All of us spend hours and hours at our computers, but we rarely stop to think about ergonomics until it’s too late. The keyboards that most of us use don’t help things either.
There are options—this roundup is filled with ergonomic keyboards of all types: mechanical, split, tented, and even contoured. They may look different, but they’ve all got one thing in common: they’re a helluva lot more comfortable than what probably came with your first computer.
To make sure we got things right, we consulted with Dr. Emil Euaparadorn, Co-owner of Aspire Physical Therapy and associate director of Touro College’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. He stressed the importance of what he likes to call, “The three things to avoid.”
1. Ulnar deviation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulnar_deviation)—keep your wrist as straight as possible.
2. Wrist extension—stow those keyboard feet and keep your wrists flat.
3. Carpal tunnel compression (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carpal_tunnel_syndrome)—the place where your hand meets your forearm is known as the carpal tunnel; avoid pushing on it.
Euaparadorn was quick to stress that workplace ergonomics goes far beyond just the keyboard. Although there are plenty of variables to consider, the bottom line is to keep everything as straight as possible.
If you find yourself wishing that you could tent—raise the center—of your keyboard while splitting the board into two separate halves, the Goldtouch V2 Adjustable Comfort Keyboard might be just the thing. The solid build quality and overall sturdy feel of the keyboard is surprising for a keyboard that spins and contorts to provide tenting. Our only real complaints with the keyboard are the mushy switches. Most rubber dome boards are a far cry from clicky mechanical switches, but the Goldtouch V2 has particularly horrendous domes as they don’t provide much feedback.
The Goldtouch V2 Adjustable Comfort Keyboard is adjustable and comfortable thanks to a lever that locks your changes in place.
Get past the disappointing key feel and you’ve got a capable ergonomic keyboard. Adjusting the keyboard is a snap—literally. Lift the lever along the top side of the keyboard and you’ve got full control over each half of the board. Angle the right side down and keep the left side straight if you think aesthetics are more important than functionality. For everyone else, being able to control the width and angle of the split while also tenting the keyboard is a huge deal. Add in the fact that the lever snaps back into place to preserve your configuration and this is a truly customizable keyboard.
Once we put down our protractor and finished dialing in our settings, we loved the clear key labels—even if they’re printed—and media keys. Goldtouch has even included labels for common functions like Copy and Paste on the side of the keycaps. Oh, and if for some reason you’re stuck on a Mac, the Goldtouch V2 even has a switch on the back to toggle between a Mac and PC configuration.
For better or for worse, the only ergonomic features of the board are the tenting, splitting, and reduced footprint. Euaparadorn appreciates the robust split adjustment but thinks that tenting might be a gimmick that hurts more than it helps.
Solid construction, sturdy tenting; great locking hinge; and media keys.
Keys feel like mush and it’s hard to get both halves evenly tented.
If you’re always pushing your keyboard around and trying to find the perfect angle for your wrists, the Kinesis Freestyle2 is a match made in heaven. The basic model has up to nine inches of complete separation between the two halves of the keyboard. This means that you’re free to move the keyboard anyway you want.
With up to nine inches of separation, the Kinesis Freestyle2 lets you dial in the perfect split.
Euaparadorn agrees that the fully adjustable split is perfect for zeroing in on the right configuration for you. Which is great because the Freestyle2 has some of the most responsive rubber domes we’ve ever had the experience of using. They feel remarkably similar to Cherry MX Red switches—tight and smooth.
It may not be able to angle itself without an additional $40 accessory, but it’s a capable board that offers an easy way to mix up how you type, which is almost as important as having an ergonomic keyboard in the first place. However, we’re not so forgiving of the shifted function keys. StarCraft players and anyone who uses the function keys regularly will have a rough time.
We’re also a bit disappointed by the lack of media keys, but we’re willing to give them up for a keyboard that feels good in every other way.
9-inch split halves, small footprint; quality key feel; integrated number pad.
A questionably attached removable hinge; drastically shifted function keys.
If there was an award for most daunting keyboard, the Kinesis Advantage USB would be a major contender. This is a huge keyboard, measuring over 16 inches wide and 3 inches tall. Fortunately, it looks a lot scarier than it actually is.
Look past the hefty footprint and the Kinesis Advantage USB is an ergonomic beast.
The Advantage’s greatest trait is its contoured design. The domed home row areas for each hand act as resting places for your fingers. The varying key elevations mean that each of your fingers will naturally rest on the appropriate keys. All keys—minus the function keys—are easily accessible without unnecessary hand movement. The Advantage USB also makes much better use of your thumbs which are usually relegated to spacebar duty. Enter, Back Space, Delete, End, Home, and more, are all grouped in two square sections for your thumbs.
This was Euaparadorn’s favorite keyboard of the roundup and for good reason: the large split design of the keyboard means that even broad shouldered users will be comfortable. He also likes the domed home row areas which allow you to rest your palms—not your wrists—on the keyboard.
Even with a $300 price tag, the Advantage USB still manages to pack in a huge list of features that extend beyond the unique, contoured design and mechanical switches. Every single key is reprogrammable without having to install software on your computer. A built-in speaker lets you turn on fake clicking sounds or an alarm that alerts you when you activate Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, or Num Lock. There’s even a two port low-power USB hub on the back of the keyboard along with a telephone cable to connect Kinesis’ optional foot pedal.
It’s not all sunshine and roses though, every single one of the function keys and extra keys like Escape, Scroll Lock, and Print Screen, are soft, squishy buttons. They’re a bit jarring compared to the rest of the keyboard which uses mechanical switches.
Cherry MX Brown switches; sturdy construction, contoured design; built-in palm rests; and plenty of thumb keys.
Huge footprint; squishy function keys; no media keys; and an astronomical price.
The Truly Ergonomic Keyboard is one of the most attractive ergonomic keyboards we’ve ever tested. Look past the rearranged modifier keys and the small form factor, and this is a keyboard that wants you to start typing and never stop.
Drop the wrist rest and the Truly Ergonomic Keyboard is truly an ergonomic keyboard.
Fortunately the Cherry MX Brown switches make typing a real pleasure—when you aren’t inadvertently hitting the Enter key. One of the first things you’ll notice about the Truly Ergonomic Keyboard are the rearranged modifier keys. You use your thumb to hit the Enter key and your forefingers to press the Backspace, Delete, and Tab keys.
*Note: to learn more about the different mechanical switch colors/buttons, check out our mechanical keyboard guide.
We found that having to reach so far to delete text just wasn’t comfortable. Moving Shift to Caps Lock and Ctrl to Shift are unnecessarily confusing changes. Placing the Enter key between two Space Bars also caused some trouble—sending half-finished emails and opening chat menus while playing games.
If you manage to get past the lengthy transition period, this is a great keyboard. Its split design prevents ulnar deviation and the columnar—not staggered—keys seem comfortable and intuitive. Having the entire keyboard reprogrammable with the use of dip switches and a standalone program is almost a necessity for a keyboard that rearranges important keys. A full suite of media keys and application shortcuts along with the integrated number pad make this a keyboard that can easily replace the one you already have on your desk.
As for ergonomics, Euaparadorn says that the Truly Ergonomic Keyboard’s split design won’t be as helpful as say, the Kinesis Advantage USB because it isn’t adjustable for different shoulder widths. He also thinks that the subtle changes in almost every aspect of the keyboard just aren’t practical.
Tactical mechanical switches, solid design; media keys; small form factor; and an integrated number pad.
Annoying key changes—especially Shift; Control, Enter, Backspace; lack of adjustability; and a high price tag.