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Tuesday, 13 December 2016


Check out this open source ergo mechanical keyboard...


I've basically copied/pasted this comment from a review of the Sculpt that I posted on Amazon some time ago. It may be of interest to any TOP reader considering buying one:

Once upon a time, Microsoft made a very nice, reasonably priced ergonomic keyboard. It was the Microsoft Natural Elite. It was huge (desktop footprint was about 18" x 9"), it was ugly, and it had a cord, and it did everything a keyboard needed to do.

Microsoft discontinued that model and replaced it with another corded keyboard, the Natural 4000--a keyboard that had a fake leather wrist rest, loads of useless "toy" keys, and an even LARGER footprint than the Natural Elite--the Natural 4000 is a keyboard that's so large that it's literally impossible for me to fit it on my desk.

Finally, Microsoft released this, the Sculpt. It looks good, and it feels good, and I had high hopes for it, but it's a nightmare to use.

My problems have been:

1) Wireless issues are commonplace. My first Sculpt was so laggy and prone to dropping its connection that I returned it because I thought it was defective. The second Sculpt wasn't so laggy, but it was just as prone to dropping, until I plugged the dongle into an extension cord and ran it so it sat on my desk, about 6" from the keyboard. I have never had these problems with my wireless trackballs.

2) The wireless dongle you plug into the computer is incredibly small. With the first Sculpt, I plugged it in to a USB port right next to the edge of my case at the back. I had to pry it out with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers because I could not get a grip on it with my fingernails. It's very low profile and very smooth.

3) The keys are poorly differentiated by feel. With a normal keyboard, each row sticks up slightly higher than the rows below it, which is an important tactile cue. With this chiclet style keyboard, that's not the case--each row of buttons more or less the same height as the ones below it. Additionally, I had to stick pieces of gaffer tape on the backspace and enter keys so I could find them by feel, because I kept hitting delete and insert by mistake. It helped a bit, but not a lot. The arrow keys are absolutely impossible to find by touch. Even after a month of use, I cannot find them without looking at the keyboard.

4) They navigation and edit keys (delete, insert, home, end, pg up, pg down, and the arrow keys) are shoved right up against the other keys, making it simultaneously very easy to hit them by mistake and very hard to hit them on purpose. This is an inexcusable ergonomic blunder--grouping and offsetting edit and navigation keys has been standard practice for decades, precisely because intermingling them with alphanumeric and punctuation keys is a usability nightmare. Placing the insert key right next to the enter key is a particularly egregious screwup. I would guess that I hit insert accidentally at least a dozen times a day, even after a month of use. This is a problem that I've never had on any other keyboard, and given the incredibly destructive nature of the insert key, it's an absolute show-wrecker.

5) The keyboard doesn't seem terribly reliable. My first keyboard had serious wireless issues and I assumed it was defective. My second keyboard had very similar issues, which I solved by using a cable to place the dongle right next to the keyboard (which rather defeats the entire purpose of a wireless keyboard)...but it suddenly stopped working after a bit less than a month and nothing I did would bring it back.

This keyboard does have three positive features, though:

1) It looks nice. No, really--this is the coolest looking keyboard I've seen.

2) It's compact. Desktop footprint is about 15x8.5".

3) It feels really good. Really really really good. It's the most comfortable keyboard I've used. Too bad it's also the worst keyboard I've ever used.

If you find a decent ergo keyboard that is also backlit, let me know. I switched to an ergo keyboard 20 years ago after a bout with carpal tunnel syndrome, and that hasn't recurred. But the ambient light in my work-cave compels a backlit keyboard (probably why they sell most of them to game freaks), and the Adesso model I have leaves a lot to be desired in terms of key action, etc.

I'm a Mac user, at least for now, and a touch typist, and it's extremely frustrating to walk through a computer or electronics store and see piles of interesting but non-compatible computer keyboards sitting around. Since so many keyboards are bluetooth, I can't for the life of me see why all keyboards couldn't be compatible -- there's no wiring problem with bluetooth, and it *is* a standard, so why can't all keyboards be compatible? I don't know anything about electronics, so maybe somebody could explain it to me. Anyway, Apple doesn't care any more about keyboards than they do about ports, and so have never really offered a good one. One weird Apple problem is this: they have two replacement chiclet keyboards, one with a number pad and one without. But the one with the number pad is wire-only, so you have to use one of the few USP ports to support the keyboard. Their bluetooth keyboard, on the other hand, is the size of a laptop keyboard, has no number pad. Because of its small size, it is light and unstable and rattles like crazy when you use it on a hard surface. And who wants to use a keyboard on a soft surface? The trouble with bad keyboards is that they can screw up your entire posture as you try to use them, and if you type a lot, like we do, that can lead to long term problems. I'm starting to hate Apple; at least Microsoft tries.

