Kinesis Advantage Keyboard - First Impressions
Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 11:59PM
Jose Vazquez in health, workspace


About ten months ago, I had a sharp pain in my wrist. In that occasion, it happened after an accident while I was playing racquetball. I visited the doctor and he said I should wear a wrist brace. I did so on and off for about six to eight weeks. While I was in pain, I noticed that the slew of keyboard shortcuts I use on a regular basis were killing me (in particular those involving the control modifier, so I swapped control and caps lock.) I did get better and life came back to normal and stopped using the brace.

A few weeks ago, my left wrist started bugging me again. This time I remembered I had gone through this five years ago (I know, my memory is legendarily crappy.) That time the pains went away when I started using a Microsoft ergonomic keyboard. I used it until I switched to using mac laptops. So now that the pain was starting up again, I decided to get a new ergonomic keyboard.

Choosing a model

I could have gotten another Microsoft keyboard, but I was never crazy over the build quality of my last one (which BTW was not a USB model so I couldn't use my old one.) and besides, the Microsoft keyboard is obviously very biased towards Windows (can't blame them for that.)

So after investigating a bit, I found the Kinesis Advantage Contoured Keyboard. There are several less radical options out there, even Kinesis has some split in two halves keyboards, that are otherwise rather "normal." I decided that if I was going to get used to an ergonomic keyboard, I might as well get one that goes out all the way and redesigns the whole thing from scratch. (What can I say? I believe engineers do their best work when they can rid themselves of legacy constraints.) The only legacy that I decided to keep was the Qwerty layout.

Foot Switch

So I just got and I'm typing on it right now. It feels freaking weird. But first things first. I got the regular Advantage model in black. I could have gone for the Pro, but I wanted to get the three-way foot switch. I found the websites a bit confusing. Clearly, the Pro model is differentiated by its silver color and expanded macro memory, but what I missed for a while was the fact that it also includes a single-way foot switch. I was set on trying the three-way foot switch and I could not find a way online to upgrade to that with the pro without paying for a superflous one-way switch.

If you decide to get the keyboard and the foot switch, make sure you don't buy the more expensive USB foot switch. The USB models are standalone, and could work in theory with any other keyboard. If you get the pedalboard that only works with Kinesis keyboards, you will save some money, but I also believe you will enjoy tighter integration. The model that I got connects to the keyboard with a telephone style cable (RJ-45?) With this model, you supposedly can reprogram the foot switch, just like you can any other key.

First Impressions

OK, so right off the box, I have to say I'm happy with my perceived build quality. It feels solid. We shall see if it remains like this over time.

Hooking it all up was pretty straight forward. It has a little USB hub in the back with two ports. I hooked up my old mouse's wireless dongle. The ports are kind of in a cave underneath the keyboard. This is perfect for things that don't get moved around (like my mouse wireless link) It probably would not be very useful for memory sticks and such.

Right now, typing anything requires my full concentration. I'm sure that this will improve over time (in fact, just as I write this post I can start to feel the difference in my head.)

A lot of keys (mostly modifiers) get moved over to the thumbs. I expect this to be big win on the long run, but right now I feel like I'm all thumbs (pun fully intended.) In particular, my right thumb is in charge of space and my left thumb does backspace (or delete in true mac parlance) Unfortunately, I'm used to hitting space with my left thumb so now instead of getting spaces between words, I keep nuking the last letter of the previous word.

This keyboard is carefully crafted with the motion of every finger in mind. It certainly feels that way. My fingers feel less stressed than they usually do when typing something this long (sorry about the length of this post, but I need the practice.) But there is another side effect that I did not anticipate: this keyboard hilights all my bad typing habits. Apparently, I tend to hit some characters that are in the pinky column with my ring finger. The problem is that, since the column is calibrated for the pinky, using the wrong finger results in much hilarity.

I can see this will take a while to get used to. It probably would go easier if I were a better typist. I tend to depend too much on occasionally seeing the keys, that will get me into trouble with this keyboard. I do think think that sticking it out with this keyboard will make me a better typist.

So far I am liking using the foot switch for shifting, but I'm not sure if I will eventually get to use all three switches. Right now I'm working hard just to remember one. Only time will tell how well modifiers work for me on my thumbs. Right now, I can already feel my thumbs growing tired.

Finally, I can also feel my back starting to get tired. I believe that my chair doesn't provide me enough height (besides it's kind of broken.) I also think that I need to raise my table about an inch or two. This keyboard demands good posture. Again, that feels weird right now, but I believe it will bear fruits in the long run.

Sorry, for the super long post. I do plan on writing a follow up after I've had a few days with it.

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