This is my very first encounter with the “world’s first Truly Ergonomic Computer Keyboard”, aka the TECK. I received the keyboard today after inquiring about a review sample—the reason for me being the reviewer this time around is that Dustin has no interest in an ergonomic/split key keyboard. The company that makes the TECK goes by the name Truly Ergonomic, and right now this is the only product they make.

Several years in the works, the main claim to fame is that the keyboard is designed from the ground up for ergonomics. To that end, they’ve ditched the traditional layout and staggered keys in order to provide an optimized layout that offers better comfort while typing, but the changes are something that will take a lot of practice typing before you can type anywhere near your regular speed. And Truly Ergonomic makes no claims to the contrary—they recommend spending days if not weeks with the keyboard before you decide whether or not you really like it, going so far as to offer a 60-day money-back guarantee. Oh, and let’s not forget that the TECK also comes with mechanical switches, specifically Cherry MX Brown switches that are relatively quiet compared to many of the other mechanical switches out there.

Initial impressions are shocking—if you’ve ever tried the Dvorak key layout, I don’t think this could be any more alienating. Just about every "special purpose" key that I have become accustomed to locating by instinct is now in a new location—delete, tab, backspace, and enter are in the center column, with the spacebar split around the enter key. On the left, the Shift key is moved up one row, with CTRL where Shift normally resides and the ALT key at the bottom-left where CTRL usually sits. The right side gets the same treatment, and the enter key as noted has been relocated to the middle of the spacebar. Even the main body of the keyboard with the normal seeming QWERTY layout can feel equally alien to a “formerly” touch typist at first (I find that staring at the keys a bit while typing helps a bit right now). Elsewhere, where I normally find backspace is now an equal sign, the backslash and forward-slash are at the left where tab should be, there’s an extra key in the top-left that shifts all the numbers right one key, and we haven’t even gotten to the document navigation keys. The cursor keys reside under your right hand, down from the JKL area; Home/End/PgUp/PgDn are similarly located under your left hand.

The above paragraphs are the first paragraphs I’ve tried to type on the keyboard (plus some editing after the fact) and it has taken me fully twenty minutes with nearly constant mistakes to get them out! I’m already getting a bit more competent, but when the documentation suggests taking a while to adapt, they’re not kidding around. Truth be told, the whole experience can be a bit maddening at first—if you’ve ever been frustrated to the point where you feel a bit queasy in the gut and want to quit what you’re doing and go find something else more pleasant (like maybe beating your head against a wall)…well, I’m feeling a lot of that right now! I’m mostly writing this to give me a small amount of practice before trying some speed typing tests. I don’t think that the test is going to go well the first time around, but let’s find out.

I will be taking the tests twice on the TECK: once earlier in the writing process and a second time much later. Scores are expressed as “Gross WPM/Errors=Net WPM”. I found these tests on TypingTest.com, and I’m using three different text selections: Aesop’s Fables, Rules of Baseball, and Tigers in the Wild. And yes, these tests are hardly scientific, as typing the same text repeatedly on different keyboards can potentially skew the results. To help mitigate that, I’m serpentining through the keyboards and taking each test twice (so six tests on one keyboard). I’m starting at the top of the list with my old Microsoft Natural Elite, moving to the Rosewill RK-9100, and then finishing with the TECK before heading back up. I’m going to take each test four times and report the best result. (And for the final TECK result, I’ll revisit the test later.)

Round One Typing Test Results
Keyboard Test 1 Test 2 Test 3
MS Natural Elite 69/1=68 67/0=67 64/0=64
Rosewill 71/0=71 74/0=74 67/1=66
TECK (30 minutes) 24/2=22 27/7=20 31/8=23
TECK (90 minutes) 44/2=42 56/4=52 45/5=40

Ouch. I am still very clearly on the early part of a rather steep learning curve, but we’re talking about overcoming roughly 25 years of muscle memory as I adapt to the layout of the TECK—yes, in case you weren’t aware, I currently hold down the fort as the old fuddy-duddy for AnandTech, having just celebrated my 20-year high school reunion last summer. Another major difficulty for me is that I shift routinely between my desktop and various laptops, and if you’ve read my laptop reviews you probably already know that I’m quite particular about keyboard layouts. Here however the TECK isn’t a slightly tweaked layout just for kicks and giggles; it’s a completely whacked out (at first) arrangement that’s designed to be more ergonomic. And honestly, even in the short time I’ve been typing this, I’m starting to think they might be on to something, but change is never easy.

