Sunday, December 23, 2012

2 Weeks With The Kinesis Advantage Keyboard

For the past two weeks I've been working with the ergonomic Kinesis Advantage keyboard. For those of you who don't know what it its, well, the picture pretty much sums it up... it's a keyboard with a rather unorthodox design meant to be highly ergonomic. The basic premis is that it forces one to use the correct hand placement when typing because all of the keys are recessed into the keyboard itself. This way, one "naturally" has all fingers below the wrist and minimizes the risk of getting every programmer's worst enemy, RSI (lack of sleep, lack of caffeine, bugs in code, etc. are not far behind.)

First Impressions: RTFM

I must say, this is the first keyboard that I've ever used for which I actually read the instruction manual. As I work on a Mac, the first thing that I had to do was convert the keyboard layout for the Mac keyboard layout -- not very hard, just a simple key combination that is on page one of the instructions. Hats off to the folks at Kinesis to actually supply extra keys to switch out the default Windows keys for to the ones that correspond to the Mac layout. They are even nice enough to include a little plastic doohickey that makes the removal of the keys a snap. In addition, the keyboard comes with some foam pads that can be attached to the keyboard to make a comfortably padded area for your wrists. After that initial setup (and reading about how to access the various functions), I was ready to go.

Although you are free to make your own judgement, stylistically, the keyboard is no where near as sleek as the Apple keyboards (or the Microsoft mobile keyboard). It's most definitely an imposing piece of hardware that can make even the most spartan desk look like Times Square on New Years Eve. I don't fault them for this, since there really isn't another way to have keys recessed in a keyboard without having a big keyboard. (Although, they could potentially shave a couple millimeters from various locations.) Also, by no means is this a quiet keyboard. If you have 10 people using these simultaneously, you'd probably think you were working on a assembly line in an early 1900s factory. But, I guess that's the price you pay for for keeping RSI at bay.

Day 1: Wow, I can't type

The first thing that I noticed, and you probably will to if/when you use a Kinesis keyboard for the first time, was that I couldn't type. The enter key was not by my left pinky. The delete key is now accessed using my left thumb. Boy, oh boy, was this going to be an adventure. My words-per-minute dropped down to probably about 10 (it's a good thing I had no immediate pieces of code that I had due). I was hunting and pecking as if I were back in middle school trying to make that little turtle draw a doughnut in Logo (those were the days!).

Day 2: Things are looking up

There was definite improvement in my typing skill on the second day. I now could type most things without having to double check them on the keyboard. That being said, auto-correct and auto-complete were still my best friends. One thing that you'll also become accustomed to is random passerbys gawking at your keyboard. You'll undoubtedly come up with some sort of witty remark as to why you are using this thing like, "It's how I ensure that no one asks to use my computer."

Two Weeks In: I can type again!

While the first couple of days were certainly rough, I am back to my original typing speed for most things. The placement of the arrow and bracket keys, however, are not ideal for the amount that I use them. Due to the layout of the keys, the largest drawback to using this keyboard is that you are forced to have two hands on the keyboard at all times - it's pretty difficult to, for example, use your mouse with one hand and the keyboard with the other. Of course, having the keys separated and recessed into the keyboard is the point of this keyboard.

Wrap Up

Am I keeping the keyboard? Yes. By and large, it is the most comfortable keyboard that I have worked with. Although the first couple of days were rough, it was worth fighting through the pain and getting accustomed to it. I am currently at the point where I sometimes have trouble using a regular keyboard due to the differences in layout. So, go ahead, treat yourself (and your wrists) to the "La-Z-Boy" of keyboards and enjoy the wondrous stares you'll receive at the office when you show up with your Kinesis keyboard. For those of you who don't want to restrict the fun of typing to your hands (or want to feel like a drummer in a rock band), the even keyboard comes with an optional foot-pedal that can be mapped to commonly used keys!

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