Kinesis is a computer peripherals manufacturer solely focused on the design and manufacture of ergonomic input devices. They are one of the first companies in the field, with their first ergonomic products released nearly three decades ago. That makes Kinesis one of the oldest peripherals manufacturers, with the brand establishing a solid number of followers over the years.

Until recently, Kinesis designed and released products exclusively targeting professionals who work long hours in front of a computer. But a few years Kinesis took a huge leap of faith and started a crowdfunding campaign for an ergonomic mechanical gaming keyboard, giving birth to the Freestyle Edge, the world’s first ergonomic gaming mechanical keyboard. This was followed by the release of the Freestyle Edge RGB several months later. Both keyboards were well-received, and while Kinesis is still primarily a professional-focused company, gaming keyboards have become a regular part of their product stable.

More recently, a few weeks ago Kinesis announced that their portfolio would be enriched with an entirely unexpected product: a standard layout 60%-size mechanical keyboard that is designed primarily for gaming. This marks the company's first foray into 60% keyboards, never mind doing so for their growing gaming segment.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of a 60% keyboard layout, it is another another one of the less well known niches in the keyboard market that in recent years has seen increased prominence. Designed to be compact – and often portable as well – 60% keyboards slim down a traditional ANSI keyboard design to a bare minimum number of keys. Only the core island of the keyboard – containing the letter and number keys – is present. The other islands with the function keys, the numpad, the arrow keys, and any other keys are left behind, and like with compact laptop keyboards, their missing functions are rolled into other keys.


Comparison of Keyboard Layouts (Image Credit: Rumudiez, CC BY-SA 3.0)

To be sure, 60% is a layout standard rather than a literal description, so the keys themselves are still full-size (or close to it), for example. 60% keyboards are most typically used where space is a concern and there isn't room for a larger keyboard, though they've also proven popular with the ergonomic crowd since a smaller keyboard is easier to reposition.

And for gamers there's one more possible benefit: portability. Which is where the Kinesis TKO Tournament keyboard comes in. Looking to tap into the market for gamers who are after a small keyboard designed for portability and single-hand gaming ergonomics, the company has designed a 60% keyboard that is meant to excel at gaming and to be something gamers can take with them.

 

Packaging and Bundle

We received the TKO Tournament mechanical keyboard in a simple, clean cardboard box with minimal artwork on it. The box is very strong and, combined with the internal cardboard layers and the keyboard’s case, it makes it next to impossible for shipping damage to occur.

The keyboard is supplied in a quality hard carrying case with soft internal padding, allowing the safe and convenient transportation of the keyboard. Kinesis also supplies a keycap and switch puller, a full-size Space Bar keycap, and a Menu keycap.

The Kinesis TKO Tournament Mechanical Gaming Keyboard

A quick glance at the Kinesis TKO Tournament suggests that it is not significantly different than any other 60% mechanical keyboard. By and large, that is true, as the company did not want to stray far away from a typical layout with such a small design. The top half of the keyboard is metallic, offering exceptional durability and superior aesthetics. The only significant layout change is that the Space Bar is split in three, with Kinesis naming this feature “Hyperspace keys”. By default, all three keys operate as a Space Bar key. The TKO Tournament is a fully programmable keyboard that can store up to nine profiles onboard, so having three thumb keys instead of one should be a major upgrade for advanced gamers.

All of the keyboard’s keycaps are double-shot PBT, offering maximum long-term protection. Both the main and the secondary key characters are placed near the top side of the keycap, where the switch’s LED exhibits its maximum luminosity. There are characters printed on the front side of the keycaps as well, which are enabled by pressing either the Fn or the Smartset key.

 

The Smartset key by default replaces the Menu key but the key can be reprogrammed and a standard keycap is included in the bundle. By default, all Smartset keystroke combinations also include the Shift key and for good reason – they can have a permanent effect on the keyboard’s functionality and settings. One Smartset keystroke combination even triggers a full reset, bringing the keyboard back to its factory default mode. One needs to be careful with that because everything is stored inside the keyboard so, unless profiles were manually extracted and stored beforehand, hours of programming different layers and long macros can be extinguished in an instant.

Beneath the small keyboard, we found four huge feet. These can be used to either normally tilt the rear side of the keyboard for a classic typing experience, or tilt the keyboard sideways for an ergonomic single-handed gaming experience. Kinesis advices against tilting the keyboard sideways and then trying to use it with both hands. For those who prefer the keyboard sitting flat on their desk, Kinesis installed four long rubber anti-slip strips across every edge of the keyboard.

