Earlier this month I posted my review of the TECK, an ergonomic keyboard with mechanical switches that’s looking to attract users interesting in a high quality, highly ergonomic offering and don’t mind the rather steep learning curve or the price. The TECK isn’t the only such keyboard, of course, and I decided to see what other mechanical switch ergonomic keyboards I could get for comparison. Next up on the list is the granddaddy of high-end ergonomic keyboards, the Kinesis Contour Advantage.

Similar to what I did with the TECK, I wanted to provide my first impressions of the Kinesis, along with some thoughts on the initial switch and the learning curve. This time, I also made the effort to put together a video of my first few minutes of typing. It actually wasn’t as bad as with the TECK, but that’s likely due to the fact that I already lost many of my typing conventions when I made that switch earlier this year. I’ll start with the video, where I take a typing test on four different keyboards and provide some thoughts on the experience, and then I’ll provide a few other thoughts on the Kinesis vs. TECK comparison. It’s far too early to determine which one I’ll end up liking the most, but already I do notice some differences.

Compared to the TECK—as well as many other keyboards—the Kinesis Advantage feels quite large. Part of that is from the thickness of the keyboard, with the palm rests and middle section being much thicker than on other keyboards. Looking at the way my hands rest on the Advantage, though, I have to say it seems like it should be a good fit for me once I adapt to the idiosyncrasies. I discussed some of the changes in the above video, but let me go into some additional detail on the areas that appear to be causing me the most trouble (and this is after the initial several hours of training/adapting to the modified layout).

My biggest long-term concern is with the location of the CTRL and ALT keys. As someone that uses keyboard shortcuts frequently, I’m very accustomed to using my pinkies to hit CTRL. Reaching up with my thumb to hit CTRL is going to take some real practice, but I can likely come to grips with that over the next few weeks. Certain shortcuts are a bit more complex, however—in Photoshop, for instance, I routinely use “Save for Web…”, with the shortcut CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+S; take one look at the Kinesis and see how easy that one is to pull off! Similarly, the locations of the cursor keys, PgUp/PgDn, and Home/End keys is going to really take some time for me to adjust. On the TECK I actually didn’t mind having them located under the palms of the hands, but here the keys are split between both hands and aren’t centralized.

With that said, the Kinesis keyboards do have some interesting features that may mitigate such concerns. For one, there’s a built-in function for reprogramming any of the keys, so it’s possible with a little effort to change the layout. Of course, for that to be useful you also need to figure out a “better” layout than the default, and I’m not sure what that might be—plus I wanted to give the default layout a shot first. The Advantage also features macro functionality, allowing you to program up to 24 macros of approximately 55 keystrokes. Truth be told, I haven’t even tried the macros or key mapping features yet, but I can at least see how they might prove useful.

There are a few other items to mention for my first impressions. One is that I didn’t like the audible beeping from my speakers at all; I think the keys sound plenty loud when typing (not that they’re loud, necessarily, but they’re not silent either), so adding a beep from the speakers wasn’t useful for me. Thankfully, it’s very easy to disable the sounds with a quick glance at the manual. Another interesting feature is built-in support for the Dvorak layout (press PROGRAM+SHIFT+F5 to switch between QWERTY and Dvorak; note that switching will lose any custom key mappings). Finally, unlike the TECK, Kinesis also includes a USB hub (two ports at the bottom-back of the keyboard near the cable connection).

As far as typing goes, the Cherry MX Brown switches so far feel largely the same to me as on the TECK. I haven’t experienced any issues with “double pressing” of keys yet, but then I didn’t have that happen with the TECK for a couple weeks either. Right now, it’s impossible for me to declare which keyboard is better in terms of ergonomics—and in fact, even after using both for a month I fear I might not be able to come to a firm opinion on the matter—but one thing I do know is that looking at the video above, I can see that my hands and arms move far less when typing on both the TECK and Kinesis. I also know that at least from a technology standpoint, the Kinesis is more advanced than the TECK, what with a USB hub, key remapping, and macro functionality, but it’s also more expensive thanks to those features.

Reviews of this nature are inherently something that will take a while and they end up being quite subjective, but within the next few months I hope to have a better idea of which mechanical switch ergonomic keyboard I like the most…and I have at least one if not two more offerings coming my way. Hopefully you can all wait patiently while I put each through a month or so of regular use. If you’re looking to spend $200+ on a high quality ergonomic keyboard, you’ll probably be willing to wait a bit longer, but if not I believe many of the companies will offer you a 60-day money back guarantee—the TECK and Kinesis both offer such a guarantee if you’re interested in giving one a try.

