Making the transition from a traditional keyboard to an ergonomic one can be a significant adjustment. It may take several weeks to get used to typing on a curved unibody or split keyboard, as it requires developing new muscle memory.
Additionally, ergonomic keyboards tend to be more costly compared to regular office keyboards. While the investment in time and money can be worth it with the right device, it may not be something everyone is willing to undertake.
A Buying Guide for Best Ergonomic Keyboards in 2023
An ergonomic keyboard is more than just a technical upgrade, it is an investment in your health and well-being. These keyboards are specifically designed to reduce the negative impact that prolonged use of a keyboard can have on your hands, wrists, and shoulders.
Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) are a common issue for those who spend a significant amount of time typing, gaming, or using a keyboard in general. These injuries are caused by repeating the same motions over a long period of time.
Ergonomic keyboards aim to mitigate this damage by reducing the unnatural and strenuous movements involved in typing. To understand the benefits of ergonomic keyboards, it is important to understand the ways in which using a traditional keyboard can cause RSIs.
Typing on a standard keyboard requires making a series of unnatural movements such as twisting your arms, overextending your fingers, and bending your wrists. Additionally, reaching the default typing position often involves flexing muscles in your shoulders and back. Ergonomic keyboards aim to reduce these movements and improve your posture, reducing the risk of developing RSIs.
Ergonomic keyboards are designed to address the issues caused by traditional keyboards by minimizing or eliminating the strenuous movements required when typing. Most ergonomic keyboards have a split design, which separates the letter keys into two halves and rotates the keys so that they point towards the corners of the keyboard. This allows for a more natural angle of approach when typing. Additionally, split keyboards give users the ability to customize the rotation by positioning the two sides of the keyboard at different distances apart.
Ergonomic keyboards also often incorporate "tenting," which involves reshaping the keyboard to be higher in the center and with the keys falling away on either side. This angle reduces the amount of wrist twist required for typing and some keyboards achieve this by curving the chassis of the keyboard or by using folding feet to prop up the middle or inside edges. Some keyboards require an optional attachment for tenting, in those cases it is recommended to spend the extra money if the keyboard meets your needs.
An ergonomic keyboard should have feet beneath the near side of the keyboard, not the far side. This angle, known as reverse tilt, is better for your wrists as it allows the front end of the keyboard to meet your wrist in a natural position. A good ergonomic keyboard should also come with a well-padded wrist rest to support your wrists and forearms and help maintain a comfortable position for an extended period of time.
In addition to rotating and tenting, some ergonomic keyboards have keys set at different depths to accommodate the different lengths of fingers. Some ergonomic models also take the step of rearranging the keys, while the letters remain in the QWERTY layout, frequently used keys like Control, Alt, and the Windows/Apple key may get moved around. For example, the Matias Ergo Pro places the Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys below Right Shift.
Modifying the keyboard layout can make for a better experience over time, but it also increases the learning curve. Selecting the appropriate key switches that align with your typing style can aid in preventing RSIs and enhance overall keyboard comfort. However, it is hard to predict the specific effects it will have on you until you try.
The best approach is to familiarize yourself with the available custom-layout and key-switch options, and then decide if the extra effort to adapt to a non-standard layout is worth it in the long run.
Unibody vs. Two-Part Ergonomic Keyboard Designs
Ergonomic keyboards come in various shapes and configurations, with varying levels of investment required in terms of adjustment time and cost, as well as the structural changes they make to offer a more supportive experience.
Different models may focus on specific changes, such as relocating the Alt and Control keys, but generally, ergonomic keyboards can be divided into two categories:
- Single-piece or unibody ergonomic keyboards, such as the Logitech Ergo K860 and the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard, which rotate the keys on a one-part chassis
- Split-chassis models that physically separate into two adjustable halves
Unibody models are curved to reduce wrist twisting and include other features to reduce impact on the arms. These keyboards tend to be less expensive and have a shorter learning curve because, while they are not identical to traditional flat models, their typing experience is similar. However, they may not address certain ergonomic issues such as reaching in with the arms to reach a proper typing position.
An ergonomically designed keyboard should place all necessary keys within easy reach without requiring you to reach, bend your wrists, twist your arms, or curl your shoulder blades. This level of customization is best achieved with a split keyboard, such as the Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB or the Matias Ergo Pro. The split design allows you to adjust the width and shape of the keyboard to fit your body.
To avoid lateral finger and wrist movement, an ergonomics-first keyboard should have a tenkeyless (TKL) form factor, which eliminates the numeric keypad. However, some split keyboard manufacturers offer a separate keypad as an optional attachment, allowing you to place it in a position that does not require any extraneous reaching or lateral wrist movement.
When it comes to ergonomic keyboards, it is best to evaluate them on a sliding scale based on your specific needs. If you are already experiencing pain or numbness while typing, a split keyboard is likely to offer the most relief. If preventing future damage is a concern, and you type a lot, a split keyboard with superior ergonomics may be the best choice.
