The Kinesis Freestyle Edge Gaming Mechanical Keyboard

The Kinesis Freestyle Edge is the most unusual mechanical keyboard that we have reviewed to this date. One quick (and rather inaccurate) way to describe it is “a tenkeyless mechanical keyboard that is split in two”. In fact, it features an entirely unique layout, with numerous changes over a typical ANSI or ISO keyboard. Two of the most prominent layout changes are those of the displaced Escape key and the omission of the right Windows and Menu buttons. Although the Kinesis Freestyle Edge builds on the Freestyle series of keyboards that the company first marketed back in 2007, the number of improvements and features that the designers performed to make this keyboard more appealing to gamers and enthusiasts is vast.

A closer look at the left part of the keyboard reveals the presence of ten extra keys, eight dedicated to macros and two for advanced commands. The Fn key does not operate as on most keyboards, meaning of the user does not have to hold the key pressed and then press another key to start a special command. Instead, it locks the keyboard to the “Fn layer” until it is pressed again. By default, the FN key only affects the first 6 function keys and the Pause key, which change to multimedia commands and to the Insert key respectively. However, via the software, the user can reprogram any of the keys of each layer individually, including the macro keys, meaning that the keyboard can virtually change to an entirely different layout between the Fn and the top layer.

 

Aside from its peculiar layout, there are no extra mechanical keys on the right side of the keyboard. However, there are four small surface buttons at the top of the right board. The rightmost button is the “Smartset” button and is used to access most of the keyboard’s advanced features. This includes the special commands printed on the F8-F12 keys, which do not belong to the Fn layer by default but can only actuated by holding down the Smartset button and then pressing that key. One needs to be careful here because, for example, the combination of the Smartset button and the F12 resets everything, so hours of programming different layers and long macros can be extinguished in an instant.

The left of the four small buttons is the Layout button and allows for users to switch between the first three layouts of the keyboard. The Freestyle Edge supports up to nine layers though, and the rest are accessible by holding down the Smartset button and pressing a number from one to nine, in which case the keyboard will jump directly to the selected layout. The second button, the Macro button, allows for the quick recording of a macro and assignment to any key. It does not require any software to function and works in all layouts and layers, and on any key. The final button, the Remap button, is very similar to the Macro button, but just remaps a button to any other instead of programming a more complex command.

Each of the keyboard’s halves has five thick rubber feet attached, plus another two smaller feet can be found on each of the palm rests. The grip on a wooden surface is just right – enough to keep the keyboard from moving unintentionally, yet not high enough to be annoying when the user intentionally wants to move one half of the keyboard.

The left half of the keyboard has a hidden compartment that can be used to extend or reduce the length of the cable connecting the two halves of the keyboard.  A simple but cleverly implemented design allows for the cable’s length to be adjusted in steps of 1.5”. Note that, without the optional Lift Kit, the Freestyle Edge does not support any kind of tilt adjustments.

A look beneath the keycaps reveals that the Freestyle Edge is using original Cherry MX Blue switches. There is a major catch here though. During our testing phase, the switches of our sample were peculiarly quieter than any typical Cherry MX Blue switch that we have previously tested. They were clicky and still audible, but the clicking noise was noticeably softer. After our contact with Kinesis about this, the company told us that they powder coat the support plate of the switches to reduce their noise output. Given that our ears realized the difference within seconds, the upgrade is easily perceptible. It does not make the Cherry MX Blue switch go quiet, but it will definitely appeal to people who live in shared spaces and want to keep the noise levels down.

The keycaps themselves also are interesting. A closer inspection reveals that the keycap does not have a single layer of coat, but two. Keycaps are usually made of translucent plastic, then are painted black, and then the legend is lasered off. Kinesis added another layer of white paint under the black paint. A close look at the legend makes the difference apparent, as the characters are bright white and not greyish. The white paint makes the unlit legend brighter, but also diffuses the backlighting better.

The Freestyle Edge features bright blue backlight. Naturally, as with all typical Cherry MX switches, only the top half of each key is lit, which is why Kinesis printed all of the legend characters at the top of the keycaps. Only the special commands on the Fn keys are partially lit. The backlighting is very strong; so strong that Kinesis almost instantly released a firmware to reduce its maximum level. Despite the very strong backlighting, due to the white paint that Kinesis used on the keycaps, the keycaps function quite like lamp shades, capturing the light and diffusing it. The backlight bleed around the keys is very soft and even, creating an excellent visual effect. Also, again due to the white paint, the diffusion smoothens the legend’s light, even at the lowest possible brightness level.