You can see the results from the table above, and when I get into a sort of zone while typing with the TECK, my speed seems to be better than before and I feel less strain/discomfort. The problem is that I’m not in the zone most of the time (yet), so I’ll go really fast for a few words or maybe even a whole sentence before the wheels fall off and I start hitting “=” instead of backspace. The layout definitely feels more compact and requires less movement, and I like everything in theory, but in practice I’m still making a lot of errors. But with only 90 minutes of typing on the TECK that’s hardly surprising; I’m at least getting closer to where I was on my previous keyboards. Where will I be in a week’s time? We’ll have to wait to find out, which is why this is only a “First Imoressions” rather than the full review.

I’ll post a complete review of the keyboard once I’ve had enough time with the device to really say how much I like (or perhaps dislike) what they’ve done, but as someone that has enjoyed using an MS Natural Elite PS/2 keyboard for most of my time writing for AnandTech, there’s a lot on tap here. I’ve long heard the benefits for touch typists of mechanical keys, but until now I haven’t seen anyone doing a curved/natural/ergonomic keyboard with mechanical keys (not that I've really looked around much--see the comments for a couple other options). The TECK is the first I’ve seen that’s readily available in the US, and while the current $222 price will almost certainly make you think twice it's actually lower than some of the alternatives, and I can tell you from personal experience that the costs of dealing with RSI, CTS, and other similar health problems are far higher than that. You’ll hear more about the TECK in a couple weeks, but for now I’m very intrigued. I’m just not sure how I’m going to go between desktops and laptops without feeling baffled for a little while if I end up sticking with the TECK!

Here’s one final parting shot to consider, taken after the rest of this article was written. I’ve now spent over two hours playing around with the TECK, and my speed and accuracy continue to improve. The worst part for me continues to be finding keys like quotes as well as accidentally reaching too far into the center keys (delete, tab, backspace) and messing things up. I’m getting better, and I can see the potential for the layout, but it will take some time….

Final Typing Test Results
Keyboard Test 1 Test 2 Test 3
TECK (120 minutes) 55/5=50 62/8=54 51/2=49

While I try to come to grips with the TECK, I’d love to hear any suggestions on ways to better adapt to a completely different keyboard. I’m also happy to entertain requests for any specific tests you’d like me to try, or if you have questions about the unit itself I can answer those as well. Incidentally, the keyboard is very solidly built, with far more weight to it than the diminutive size would suggest. I actually like the weightiness, though it would be less ideal for transporting it in a backpack. The palm rest is also removable and attached securely via multiple screws, which is a great way of doing things. Aesthetically, there’s a lot I like about the TECK, which is part of the reason I was so interested in getting a review sample. The only question is how well I can type after spending some quality time with the TECK.

To be continued….

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  • xrror - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    Sadly, TECK must fail in that the vast majority of keyboard users, John/Jane Q. PublicBook would give up after 5 minutes, IGNORING the fact they'd ever buy anything over $200.

    BUT! It is pretty brave of TECK to try and release a... "radical" redesign of a keyboard, but still with the QWERTY layout!

    It's seems... optimistic? of TECK to bet on the "middle ground" where "nobody" is happy. For the "purists" (which I quote in a NON-condescending way) QWERTY was pretty much perfected by the IBM Model M ages ago, and ergonomic buckling-spring was IBM model M15 (ergonomic) (13H6689) which is unobtainium now =(

    And like many others say, even though QWERTY is fundamentally broken for modern input, it is what the vast vast majority of computer users these days "know" to interact with their glowing internet/facebook "device."

    But, if there is innovation in the "broken" QWERTY layout that we are all ingrained too, be our canary and find it! =D
    Reply
  • Beenthere - Sunday, January 20, 2013 - link

    This allegedly ergonomicl keyboards may or may not actually be ergo at all. The errors are likely due to years of typing on a traditional keyboard vs. this ergo layout being slightly skewed. If we all learned and used an ergo for years then the result may be they same but the real question is if this keyboard is really any better than a qwerty keyboard. I doubt most people would be willing to swap let alone pay for a new ergo like this. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    If you type a significant amount on a keyboard, numerous studies have been done over the years that prove standard QWERTY is not only suboptimal but also causes more issues with RSI than alternative layouts. And why is it we all still use QWERTY then? Simple momentum -- the path has been set and changing course is far more difficult than continuing down the road, even if the direction we're going is poorly chosen.

    Did you know that QWERTY was actually designed way back when specifically to limit speed of typing? The early typewriters would lock up with their levered mechanisms if you typed too quickly, so in order to reduce the occurrence of issues, letters were arranged such that people would type a bit slower than what they might do with a better layout. With computers, typing speed is no longer a concern -- that's where stuff like the Dvorak layout comes from.

