Review : Kinesis Contoured Advantage Keyboard
Vertical key placement reduces finger motion and results in more comfortable typing; keys at the outer edges let you hold your arms closer to shoulder width; included exercise book helps you adapt to the new layout.
The Kinesis Advantage Contoured Keyboard is designed for users whose RSI-related pain is not helped by a traditional split keyboard, such as the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. Unlike a traditional keyboard, which features raised keys on a mostly flat surface, the Kinesis features two concave bowls that dip below the keyboard's wrist rest, so your fingers remain in a relaxed position. What's more, the two bowls of keys are set at the outer edges of the keyboard, so you can hold your arms closer to shoulder-width. (The keys on the right also double as a 10-key numeric keypad with the press of a button.) As you can imagine, the entirely new typing arrangement takes some time to get used to. And given the keyboard's $299 price tag, many users will resent the time required to adapt. But those who invest the time and money will likely find the Kinesis Advantage Contoured Keyboard to be one of the most comfortable keyboards they've used.
We certainly didn't feel comfortable when we first plugged the Kinesis Advantage Contoured Keyboard into our USB port. Unlike other ergonomic boards, the Kinesis' keys are actually quite close together, and at different heights, so we immediately found ourselves tripping over our own fingers and repeatedly striking the wrong keys. Though we are accomplished touch typists, our occasional cheat--for example, hitting the Z key with our ring finger instead of the little finger--was gravely exposed. What's more, some keys on the Kinesis Advantage Contoured Keyboard are completely rearranged, we can only assume for efficiency. The Backspace and Delete keys, for example, are beneath the left thumb (instead of on the upper right), while the Space key can only be pressed by the right thumb. Control keys are at the thumbs as well, which presents an adaptation challenge for regular users of keyboard shortcuts, and arrow keys are split between left and right hands.
Trying to pave over typing habits we've been using daily for decades proved even more difficult than trying to learn new dance steps or master a new sport. Fortunately, Kinesis includes a booklet with 26 adaptation exercises to help you practice typing on the new board. Though they are essentially beginner-level touch-typing exercises, we found them indispensable, and our typing was vastly improved after completing just a few of them. We strongly recommend scheduling the time to complete these exercises before you dive into intensive use of the keyboard. We also recommend a manicure; because of the vertical nature of the keys, Kinesis suggests that fingernails be less than a quarter of an inch long.
All told, it took us three days of daily use to feel comfortable typing on the Kinesis Advantage Contoured Keyboard, and even then our typing was slower than usual and riddled with errors. After a week, our speed had improved, and though we still produced more errors than usual, we were typing with minimal finger movement. The reduced motion went a long way toward preventing fatigue in our fingers and wrists. Even for our mild tendonitis, the relief seemed worth the time invested; those with more serious repetitive stress injuries would do well to give the Kinesis Advantage Contoured Keyboard a try (after consulting with a doctor, of course).