I bumped into this boutique keyboard kickstarter on the internet and was super impressed by the level of keyboard nerd involved:


Hello Mike, I don't need an ergo keyboard but I did need a wireless lighted keyboard a few years back. Then, you could have wireless or lighted, but not in the same keyboard. I solved the problem of being able to see the keys with a book light. I'm talking about the small battery/rechargeable type that clip to the top of a book to enable easy reading without too mush light. It proved perfect for the keyboard. Just enough light to read the keys but not so much to be distracting when looking at the screen. In case you can't find a lighted ergo model, the book light might help you out.

I, too, have issues with RSI [repetitive strain injury —Ed.], and I've used a variety of ergonomic keyboards over the years. The Kinesis Advantage you show above was the first serious one, and it took me about a month to get back up to speed; I wasn't a touch typist either. I ended up liking it so much I bought two, one for home and one for the office.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I need a smaller keyboard for travel, so I got an Atreus kit (many of the odd ergo keyboards, because of their niche status, are some assembly required). It didn't come with labels, so I spent a month re-training myself to touch type. It came with cherry MX blues, which I ended up liking so much I switched my main work keyboard to a model that uses them, an Ergodox (also a kit, but available assembled).

Ah! You English-writers are spoiled kids! Just look for the options we, Spanish, French, or, for example, Danish people, have. Not to say anything if we also happen to be Mac users...

One of my best friends at work, who writes a lot of instrument control firmware, uses a split keyboard where the halves are completely vertical, perpendicular to the desk. I don't know how he types on it, but he does.

I'm afraid I'm very wedded to the Macbook Pro or MBP-sized wireless keyboards. I was using an older USB-wired Mac G5 "full-sized" desktop keyboard over the weekend while working on my Mac Mini music server, and I found I literally could not type on it. I also have this odd requirement where the keyboard has to be aligned (centered) with the central axis of display for me to type accurately. If the keyboard is shifted off-axis to either side, I can't type on it.

I'd recommend at least giving the Kinesis Advantage a try. I have been using one for a year or so and it's helped to significantly reduce the amount of keyboard-related pain in my arms and upper-back. I never learned to properly touch type, either, and there was a painful period at first while my fingers sorted out which keys were which. The first week was the worst but I stuck with it and after a few weeks I was back to my original speed.

The real advantage seems to come from the curved finger wells and the reduced arm motion they provide. I've used a different split board with a similar layout but flat keys (Ergodox) and not seen the same pain reduction.

As an added bonus, the Kinesis uses Cherry MX browns.

Mike: It's not just keyboards! I just spent about 30 minutes with a Sony Rx10iii and loved it, almost. However, my wrist and forearm began to ache after just 5 minutes use. I tried holding it every which way you can and it just wouldn't work for me. After 30 frustrating minutes, I gave up and reluctantly turned it back over to my dealer. Believe it or not, I had the same problem with my Nikon D80, but not until about 20 minutes use. I do not have this problem, by the way, with my Fuji X-T1. I so wanted the Sony to work for me because I travel internationally quite often and thought a bridge camera would be great. Maybe the Panasonic Fz2000?

Not to minimize in any way the benefits of ergonomic keyboards, but more in addition for pain mitigation, there are stretching exercises that can be very helpful as well.
I'm also with Gordon on being a Tracball user. In my case the Logitech Trackman Wheel (wired, the wireless one stalls & drops)
It's really more of a thumb ball, for me at least very comfortable and needs no pad or space to work.

Mexican (Spanish and Portugese) do not have a key on theboard for @
and various systems use different combinations. (Hold down Q, or Shift 64, etc.

I guess I am lucky - as a "rapid fire" hunt & pecker - no ergonomic needs for me! However, I still make many errors with my MacBook Pro keyboard and have no idea why. But with the new Mac rechargeable external keyboard, I'm fine. But it is a very plain, ordinary thing, really, which makes me imagine many "normal" typists would find it useless.

