Kinesis Advantage Keyboard Review

A radical departure from “normal” keyboard designs, the Kinesis Advantage is not generally the first stop on one’s ergonomic journey.  That’s okay, because more moderate designs can work with great effect.  If, however, other measures have failed, this may be a step you want to consider taking.  Read on for my take after having used one full-time for about a month.

This ain’t your granddaddy’s keyboard

The Kinesis Advantage contoured keyboard is probably the second-weirdest-looking keyboard on the market, the first-weirdest being the Safetype vertical keyboard. (I’m only counting devices that remain somewhat recognizable as keyboards, by the way, so that leaves out the orbiTouch and other bizarre creations.) The Advantage takes the “split” layout of a standard ergonomic keyboard and turns it inside out, with the letter, number, punctuation, and arrow keys placed in two bowl-shaped “wells” on either side of the board. Enter, Space, Backspace and certain other control keys are found on the center “island” and struck with the thumbs. The function keys (F1-F12) are demoted to squishy little rubber things which we’ll look at in more detail later.

Like some other ergonomic keyboards, the Kinesis Advantage scraps the numeric keypad in order to narrow its footprint and leave more room for the mouse on your desk. This is fine with me as I rarely use ten-key anyway, but might be an obstacle for you. Like a laptop keyboard, the Advantage does have a ten-key pattern on the right section of letter keys, which can be activated with the “keypad” button at the top right.

The layout of the Kinesis Advantage allows it to offer some pretty unique ergonomic benefits. To start with, the two halves of the keyboard are further apart than any conventional split keyboard (to my knowledge, only Kinesis’ own extra-wide Freestyle model has a wider gap). This allows your arms and wrists to reach almost straight out while typing, instead of being scrunched and twisted into the posture of a standard keyboard. Your palms can rest lightly on the front part of the board, while your fingers float over the concave key wells.

Note: As with any keyboard, you should avoid resting your hands completely on the keyboard (or on anything else) while you are actually typing; those parking places are intended for partial support while typing, and micro-breaks in between phrases.

The adjustment period and aftermath

Kinesis Advantage Keyboard
$289.00 + Free Shipping & 30-Day Returns
Shop Now

I wish I could say that adjusting to the Kinesis Advantage was really easy, but for me at least, that wasn’t the case. I did quite a bit of growling during the first couple of days I owned mine, not because I couldn’t find the keys, but because the keys I found weren’t the right ones. My biggest problem was under my left thumb. On ordinary keyboards, even split models like my old faithful Microsoft Natural Elite 4000, the space bar is just like that of a typewriter – you can tap it with either thumb. To spread the load around a bit, I have developed a habit over the years of alternating thumbs on the space bar while typing. This is great until you start using a Kinesis Advantage, which puts the space bar on the right side only; the left thumb rests on Backspace. I’ll leave you to imagine the mess that’s made of your copy when every other space is replaced by a backspace….

Having adjusted to the Kinesis, I now have some trouble typing on regular keyboards. I can still find my way around on a straight board, of course, but I have to look at my fingers in order to go anywhere near as fast as my benchmark typing speed, without making a large number of errors.

Pros and cons of the Kinesis Advantage layout

Once I got used to the Kinesis Advantage layout, I found that I really liked many things about it. I can now hit Delete, Backspace, Home, End, and the arrow keys without looking down or moving my hands, which is really nice because I use those keys a lot. On the downside, the brackets ([]) and tilde (~) keys are quite hard to hit, and I also use those keys frequently. Whether or not the default layout works well for you comes down to which keys you use the most in your daily activities. In the end, however, the layout can be almost anything you want, because of the onboard remapping and programming feature of the Kinesis Advantage and Advantage Pro.

The current Kinesis Windows keyboard layout – click for larger view. This view is a little distorted and makes the two halves appear closer to each other than they really are.

Some cool features and options

On-board key programming

With the Kinesis Advantage, you can remap keys right on the keyboard, without having to install anything on your computer. I, for instance, could theoretically have remapped Backspace to Space, which would have helped me out with the alternating-thumbs issue (I couldn’t actually do this because I use the Essential version, which has no programming ability). To make things even easier, same-size keycaps can be swapped to reflect your new mapping pattern. There’s a special tool available for this, or you can just use two paper clips and plenty of caution.

