Ergonomic Keyboards Gallery and Review

Perm url with updates: http://xahlee.org/emacs/ergonomic_keyboards.html

Fancy Ergonomic Keyboards You Didn't Know Existed

Xah Lee, 2010-11-22

This page is a gallery of several ergonomic keyboards, from simple ones to radical ones, with review.

Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboards

Microsoft Natural Multimedia keyboard

“Microsoft Wireless Natural Multimedia keyboard”. amazon

Full review at Review of Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard.

This one i used from about 2004 to 2007, and love it. This design is a classic, dating back to 1990s. However, this particular model is discontinued, replaced by the “4000”. It's still available new on amazon or other places.

This basic ergonomic design is still made by Microsoft, as “Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite” amazon.

Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

“Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000”. amazon

This is a much more improved design. This is the one i currently use, since about 2007. Full review at Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000.

Scythe Ergo Diver keyboard

Discovered this funky one recently.

scythe ergo diver keyboard boxed

“Scythe Ergo Diver keyboard”, boxed. Unboxed photo ❐

scythe ergo diver keyboard left

Left side.

scythe ergo diver keyboard right

Right side.

Very interesting new design. Notice that the keys for the right hand is vertically aligned, but the left side follows traditional jagged alignment. Over all, the keyboard is not symmetric. The Shift key have different positions on each side. It doesn't have a Ctrl on the right side.

I'm not sure this is a good ergonomic keyboard, but i'm absolutely sure it is better than conventional flat keyboard. Interestly, if you look at the box, it bills itself as a ergonomic FPS (first person shooter) and MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing game) gaming keyboard. I think it's a bit crazy marketing. The most important feature of a gaming keyboard is lots of programable keys. This one has none, nor any other features of gaming keyboards such as LCD display, glowing keys, high-tech appearance.

The Scythe keyboard is around since at least 2003, but seems no longer in production. Here's some review and photos:

TypeMatrix

typematrix keyboard

“TypeMatrix keyboard”

This is another interesting design, but i think it's pretty bad.

  • First, the keys are laptop type of shallow flat keys. This is not good for prolonged heavy typing (e.g. data entry clerk)
  • The function keys F1 to F12 are in one continuous row instead of 3 blocks of 4 keys. It is harder to hit the correct key without looking.
  • Some special functions now need a combo key. For example, to increase sound volume vol+, you need to press 【Fn+Backspace】 instead of one single button. This is annoying.
  • The Ctrl key is hard to use. One small one on the left buried with other keys. One larger one but far away on the right, also buried among other keys. This is bad for Emacs users.

It sells for $110. Its home page is typematrix.com.

Humble Hacker Keyboard

humble hacker keyboard

“Humble Hacker Keyboard”

If a keyboard's name has the word “hack” in it, then i despise it already. See:

The Humble Hacker Keyboard is not in production yet, if it ever will be. It's shown here as a curiosity. Its homepage is at: humblehacker.com. Some detail about building this keyboard is here at Source geekhack.org.

Here's some highlight of major problems with this design i see:

  • The navigation keys (Home End Page Up Page Down ) are all clustered in the middle. Burying them in middle mixed with many other keys is bad.
  • The function keys become one continuous row. Without gaps, it makes these keys less usable without looking. (See: Increase Productivity Using Function Keys.)
  • Overall, this keyboard becomes one neat geometric rectangular array. BAD! It would be much better to have a gaps in the middle, gap below the row of function keys, and other sort of curves or natural asymmetry. When you see something cleanly geometric, such as “modern furniture” in exhibition meuseums, it might be beautiful, but in general is the most uncomfortable to use. Because nature never have perfect geometric shapes. No part of our body is one perfect square or circle. When every key is mono and uniform, it becomes harder to visually distinguish it or by touch.

Good points:

  • Dvorak Keyboard Layout.
  • Straight aligned keys.
  • The letter keys are grouped into 2 clusters, one for each hand.
  • Ctrl on both sides, symmetrically positioned, right next to the key pressed by pinky. This is excellent!
  • A modifier key for the thumb (That's Mac's ⌘ Cmd key or Windows Win key). Excellent.
  • Two Tab keys. A forward tab and backward tab (usually pressed as 【Shift+Tab】).

You might be wondering where did keys like {[ ] { }} went. Or, where's \, |. According to its creator, these are typed by pressing with one of the Fn1 to Fn4 extra modifier keys. I think this is good. The issue with these symbols is that, if you look at a conventional flat keyboard layout, or many International Keyboard Layouts, there are more characters than can fit the 4 × 5 matrix key cluster for each hand. For example:

 12345  67890
 QWERT  YUIOP
 ASDFG  HJKL;
 ZXCVB  NM,./

The 2 key clusters as 4 × 5 matrix for each hand. (shown using QWERTY layout)

It has 40 spots to map characters. Multiply by 2 for Shift variation, you get a total of 80 spots to map characters. But written texts need more than 80 characters. For example, the ASCII for english has 95 printable chars. More is needed for European languages. For example: «¿¡¢£¥®© ÀÁÂÃÄÅÆ Ç ÈÉÊË ÌÍÎÏ ÐÑ ÒÓÔÕÖ ØÙÚÛÜÝÞß àáâãäåæç èéêë ìíîï ðñòóôõö øùúûüýþÿ». So, you need to add more keys to your keyboard for them, as happened with conventional keyboards. Here's the 7 extra keys added to US standard PC keyboard:

`  12345  67890  -=
   qwert  yuiop  []\
   asdfg  hjkl;  '
   zxcvb  nm,./

Keyboards in Europe have more keys, typically one extra to the left of Z, and 2 extra to the right of ;. (See: International Keyboard Layouts.) Note that 2 extra keys to the right of ; is ridiculous. In such a keyboard, you have to extend your pinky far to the right to press the frequently used Enter key. (or, move your whole hand.)

