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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  • HisDivineOrder - Tuesday, July 09, 2013 - link

    Seems like a valid question.

    You say it's like asking how a Tesla is for games. I say it's more akin to having a professional workstation you also game on. Like asking how a Quadro is for games. I get that you are defensive over this new product category you seem to like, but you must less biased and more objective.
    Reply
  • ppeterka - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    "What's it matter how fast you can type on this keyboard, if it's useless for games?"

    I use a computer for 8-10-12 hours of work. On each weekday. Sometimes a bit on weekends.

    I play games average 10 minutes each day.

    And so do my very own few thousand colleagues.

    And so do the few million people using computers to earn money.

    In this concern, gamers are a minority. A tiny rounding error. For your own balance of mind, please go and read articles about watercooled triple GPU configs - that seems to be more your field of interest. And don't forget to ask for money from dad.
    Reply
  • geniekid - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    This is a hardware enthusiast site so I think a significant number of people who come here use their computers for gaming, maybe not for its primary purpose, but at least a significant amount of the time. So I don't think it's that crazy to want a little more perspective on how well this keyboard is used for gaming purposes.

    "For your own balance of mind, please go and read articles about watercooled triple GPU configs - that seems to be more your field of interest. And don't forget to ask for money from dad."

    That was rude, unconstructive, and detracts from the argument you're trying to make.
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    "This is a hardware enthusiast site so I think a significant number of people who come here use their computers for gaming" - Not exactly true. Reply
  • geniekid - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    I don't think you have any evidence to back up that claim. Not that I have any to back up mine anyway, but do you really think a significant number of the people who read this site don't play games on a daily basis? By significant I mean at least 20%. Reply
  • KLC - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    I'm a long time Anandtech reader, very interested in computer tech since I first got to use a dual floppy IBM PC about 30 years ago. I have zero interest in games. Broaden your horizons. Reply
  • geniekid - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    I'm also a long time Anandtech reader, and I have lots of interest in games and how well ergonomic keyboards deal with them.

    Please note I'm not arguing that any content in the article be replaced with some kind of gaming test, just that a request for a little more information is not that unreasonable.
    Reply
  • hfm - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    I have been reading Anand for a ridiculously long time as well, since the late 90's if I'm not mistaken. I am 100% sure that over that time most of the content has been geared toward people who care about high performance computing, most of those people being gamers. That said, there's also plenty of content that would be of use to those who couldn't care less about games.

    The big problem is that these two statements are just closed-minded:

    "What's it matter how fast you can type on this keyboard, if it's useless for games?"

    "For your own balance of mind, please go and read articles about watercooled triple GPU configs - that seems to be more your field of interest. And don't forget to ask for money from dad."

    Article like this particular one will bring out the set that doesn't care about games since they are probably the ones that care most about how many WPM they can type in a day. The cross-section is going to be much larger here than a review of the Titan or a Gaming Notebook.

    Can't we just all get along? :) (never is the answer to that question... hasn't happened yet.. probably won't.. ever..)
    Reply
  • Chapbass - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    I guess I can shed some light on this. I'm a Kinesis Advantage user, I have two of them (one at work one at home) and am a relatively serious gamer. I'm of decent skill level (CAL-M CS1.6, CAL-I DOD:S, and I've played lots of MMOs, RTS, and other genres), and i actually really enjoy using the Kinesis for gaming. Theres a few differences from a normal keyboard:

    1. I've switched from WASD to ESDF for any and all movement. This is because the E and D keys are physically lower than W and S. Because your middle finger is the longest finger on your hand, this ends up feeling incredibly natural, and I actually like it better than a standard keyboard.

    2. Your thumb is incredible on this keyboard. With barely moving, I have easy access to: Backspace, Delete, Control, Alt, Home, and End. The one issue with this is that some games don't like using Backspace and Delete as bindable keys. The way around this is to have the Kinesis remap that as a different key (any key) so that it will treat it as such (its easy to unmap and remap). The macros I would imagine could come in handy, but I almost never use them. (fighting games might be ridiculous...)

    3. The one major issue I've found: With your left hand, you only have access to the numbers 1-5. This can become problematic with games like WoW where you have a ton of spells, keybinds, macros, whatever. I would've enjoyed having access to 6 or 7 with my left hand, but no big deal. There is also the +/= key to the left of 1 (where tilde normally is) so that gives you an extra key. Plus, with the extra keys on your thumb it almost balances out.

    Any other questions, feel free to ask or PM me on the forums (since I'm not sure how much I'll check this).
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    This is mostly what I was trying to get at with the gaming discussion in the article, but I suppose I stopped before fully completing the circle. Basically, yes it can be used for games, but it will in practice requires you to remap the default keys in virtually every game, as well as potentially needing to use the Kinesis remapping feature to also switch out the Backspace and Delete keys. It goes back the the whole "standard keyboard" phrase again: the Advantage isn't a standard layout and thus you have to resort to custom mappings. But the key action, number of keys you can use at once, etc. should be a problem.

    Now I'm going to go add the above to the article....
    Reply

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