Mechanical keyboard enthusiasts may also prefer a split model as most split keyboards feature mechanical switches, while most unibody models use cheaper scissor switches or membrane-based keys to keep the chassis slim and the price low. Additionally, unibody keyboards tend to have wireless options while split keyboards have dedicated macro or shortcut keys on the left edge of the board.
However, split keyboards may not have all the features that power users want such as configuration software or a numeric keypad. If you do not currently experience pain or weakness while typing, a more familiar unibody design may be a good compromise. Ultimately, any good ergonomic keyboard should help keep your wrists and arms healthier over time compared to traditional flat keyboards.
Adapting to an Ergonomic Keyboard
The amount of time it takes to adapt to using an ergonomic keyboard varies depending on the keyboard and the individual. Some keyboards are easier to adapt to than others; in general, adapting to a split keyboard may take more effort than a unibody model, but the process can be different based on your typing skill level and how much the physical change affects your muscle memory.
In my experience, it typically takes one or two weeks to regain basic typing proficiency with a unibody ergonomic keyboard, or two to four weeks with a split keyboard. However, it may take longer to regain your top typing speed if you are an experienced typist.
If you are hesitant to try or need to type quickly, I have found that switching back to a traditional keyboard usually requires no adjustment time. Also, as someone who has gone back and forth between regular and ergonomic keyboards, it gets easier each time I need to readjust to ergonomic keys, but there is always some adjustment period.
You can take steps to train yourself, which can make the process feel slower and more time-consuming at first but will ultimately require fewer days. With a split keyboard, start by pushing the two sides together and gradually pull them further apart as you become more comfortable. Likewise, if the keyboard has adjustable reverse tilt or tenting, start on the lowest incline and work your way up as you become more proficient.
Optimizing Your Home Office Setup: Ergonomic Keyboards and Beyond
It's important to acknowledge the limitations of using ergonomic keyboards. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health notes that there is not enough conclusive evidence to show that ergonomic keyboards can prevent repetitive stress injuries or musculoskeletal disorders. However, the institute still recommends them based on their impact on posture.
There is also widespread evidence that, at the very least, ergonomic keyboards can help people who experience pain or numbness while typing manage those symptoms.
If you are looking to optimize the ergonomics in your home office, a new keyboard is just one of many steps you should take. Ergonomic mice, such as vertical mice and trackballs, can minimize stress on your mouse hand. Additionally, having a good office chair with lumbar support to promote good posture, and a desk that is the appropriate height for your body while sitting, also help.
Best Ergonomic Keyboard
Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB
The Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB is the best ergonomic keyboard on the market. This mechanical keyboard features a fully-split design with two halves connected by a cable, allowing you to position them in a way that keeps your shoulders, elbows, and wrists at a more natural distance apart.
Additionally, it has a "tented" or angled design that keeps your wrists in a more natural position rather than lying flat on the wrist rest. You can also purchase the "Lift Kit" separately on Kinesis' website for even more ergonomic features. However, this keyboard takes up a lot of space on desks due to the extra macro keys and built-in wrist rests.
If you're looking for a smaller option without sacrificing ergonomic features, the Dygma Raise is a great alternative. This keyboard also has a split design, but the two halves fit together to form a compact single board, offering an excellent typing experience and exceptional comfort.
Best Mid-Range Ergonomic Keyboard
Logitech ERGO K860
The Logitech ERGO K860 is another great ergonomic keyboard option, particularly for those looking for a wireless option. It connects with a USB receiver or up to three devices via Bluetooth, making it a great choice for multi-device setups. Despite its fully plastic construction, it feels sturdy and typing is less noisy, ideal for open or busy office environments.
In terms of ergonomic features, the Logitech ERGO K860 does not disappoint. It has a wave-like shape that descends into two clusters of keys, one for each hand, allowing your wrists and elbows to be angled in a more natural posture.
Additionally, it has a plush attached wrist rest for added support. The two incline feet are located on the side closest to you, allowing you to tilt the board downwards to reduce upwards strain on your wrists. The scissor switches inside the board are also light to press, minimizing finger fatigue.
Best Budget Ergonomic Keyboard
Kensington Pro Fit Ergo Wireless Keyboard
The Kensington Pro Fit Ergo wireless keyboard is a budget-friendly option for those looking to increase their typing comfort. Its split, wave-like design and plush wrist rest provide ergonomic support, but it's worth noting that the wrist rest is made of light-density foam and the build quality is flimsy.
On the plus side, the plastic construction reduces typing noise and it's wireless with both USB and Bluetooth connectivity, although only one device can be connected via Bluetooth at a time. Keep in mind that the USB receiver may be unreliable with other USB receivers plugged into the device.
Ergonomic keyboards are a valuable addition to any home office or workspace. Their unique design helps to maintain a comfortable and neutral typing position, reducing muscle strain on your arms and hands.
Many ergonomic keyboards feature a raised arc design and a semi-split key layout that improves your typing posture. Others have a split-body design that allows you to customize the spacing between the keyboard halves.
It's important to note that not all ergonomic keyboards are created equal and what may work for your co-worker or friend may not be comfortable or convenient for you. Some models have a steep learning curve due to their revamped designs which include thumb-cluster keys or unique layouts designed for speed.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2023 Ionel Anton