The New Kinesis Freestyle2 Ergonomic Keyboard: First Look

As a loyal fan of the Kinesis Freestyle keyboard for the past year, I was excited to hear about the second generation model coming out in 2012. Such is the popularity of the new Freestyle that I had to stand in line for a review sample. That sample finally arrived last week. Having used it for a few days, I can say that there’s nothing really revolutionary here. However, most of the changes Kinesis made were, in my opinion, worthwhile.

Kinesis Freestyle keyboard with V3 kit on desk

The Freestyle2 brings a thinner profile and a few tweaks to the layout.

The same keyboard design, flattened

Kinesis Freestyle original vs. Freestyle2 - the new model is slightly thinner

The new Freestyle2, shown on the bottom with the black edge, is about 1/4″ thinner overall than the original.

In case you haven’t noticed, the trend with keyboards runs toward thinner profiles. Thin keyboards undeniably look fantastic (see: Apple), but there’s an ergonomic benefit here too: The thinner your keyboard, the easier it is to get your hands properly above it, which can help your wrists stay in a more neutral position. Is a quarter inch less total thickness going to make a life-changing difference? Probably not, but the desk-hugging design of the Freestyle is just one more thing to like about it – and yes, it does look pretty good as well.

If aesthetics are an important point, you should also be aware that there is no longer any silver color visible on the keyboard. It’s all sleek, incognito black now. (The Mac version 2, un-released as of this writing, will presumably be white like its predecessor.)

Volume keys

While working, I sometimes like a background stream of Internet radio. The problem is, my background ambiance becomes a foreground nuisance when the phone rings. By the time I manage to get my media player muted, I’ve usually missed the call. This has made me wish frequently for some basic media control keys on my Freestyle keyboard. At one point I felt so strongly about it that I remapped a seldom-used button to the single function of “mute.”

Kinesis Freestyle2 media volume keys

Included media control keys are volume up, down, and mute.

Though it’s truly nice to have volume controls on the keyboard now, not everything is rosy in this department. One thing Kinesis didn’t change is the way the Fn key operates – like a toggle switch, not a momentary button.

In case you’re not familiar with it, the Fn key is the shifter that enables alternate functions on the rest of the keyboard. Among these alternate functions are the volume keys, which, without Fn engaged, are simply F8-F10. Fn also activates the built-in numeric keypad, so it’s not the sort of thing you want to leave on at all times. And therein lies the rub.

Kinesis Freestyle Ergonomic Keyboard
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On an ordinary keyboard, the media buttons are single-purpose and work with one finger. On the Freestyle2, you need not only two fingers, but both hands; the Fn key is located too far from the media keys to hit the combination with just one. Worse, the Fn button is “sticky.” Remember the toggle switch vs. momentary button comparison? Once you hit Fn, it stays engaged until you hit it again. That makes three – count ’em, three – keystrokes to mute the audio every time the phone rings, and three more to un-mute it after I hang up on the telemarketer.

A few key changes

Fn on the move

The Fn key on the Kinesis Freestyle

On the new Freestyle, Fn has switched placed with right-click.

The Kinesis engineering department made some good decisions when they reshuffled the Freestyle’s keys. One of the best was moving the Fn key away from its old position next to the left Ctrl key. It was entirely too easy to hit Fn by accident with your pinkie finger, turning the keyboard into a “n5ght0are 6f n40bers and s-ec5a3 characters.” (That’s “nightmare of numbers and special characters,” typed on a Freestyle with Fn engaged.)

To prevent annoying fits of gibberish like the one above, Kinesis moved the Fn key to the corner, swapping it with the relatively harmless right-click. Now, it’s much more difficult to accidentally hit the grammatical self-destruct with your little finger while typing.

A new Undo button

This one was made to order for me. The old useless Search button has been removed from the left-hand special key area, replaced with a much more helpful Undo button. This will save me a lot of reaching for Ctrl-Z while designing with my right hand – a big little upgrade indeed.

Hey, come back here with my Insert key!

If anyone reading this regularly makes use of the Pause Break button on your keyboard – or even has a clear idea of what it’s for – please leave a comment to enlighten me. I can’t recall ever having used the Pause Break key in my life, but I do use the Insert key a lot.

