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Recommend an ergonomic keyboard?

This is harder than I expected it to be.  All I'm looking for is an ergonomic keyboard that meets the following simple criteria:

1).  Less than $200.  It's just a keyboard, after all, not a DVD player.

2).  Standard layout of arrow and "Ins/Del/Home/End/PgUp/PgDn" keys.  This eliminates the brain-dead Microsoft line of products, as well as the Kinesis Maxim, for example.

3).  Smaller footprint than a Chevrolet.  Look at the MS multimedia behemoth, for example.

That's not much to ask, is it?  You would think that those three criteria would *define* the sweet-spot for this kind of product.  But after an hour or so, I've given up looking, for now.

(As an aside, I can't help but wonder at the less-than-optimal solutions our capitalist system provides sometimes.  If you listen to the free-markets virgins, you'd think I'd have 30 different models to choose from, each at a rock-bottom price, all exceeding my requirements, vying for my dollar.  Instead, I get a handful that are poorly designed, over-designed, or way too expensive.  Where's Adam Smith when I need him?  And why does he keep moving around the arrow keys on our keyboards?)

Anyway, does anyone have an ergonomic keyboard they like, that's still being made?  Thanks.

Grumpy Old-Timer
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I just opted to, as they say in wrestling, "Suck it" and got a Microsoft Natural Elite for my cube at work.  No multimedia buttons, a rotated home/end/pgup/pgdn/end/delete/insert that I can get used to.  But it's not perfect.  I keep thinking I need to buy one or two more and reconstruct them so at the very least they tilt like the origional Microsoft Natural did.

Flamebait Sr.
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Microsoft Natural Pro, if you can find it. About $80 when it was new.

The footprint is large, but no larger than it needs to be (IMO). USB with PS/2 adapter, some multimedia keys which are actually pretty nice (the volume/play/track buttons work with Winamp and the Calculator button rocks!)

And the arrow/home keys are in the traditional layout.

But MS has discontinued the keyboard.

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

"2).  Standard layout of arrow and "Ins/Del/Home/End/PgUp/PgDn" keys."

What exactly is the "standard" layout?  (And how standard can it be if you can't find a single keyboard that has it?)

"you'd think I'd have 30 different models to choose from, each at a rock-bottom price, all exceeding my requirements, vying for my dollar."

Why?  It's not a high-demand product.  I enjoy my ergonomic keyboard, but a lot of people seem confused by it.  (Mine is a Microsoft, sorry.)

Kyralessa
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

i use the kinesis essential. it is about $200.
the arrow keys aren't where they usually are, but they are actually in a better place. once I got used to the keyboard (takes about 2 days) I could type 30-40% faster than I could on a standard straight keyboard.

ktm
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I have an original Microsoft Natural Keyboard -- and if it ever breaks, I don't know what I would do!  They are hard to find, because like me, everyone who's got one doesn't want to part with it.

This is the massive (it's actually not that big) original.  No multimedia keys, arrow keys in the standard layout, and a really good feel.  Also not USB (still not an issue, thankfully).

All the new MS keyboards don't get it right.  The keys are too soft, and most don't use the "standard" key layout -- I don't care if it doesn't fit into most keyboard drawers!!  ;)

Almost Anonymous
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Yes, a lot of the people that (rightfully) complain about MS keyboards don't know about the ORIGINAL Natural. The original MS Natural is fantastic, and this is coming from a Model M fanatic.

Fred2000
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I hear ya, GOT.  I've been having the same dilemma.  I've tried many different models and have yet to find the ideal one.  There just don't seem to be enough choices, especially in a reasonable price range.  Most people I know don't like ergonomic keyboards, so that's probably why Adam Smith is failing us - we're the minority.

I own a Kinesis Classic which I think is great for high volume word processing (typing mainly just lots of plain alpha text - few or no numbers) but I never was able to get used to it for daily tasks like editing code, scrolling around, pressing shortcut keys, etc.

Besides the flaws you mentioned in the Kinesis Maxim layout, it is also highly annoying to me that neither Kinesis product has a dedicated numeric keypad - both the Maxim and the contoured models have embedded keypads which I find all but useless (I never use the one on my notebook either.)

I am thinking about trying one of these for USD$69.95:

http://www.datadesktech.com/desktop_sb.html

It also has a couple non-standard key locations that might be a problem, though, such as the = sign.  However, the Home, etc keys seem to be in the standard order just above the keypad.  Of course, the manufacturer says they're out of stock until at least the end of November...

