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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  • praftman - Tuesday, July 02, 2013 - link

    Safetype Keyboard and Datahand are the two most radical, yet seemingly valid, keyboard rethinks I've come across. Reply
  • JonnyDough - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    At those prices? No thanks. I'll stick to a regular keyboard. You can get "decent" ones for under $50. Reply
  • Chapbass - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    It all depends on your needs. If you type very often and for long periods of time, then "decent" ones turn out to be "terrible" over the long run, when many start developing RSI problems. Those can end up being a LOT more than $300 for treatment (worst case: surgery) and don't always work. Its much better to get the proper tools to ensure that you can work without issue for many years.

    The previous generation didn't use computers daily nearly as much as this generation does, so who knows how many people will end up with RSI related injuries in 20-40 years. Better to nip it in the bud before you become a statistic.
    Reply
  • greghopenz - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    I have owned a pair of Kinesis keyboards for over 14 years for work station duties, one at home and one at work. Gaming has been with normal keyboards, mostly as I find the layout not conducive to gaming.

    One finally failed last year, and I replaced it with another modern one with a usb connector (my olds ones have an original fat pc connector to give you some idea of age). I think my ones are not mechanical switches. For a $300 keyboard, I cannot complain about it lasting 12 years. In the interim, I have destroyed many generic pc keyboards, so $30 per year is excellent value.

    Other than the chicklet keys, the keyboard is fantastic. I got them when I had oos or rsi issues, and they helped greatly. Replacing the mouse with a trackball was more important, but the ability to rest the weight of your arms on the keyboard really helped.
    Reply
  • Murloc - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    I think I would be covered in vomit and tears after reviewing such a keyboard, you're a hero jarred. Reply
  • Ninhalem - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    I understand totally about switching from a regular keyboard to something like the ErgoDox. I'm still trying to sort out hitting the v and b keys. Reply
  • EBSP - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    Thanks for your keyboard reviews. I am finishing my PhD thesis was shopping for an alternative to my MS 4000. After reading your TECK review I decided that it was time to get serious and make a decision. I really wanted to hold off my purchase until after you completed the the Advantage review but ruled it out as an option due to its cost. I settled on the Kinesis Freestyle. I absolutely love being able to reposition each half of the keyboard (right now "G" and "H" are 11" apart) and the key force is just right. I think it is a good compromise between enhanced ergonomics and traditional key layout as it took almost zero adjustment to get used to. I'm excited to read your ErgoDox review. Reply
  • jseliger2 - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    Years ago I got a review model, wrote this: http://jseliger.wordpress.com/2009/07/20/kinesis-a... and then returned the review model. A week or so later I bought one of my own, which I'm typing on right now.

    I suspect that the improvement between a regular keyboard and the TECK or Advantage is very large, but the marginal improvement between either keyboard for any particular user is pretty small. That is, you get diminishing returns when comparing the TECK or Advantage to each other but very large returns comparing either to a conventional keyboard.
    Reply
  • chadrandom - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    Jarred, as it sounds like these keyboard reviews are grinding on you, I'd just like you to know that I really appreciate these mechanical switch ergonomic keyboard reviews. Most all of my friends and colleagues think I'm crazy for going through so many mice and keyboards in effort to find the perfect solution. I've looked into these mechanical switch ergo keyboards but haven't mustered up the courage to trust in the money back guarantees. As such, I've been looking for reviews just like yours to help me determine the best course of action, and your sharing of your experience has been extremely valuable. The ErgoDox looks very interesting for a few different reasons to me, size being one of the important factors to me. I'm looking forward to your review. Again, many thanks for your thorough reviews of important products which are peripheral in a sense, and yet are the principal tool in the human-computer interaction. Cheers. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    Honestly, the hardest part is that just when I reach the point where I'm thinking, "Yeah, I actually like this keyboard a lot and could see myself sticking with this particular model..." I have to unplug it and start testing the next one. Argh! I admit to being a bit shocked at how bad I was at typing on the TECK after a two month break; it will be interesting to see if the same thing happens with the Advantage once I put it aside and start using the ErgoDox daily in its place. Reply

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