Another solution for solving the extra characters is to use a modifier combination. The modifier to enter extra characters is usually known as AltGr key.

If you create extra physical keys for them, such as the {[ ] = |} on conventional keyboard, they are far away from home row and pressed by pinky. Or, you need to place them in middle of keyboard, or at the bottom of space key. None of these are ideal.

If you use modifier key (AltGraph) as a solution, then the problem is that you now have to press a key combination for typing these characters, but your fingers don't have to fly about.

From my personal experience of extensive key mapping and macros and the need to type Math Symbols and Unicode Characters , i think the AltGraph solution is actually more ergonomic. It's faster to type and more comfortable. The drawback is it's a bit more complex and takes some time to memorize the key locations. A keyboard with AltGraph labels would solve that, but the extra printing makes it more costy to build.

“Truly Ergonomic” Keyboard

truly ergonomic keyboard 2

“truly ergonomic keyboard”.

This one is from trulyergonomic.com. Selling for $200. Another model comes with palm rest. (Note: there are rumors that this keyboard has been delayed in production many times. So, be careful when putting your money for a pre-order.)

Asides from the key layout and design, this keyboard is also quality build. It uses Cherry MX mechanical key-switches for the best tactile feel, and has full n-key rollover. (See: Keyboard Ghosting; How Many Keys Your Keyboard Can Take?)

The design of this one seems one of the best. It fixes all the conventional Keyboard Design Flaws, yet remains in one simple elegant piece. It isn't so huge with fancy curves as a Microsoft Ergonomic 4000. The 4000's curves are great, but is a keyboard build for mass market. It use cheap parts. The “truly ergonomic” also isn't so radical as the Kinesis Contoured keyboard. The Kinesis will take a while to get used to, and is a bit inconvenient for casual use because of the bowl shaped key surface.

Kinesis Contoured Keyboard

Kinesis Contoured keyboard

“Kinesis contoured keyboard”. Source amazon

Full review at Kinesis Contoured Keyboard Review and RSI

Maltron keyboard

maltron usb dual l90 uk mac dvorak 1-s

Maltron keyboard with Dvorak layout.

Maltron flat keyboard

The flat version “Maltron 2d flat keyboard”.

The Maltron seems to be as ergonomic as the Kinesis. However, its the most expensive and ugly. According to info i can find, each Maltron is individually ordered and hand crafted (not mass produced), and sells for some $370.

The Maltron comes with QWERTY and Dvorak keyboard layouts, but also available is its own Maltron keyboard layout (the arrangement of letter/symbol keys). For comments, see: Dvorak, Maltron, Colemak, NEO, Bépo, Turkish-F, Keyboard Layouts Fight!.

Xah's Recommendations

I think the “Microsoft natural 4000” ($40) , or “Truly Ergonomic” ($200), or the “Kinesis Contoured” (~$270) are all really great.

Taking their price into consideration, the Microsoft 4000 is the most easy buy. It is a mass produced product and made to appeal to the mass population. Quite superb design by its various curves and tilts. However, because it's made for mass appeal, it does not use expensive mechanical key-switch that provides good tactile feedback. (it uses rubber dome) It uses cheap key label technology, so the key labels wear off (On my keyboard, the labels “M” and “<” are COMPLETELY gone. (because finger nails often hit them)).

The key mechanism is Very Bad (in comparison to other Cherry MX as used in Kinesis, Truely Ergonomic, and many others keyboards that sell above $80). The Spacebar is stiff (one of its most commont complaints). It's somewhat loud, makes ugly “clunk”, “thud”, “sqeak” sounds.

The TrulyErgonomic has best design that is simple and elegant. It is also with highest quality build. The Kinesis Contoured is also great, but on the most expensive side, with radical design that doesn't make the keyboard good for sometimes casual peck of a few keys.

Sizes

Note that sizes from photos can be deceiving. The Kinesis looks huge, but is actually ~5cm less wide than the Microsoft 4000, and the TrulyErgonomic is even smaller, because it doesn't have the number pad. (the TrulyErgonomic has a Num Lock key that turns the right hand side keys into a number pad. Similarly for the Kinesis)

kinesis microsoft keyboard sizes

Size Comparison

trulyergonomic keyboard size

Size Comparison

Idiotic Keyboards

For some unusual but practically idiotic keyboard, see: The Idiocy of Hacker Keyboards.

Thanks to fangzhzh for showing me the Scythe keyboard. Thanks to “meow cat” for showing me the “trulyergonomic Keyboard”. Thanks for boskom for reminding me the Humble Hacker keyboard.

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