Introducing the TECK

Back in late January, I received the TECK for review, a keyboard that goes by the not-so-humble name of “Truly Ergonomic Computer Keyboard”, manufactured by a company that likewise uses the name Truly Ergonomic (hello name space collision). I’m sure other companies that make ergonomic keyboards might take exception to the name, but as far as I’m concerned that’s mostly marketing. The real question is how the TECK fares in day-to-day use, and whether it’s really a better keyboard for serious typists—and particularly typists like me that suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)—compared to the other options.

I won’t sugarcoat the difficulty of the initial learning curve: it’s brutal, and I already wrote some first impressions on the subject. If you buy a keyboard like this, you’re going to need to plan on a solid three or four days minimum before you can start to approach your previous efficiency. Give it another week or two, though, and as with most things it becomes mostly second nature. With over a month of regular use now in my back pocket, I’m ready to provide some thoughts on the TECK experience. Can any keyboard possibly be worth a price of entry well north of $200? I suppose that depends on what you’re doing with it.

My Background—Why the TECK Matters

Let me start with a bit of background information so that you know where I’m coming from and why I would even be interested in using the TECK. Currently, I’m the Senior Editor of the laptops/notebooks section at AnandTech, but I also provide proofing/editing on various other articles, and I dabble in the occasional other section. I’ve now been with AnandTech for 8.5 years, and during that time I’ve gone from 30 years old to a ripening 39 year old. I have a habit of being perhaps more verbose than necessary in my reviews (my current record goes to the ~25K word socket 939 SFF roundup back in late 2005—and it’s the reason I try to avoid roundups these days). Succinctly put, I type quite a bit on a keyboard and as I got older I started having issues with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).

I’ve tried a few other approaches during the years to help mitigate the irritation of CTS, including doing a lot of dictation using Dragon NaturallySpeaking for a few years. I actually like Dragon, but when I got married and then had one young child and later a second enter into the equation (I now have a 10 year old, nearly 3 year old, and our baby just turned 1 this past weekend), I found that getting the necessary privacy to do proper dictation can be rather difficult. So as much as I like the idea of speech recognition, it’s probably not going to be viable for me until either my children get old enough that they can learn to leave dad alone while he’s working, or I get an office with a soundproof door I can lock myself behind.

My secondary approach to alleviating my CTS has been threefold. First, try to type less; I basically quit commenting on most hardware enthusiast forums because it was creating extra wear and tear on the aging carpals. Second, try to exercise more, eat healthier, and take breaks from the computer every hour or so—I’m not doing so well on that last part, though I’m definitely in better shape and eating healthier than when I was in my early 30s and 20s! Finally, I switched to a split keyboard back in 2004, a Microsoft Natural that I still have today—it’s so old that it doesn’t even have a USB connection if that helps. All of the above help to varying degrees, but until I fully quit typing I suspect I’m going to have to continue the search for ways to avoid causing my carpals undue stress.

When Dustin started reviewing mechanical keyboards last year, I started taking a minor interest. I have plenty of other keyboards around the house, not to mention a bunch of laptops as well, but they’re all “cheap” membrane-based keyboards. I was curious to see if anyone offered a good mechanical switch keyboard with an ergonomic design—basically something like my MS Natural but with Cherry MX switches. There was only one option at the time, from Kinesis, and it wasn’t quite what I was looking for plus it was priced way higher than I wanted to spend. Then early this year a press release crossed my email inbox (forwarded from Dustin) about a new ergonomic keyboard with mechanical switches, the TECK. I was intrigued and sent an email asking for a review sample, and that brings us to today’s review.

Now you know something more about my background and interest in the TECK. For the record, I now have a Kinesis Advantage for review as well, which will replace the TECK once I finish with this review. Then I’ll use it for a few weeks and will provide some thoughts on how they compare. But for now, let’s move on to the TECK itself and look at the design along with a subjective evaluation.

TECK: Rethinking Ergonomics
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  • NeoReaper - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - link

    something i dont quite understand about your review is that you seem to be pitting a non-ergonomic keyboard against a ergonomic one. why arent u comparing the MS Natural Keyboard to the TECK? ive been using MS Natural Keyboards since the first one launched and i used that one until the Natural 4000 came out. the reason why is because i felt the elite was too small, i felt like i was scrunched up whenever i tried to type on it. something i find odd about ur depiction on keyboard layouts is that you seem to dislike the fact that your right arm comes in at an angle with the MS keyboard. i always found that to be an ergonomic advantages especially since i have to move my arm over to the mouse. my arm ends up be perfectly straight when operating the mouse because of this. another thing is that i feel that the TECK keyboard would give me that crammed feeling i had from trying the MS Elite. i actually like having my arms fairly spread apart which is something the large MS Natural Keyboards have enabled for me. another interesting parallel would be going from playing games on a standard control pad to switching over to the wii remote and nunchuk. it was a very liberating experience. Reply
  • araczynski - Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - link

    i've loved the split/ergo keyboards from microsoft since they've been released ages ago, its all i use for work. several years back i've also switched to the Evoluent vertical mice, that has made a TON of difference in how my wrist feels now. Reply
  • mike_obrien - Friday, March 29, 2013 - link

    Jarred -

    Thanks for the great article. Similar to a watch, keyboard choice reveals a lot about a computer user. You provided a lot of very useful insight that will help thoughtful users to evaluate TECK, and I look forward to your Kinesis review, since I haven't tried their devices in years.

