First Impressions: Kinesis Advantage Mechanical Ergonomic Keyboardby Jarred Walton on March 27, 2013 3:00 AM EST
Earlier this month I posted my review of the TECK, an ergonomic keyboard with mechanical switches that’s looking to attract users interesting in a high quality, highly ergonomic offering and don’t mind the rather steep learning curve or the price. The TECK isn’t the only such keyboard, of course, and I decided to see what other mechanical switch ergonomic keyboards I could get for comparison. Next up on the list is the granddaddy of high-end ergonomic keyboards, the Kinesis Contour Advantage.
Similar to what I did with the TECK, I wanted to provide my first impressions of the Kinesis, along with some thoughts on the initial switch and the learning curve. This time, I also made the effort to put together a video of my first few minutes of typing. It actually wasn’t as bad as with the TECK, but that’s likely due to the fact that I already lost many of my typing conventions when I made that switch earlier this year. I’ll start with the video, where I take a typing test on four different keyboards and provide some thoughts on the experience, and then I’ll provide a few other thoughts on the Kinesis vs. TECK comparison. It’s far too early to determine which one I’ll end up liking the most, but already I do notice some differences.
Compared to the TECK—as well as many other keyboards—the Kinesis Advantage feels quite large. Part of that is from the thickness of the keyboard, with the palm rests and middle section being much thicker than on other keyboards. Looking at the way my hands rest on the Advantage, though, I have to say it seems like it should be a good fit for me once I adapt to the idiosyncrasies. I discussed some of the changes in the above video, but let me go into some additional detail on the areas that appear to be causing me the most trouble (and this is after the initial several hours of training/adapting to the modified layout).
My biggest long-term concern is with the location of the CTRL and ALT keys. As someone that uses keyboard shortcuts frequently, I’m very accustomed to using my pinkies to hit CTRL. Reaching up with my thumb to hit CTRL is going to take some real practice, but I can likely come to grips with that over the next few weeks. Certain shortcuts are a bit more complex, however—in Photoshop, for instance, I routinely use “Save for Web…”, with the shortcut CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+S; take one look at the Kinesis and see how easy that one is to pull off! Similarly, the locations of the cursor keys, PgUp/PgDn, and Home/End keys is going to really take some time for me to adjust. On the TECK I actually didn’t mind having them located under the palms of the hands, but here the keys are split between both hands and aren’t centralized.
With that said, the Kinesis keyboards do have some interesting features that may mitigate such concerns. For one, there’s a built-in function for reprogramming any of the keys, so it’s possible with a little effort to change the layout. Of course, for that to be useful you also need to figure out a “better” layout than the default, and I’m not sure what that might be—plus I wanted to give the default layout a shot first. The Advantage also features macro functionality, allowing you to program up to 24 macros of approximately 55 keystrokes. Truth be told, I haven’t even tried the macros or key mapping features yet, but I can at least see how they might prove useful.
There are a few other items to mention for my first impressions. One is that I didn’t like the audible beeping from my speakers at all; I think the keys sound plenty loud when typing (not that they’re loud, necessarily, but they’re not silent either), so adding a beep from the speakers wasn’t useful for me. Thankfully, it’s very easy to disable the sounds with a quick glance at the manual. Another interesting feature is built-in support for the Dvorak layout (press PROGRAM+SHIFT+F5 to switch between QWERTY and Dvorak; note that switching will lose any custom key mappings). Finally, unlike the TECK, Kinesis also includes a USB hub (two ports at the bottom-back of the keyboard near the cable connection).
As far as typing goes, the Cherry MX Brown switches so far feel largely the same to me as on the TECK. I haven’t experienced any issues with “double pressing” of keys yet, but then I didn’t have that happen with the TECK for a couple weeks either. Right now, it’s impossible for me to declare which keyboard is better in terms of ergonomics—and in fact, even after using both for a month I fear I might not be able to come to a firm opinion on the matter—but one thing I do know is that looking at the video above, I can see that my hands and arms move far less when typing on both the TECK and Kinesis. I also know that at least from a technology standpoint, the Kinesis is more advanced than the TECK, what with a USB hub, key remapping, and macro functionality, but it’s also more expensive thanks to those features.
Reviews of this nature are inherently something that will take a while and they end up being quite subjective, but within the next few months I hope to have a better idea of which mechanical switch ergonomic keyboard I like the most…and I have at least one if not two more offerings coming my way. Hopefully you can all wait patiently while I put each through a month or so of regular use. If you’re looking to spend $200+ on a high quality ergonomic keyboard, you’ll probably be willing to wait a bit longer, but if not I believe many of the companies will offer you a 60-day money back guarantee—the TECK and Kinesis both offer such a guarantee if you’re interested in giving one a try.