I've been using the Kinesis Advantage for years: https://jakeseliger.com/2011/07/17/further-thoughts-on-the-kinesis-advantage-unicomp-space-saver-and-das-keyboard%e2%80%94two-years-later and recommend it to friends. Yes, the price is absurd. But the keyboard is durable and the improvement over normal keyboards enormous.

The Infinity Ergodox: https://input.club/devices/infinity-ergodox/ is also interesting looking but isn't widely available today.

I moved my old USB Mac keyboard over to the new iMac, after the pretty little wireless keyboard, with no number pad and missing some of the navigation keys that I use all the time, drove me crazy.

The little keyboard will work the old Mac, if that ever decides to play ball again.

I've had RSI issues for years from mice and mouse-alternatives (my job involves a lot of clicking, but only moderate typing). The best solution I came across was actually to use a Wacom pen and tablet as my all-purpose mouse. Counterintuitively, the smaller tablets are best for this purpose, since they require smaller movements to get across the screen (I use an old Graphire 4x6 inch tablet with a 27-inch 5K iMac). I also use a stylus with my iPad.

Every now and then I drift toward using the regular mouse or laptop trackpad, and my troubles flare up, but switching back to strictly using a pen/stylus settles things down within a week or two.

I've fortunately never had the wrist issues, but I love a pro keyboard with real mechanical switches. I own three different brands of them, including a Matias. The one I use now is the DAS Keyboard, wonderful.

I even have a similar keyboard I use with my iPad, the Logitech Wired Keyboard for iPad. It's not real mechanical switches, but it feels surprisingly like it, and has a long key travel. The best pretty-portable keyboard I've tried, including Apple's own of the same size.


Yes, I'm with Gordon: we left-handers have to deal every day with the sort of presumptions about handedness that other minorities have been righteously angry about.

For 30 years I have used and adapted to whatever mouse happened to come as standard issue (generally tanking it across to the left and holding it at about 80 degrees to the screen) and suspect the physical bill for this is yet to arrive...


Sooner or later no keyboard will eliminate the pain... I highly recommend voice dictation software. Dragon Naturally Speaking works out of the box extremely well and is a life saver. Just make sure you get a good microphone. I use a "Blue Snowball" -- which doubles nicely as a Skype microphone.

Mice area also brutal on wrists and shoulders. I've tried them all. I now have a mouse to my right, a Logitech external track pad to my left (so my left hand can help out), and for photo editing, a Wacom tablet.

You should also look into a standing desk arrangement -- ideally a setup that makes it easy to switch quickly between sitting and standing so that you're not just trading "pain from sitting" for "pain from standing".

I have always thought a certain school system was cruel when as a child we moved from Topanga Canyon to the east coast and I was forced to relearn how to write with my right hand. Talk about misery!! Now I am rethinking maybe it was good for another thing besides guitars.

Mike, have you heard of the Dvorak keyboard? The key layout is different than a qwerty keyboard, so there will be a learning curve. You can set-up your present keyboard as two hand, righthand only and lefthand only Dvorak. It's all done in software.

I've known of the Dvorak since the early 1990s, but I've never tried one.

Surely time to try dictation apps?

[I can't dictate. Never had that knack. --Mike]

Further to the comment from James Sinks, the older Microsoft Natural keyboards are the goldilicks ergonomic keyboards for a lot of people including myself (I have a couple of them). If you hunt around you can still find new old stock. The action of the keys themselves is a lot closer to the feel of mechanicals than most rubber dome keys, and unlike the latest version they are not chiclets, which I think are very pretty but horrible to use. Some models have a PS/2 plug rather than USB, others have multimedia keys; key layouts also vary between versions. I'm a fan of the Natural Keyboard Elite, in spite of its quirky cursor key layout. Mac users can remap the keys from within the OS to be more Apple-like. As for illumination, how about a USB lamp for the keyboard?

I've had a Kinesis Freestyle for far far longer than I've ever kept any keyboard. My normally fragile wrists have held up fine. The keyboard now looks as old as it is, so it is not pretty anymore. Everything about the keyboard has held up for years and years. I've even spilled stuff on it, which has caused problems. In those cases I just asked Kinesis for a new circuit-print, the part that fails when it gets wet, and they send it to me. I put it in and the keyboard works again. As someone who has worn out several ergonomic keyboards since the original Apple ADB splittable keyboard (I wore out at least three of those), I can strongly suggest that if you work a keyboard hard and need the ergonomic split, Kinesis is good.