The Kinesis Freestyle Pause Break key

The Pause Break key, with Insert demoted to a Fn alternate.

The Freestyle has always had these two functions on the same key, but until now Insert was the senior partner and Pause Break the junior, working only with Fn engaged. To my chagrin, Kinesis decided that this relationship should be reversed with the Freestyle2. Now I have to hit Fn every time I want to use Insert – and as we saw above, that’s hardly trivial given the way Fn works on the Freestyle.

More tactile ridges

Most keyboards, including the original Freestyle, have little plastic ridges to help touch typists find the home keys without looking down. The Freestyle2 adds new bumps to feel-mark other parts of the keyboard, such as the edges of the Home and End keys. I especially appreciate the one on the right-hand Delete button. This extra Delete is handy for me, but on the old model it was easily confused with the adjacent Backspace. Hitting one for the other is never good, so it’s nice to have a touch identifier to help tell them apart.

Things I wish had been changed

While I mostly like the Freestyle2 changes, there are a few other things I would have loved to see in the new model. I’ll list my ideas here in the hope that Kinesis will consider them for future upgrades.

Why not change the Web key to something more useful?

Kinesis Corporation, no doubt, has a great market research department. I am sure these decisions are only made after much consideration by people with more degrees than I’ve got fingers. Nonetheless, I find it hard to believe that anyone in 2012 still wants a special keyboard key to open their homepage.

These days, who closes their browser frequently enough to need a shortcut key for re-opening it? This isn’t 1999; the Internet is the center of everything now. But the Freestyle’s Browser Home key lives on, sporting only a new name – “Web” instead of “Home.” In my original Freestyle review, I ranted about how the Web key is worse than useless. I did follow up on that by remapping the key, with great difficulty, to a kinda-sorta-working Alt key. At least it doesn’t destroy my work when touched by mistake. To me, the Back and Forward keys are only slightly more useful, and should also be considered for new roles in the future.

Driverless hot key programming

Kinesis Freestyle Ergonomic Keyboard
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One of the best features of the Kinesis Advantage keyboard is its on-board programming ability. For instance, I might set Ctrl-4 to type my name and a greeting, and the keyboard would remember this shortcut even when plugged into a different computer. This feature is also great for remapping keys you want to move or reassign, such as the Browser Home key discussed above. Kinesis: I would pay extra for this feature.  Why not offer it as an upgrade to the Freestyle? Programmers around the world will thank you.

Will my old accessories work?

Some original Freestyle accessories will still work with the thinner Freestyle2, and some won’t. My V3 center lifters snap onto the keyboard and work without a fumble. Owners of the palm-rested VIP kit, however, will need to purchase an upgraded version for compatibility with the new Freestyle.


As an owner of the old Freestyle, I personally would not pay retail to upgrade. The thinner profile and key changes are nice, but not in themselves worth it for my purposes. If, however, you’re still considering the purchase of your first ergonomic keyboard, the Freestyle2 enhancements are another great reason to choose Kinesis.

Disclosure: This review was made with a complimentary sample from Kinesis.

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  1. Al
    Posted March 28, 2017 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    I asked Kinesis about this smashing idea.
    They replied that unfortunately this would not be possible – the Fn key can be either toggle or momentary.
    The fn on the Freestyle can only function the way it defaults.

  2. Fred
    Posted October 12, 2016 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Yes, shift-insert is frequently used on Linux to paste the selection buffer.
    AutoHotKey is useful with ssh to Linux from Windows.
    xmodmap -e 'keycode 127=Insert'
    Does the equivalent when plugged into a Linux machine.

  3. Jason
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Just thought I would chime in on the use of the pause/break key. It does exactly what it says in old operating systems such as DOS (Ctrl-Break to kill programs), and in most BIOS startup sequences.

    Usually, it’s quite useless as you say, but it’s quite helpful when working on other people’s computers and trying to boot from DVD or get into the BIOS. Pressing it pauses the BIOS startup, allowing you to view those special startup keys that usually only flash for a second (F10/F12 for choosing a boot order, or F1/F2/Del for BIOS are common).