The Advantage and Advantage Pro also have onboard macros, so programmers and efficiency freaks can create stored shortcuts right on the keyboard, which will work on any computer.

Optional palm pads

Kinesis Advantage Keyboard
$289.00 + Free Shipping & 30-Day Returns
Shop Now

There are stick-on palm pads available for the Advantage. I bought a set to go with mine, but they weren’t nearly as soft or smooth-feeling as I’d hoped. Fortunately, the glue on these palm pads is of an easily removable type and doesn’t leave any goopy residue on the keyboard. You can also stick them back on after having removed them, which I have done several times, without much reduction in stickiness.

High-quality Cherry brand keyswitches

The standard keyboards that ship with consumer PC’s generally use rubber-dome keyswitches – little rubber cups that make the keys feel mushy and increase the stress on your hands. Proper keyswitches are expensive, which is one of the main reasons that good ergonomic keyboards are also expensive. Is a high quality keyswitch worth the cost? To answer that question for yourself, you really have to type on one. In my experience, the springy, responsive Cherry brand keyswitches used in the Kinesis keyboard help make typing a singing pleasure rather than a grinding chore – so yes, they’re definitely worth it for me.

Foot pedals available

After years of goofing off under the desk, your feet can now be put to work using an optional Kinesis foot pedal system that plugs right in to the Advantage keyboard. By default, the pedals activate Shift and the numeric keypad, but you can presumably remap them to whatever you want. I am toying with the idea of this feature, but for now I don’t feel like I really need it.

The problem of small, squishy function keys

Once the main keyboard keys were put in the Kinesis Advantage, the designers had a problem: There were eighteen essential keys left, and only twelve slots. Their solution was to move ESC, the F-keys, and several others to the top row of the keyboard, and make them small rubber buttons instead of full-size mechanical. This may not be a problem for journalists and bloggers, but it is an issue for RSI-suffering programmers and web developers, who tend to make extensive use of the F-keys.

Also, it’s nearly impossible to remove these button assemblies for the cleaning which is sometimes needed, because they are held on with melted plastic tabs instead of screws. If the button response starts getting sketchy, you basically have two options: Live with it, or send it back to Kinesis for repair.

The bottom line

If you’ve tried some ordinary ergonomic keyboards with poor results, the Kinesis Advantage is a step up that you may need to take. The price tag is high, there is an adjustment period, and some elements of the design may annoy you. However, if it helps your typing-related pain, those other things are petty by comparison. Also, after awhile you will most likely learn to work around the annoying features of the keyboard and begin to enjoy some of its more subtle efficiency benefits.

This entry was posted in Ergonomic Keyboards, Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

22 Comments

  1. Stephanie Lesk
    Posted April 13, 2017 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    After going down the ergo rabbit hole, I chose Kinesis Advantage2 LF (KA2 not LF arrives tomorrow for comparison and potentially my office) and DX light force mouse. RSI reached fever pitch. Fortunately, I had immediate relief after a frustrated 3 day learning curve. Being petite, I now see that reach is equally problematic (and why I did not go with your beloved Freestyle) as ulnar deviation. The rub: KA has saved AND ruined me in one fell swoop. I can no longer type on my MacBook after only 6 days because a) immediate return of pain and b) the layout change. 30 years of typing undone in less than a week…a good problem but a problem nonetheless. I pray for an Advantage travel version. As I browse portable options, Teck seems the only smaller board with a central layout to core keys. Otherwise maybe Goldtouch Go2 for those times I am away with deadlines looming. Thoughts on any other portable options I have missed that factor in how hard it is to go from KA back to standard layouts even with a split board? And, thank you for your thoughtful reviews and ergo humor…

    • Jason
      Posted April 13, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      If by “portable” you mean like taking the office to a coffee shop (someplace where there’s a table), I’d personally reconsider whether there might be a way to tote and use the Advantage itself. I realize it’s cumbersome, but I very much doubt there’s a way to physically create a highly portable keyboard with similar benefits to the Kinesis Advantage.

      If you’re talking about using a laptop in your lack – well, regrettably, you’re probably out of luck. The Goldtouch Go2 is the only model I currently know of that will even technically accommodate that use case, and it will present all the same problems you currently have with keyboards not named Kinesis Advantage.

