More than a Month with the Kinesis Advantage

Earlier this year, I reviewed the TECK—Truly Ergonomic Computer Keyboard—one of the few keyboards on the market that combines an ergonomic layout with mechanical Cherry MX switches. As you’d expect, that review opened the door for me to do a couple more ergonomic keyboard reviews. These aren’t simple one-off reviews like some hardware, however, as getting to know a real ergonomic keyboard is not something you accomplish in a few hours or days. Round two of our ergonomic keyboard coverage brings us the Kinesis Advantage.

Kinesis is a long-time purveyor of ergonomic keyboards with mechanical switches. In fact, Kinesis was part of the driving force behind Cherry MX creating their Brown switches that are used in most of the ergonomic keyboards. Does more time on the market equate to a better overall experience? That’s what I wanted to find out.

The core design of the Kinesis Advantage was largely complete way back in 1991. It consists of an orthogonal key layout with wells for the left and right hands and a fairly sizeable number of keys in the center that can be activated by your thumbs. Over the years, Kinesis has changed a few small things, like switching from the PS/2 to USB connector (with an integrated 2-port hub under the keyboard), adding macro recording/playback functionality, key remapping, and on their Advantage Pro model there’s a foot pedal as well (which I didn’t get for testing). The Pro model also allows for longer macros and has a memory locking switch to prevent accidental reprogramming of the macros.

Both Advantage models are available with traditional QWERTY labels or Dvorak labels, or there’s even a dual-label option (the “QD” models), with the keys labeled as shown in the above image. If you want a non-US layout, German, Swedish, UK, and International options are likewise available from the local resellers. Most of the Advantage models come with Cherry MX Brown switches, but there’s a “linear feel” model with Cherry MX Red as an option as well.

All that is fine, but the real question is: will the Kinesis keyboard make me a better/faster typist? Failing that, can it at least make typing more comfortable over long sessions, particularly for users that suffer from RSI/CTS problems? I fall into that latter category, as I mentioned in the TECK review, so it’s a particularly pertinent question. I also had some minor concerns with the TECK and key switches that started to “double tap” over time, so I wanted to really put the Advantage to the test and see how it fared.

As with the TECK, I started out with a “first impressions” video/introduction. Two and a half months later I’m finally getting around to the conclusion, so I hope the wait has been worthwhile. I’ve also been going back to the TECK on occasion, just to see if I really prefer one design to the other, and I’ve even been using an ErgoDox from MassDrop periodically, though I’m not ready to do a full review of that just yet. I’ll cut straight to the chase here and say that of the three mechanical ergonomic keyboards I’ve used, the Kinesis Advantage ends up being my favorite. However, this is a very subjective opinion and there are definitely people that will prefer one of the other options—or for some, the intended use may prove the deciding factor. I’ll discuss the pros and cons of the Kinesis Advantage over the coming pages before giving the full conclusion and recommendations at the end.

Overview of the Kinesis Advantage
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  • Ktracho - Friday, July 05, 2013 - link

    I've been using the Kinesis Advantage since the late 90's. I certainly didn't invest hundreds of hours into getting used to it - half a day to a day is more like it. It's certainly less effort than learning a new keyboard layout like Dvorak, which took me a couple days to be comfortable with. I do have an Apple laptop at work, though I rarely remove it from my desk, so when I use it, I always have my Kinesis keyboard connected to it. However, we have a couple labs with dozens of systems, and my wife and kids don't use a Kinesis keyboard at home on their computers (I do have a Kinesis keyboard for my computer at home), so I often have to switch between my Kinesis keyboard with Dvorak layout and standard keyboards with QWERTY layout. It's not a big deal - it's like being fluent in two languages and having to switch between them, which I have to do as well. Every once in a while I start typing in the wrong "language", but it's easy to get back to the right "language". Reply
  • Menty - Saturday, July 06, 2013 - link

    Far, far more people use desktop PCs for business than use them for gaming. Reply
  • Manch78 - Saturday, July 06, 2013 - link

    At work, I type....a lot!, so I would be in that category. At home I mostly play games. While this would be useless for me at home, it would be great to have at work. Ergonomic keyboards are defnitely not a niche in the business world. You could always get one of these for typing and a nostromo or something similar for gaming. Best of both worlds. Reply
  • subvertigo - Saturday, September 21, 2013 - link

    Ergonomic keyboards are about getting the right tool for the job. You trade off the flat, common array of keys for better typing. There /are/ ergonomic keyboards for gaming, and instead of having to remap games, you remap the board. Notably the Razer Orbweaver has mechanical keys, but altogether the Razer Nostromo, Saitek Command Unit, and Logitech G13 all have ergonomic aspects for gaming: thumbsticks for WASD, macros and shift levels so you don't have to run all over the keyboard to ergonomically play games.

    In addition, any gameboard bigger than the Belkin/Razer Nostromo has enough keys to function as a complete numpad which many ergonomic keyboards don't have.
    Reply
  • Chubblez - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    I suppose gaming comes down to type of game, mouse, and modifier keys. I game on a Goldtouch Key Ovation because I need the smartcard for work, and am too lazy to change back and forth. Mouse is a standard Microsoft 5 button.

    No issues with Crysis (Original) and very little issue with WoW, using 1-6 with ALT and Shift as modifier keys.
    Reply
  • krazyderek - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    kinesis lets you do hardware remapping of the keys directly in the keyboard, i swapped the backspace, delete, enter space buttons so it was a mirror image of how the keyboard comes stock, that pretty much removed any gaming problems, and swapping the windows key and end key was also really nice, once i remapped them in the keyboard it's self, i just popped the keys off with a butter knife and physically moved them and never had trouble again! Reply
  • Azethoth - Saturday, July 06, 2013 - link

    You are wrong in generalizing about the split: it makes it better for games because it reduces positioning errors and hitting keys beyond your target keys. Gaming means left hand on keyboard, right hand on mouse. A split layout lets you accurately position your left hand to the right hand position to use infrequent keys.

    Take a look at that MS natural of yours: The inner edge keys (like T G N, etc. are larger than usual as well). MS Natural had the best layout and sizing of keys for me. The Kinesis does not have the fatter keys of course but would retain the other advantages of splitting.

    Also: I remap to ESDF always so nothing to complain about on that front. The lack of G keys is what kills this board for me, not gaming.

    Finally you are wrong to diss gamers like that. I have an easy existence proof of a gamer that also wants a good keyboard: me. I am willing to pay lots for that keyboard and have many times. I buy them in pairs to cover work and home, and they need to game as well as produce code and forum rants;-)
    Reply
  • Azethoth - Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - link

    I forgot to add, this is just in response to dismissing the concerns of gamers for a keyboard. I am totally fine with Jarred not having the time, energy or bandwidth to test gaming in addition to typing for a month+ per keyboard.

    If you can type fast on the board, its likely also going to be good for gaming. +/- tweaky cherry red vs brown vs black etc. preferences.
    Reply
  • randomstar - Monday, July 08, 2013 - link

    As a note: to the guys commmenting negative - anyone who can afford one of these to help their typing comfort can have two keyboards - one for powetyping, and one for gaming. Reply
  • Azethoth - Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - link

    No. Reply

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