    Within Windows, the shortcut Windows key + Pause/Break also pulls up the system properties, but even that is of questionable usefulness, and shouldn’t justify the key existing.

  4. Mark Hurwit
    Posted January 6, 2015 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Well… partially scratch my last message; it looks like AutoHotkey is for Windows only. I have a Mac.

  5. Mark Hurwit
    Posted January 6, 2015 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Jason, I just ran across this site and have found your reviews to be great. My compliments. I’m writing here (and you can just respond directly to my own email if you want) just to find out if Kinesis as, in the years since this review, addressed the non-temporary function key toggle. This one thing would be enough to keep me from buying this keyboard. If AutoHotkey works, that would be all the solution I need, but I won’t know until I get the keyboard and try them together.

    Any help/suggestion here would be appreciated. Thanks. again.

    • Jason
      Posted January 8, 2015 at 12:17 am | Permalink

      To my knowledge, nothing has been done on the Fn key, or is likely ever to be done by Kinesis. It’s a little buried in the comment thread for this post, but Russ Hitt from the company actually enumerated their rationale here. I don’t think that is going to change anytime soon. I also am pretty sure AHK wouldn’t work to change the functionality of the Fn key, even if it were available for Mac. 😉

  6. oleg
    Posted August 27, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    My old one broke, so I had to replace with a new one. I am Linux admin and use Inset daily… hourly. Who was the target audience for Break button?!

    I am looking for a way to reprogam keys so Insert is a primary, and can be used w/out Fn.

    One more thing, Kinesys should consider making optional feature – mechanical (cherry) keys.

    • Jason
      Posted August 28, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      I believe Kinesis will remap keys any way you want them for a small charge. Just order your keyboard directly from them, or send in the one you’ve got and they’ll work on it.

  7. Dana Shelley
    Posted June 15, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Hello, Jason —
    First of all, thanks for speaking out about the awful sticky Fn key and the mistake they made in making Insert a Fn key now. I totally agree.

    Can you direct me to where I can find out how to reprogram a key, if that’s possible? Because I DO want the Web key to work, and it doesn’t on my keyboard. I’m a court reporter, and in editing my transcripts, I often need to check a spelling or locate a technical term. I used to have Google Desktop — which, alas, is no more — where hitting Ctrl twice would bring up a Google search bar. … that was wonderful! But that’s gone the way of the dodo bird.

    Now I have to take my hand off the keyboard, find my mouse, move the pointer to the search box, and then I’m ready to go. I’m sorry, it’s just annoying, when it used to be so easy before. Is there a way for me to program the Web key to actually go to my home page, which is Google? I can figure out the steps, just how do I utilize the programming function — if there even is one?

    Thanks for any help you can give me. Best Wishes, Dana

    • Jason
      Posted June 16, 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      I think what you’re looking for isn’t hardware-level programming (which regrettably is not yet possible for the end-user) but rather something like AutoHotKey. It might look intimidating, but the simple stuff is really easy to accomplish.

  8. Freddie
    Posted July 4, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    How does this compare to the Maxim keyboard from Kinesis?

    • Jason
      Posted July 4, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      I have not tried the Maxim because I understand it is considered the “legacy” model. While this hasn’t been announced as far as I know, I figure it will be discontinued at some point. As far as I know, the Freestyle is pretty much equivalent to the Maxim, only without the restriction of a built-in fixed platform.

      • Freddie
        Posted July 4, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        Interesting. Thanks.

        Was leaning more toward the Maxim as it came with everything included for splay/tent/raise/etc, while the Freestyle requires extras that are not included in the price.

  9. Jeff
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Jason! I could only hope. If this is the worst issue I have to deal with, I think I’ll be OK.

  10. Jeff
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I’ve just started using this product and I have to say I like it. However, my ONLY complaint at this point is the ‘sticky’ function key. Thanks for the write up. And thanks to Russ at Kinesis for his response. Would the custom programmed layout address the ‘sticky’ key or will it just address the layout of the keyboard?

    • Jason
      Posted June 18, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Jeff – from what Russ has told me, I don’t think changing the functionality of the Fn key would be within the scope of custom programming. It would be nice, though!

