Kinesis Contoured Keyboard
The Kinesis Contoured Keyboard is billed as the best available design for both comfort and productivity. Since I spend most of my time at work on a computer, anything that enhances my comfort and productivity is always welcome. I decided to try one out just to see if it lived up to its billing and to find out if it would help me with the wrist pain I experience after a long day at work. I’m sitting here typing this on a contoured keyboard I bought more than 6 months ago and have been using for 8+ hours a day and I can say that it definitely lives up to its billing.
I bought my keyboard, a near mint condition Professional QD, online on Ebay for about $200. In addition to the fancy split bowl layout, the keyboard comes with high-tech built in electronics: it can be hardware switched between QWERTY and Dvorak layouts, you can re-map any key, create macros, have the keyboard beep on every keypress, and you can even attach a foot switch for your control keys. The Kinesis website no longer lists the Professional QD, the closest match I can find is the Advantage Pro. You may think that $200 is a crazy price to pay for a used keyboard, but they cost even more brand new! Prices on the Kinesis website range from $289 to $359 + shipping. The Human Solution has the mid-level keyboard for about $269 and you can find good deals on E-bay. So, it is wise to shop around. The price is high but you have to consider that these are high quality keyboards that are probably custom built in small batches, they have fancy electronics, and the company also has to make a profit.
The Kinesis Contoured Keyboard is split down the middle into two scooped out halves. There is a wide gap between the two halves in order to make you correctly position your shoulders. Your wrists rest on the bottom half of the keyboard and your fingers rest into the scooped out halves. According to the Kinesis website, this downward rest is “the best available design for both comfort and productivity“. The keys most used by your pinky (Enter, Backspace, Del e.t.c) have been moved to the bottom center of the keyboard so they can be operated by your thumbs. This makes sense since the pinky is the weakest finger and the thumb is the strongest. The arrow, insert, and other keys have been moved around so that you can operate them with your fingers without moving your hands. The function keys remain in their normal spot at the top of the keyboard.
The keyboard as well as the keys are made of a hard plastic. The white keyboard picks up stains easily and requires periodic cleaning if you dislike the grunge look. The home keys are colored light blue.
If you are a proficient touch typist like me, it will take about two weeks to get used to this keyboard. The hardest part is getting used to hitting space, enter, backspace, and delete with your thumbs. Another tough hurdle is learning to use the arrow keys with both of your index and middle fingers. It is slow going for those first two weeks but your brain figures it out and you catch up rapidly after that.
My typing on a regular keyboard is largely unaffected. I make some mistakes when I first switch over, but my brain warms up and I start typing normally after a few minutes. I mostly get the space-bar and enter keys mixed up.
The keys on the keyboard are made of a hard plastic. They have a very nice clicky feedback, they are not quiet though – my cubemates have commented that they can hear them when things are quiet. The force required to activate the key is not large like on the IBM Model M keyboard, they need a gentle but firm tap. Neither are they hyper-sensitive like those on a Deck keyboard. You have to push them down till they click before the computer registers a key-press. The keys and switches feel high quality, however the QWERTY letters on the keys feel like they are glued on and the Dvorak characters are painted onto the keys. I doubt the lettering will last. I like the negative printing process on the Deck keyboards that embeds the character into the key and makes it impervious to wear. I think for $300 Kinesis could have put more durable lettering on their keys.
The function keys are rubber with the same painted-on feeling letters and they have a noticeable wobble in their sockets. They have a lighter, more rubbery clicky tactile feedback. The function keys are about 1/2 the size of a function key on a regular keyboard, this is probably done in order to include the rarely used keys like Scroll Lock and Pause/Break along the top of the keyboard.
One oddity on my keyboard was that the backspace key was titled ‘Space’. I only discovered its function by trial and error. There are keys named space on both sides of the keyboard and my guess it they named both the space and backspace keys ‘Space’ to allow switching them to either one of your thumbs.
As advertised on the Kinesis website, this keyboard has excellent ergonomics. I used to experience wrist pain when using my regular flat keyboard for long periods of time, the pain has mostly gone away since I switched and only returns if I spend extremely long periods, say 12+ hours, at my computer. In addition, the bowl like shape makes my shorter fingers travel less than the longer ones which has also reduced fatigue.
There are some drawbacks though. Any kind of one-handed typing is difficult. The keyboard is harder to use for programming since the bracket keys are at the bottom which makes them hard to access. The split arrow keys require two hands to operate which makes using the arrow keys and the mouse at the same time impossible.
I’ve used many keyboards including the Microsoft ergonomic split keyboards, the Happy Hacker, the Deck, the Keyovations Goldtouch, as well as the IBM Model M. Of all the keyboards, the Kinesis contoured keyboard is the most comfortable and usable for long periods of time. I think it is worth the price after you consider the damage you can do to your hands with the wrong keyboard. I make my livelihood with my hands and I would gladly pay full price if I had to purchase it all over again.
- Very comfortable for daily typing.
- Highly customizable with the built in macro support. Settings are preserved even when the keyboard is unplugged.
- Switches between Dvorak and QUERTY layouts.
- Ergonomic layout allocates most-often used keys to the thumb, your strongest fingers, and separates your arms to about shoulder width.
- Long USB cord.
- Expandable with factory upgrades and foot switches.
- Programming guide should be printed on the bottom of the keyboard.
- I don’t expect the keyboard lettering to last.