Alas, I have to return the beautiful Déck mechanical keyboard, the Francium Pro. I love it—the keys are made of material that doesn't show wear or get shiny; the letters are molded in with a different color of plastic (called "two-shot" molding) so they can never wear off (the irritating failure mode the old Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 that I've used for years); the base is a metal plate and the thing is beautifully solid; the Cherry MX Brown key switches offer a wonderful, subtle feel; and of course it's backlit, with white light as an option, which is the reason I bought it.
But apparently I have to relearn every six or seven years that I can't use straight standard keyboards. Honestly, if I had to use, say, a laptop to write on, I would be forced to quit writing. The problem is RSI (repetitive strain injury), in my case aggravated by ulnar flexion, or ulnar deviation, which is a cocking of the wrist toward the little finger, and pronation, which is what you call it when you have to hold your hand flat, palm down, instead of at a natural angle, as your hands might fall if you held a basketball between your knees and placed your hands on both sides of the top of the ball. (You can find some illustrations of wrist positions here.) After spending four days typing on the lovely Déck, I spent the weekend in agony—seriously, I went around holding my right wrist and popping ibuprophen like candies (no, actually I followed the dosage instructions. But my hand was in enough pain that I looked forward to each Advil hit).
The key to solving ulnar flexion is simply to split the keyboard and arrange the halves in whatever way doesn't hurt you.
Pronation is usually solved by "tenting"—imagine if you broke the keyboard in half and angled each half upward like the sides of a pup tent:
One size does not fit all
Of course, the problem with ergonomic keyboards in general is that not everybody needs the same thing. Right-handers, for example, are sometimes bothered by having to locate the mouse far away from their body because of the "tenkey," or numberpad, affixed to the right side of full-sized keyboards. That doesn't bother me because I'm left-handed. And my left hand never hurts; the problem is all in my right hand and arm. I have a slight physical affliction, a large so-called "port wine stain" vascular birthmark on my right hand, arm, and shoulder that seems to be associated with stiffness and tightness on the right side of my body (I notice it even in my feet, far away from the birthmark. A masseur who once worked me over as a birthday present told me, "your right side is about ten times tighter than your left side"). My left hand has never given me any trouble when typing.
So there's no such thing as an "ergonomic keyboard" as a single distinct thing—rather, there are all kinds of different designs that represent different peoples' attempts to solve the problem. For example, both of these are ergonomic keyboards:
The top one is something called the Truly-Ergonomic Mechanical Keyboard, and below that is the formidably odd but apparently effective Kinesis Advantage2. I assume you'd have to be a touch typist to stand a chance of accommodating to the Kinesis Advantage2, and I'm not a touch typist. I suppose it's not quite right to call myself a "hunt-and-peck" typist, because I can usually type without looking at the keyboard very much and I can manage 45 words per minute on a good day, but I learned to type the wrong way and now it's ingrained.
Should you use an ergonomic keyboard, even if you don't have problems? Well, talk to someone who does have problems. It's like being a normal weight—would you like to stay that way, or would you be fine with gaining a hundred and fifty pounds? With smoking, I used to tell my son and his friends when they were kids that by far the easiest way to quit is to not start in the first place. If you don't have any physical problems from sitting at a desk and typing, I'd say (after a weekend of constant annoying pain in my wrist), for heaven's sake try to keep it that way.
The keyboard most likely to help most people is the Microsoft Sculpt. Mild in every parameter with just enough of every accommodation to help in every way—and thus make the desired difference—a Sculpt would be especially good for people who don't yet have problems. It's not expensive as ergonomic keyboards go; it's good-looking (although the pad discolors after time, some reviewers report—something Microsoft might quietly fix, or, for all I know, might already have fixed); it has a separate, detached numberpad and even includes an ergonomic mouse; and it shouldn't be too hard to get used to.
The best for me right now would probably be the Matias Ergo Pro, available for Mac or Windows and with regular or low-force keys. It's a fully split board with mechanical keys and adjustable orientation. I don't know, though. It's expensive, and I'm a bit sore, literally, so I guess I'll stop poking fate with a stick and just stick to what I'm used to.
As a reviewer I give high marks to the lovely Déck Francium Pro gaming keyboard. It's sweet. Love those Cherry MX Browns. I just can't use it. YMMV.
Original contents copyright 2016 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
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Featured Comments from:
Gordon Lewis: "This is in no way to contradict the truth or importance of what you wrote, but I have more issues with mice than keyboards. Although I can and do type comfortably all day on an Apple keyboard, Apple mice, for example, are naught but well-disguised instruments of mockery and torture. Other mouse designs assume I am right-handed, which I find so presumptuous as to be insulting. My pointing device of choice is a Logitech Trackman Marble Mouse: sturdy, ambidextrous, programmable, and comfortable."
Robin: "Unfortunately I know all too well about these issues, being an 'early adopter' of voice solutions thanks to an RSI that almost ruined my life. As an indication of when this was...a sound card for digital input cost ten thousand dollars. I could write a chapter but really only want to say a big THANKS! for even bringing this issue to light. The more people who read an article like this, the more who might save their bodies and careers.
"Since mice are evil, my biggest problem has been buying a good touchpad. The old Cirque ones simply are not built as well as they used to be (my first lasted a decade). And they do not work as reliably with Windows 10, for whatever reason. My days are filled with frustration and knowing that things were better in the 'nineties is really grating."