      • Alex
        Posted May 9, 2016 at 12:15 am | Permalink

        I popped off the button and put some garbage in there to jam it in the up position

  11. Leon
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    The Pause/Break key is used from time to time by programmers (specifically ctrl+break), who traditionally are prime candidates for ergonomics. As a programmer myself I actually use Insert less than I use Ctrl+Break. Insert would maybe be once a month (maybe even once every six months) where as Ctrl+Break might be used a couple of times a day.

    • Jason
      Posted November 7, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the input – I figured somebody must use it for something. In my world of PHP/CSS development, Pause/Break gets virtually no airplay.

      • John
        Posted January 21, 2013 at 12:00 am | Permalink

        I am a PHP and C/C++ programmer and I have never used the Pause/Break except by accident. 🙁 I am however a brand new Freestyle 2 owner and grateful for this review and the Kinesis response about remapping. I will be contacting them to get my Insert key remapped. I use it hundreds of times a day and it’s killing me to revert to CTRL+V on this layout.

        • Jason
          Posted January 23, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

          If Ctrl-V works for what you want to do, why not just use the “Paste” key to the left of Shift? All that does is generate a Ctrl-V keystroke.

          • Jeremy
            Posted June 14, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

            If you are working through an SSH session, to a unix-based system, CTRL-V doesn’t do what you want it to. And pressing the “Paste” key, just creates a CTRL-V. So Shift-insert is the best solution.

            For a free way to accomplish key re-mapping, look at AutoHotKey. it’s extremely powerful, so does a bunch of things you don’t need, but you can just put this single line in a .ahk file:
            and then run it by double-clicking it. Now your Pause/Break Key works as an insert key.

  12. Russ Hitt
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the Fn toggle vs. Fn momentary (which acts like a “Shift”) key: the driving force behind this decision was our Kinesis Maxim keyboard used to have an embedded numeric keypad with a momentary Fn key. We had numerous complaints from customers about having to use two hands to do any keypad work. Thus, we felt it was actually more ergonomic for the Fn key to toggle instead. We also felt it was more important for most users to keep F8-F10 on the top layer than putting the audio keys on the top and F-keys on the embedded layer.

    For a nominal charge we can provide custom-programmed layouts on request since users’ needs and layout preferences vary. We can remap keys to the top layer (e.g. your insert key complaint or even putting the audio function keys on the top layer) or to a different location. Keep in mind the legends wouldn’t be accurate and we aren’t equipped to do custom legends.

    Kinesis Corporation

    • Jason
      Posted September 25, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Russ – Thanks for commenting here to follow up. I would suggest another possible solution for the Fn key dilemma: Have two of them, one to toggle the numeric keypad, and the other a momentary switch for the media keys. Making space for the extra button would be easy. I can think of several great candidates for removal among the left side hot keys… 😉

      • Steve
        Posted October 9, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        Maybe a toggle key can have “Lock” at the end of its name like “F Lock”, and the momentary key can be named “Fn”.

        • Jason
          Posted October 9, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

          Great idea. Or, Kinesis could make like Goldtouch and just use Num Lock to lock the keypad and a momentary Fn key for everything else.

        • Adam
          Posted June 14, 2013 at 7:04 am | Permalink

          I never owned a Kinesis keyboard, but I have a possibly better idea to re-use a single Fn button. If you hold it and combine it with the press of another button (i.e. Fn + F1 to mute or whatever) then it is momentary. On the other hand, if you just press it once by itself (push down and let go before pushing down any other button), it toggles. This way, you don’t need an extra button. I haven’t thought about this from every possible scenario though. By the way, is there an LED to indicate shift? If not, it would be nice to have one.

          This is inspired a little by how smartphones tap and hold actions for the Shift button work on some keyboards. For example, tapping the Caps button gives momentary Caps (Caps for only the next character you type). If you hold it for 1-2 seconds, it toggles (with a little indicator on it) so that everything you type next is in caps, until you toggle it again by tapping this time.

          • Jason
            Posted June 14, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

            I think that’s a smashing idea. I’ve forwarded it to my contact at Kinesis, in case they would like to provide feedback.

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  • 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.