Under the keycaps of the TKO Tournament mechanical keyboard, we found Kailh’s mechanical switches. Our sample came with Brown switches of the RGB variant with clear bodies. It is generally unexpected to find anything else by Cherry’s original switches on any keyboard around this price range. The positive side here is that the switches are easily swappable, allowing the user to simply purchase any compatible Kailh switch and replace or mix-and-match different switches on the same keyboard. This can be particularly important if a single switch goes bad, as the cost of a switch is a tiny fraction of the whole keyboard. Users still need to be wary of damage caused by liquids though, as replacing a switch will not heal the electronics underneath them. Cherry cross-type supports can be found under the larger keys.

The Kinesis TKO Tournament features full RGB color backlighting. The Kailh switches, despite their clear bodies, are significantly brighter towards the top side of the key. Due to the absorbing coating of the top plate, the lighting is focused on the keycap’s character only, with minimal bleeding towards the top side of each key. There are also thin lighting stripes across the edge of the keyboard, subtly illuminating the desk around it.

The removal of the bottom plastic cover reveals the main PCB, which is secured on and protected by the thick metal top plate. Everything is assembled very cleanly, with no imperfections that we could spot. There is also a stamped date, revealing the manufacturing date of the PCB itself.

The heart of the TKO Tournament is the Atmel AT32UC3B0256 microcontroller with a 32-bit, 60 MHz RISC processor. Kinesis likes this microcontroller a lot and is using it frequently, probably for its large 256KB integrated flash memory. A secondary Atmel ATSAMD20 E18A microcontroller is also present, alongside a third Sonix SLED1735JG microcontroller that is dedicated to the control of the RGB LEDs. Overall, Kinesis went quite a bit overboard with the processing power of the keyboard.

 

Portable Software: The KinesisGaming SmartSet App
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  • yetanotherhuman - Friday, April 23, 2021 - link

    I want Cherry. No point rewarding clones when Cherry is the original. Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, April 23, 2021 - link

    Doesn't make much sense to me. If the "clones" are providing equivalent or better products at a lower cost, why throw money to Cherry just because they were first? Reply
  • Topweasel - Friday, April 23, 2021 - link

    I don't mind cherry as much some do and typically will still get off the shelf boards with them in use. But its not like this board used Outemu or TTC. They used one of the top switch manufacturers. They used Kaihl because they wanted to make sure enthusiasts would still purchase it and anyone who didn't recognize Kaihl wouldn't know enough about switches to care. You are the exception that proves the rule thinking so basic on knowledge that you know Cherry but still think for any reason that you should only get that over alternatives. Reply
  • althaz - Tuesday, April 27, 2021 - link

    Depending on what you want, the clones might be as good or even substantially better.

    Personally, I think the Cherry MX Browns are hands-down the best switches that exist. But if you're not after a switch in that style, I think non-Cherry switches are probably going to be better - or at least offer more options.
    Reply
  • althaz - Tuesday, April 27, 2021 - link

    Especially the linear switches, which Cherry honestly just isn't good at. Reply
  • ballsystemlord - Saturday, April 24, 2021 - link

    So what performs better?
    Also, I only know of 5-6 other brands. Where is this, "hundreds" coming from? An exageration?

    (I'm talking ordinary switches like cherry makes, not topre. Unless you know of something exotic and awesome, in which case it would be nice if you could also mention it.)
    Reply
  • althaz - Tuesday, April 27, 2021 - link

    IMO I'd still take Cherry switches over everything else that exists.

    But only the browns. Everybody else's brown-equivalents kinda suck, IMO. They are way too linear, too light to give you any feedback or they are conversely heavier than blues.

    But of course I *only* like browns and blues and I don't like blues when I'm doing anything that's not typing, so I only want browns. So for me Cherry is still a *long* way ahead.

    But for sure if you want a linear switch you shouldn't really consider them and if you want a clicky switch there's a lot of switches fighting for your money.
    Reply
  • abufrejoval - Thursday, April 22, 2021 - link

    I still have two original IBM PS/2 keyboard, primary and backup, built in 1990 and about as pricey back then as a used compact car. I fished those out of a recycling container from a bank that had evidently gone for something more quiet.

    In the home office that's never been an issue and the pleasure of typing on them is most likely the reason I tend towards verbosity.

    Hardly any good for gaming, but you can't have everything.

    A keyboard with way more processing power than your PS/2 machine seems very likely a security nightmare. So in a bank, those wold not do.
    Reply
  • nucc1 - Friday, April 23, 2021 - link

    My policy has always been that if I have to endure the constant talking on the phone of my colleagues on the same floor, then the musical notes my keyboard emits as I go about my business are fair game. Reply
  • Hxx - Thursday, April 22, 2021 - link

    yeah get yourself a Drop Carina if you want a fully featured 60% Reply

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