  2. coffeeblog.co.uk
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    I love the KA, it cured my RSI and helped me to increase my typing speed and productivity. The only problem I have, is using it remote, with my laptop. I just can’t use laptop keyboards now, it’s painful to try to adapt from KA to standard keyboard. Problem is that when in cafe’s, on trains etc., can’t really spread out and have the keyboard in front of the laptop, so need to be able to rest the KA on the laptop keys.

    In win8 on my lenovo, it wasn’t possible to disable the on-board keyboard, all I could do was remove the drivers, which then automatically install again at each re-start (disabling automatic driver install wouldn’t work). This was fine, but I’ve upgraded to win10 now, and there seems to be no way at all in Windows 10 to disable the keybard. It looks like my only option is to physically remove the keyboard.

    I contacted Kinesis about it, and they don’t have a solution, they said I should be able to disable the keyboard somehow, and they were right, I could in Windows 8 although I had to re-do it every time I started the laptop, but now in Windows 10 it appears there’s no software work around, at least not with my Lenovo lapop.

    I’ve googled this many times and I’m always surprised to find I seem to be the only one with this issue… is on one else using their KA out and about with their laptop – or is there an obvious solution I am missing? I’ve thought about building some kind or risers to rise the keyboard away from the keys – but I’m not much of a DIY person 😉

    • Jason
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      I’m guessing the reason not many people have talked about this is that most would find the KA to obscure the monitor somewhat if used on top of the laptop body. 😉 That said, physically removing the keyboard seems a bit extreme. Normally, laptop keyboards plug into the motherboard with a little connector; if you can get the thing open, you should be able to locate that connector and simply unplug it.

  3. Dan O.
    Posted February 3, 2016 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Any thoughts on how one might effectively pair the Advantage with the Contour Rollermouse Red? Tips/tricks?

    • Jason
      Posted February 4, 2016 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      I haven’t actually tried these devices together, but I would recommend against such an experiment. The shapes just fight each other, with the Advantage front edge impinging on the RollerMouse, and the RollerMouse palm rest competing with that of the Advantage and pushing it too far away. If you must have a mechanical ergo board to go with your RollerMouse, I’d recommend checking out the Matias Ergo Pro instead.

  4. TW
    Posted August 25, 2014 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    Solid review. I’m on my 3rd Kinesis Advantage & can’t imagine typing on anything else. I also switched to Dvorak, this was before I discovered Kinesis. Typing discomfort & RSI issues are a thing of the past for me. I typed up an 8200 word document the other day in just a few hours – totally pain free. As far as I’m concerned, the KA is magic.

  5. Frank Reiff
    Posted November 24, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Hi,

    I have been using a Maltron 3D keyboard over the past 6 years and mostly because of the price and poor build quality, I’m considering going back to the Kinesis Advantage. I was considering buying a keyboard tray to counteract the high profile of the Advantage, but then I read that you said you should use a particularly HIGH work surface for the Advantage.. which goes right in the opposite direction.

    Could you please elaborate on this?

    • Jason
      Posted November 28, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      I believe the profile of the Advantage is quite similar to that of the Maltron, so whatever worked for you before should continue to do so. The reason you might want an elevated tray for the Advantage is to avoid back-bending your wrists on its palm rests. I used the Advantage in too low a position, and found that to be an issue. Of course, if you don’t plan to rest your hands on the palm rests while typing, a lower height would work fine.

  6. Vatin
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    I got myself a Kinesis Advantage, since I need to operate on keyboard all day in my job, in order increase efficiency and to provide preventive measure against health issues. The Keyboard has been a huge benefit. I can type all day long without fatigue nor stress. The design absolutely reduces finger extension, wrist and hand movements, which you can feel the difference at the end of each day. Couldn’t imagine working without it anymore.

    • Jason
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for posting your experience. I’ve heard many Advantage users praise it like you do – Kinesis should be proud.

  7. Steve
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    The image of the keyboard layout is a little out of date (from 1999). The image here are from 2010.

    Are the bracket keys on your keyboard in the old location or the new one?