    As for whether the TECK layout and design is better or not, that's the intent of me spending more than a few days typing on it. I'm intentionally not going with a modified layout from the default, even though I think I'd adapt more quickly if I moved backspace and a few other keys around. After I've come to grips with the default arrangement, I might have to give Dvorak a try...depending interest and whether I think it will improve my discomfort from lengthy amounts of typing.
    Reply
  • Azethoth - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    Well I for one am interested in how it fares doing Dvorak. I usually have a Corsair K90 attached to my laptop so I have no issue having to switch typing styles. I just need to know if it enhances Dvorak.

    Also, does the non T style for the arrow keys work or is it a hassle?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, January 25, 2013 - link

    I'd have to do a completely separate evaluation on Dvorak once I've adapted to the initial layout -- which I've mostly done now. I can't say for certain that this layout is ideal, but it works fine for me and the arrangement of the keys does feel more natural than a standard keyboard. Getting mechanical switches in the process is also nice, and that's something that's missing from nearly all of the mainstream ergonomic keyboards.

    Dvorak is basically going to be a bit of a mess when you first switch, and I've heard it can take several weeks to truly get the new layout, particularly if you've been using QWERTY for a long time. My plan is to review this TECK, then the Kinesis, and then we'll see about trying out Dvorak. To be honest, I'm dreading the switch to Dvorak a bit -- I figure another week or so of typing chaos will ensue. Will it be worthwhile long-term, or have most of the issues with QWERTY been addressed with the altered layouts in the TECK and Kinesis? I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it!

    And just for kicks, if anyone is still paying attention here: my latest typing test results for the TECK (after six days of use) are 71/1=70, 67/0=67, and 64/1=63. I'm now basically back to full speed; the only thing that trips me up are occasional errors where I fall apart for a few seconds, but that can happen on a regular keyboard as well. When I'm on, it's good and feels more comfortable. When I make a mistake, it's still a bit slower. Note that it's also no faster at this point -- same speed, different feel. Give me another week, though!
    Reply
  • boli - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    The TrulyErgonomic is quite a nice keyboard, but in my opinion (I do own both) the Kinesis Advantage beats it hands down. I wrote about them about a year ago at geekhack, if anyone is interested.

    A Kinesis Advantage fan tries the TrulyErgonomic keyboard
    http://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=27089.0
    Reply
  • j5c - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Sorry, I don't understand your figures! In the tables, it looks like you are using "Gross WPM - Errors = Net WPM" but the article says you are using "Gross WPM / Errors = Net WPM". e.g you have equations like 62/4=58. I'll forgive you if it is purely a feature of the keyboard layout with '/' where the '-' key should be ;-). Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Ignore the / as an operation and consider it merely how the data is represented in the table. Technically it's a minus operation as you suggest, but I wasn't even thinking about that. Reply
  • milleron - Saturday, January 26, 2013 - link

    Somewhere in the article or comments, it's said that the narrow keyboard gets the mouse closer.
    1 -- Probably the least ergonomic thing that 95% of computer keyboardists do is reach for the mouse every 3 seconds. I work in health care where more than half of people who spend ALL day at keyboards switch between fields with the mouse rather than the TAB key. Overcoming this extremely widespread foolishness would do more to increase productivity that the most ergonomic keyboard. I don't think getting the mouse closer is a valid objective for the unwashed masses, but I understand that for people who are ergonomically-minded enough to pay for the TECK, it might make sense.
    2 -- I wouldn't (couldn't) have a keyboard without a numeric keypad, although I realize that there are many applications, jobs, and users that don't employ it much. That's sort of a deal-breaker for me.

    I'll continue to get by with the MS Ergonomic keyboard that's raised at the palms rather than at the fingers. I have to use keyboards at a variety of stations during the average workday, and the first thing I do at each is collapse those infernal feet at the rear of the keyboard that raise it into the ghastly ANTIergonomic position of an old mechanical typerwriter. I make it a point to leave each station with the keyboard flat, hoping that some day, someone might discover that flat is better. Having the keyboard slanted upward is the other remnant of the original typewriter, in addition to the QWERTY arrangement, that contributes mightily to RSI.

    Ron
    Reply
  • drumhellar - Sunday, January 27, 2013 - link

    You should have used Sega's "Typing of the Dead" for your speed tests, if for no other reason than how awesome that game is.

    And, it actually tracks which keys are slowest for you, and which keys you have the most trouble hitting accurately, because, you know, with all those zombies after you, your life kinda depends on it.
    Reply

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