Tim Lara
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I had to retire my orig. MS natural as the keys got this incredible stiction if you don't hit them directly dead center (esp. the left Ctrl/Alt/Shift keys). Sad.

I sucked it up (after shopping for a few days) and bought an MS natural elite (no back tilt, funky arrow keys). Ok but not great. I have Dell's multimedia version also, and it is basically the elite with some useless buttons.

I too was disappointed at the huge lack of ergonomic products. The -only- options I could find locally were MS and one sad Logitech board. Most were wireless (not useful to me) and were often combined with funky mice as a 'package'. A couple of years ago it was hard to find a straight keyboard, now it's reversed. Oy. Or is that Ow.

dave
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

An additional question: A keyboard with a closer escape key, or one that'll last better. I have a tendancy to pound the escape key when I'm coding in vi. A habit I ought to break, but until then I'd prefer to avoid purchasing a keyboard for $200+ only to replace it in a year when many keys stop working.

While I'm working on breaking the habit of destroying keyboards, sometimes it gets away from me, particularly when frustrated. One session last year on a virgin MS keyboard had the enter key broken inside of an hour.

For now, I'm on my Model M, which can take the pounding I give it, but I'm now looking to upgrade to something with decent ergonomics.

I'll throw one more out there too: A simple foot-switch that's keyboard-agnostic (the cheap Kinesis ones seem to work only on expensive Kinesis keyboards...). Anyone know of one?

Mike Swieton
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I've got two MS Natural keyboards, one at home I bought four years ago, and one at work I paid for myself a couple of years ago. Both filthy, I'm going to clean them this weekend, but still working fine.

What I can't understand is why MS got rid of a product that all its customers loved, and why nobody did an exact clone when they did.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

"What I can't understand is why MS got rid of a product that all its customers loved, and why nobody did an exact clone when they did."

I smell a business opportunity...  I'd buy at least 3 right off.

Almost Anonymous
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Seems to me the bottom line must be that they weren't selling. At the time the Natural Pro was cancelled, MS had two other ergo keyboards available. Since that one was killed, it must have been the underperformer - I mean, NOBODY looks at the sales of three similar products and cancels the popular one.

So the question is really - why didn't people buy them?

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

"So the question is really - why didn't people buy them?"

They are hard to type on if you have smaller hands.

ktm
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

*Snicker*... 

I just looked at the bottom of my Microsoft Natural Keyboard (note: not Pro). 

Funny stuff:
* Designed for Windows 95
* NetWare tested and approved

Sadly I didn't find a manufacturing date on it... 

Almost Anonymous
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

...and yuck, it's dirty under there.

Almost Anonymous
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

That IS baffling Stephen.  I'd like to see the market research data that supports these types of decisions.

It seems that all too often, big companies eventually fall into the trap of trying to make a product be everything to everybody instead of just focusing on what made a simple product good in the first place.  Change for change's sake - in this case, moving keys around, adding too many media buttons, etc - is usually bad.

I wonder how expensive it really is to have a keyboard design manufactured...

Tim Lara
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

In one of the many junk filers that accumulate around the office coffee tables I remember seeing an ergonomic keyboard with the arrow keys in the correct place.  The flier proclaimed it to be a "Unicode Ergonomic Keyboard"  but it looks like a rebadged Chicony KTP7093 without the touchpad.

http://www.chicony.com/products/Input%20Device/kb.asp?diff=4

Jamie
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

trick for those are stuck with a microsoft elite keyboard:
pop off the insert key.

assuming you never use insert, this simple removal changes the configuration such the delete key moves one position instead of all keys in that block moving.

mb
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Apparently Belkin makes a couple of ergo boards as well:

http://catalog.belkin.com/IWCatSectionView.process?Section_Id=100

Tim Lara
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

It's not particularly ergonomic by itself, but I've switched to the Happy Hacking Lite 2 keyboard (the size of a laptop keyboard, but with full-travel keys) and absolutely love it.  I don't do a lot of numkeypad entry, so my mouse is miles closer now.  Some additional chording is required to do the F-keys, but overall I like it quite a lot.