The optional Lift Kit allows each half of the keyboard to “tent”. It is a tilt mechanism but, instead of tilting the keyboard from the rear up, it lifts each half sideways, towards the hands of the user. It has three tilt angles, from five to fifteen degrees in five degrees steps. We should also note that the palm rests are a requirement for the lift kit to be attached, it cannot be used without the palm rests.

 

Opening up the plastic cover of the keyboard, we revealed the thick steel frames that support the main PCB and the switches. It is worthwhile to note that the caps of the four short buttons are attached directly on the buttons, much like the keycaps of the main keys are, and are not on or supported by the plastic frame. This approach makes them feel much better to the touch, as the buttons do not wobble at all and they have a respectable key travel, mimicking that of the main mechanical keys. The overall quality of the construct is outstanding, there was not even the slightest imperfection that we could find.

The heart of the Kinesis Freestyle Edge is the Atmel AT32UC3B0256 microcontroller with a 32-bit, 60 MHz RISC processor. Kinesis probably selected it for its large 256KB integrated flash memory. It is not very popular, but it is more than adequately powerful for an advanced mechanical keyboard. 

 

Introduction, Packaging & Bundle The KinesisGaming SmartSet App
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  • phoenix_rizzen - Monday, February 05, 2018 - link

    Yes, that would be handy. And a 7 on the left and a 6 on the right half. I have the Freestyle 2 at work. Excellent keyboard, but I find myself hitting the blank space between the halves when doing numbers as I expect the 6 to be on the right half. Even after a few years with the keyboard. And occasionally hit the blank space when trying to hit B with my right hand.

    I'm a touch typist, and a fairly quick one at that (80-90 WPM), but I do not use the "correct" "normal" "this is the the one-true-way" form (I'm more of a 5-finger typist, rarely using my pinkies or my right ring finger).
    Reply
  • alanh - Monday, February 05, 2018 - link

    I'm typing this on a Matias Ergo Pro (another split keyboard that tries to have a mostly conventional layout), and my only complaint about the layout is that they should have a 6 on both sides so that nobody has an issue about that placement. My previous split keyboards (from both Logitech and Microsoft) both put the 6 on the left-hand side, but it didn't take long to get used to. The Matias also has a non-standard location for Esc, but even though I do spend some time in vim, that reach has never really bothered me. Reply
  • Findecanor - Tuesday, February 06, 2018 - link

    Many years ago Kinesis did have a mechanical keyboard with 6 on both sides: the Kinesis Evolution. It was meant to be mounted in front of the desk, either on a special or on a special chair. It also had a numeric keypad and touch pad Reply
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, February 07, 2018 - link

    Maybe you could just get two minmalist keyboards - one for each hand - and plug them in at the same time.

    I think using the Freestyle wouldn't be a difficult adjustment to make, and doing so might even help your typing speed on conventional keyboards.
    Reply
  • Flunk - Monday, February 05, 2018 - link

    You can retrain habits like that pretty quick. Reply
  • MadAd - Monday, February 05, 2018 - link

    And still nobody can make a keyboard with a detachable tenkey pad, something FAR more useful (no i dont mean a separate tenkey, I know these are available, I want one keyboard which slots the tenkey into the existing board, or unclips as its own unit) Reply
  • imaheadcase - Monday, February 05, 2018 - link

    Yes!

    The biggest complaint i have with any keyboard is that part is not detachable, and terrible wrist support.
    Reply
  • masouth - Tuesday, February 06, 2018 - link

    as long as you aren't looking for a super cheap price I can think of a few detachable off the top of my head

    **ASUS ROG Claymore
    **Aorus Thunder K7 (really more of a macro pad with ten key capability, I dont like the layout)
    **Tesora Tizona tenkeyless keyboard with purchasable 10 key pad that attaches to either side.
    Reply
  • redhen - Monday, February 05, 2018 - link

    https://rover.ebay.com/rover/0/0/0?mpre=https%3A%2...
    You're welcome?
    Reply
  • redhen - Monday, February 05, 2018 - link

    Microsoft Sidewinder X6. I just plugged mine back in after using a Logitech G710 (cherrymx Blues) for several months and forgot how good of a typing feel it still has for being a membrane keyboard. Reply

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