shift=Ctrl.
    Firstly this gets rid of CapsLock all togehter (yay!), secondly it is much easier for me to move the pinky slightly to the left to get capitalization or the Shift-function. Standard Ctrl+ nn combinations are also much quicker by using left pinky on the modified Ctrl-button (Cut/Copy/Paste).

    Also, I know that the inscruction booklet says that palms should not be resting while typing - but I find that putting a 5-10mm thick support under the rubber feet in front slants the whole keyboard slightly forward to accomodate for relaced typing while palms are resting easily on the palm rest area, sort of similar to the Natural Elite and Ergo.

    If you are looking for a permanent and positive mitigating action to counter your CTS you are definitely on the right track.
    Reply
  • JarrywWw - Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - link

    I've just purchased this keyboard too, upon review from http://www.bestergonomickeyboard.net/kinesis-keybo... and I'm reaaaaaally happy with it too. It's a great keyboard and even if it took me a bit of time to get used to it now I can't imagine not using it :) Reply
  • jszakmeister - Sunday, November 03, 2013 - link

    I've been using a Kinesis Advantage Keyboard since 2002. I started off with a PS/2 version years ago, and transitioned to the USB model when it became available. I started off using it in the default QWERTY mode, and later transitioned to Dvorak when.

    First, let me say that it's an excellent keyboard. It really does reduce the strain from typing. In fact, several others in the office started feeling some pain and made the switch as well. They've all been very happy they made the switch and love the keyboard as much as I do. I'd be upset if I was never able to get this keyboard again.

    If you can convince yourself of it, learning Dvorak is a good idea. I started using Dvorak about 8 years ago, and have never regretted that decision. In fact, I regularly use both layouts. On a Kinesis keyboard, I type Dvorak. On anything else, I use QWERTY--since I can't have a Kinesis keyboard on *every* machine I touch. I've had very little issue with this setup as my hands automatically Do the Right Thing--they can tell just by the feel of the keyboard.

    The Kinesis makes it easy to switch to Dvorak mode and you can get dual legend keys. I must admit that I wasn't much of a touch typist when I made the switch, but I'm definitely one now. It was well worth the change. I don't necessarily type any faster than I used to (50-60 WPM), but at the end of the day, I can feel the difference.

    Finally, a couple of negatives. I've never been thrilled with the function keys on the Kinesis. They're a bit small to touch type. And while I've learned to touch type some of them, it's hard to do them all. On the plus side, I've heard that they'll be fixing that problem in the next rev. The other issue is games. You can't drive this keyboard one handed, so you'll want to keep around a plain old keyboard for the times when you need it. If you're an avid gamer, and it's gaming that's causing you the RSI issues, then another keyboard might be better than the Kinesis.

    On the whole, I couldn't be happier with the keyboard. It's definitely worth a try.
    Reply

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