Maybe it doesn't have the nicest feel, though it seems to serve me well even if the tactile aesthetics are not up there with fine mechanical switches.

I'm with Gordon Lewis about mice, though what works for me is different. For the past dozen or so years I've been using a 9" x 15" Wacom tablet & mouse, set up so all the options are either disabled or set to be equivalent to a single (right) click. The Wacom tablet surface is so smooth it's effortless and at the same time offers just enough resistance to the felt pad on the mouse bottom to make it possible to move it one pixel at a time (on my now antique 30" Mac Cinema Display — I fear that won't be so when the day comes that I have to replace it with a "Retina" screen, much as I'd like to have one … )

For very detailed work on images, I go to a Wacom pen display (now also getting a bit long in the tooth — could we have, say, a ten year moratorium on innovation, please? —which could also be used in lieu of a mouse, but that doesn't work for me …

I might also note that I am still using the wonderful fountain pen I bought 44 years ago and do a lot of my rough drafting long hand, so my above choices may be equally eccentric.

Like Gordon, I think I suffered more damage from badly designed mouses than from keyboards (and the evolution of UIs toward mouse control), and I, too, found relief with trackballs. First, a full-size Kensington, then the Trackman Marble.

I'd add to Gordon's praise that the Marble is refreshingly simple and still inexpensive. I also found it easier to use "wrong-handed" than any other pointing device, which further relieved my overstressed right hand and allowed me to place it closer to me on the shorter side of keyboard.

I have a bunch of nice vintage keyboards sitting in a box somewhere. I should find out if USB adapters for those old things have gotten any better.

I sympathise! I can't type for toffee - but what gave me RSI at work, about 20 years ago, was heavy use of a mouse, editing audio (manically). For about 15 years I've always and only used a graphics pad (cheapie Wacom) as a pointer for all applications, never a mouse, and very rarely a track-pad (when I'm away from home with the laptop - I hate it!), and it has helped hugely. Very little RSI now. No handedness problems either, I assume, though I'm right-handed myself. (My partner has used a Wacom left-handed.) Some of these keyboards are amazing, by the way! But I doubt I could adapt my terrible typing to them - too impatient. Thanks, Nick

For those of you looking for a back lit keyboard of macs or windows, Logitech makes a version for each:
Mac: K811
Windows: K810

They are Bluetooth keyboards with no Bluetooth issues. I have used the K811 every day for 3 years and it works a treat. (I've stuck a couple of rubber feet under the front edge of the keyboard so that the whole thing is canted higher than standard for comfort.)

Both keyboards have provision for adding another 2 switchable devices (smartphone and pad). These work well and are easyish to set up. Don't use them much.

Back-light sensor is proximity based. Charging is by micro USB cable. (My experience is maybe every couple of weeks.) You just plug it in and use it like a wired keyboard until it is charged. Couldn't be simpler.

Prices are reasonable.

I have also used the K810 for Windows (through Parallels) and don't remember any issues although I stopped using it almost immediately because I found that I did not actually need to switch keyboards with Parallels; the Mac version worked fine.

Possible downsides: no number keypad and no help to those who need ergonomic keyboards. Sorry Mike!

I've got a drawer full of keyboards that I have bought over the years as I seem to be a sucker for new bells and whistles, but I always return the the K811.

I have been using the MS Sculpt for about a year with no issues and love it. Comfortable, rugged, and looks great. The key travel is perfect for me. Keyboards are a big like speakers and headphones - it's a matter of personal choice

As a lawyer, I tend to type a lot, and also suffer from RSI. I've been using dragon dictation for short emails and posts such as this. I have found the newer versions to be very accurate in word recognition, which I find astonishing because I have a fairly broad Australian accent. It does struggle with technical words and documents of articles of more than about 1000 words or so. I find the main issue with it is that it tends to lose its place if you edit a lot, and move the cursor around manually, which I like to do. It will take you some practice if you haven't used dictation software before, or are not used to dictation at all. But it is certainly usable, and I find that I find the effort and occasional frustration to be worth it to avoid aggravating my injury.

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