    • Steve
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

      The link was stripped, but I was referring to the kinesis website.
      http://www.kinesis-ergo.com/advantage-features.htm

      • Jason
        Posted August 15, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for pointing that out about the layout. I have swapped out the old image for the new one. I never actually noticed the location of the bracket keys in that 1999 version, but it looks truly painful. Fortunately, the Advantage I used had its bracket keys in the current, more sane location. This is all the past tense because I now use the Kinesis Freestyle, and have been doing so for over a year.

  8. Maniac
    Posted September 29, 2011 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    The keys I have to hit most often are F5, F9, and F12. I actually had to rip out the F-lock key on my Natural 4000 because I kept hitting it by accident trying to press F12. The Freestyle has similar layout issues. Thanks!

  9. Maniac
    Posted September 28, 2011 at 2:19 am | Permalink

    Hi Jason,
    Thanks for your responses. The Truly Ergonomic Keyboard looks like a good alternative to the Advantage. I will have to look into it more after they are fulfilling orders. The layout looks more appealing for programming in some ways.

    The Freestyle also looks interesting, but I don’t think I would be inclined to use it. There are a few things, particularly the Function key layout, which would be troublesome.

    Thanks again for your responses. I’m not sure when I’ll be ready to shell out the money for a better ergonomic keyboard, but this was helpful.

    • Jason
      Posted September 29, 2011 at 1:19 am | Permalink

      Glad I could help 🙂

      Just out of curiosity, what is it about the Freestyle’s function key layout that you don’t like?

  10. Maniac
    Posted September 27, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this write-up. I’m a programmer and considering switching to a Kinesis Advantage at work (not because I currently have pain, but I’d like to prevent ever having it in the future). Right now I’m using a Microsoft Natural 4000 with the Colemak layout. The main downside to it are the rubber dome keys. At home I use a XArmor U9BL-S (qwerty, primarily for gaming and web browsing) with Cherry MX Brown switches, and I just love the switches.

    My concerns with the Kinesis Advantage are as you describe… the poor placement of the bracket, etc keys (though I think I can move those to somewhere more effective for me) and the cheap function and esc keys (which I use a fair amount). I’m also wondering how easy it is to hit the Ctrl/Home/End keys since I use those very frequently.

    I have some more thinking to do apparently, I don’t want to drop $200+ on a Kinesis Advantage only to not like it. Thanks for all the great information.

    • Jason
      Posted September 27, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

      I applaud your willingness to invest in ergonomics even though you are not actually experiencing pain right now. Many people wait not only until it hurts, but until it becomes totally debilitating. An ounce of prevention….

      It’s been a few months since I used the Advantage, but as I recall, the positioning of the Ctrl/Home/End group was one of the things I liked best about the keyboard. With the keys right next to my thumb, I found it easy to locate them without searching or looking down. However, my hands are fairly large – if you have smaller hands, you might find it an uncomfortable thumb stretch.

      If you like mechanical keyswitches but aren’t sold on the Advantage, you might want to check out the Truly Ergonomic Keyboard. Long accused of peddling pure vaporware because of all their missed production dates, TE finally seems to be shipping keyboards. They claim that they’ll begin accepting regular orders next month.

      I’d also suggest that you give a serious look to the Kinesis Freestyle, which is considerably less expensive than either the Advantage or the TE. It doesn’t use mechanical keyswitches, but its rubber domes are specially designed for low-force typing and work very well. The Freestyle is currently my own keyboard of choice.

      • Bruce
        Posted July 1, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

        Do you have any updates on the Truly Ergonomic option since you posted this originally?

        • Jason
          Posted July 2, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

          Unfortunately there has not been a peep from the Truly Ergonomic camp up to this point. I’ve tried email and Twitter to no avail so far. They have been in “backorder” status for several weeks now after a short period of shipping keyboards – so who knows what they have going on internally.

          • Bruce
            Posted July 12, 2012 at 12:07 am | Permalink

            FWIW, I ordered one last week, and got it today. My first ergo keyboard, but it seems quite nice!

Comments must be relevant and provide a valid email address. Incivility and objectionable language will not be published.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*
*

  • About The Blogger

    Jason, the All Things Ergo bloggerI'm Jason, a user of many ergonomic devices by necessity and choice. I'm also a partner in a business that operates a number of commercial enterprises, including All Things Ergo.

    I have no particular training or expertise in the area of ergonomics. My views are based on my own personal experience, and what works for me won't necessarily work for you.