    As former Unix admin, my struggles with CTS/RSA began in my early '20s. The combination of Dvorak and an ergonomic keyboard (the MS Natural Pro, which I stockpiled and am still using a dozen years later) has not only given me years of nearly pain-free computing, but delivered an unexpected ~50% increase in typing speed.

    If your ergonomic keyboard of choice does not address your CTS/RSI, I highly recommend making the switch to Dvorak. Unlike an ergonomic keyboard, the benefits of Dvorak are available when using a laptop - a use case that is growing rapidly over time. (Having used literally hundreds of laptops over the past decade, it's hard to beat the Lenovo T series for size and feel.)

    I wish you the best of luck finding a strategy that works, and look forward to reading your upcoming reviews.

    -Mike O'Brien
    Reply
  • KinesisAreBad - Saturday, June 01, 2013 - link

    It would be nice if people would stop recommending Kinesis as some kind of innovator. In my view Kinesis STOLE the Maltron design because of a technicality in their patent (the number pad). They aren't champions of ergonomics or designers. They're thieves in my book.

    As a side note, or more on-topic even. While I too like the TECK design, it's actually a combination of many design elements that others have implemented in their own genuinely innovative creations. You can find information about this on GeekHack but in summary nothing about the TECK is theirs - not even the placement of the editing keys. It's all borrowed, but combined very well. Except the awful function key area which they did themselves. A reflection of their design skills I think.

    The lesson is: thieves win. Just look at Apple.
    Reply
  • Maryon Jeane - Monday, July 08, 2013 - link

    I'm very torn about this: on the one hand this company (Truly Ergonomic) is dreadful when it comes to customer service, even taking days to reply to e-mails, but on the other hand this keyboard is not far off being the best I've ever used. (To give an idea of my background in this respect, I'm a trained touch-typist (on manual typewriters!) and very fast, I'm self-employed and communicate with my clients through the computer, and I'm on the keyboard day and night; I've tried virtually every type of keyboard going, from the IBM Model M to the Cherry Click in its various manifestations through to the Goldtouch and as far as the Maltron.)

    I’ve now been using the Truly Ergonomic keyboard (English International Model 105) for over a year (since February 2012), day in, day out. When it first arrived, it was bizarre - not because of the different layout (I’ve accustomed myself to myriad different layouts over the years) but because the keyboard was acting very strangely. Some keys simply didn’t type at all, some keys typed multiple keystrokes, some keys typed something different entirely to what was on their keycaps - and none of it was consistent. TE’s customer service being so dreadful, and the problems with returning (or obtaining) things from Canada being time-consuming and difficult to overcome, I sent the keyboard to my trusty and excellent keyboard people here in the UK (The Keyboard Company) to see what they could do. Their verdict was that there was nothing physically wrong with the keyboard, that it was well made and built to last, and that they would be happy to replace any keys I chose (it’s fitted with Cherry MX Blues); they further said that all the soldering on the keys was fine (poor soldering can often be the source of problems with mechanical keyboards). So I had the keyboard back and tore my hair out trying to find the source of its bizarre behaviour.

    I soon noticed that if I hadn’t been using the keyboard (because I had to revert to another keyboard just to get my work done), then when I used it again the problems were worse; on the other hand if I had been persevering for an hour or so the keyboard was better. So I did an hour of online typing games continuously - and the keyboard improved. From then on I simply did hour after hour of typing games (with breaks of course...) over a couple of days - and suddenly the keyboard was usable. Once it was actually usable I used it for work, and gradually the problems disappeared. Strangely, I found, I wasn’t the only person to have had a TE keyboard act like this. (Whether or not problems would reappear if I didn’t use the keyboard for a long while I don’t know, because I use it extensively every day.)

    I found exactly the same thing with the second keyboard I ordered from Truly Ergonomic - also with Cherry MX Blues, which they now no longer supply - but at least this time I knew what the problem was and how to solve it.

    My hands, arms, wrists, neck and shoulders hardly suffer at all now from my prolonged and extensive use of the keyboard - which has certainly never been the case with any other keyboard. I am extremely happy with the ‘feedback’ from the keyboard as I type and I have the experience I’ve always wanted: I’m unaware of the keyboard between myself and whatever I’m doing on the computer. My typing speed is the highest it has ever been and my error count is tiny.