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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    I believe part of the problem is our linking parsed the ). as part of the URL, so try this:
    http://www.datahand.com/

    I recall reading about their stuff a long time ago, and it would definitely be interesting to try it, but at $1000 and currently out of stock I don't know if they'd be interested in sending anything -- or if they even could.

    Actually, that setup reminds me a bit of watching my old college roommate play Quake with a SpaceOrb 3D controller; he hardly moved his hands and yet he would be cruising around the levels and could be me nine times out of ten. It looks like the idea with the DataHand is that you only have to "start" the movement towards where a key would be on a normal keyboard and it will register? I bet the learning curve is pretty tough on that one -- worse than the TECK or Kinesis even!
    Reply
  • ericbojo - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    Make it so.. i would love to hear a review about this! Reply
  • ericbojo - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    I would really like to see a video of the Datahand in action.. after this kinesis review is done.. datahand looks really interesting Reply
  • Mumrik - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    There are plenty of in-action videos of the Datahand on Youtube. Or did you mean specifically by Jarred?

    Here's one: http://youtu.be/_rzFqEqzhmA/
    Reply
  • ericbojo - Friday, May 17, 2013 - link

    What i mean by "in action" is an actual un-biased review.. how good is it in real world situations? in games or whatever, a video doesn't do that. Reply
  • Chapbass - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    I use a Kinesis at work and at home, love it. As far as shift+ctrl+alt+s goes...the way I do it is pretty easy. left thumb covers both ctrl+alt, left pinky on shift, 3rd finger on S. Actually easier than on a standard keyboard, IMO. Reply
  • shinjin - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    Been using a Kinesis contoured keyboard for about 17 years now. I replaced the first after 7 years and the second is still going strong (plus have an even newer one for my workplace). Another user already addressed the ctrl+alt complaint (use the left thumb for both). For work I recently switched over to a regular keyboard for about 6 months before discomfort set in. Switching back to the Kinesis solved that problem. I find it a fantastic keyboard and currently use it in Dvorak mode.

    For me a significant measure of quality is the support received from the company. On the few occasions when I have needed it, Kinesis has provided great support.

    That said, the keyboard does have a few flaws:

    - row of 'soft' function keys are a little difficult to use
    - not terribly great for gaming in general. If I can remap controls within a game, I will do so. But sometimes I just have to whip out a clunky old 101.
    - cleaning. My home keyboard is white and has gotten a little dingy over the years. Rubbing alcohol cleans it up pretty well nice, but the ink on the body (not the keys) is alcohol-based so I have to take care or I smear/remove it.

    Aside - in the TECK review you mention issues with the embedded keypad. The Kinesis also has an embedded keypad and it functions ok. For a while I did use a foot switch as a Keypad toggle, but the switch from 17 years ago is rather loud and annoying to use. I don't know if there have been any improvements since then. For the most part I just use the number unless I have lots of digits to input.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    I still don't buy into the CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+S being in any way easier to use on the Kinesis. With a standard 101 (or the TECK), I can do it with my left hand easily. With the Advantage, it's possible to do with the left hand, but it's far more awkward:

    Pinky on the left SHIFT
    Thumb goes to CTRL+ALT
    Ring finger hits S

    Anyway, it's not a huge knock, but it does require some mental and physical gyrations to hit some key combos that you might have ingrained into your memory. I'm basically working right now to remap my brain to using the thumbs for CTRL and ALT instead of my pinkies. Based on my experience with the TECK, it will take around two weeks to really get comfortable with that aspect of the Advantage.
    Reply
  • shinjin - Thursday, March 28, 2013 - link

    My mistake. I wasn't trying to convince you one way or the other about that specific key combo being easier. I thought it was a general complaint about hitting ctrl+alt at the same time.

    For what it's worth, you may also discover some combos that work out to your advantage.

    For my part, when I first picked it up it took me about a week to get comfortable with it. I probably wasn't up to my old WPM for a couple more after that. I remember well the early fumblings and typos. (Learning Dvorak had a similar learning curve.)
    Reply
  • zanon - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - link

    Jarred, it's really great to see you doing these reviews. I think a lot of technical users are very plugged into getting the most out of internal components from CPUs and GPUs to memory and storage, but neglect the human-interface aspect which defines how we actually interact with our machines. Investment in a good keyboard, mouse/trackball, screen, etc is well worth it, but there is a paucity of good comparative reviews and impressions and given the price and time investment that's unfortunate. Seeing it get a bit of coverage on AT is great.

    One comment on this review though: I don't think remapping or macros is worth any extra credit (or price) whatsoever. Any good third party driver should be able to handle that (and not with any silly limits either) for any USB keyboard at all. The TECK (or MS Natural 4K or whatever) would be every bit as remappable and scriptable as this one or any other.
    Reply

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