And Mike: the Escape key is where the tilde is on most full-sized keyboards.

http://shop.store.yahoo.com/pfuca-store/haphackeylit1.html

I actually have an extra black USB version lying around that I haven't bothered trying to sell on eBay -- email me if interested.

Sam Livingston-Gray
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

IBM Model M - The only way to type. Heavy, excellent key feel. Traditional layout with everything where it should be and no extra "multimedia" keys. Upside is also a possible downside, it's a traditional layout, not split or slanty. I used a Microsoft natural keyboard for a while but I find the key feel on those is terrible compared to older keyboards. Old Dell keyboards (very old) are also good.

Other problem is where to buy one of these. Well, looks like ebay lists quite a lot. OTOH I got mine for $5 from Goodwill computing in Austin.

Alex
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

well model M's are still being made by a successor company, so they're relatively easy to find. but a straight keyboard is really not very ergonomic in terms of wrist posture.

mb
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

For those fans of the model m, the place currently making it is http://pckeyboard.com (note, not plural, pckeyboards.com is incorrect). They carry it with true buckling spring sensors if you want, rated to take a hell of a lot of abuse. IIRC they are $50.

Mike Swieton
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

That IBM keyboard is what came with my 33mhz machine in 1993.

I tried the MS Natural keyboard around when I got my trackball and never got used to it... I do have small hands, but I don't think that's the problem.

First, I type weird, using my left hand for Y and my right hand for B, and the muscle memory of typing is pretty strong, so it's hard to get used to different keyboards... heck I slow down when I get to my friend's house and use their keyboard because the feel is different.

Also, I realized that although the keys are ramped, they still go straight up and down. So while your hands are at an angle, the key goes straight down, at an angle to your hands.

I returned it after a few days, but I probably should've given it a little more of a chance.

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I'll second the Kinesis-Ergo recommendation. Yeah, it's over $200 (~$230 at some resellers), but if you're getting an ergo keyboard to avoid/alleviate wrist pain it pays for itself very quickly. It's also built quite well -- a colleague who had one was still using his (after heavy use) after 5+ years. He might still be using it, actually... I won't type for more than an hour or two without a kinesis if I can help it. There was a good blog discussion recently [1] about the kinesis ergo that might prove useful.

And yeah, the arrow keys aren't in the normal place -- in fact, they're downright awkward. That's okay, that just forces me to use the much more efficient command sequences to navigate around anyway. IME arrow keys are a crutch that prevented me from learning how to navigate by words/sentences/paragraphs rather than just up and down, left and right.

The fact that keys I use very often (Ctrl, Alt, Backspace, Enter, PgUp/Dn, Home, End, Delete) are all at my thumbs is fantastic. Thumbs are strong, pinkies aren't!

[1] http://blogs.werken.com/people/bob/archives/000244.html#000244

Chris Winters
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Just looked at the bottom of my home keyboard and it says Microsoft Elite, so looks like I've been using a Natural Elite Keyboard all along. Well, at least I should be able to get replacements. I'm going on holiday for two weeks on Wednesday, and as I picked up varying RSI syndromes using the laptop keyboard for two months over summer I might try and pick one up to take over with me.

With regard to Mark's comment - a split keyboard only works if you are a touch typist, and use the standard fingerings. If you aren't a touch typist then you are always peering in the wrong place to see where the key is.  If you are it probably takes a couple of days to shift to the Natural from a normal keyboard.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, November 06, 2003

I have to second the recommendation for http://www.pckeyboard.com . They screwed up my order, BUT they then sent the correct product and since duty etc. would have been excessive (I'm in the UK) let me keep the refurbed keyboard which I passed on to a friend who had the correct cable and is also buckling spring fan. Any company that fixes it's mistakes that well gets a recommended from me. (It's not the f**k ups, it's how you fix em)

Peter Ibbotson
Thursday, November 06, 2003

I've had a lot of wrist damage in the past.  The kinesis contour keyboards ($299!) are expensive, but they helped heal my hands.  Split keyboards weren't doing it anymore for me, my hands were still getting worse.  Although if you're convinced to go for split keyboards, I had one of the original MS natural keyboards and it treated me pretty well (although it helped, it was still making my hands worse).

If the funny things aren't your style, there's also this thing from fingerworks:
http://www.fingerworks.com/ST_product.html

I doubt if it's much better than a normal split keyboard.  I just put it up because it was cool-looking.

H. Lally Singh
Thursday, November 06, 2003

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