    I have remapped some of the keys (I always do anyway, for example remapping the AltGr key to be the same as the ordinary left-hand Alt key - highly necessary for touch typists using the keyboard rather than the mouse to access menus, implement font attributes such as bold, italic, etc. to avoid hand strain), and I also use a macro facility (KeyboardExpress) to automate such things as double and single inverted commas, brackets and the like (so one key combination types both symbols and places the cursor between them), and ShortKeys for boilerplate text and the like. All this not only ensures that there really are no awkward reaches in typing, but also increases speed and accuracy to beyond-human, as it were.

    If only Truly Ergonomic the company were of the same calibre as Truly Ergonomic the keyboard!
    Reply
  • chadwickboggs - Thursday, August 22, 2013 - link

    As a computer programmer on a Mac I have to say that I am comforted and relaxed by this keyboard, model 209. My tendon pains have reduced, my speed increased and I personally learned it in one day. I might have placed the function keys lower, but other than that it sure seems to be well worth its price to me. Thank you TrulyErgonomic, sincerely! Reply
  • avav - Monday, August 26, 2013 - link

    I like the keyboard - but find it hard to take the company seriously. I had trouble with their online checkout (form seems to stay stuck on 'processing payment'). And there is no telephone number anywhere on the website that one can call. Very strange - and very unprofessional. Reply
  • avav - Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - link

    Based on this review, I decided to try this keyboard (TECK 207). Here is my feedback.

    1. The mechanical keys on this keyboard are the least mechanical ones I have ever seen. Having worked on various mech keyboards, I find it hard to believe that this keyboard has truly mechanical keys. There is just no comparison.

    2. For me, the keyboard was DOA - in that the space bar did not work. I thought this would be a simple matter of returning/replacing this item. Was I ever wrong. This leads me to my main point about this company:

    3. This company operates like a scam/ripoff company. They do not have a telephone number that you can call. They do not respond to online queries (you can a message saying - you will hear from someone in a FEW days - due to their busy volume. You never do hear back).

    Also, I originally thought this was accidental - but no longer think so. The credit card payment option does not work on their website. Only paying directly (paypal or bank account) works. This way, you cannot dispute your transaction as easily as you could with a CC payment.

    There is already a ripoff report (ripoffreport.com) filed by someone who had a similar experience to mine.

    I don't have a problem with your review - but believe you need to include the company's unethical practices along with the keyboard review. Had I known any of this , I would never have made the purchase.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    I am sure they're not a scam/ripoff, but that doesn't mean their tech support or quality control are up to speed. Your first point however is silly; of COURSE this keyboard has mechanical keys -- you merely have to pop the keys off to see the Cherry MX Brown switches.

    For the second point, DOA does happen and if you had a bad experience getting your product repaired, that's unfortunate. Send me an email (with order number, real name, etc.) and I'd be happy to talk with Truly Ergonomic and hear their side of the story. Not having a telephone number listed isn't a big deal for an online company -- we don't list our numbers on AnandTech either, you'll notice -- so email is usually the proper way of contact.

    Anyway, I don't really have the ability to do reviews of all the extra stuff like customer service, as that would entail purchasing products anonymously with our own money, and we simply don't get paid enough as hardware reviewers to do that. There are places that try to track such things, but resellerratings doesn't list Truly Ergonomic, and the only filing on RipoffReport (which you mentioned) is clearly your own complaint.

    Is this a bad company? I don't think so; did you get a defective keyboard? Possibly. Why haven't they fixed the problem? Tough to say, but like I said: email me and I'll see what they have to say. Sadly, the Internet gets more negative complaints than people praising good companies, so your single bad experience doesn't really tell us much other than one person had problems.
    Reply
  • maestrofjp - Thursday, November 28, 2013 - link

    I've had very similar issues as the poster "avav". Sometimes the keyboard works and other times key presses register as double or none at all. And dealing with tech support with them is like a broken record, please "exercise your keys to break them in" -- like a few more key presses is going to suddenly break them in -- even though I've been using the keyboard for two months+ (and as a programmer so I'm typing all day). Please flash the firmware with the latest update. Like flashing it for the 20th time with the SAME firmware (no key mappings) is suddenly going to fix the issue.

    Tech support has suggested things like... maybe you have X turned on in Windows (i.e. move mouse cursor via keyboard) after I repeatedly remind that I'm on Ubuntu or other Debian derivative. Then suggesting maybe I should try it on Windows because it could be an OS issue. Tried that and the same story with the keyboard's behavior. Its not an OS issue...

    The only conclusion I can think of is there is either an engineering problem with the hardware (like their choice of MegaWin for the microcontroller) or something with the custom HID firmware they wrote. It clear that the product was designed to last with high quality components (never have had issues with other products with Cherry switches before) however the firmware issues in which what I type doesn't really come out right makes this keyboard no longer a functional item but purely a point of annoyance that is getting in the way of actual work. For a piece of kit that is $250+, I have expectations that it should function as an accurate keyboard first. We'll see if they respond to my pending RMA (in which they agreed to in a tech support message)...it's been a few days of waiting (which is the typical turn around time from this vendor).
    Reply

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