The best ergonomic keyboards on the market.

How to be the best consumer you can be.
April 28 2009 6:55 AM

Apple Option Ouch

Searching for a keyboard that won't hurt my hands, shoulders, or wallet.

(Continued from Page 1)
Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Desktop 7000.

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Desktop 7000, $149.99 (on sale for $69.99) This semi-split keyboard, with a 12-degree angle down the midline, is rounded to encourage a straighter hand-wrist alignment while typing. Other features include a nice padded wrist rest, lots of multifunction buttons to minimize mousing, and a wonderful vertical mouse. Both keyboard and mouse are wireless, too, which makes for an enviably tidy desktop.

So what's the problem? While the Microsoft doesn't require the same lengthy acclimation period as a real split keyboard, it also doesn't deliver the same results. It's only marginally more comfortable than a standard keyboard. And, after my two-week trial period, my subpar typing habits, like occasionally using just my right index finger to peck at the keys, were fundamentally unchanged.

Painkiller: 7
Ease of use: 9
Frills factor: 4
Total: 20 (out of 30)

Logitech Cordless Desktop Wave.

Logitech Cordless Desktop Wave, $89.99 (on sale for $59.99)
The Desktop Wave has a great deal in common with the Microsoft keyboard. Both are conveniently cordless, both have nice squishy palm rests and useful multifunction quick keys, and both come with fantastic mice that encourage you to cup your hand over the mouse rather than position your pinkie down at an angle Mother Nature never intended.

Advertisement

The two keyboards are also ergonomic only in the loosest sense of the term: In the case of the Desktop Wave, the only real concession to ergonomics seems to be the adjustable height of the keyboard and the "waved" positioning and varying key heights. But ergonomic or not, the Desktop Wave is an exceptionally comfortable keyboard that may suit typists who aren't quite ready to make the leap into the split-keyboard universe—more a stepping-stone than a salvation. For its more svelte design, I'd choose it over the Microsoft.

Painkiller: 7
Ease of use: 9
Frills factor: 4
Total: 20 (out of 30)

Kinesis Freestyle VIP.

Kinesis Freestyle VIP, $149.00 The Kinesis Freestyle is pretty much a standard keyboard that happens to split in two, which makes for swift adaptation. The two halves of this keyboard are connected by a cord, so you can separate them up to 8 inches. I went for maximum separation to increase my wing span, though I occasionally adjusted this distance for the sake of experimentation.

The "VIP" kit includes a variety of incline accessories that allow you to position the keyboard at three different angles. You can place the keyboard on a stand, or with two separate risers underneath, or just use it "solo," without any of the add-ons. Though I have no major complaints about this user-friendly keyboard, I'm not sure the price is quite right. There's nothing special about the keys themselves—no variation in size or height, no number pad or extra-special smart keys—and the VIP kit should come as part of the standard package. Without it, nothing much stands out about this keyboard.

Painkiller: 12
Ease of use: 9
Frills factor: 1
Total: 22 (out of 30)

Kinesis Advantage Ergonomic Keyboard.

Kinesis Advantage Ergonomic Keyboard, $299.00
Yes, yes, I know: This keyboard is insanely, obscenely expensive—wouldn't my money be better spent on a share of Google stock? Classic second-cheapest-wine-on-the-list consumer that I am, I might never have tried this keyboard if not for research purposes. But I'm glad I took the plunge, because the Kinesis Advantage is hands-down the most habit-changing keyboard on the market today—a keyboard that can convince even the most stubborn skeptics that ergonomics really is a science and not just another consumer ploy.

It's a good thing it comes with a booklet of typing exercises (afad jujswsf ljuj swsf ljuj …)to help acclimate you to the funky placement of most keys. The keyboard is both split and dramatically concave, with deeper hollows for the longer fingers and shallower ones for pinkies, encouraging vertical finger movement. Adaptation is supposed to take three to five days; it definitely took me the better part of a week. But long before I could touch-type Enter, Backspace, and Space Bar (all of which are in radically different positions than on a standard QWERTY keyboard), I was a convert.

The designers of the Kinesis Advantage really thought long and hard about which typing habits cause repetitive stress injuries (for example, italicizing a word by pressing the Ctrl/Apple key and the "I" key with different fingers of the same hand) and went out of their way to eliminate them. This keyboard doesn't allow you to take the usual typing shortcuts—if you try to use the wrong finger to touch a key, the Kinesis will trip you up, and you will eventually have to learn a safer technique. If you're using the keyboard correctly, your fingers need barely move at all. Another plus is the foot pedal, which you can customize to replace any frequently used key. Now, instead of hitting Shift to capitalize a word, I simply press the pedal and, voila, the work is done for me.

I can't say that the Kinesis Advantage is for everyone—the price is still a tough barrier to ignore—but for the constitutionally gauche like myself, products that force good habits, like this one, merit the occasional splurge.                  

Painkiller: 15
Ease of use: 5
Frills factor: 5
Total: 25 (out of 30)

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Nov. 21 2014 1:38 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? See if you can keep pace with the copy desk, Slate’s most comprehensive reading team.