Review: Kinesis Advantage Keyboard

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I recently replaced my work and home keyboards with the Kinesis Advantage. These are my collected thoughts on it after two full months of daily use.

Adjustment Period

Adjusting to the Kinesis Advantage layout took some time. It is not a typical ergonomic keyboard, and the differences are more than the separated hand positions. It spaces and aligns the keys differently. Many non-alphanumeric keys have different positions. Even if you have perfect typing habits, you will suffer during the break-in period.

The good news is that the pain ends quickly. For alphanumeric keys, I was back to my normal speed within a week. For special keys (chiefly command, option, control, tilda, backspace) it took me two to three weeks to reach full speed. The arrow keys were particularly difficult to adjust to; they required a full month.

Comfort

My previous keyboard was a standard Apple chiclet model. I’ve always had minor wrist discomfort, but the Apple Keyboard brought out the worst of it. It became unbearable. I had to rest and flex my hands after only 20 minutes of typing. Using a computer had become unsustainable. When I heard about the Kinesis, I read as many detailed reviews as I could find online (not many). I then talked to my friends @zapnap and @nirvdrum, both Kinesis owners, who had nothing but nice things to say about it. I took the plunge.

What a world of difference. Two months later my wrist pain is gone. Not only does it feel better when I type, but also when I play guitar and piano. There were certain discomforts that I had grown accustom to over the years, which I had accepted as common or inevitable. Yet after just two months with the Kinesis they are gone. I began feeling relief within a couple of days. My wrists gradually felt better for a little over a month until the pain was entirely gone. In hindsight I cannot believe I waited so long to do something about it.

Typing Speed

My typing speed has also benefited. Part of this is because my hands are more relaxed and I can hit the keys faster, but mostly it’s because my hands don’t travel as far for routine tasks. I don’t have to move my right hand to use arrow keys; I no longer have to place my pinky, middle finger and thumb into an awkward position to hit control+command+3; I no longer need my pinky to press backspace (overuse of the pinky stresses tendons, which can lead to wrist pain). The Kinesis layout, once I became used to it, proved much more efficient than a traditional qwerty layout.

Macros

The Kinesis takes an optional footswich ($35), which I highly recommend. It allows you to activate the number pad in a hands-free manner. It also gives you quick access to your custom macros.

I did not expect to use macros, but they have proven very useful for inputting certain keyboard shortcuts. For instance, I have an app called MercuryMover that moves windows to preset locations. It is activated by pressing control+command+up. This is awkward and difficult to remember. Instead, I have a custom mapping to footswitch+w, which triggers that series of keys.

Quirks

There are a few things about the keyboard that I would change if I had the chance:

  1. It’s loud. Clickety-clack is unavoidable when using it.

  2. Macros cannot be listed, backed up or restored. If you overwrite them, they’re gone. If you forget one, there’s no means to recall it.

  3. There are no finger placement indentations on the “f” and “j” keys. The Kinesis has a unique feel to it that in my opinion renders these unnecessary, but I missed them until I fully adjusted.

Answers to Anticipated Questions

  1. Dvorak legends are available.

  2. If you don’t like the default layout, you can map any key to any other key.

  3. Look for refurbs! I saved $60 per keyboard by choosing this option. It looks brand new and carries the full warranty.

  4. In my opinion the Pro model is not worth the cost difference. The memory provided for macros on the standard model is plenty.

  5. The foam wrist pads (included) are a nice touch. They are definitely more comfortable than the bare plastic.

  6. I have no issues switching between a Kinesis and a traditional keyboard. I routinely use my MacBook’s built-in keyboard when I travel.

If you’re considering buying a Kinesis, feel free to ask questions in the comments of this post and I will respond to them.

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