The Best Ergonomic Keyboard for You
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A few years ago, Caitlin Cadieux decided to go all-out to battle the chronic pain in her right wrist—a malady she attributed to the many long hours devoted to her work as a digital animator.
She got a standing desk. A better chair. Did physical therapy. Was more mindful of taking breaks throughout the day. She also bought an ergonomic keyboard—the Microsoft Sculpt—designed to alleviate the wear and tear on her body. It won her over.
“Going back to a different keyboard is a non-starter for me,” says the 29-year-old Troy, N.Y., resident. “I still get pain if I spend too much contiguous time typing, but sitting at the keyboard is much less stressful on my arm. If something happened to it, I'd buy another Sculpt in a heartbeat.”
You yourself may have eyed a keyboard like the Sculpt in recent years—even if just out of curiosity. Readily available at retailers such as Best Buy and Home Depot, ergonomic models are flush with curves like a sci-fi spaceship. But the designs are so funky, it can be hard to pick the right one.
So we put eight popular options to the test, evaluating them not only on how sound they are ergonomically but also how difficult they are to type on and how much they can be adjusted to suit your particular needs.
“At the end of the day, ergonomics is about reducing the risk of developing some kind of musculoskeletal disorder,” says Dana Keester, the human factors specialist on Consumer Reports' consumer experience and usability research team. “Buying an ergonomic keyboard is a small investment to make, so why not?”
Here are a few key things we learned about ergonomic keyboards in our testing.
They Look Strange for a Reason
“Is that a keyboard?” my father asked when he saw me typing away on the Microsoft Sculpt.
That gives you some idea of just how odd the thing looks.
But, rest assured, there’s method to the madness.
Ordinary keyboards often place your wrists in an awkward position, says Carisa Harris, Ph.D., director of the Ergonomics Research & Graduate Training Program at the University of California Berkeley. And that increases pressure on the median nerve and carpal tunnel, which can lead to tendonitis and discomfort.
Poor design puts lots of strain on your shoulders, too.
“The ideal working posture is one in which as many of the body’s joints as possible are in a neutral position,” says Keester. “The elbows should be bent at an angle between 90 and 100 degrees, with the wrists neutral and in line with the shoulders.”
Ergonomic keyboards have a few features that help them to accomplish that feat.
Palm rests: When positioned properly at the top of the keyboard—or slightly higher—these reduce extension and keep your wrists in a neutral position. In fact, you can even consider purchasing one as an accessory. That’s an easy way to reduce wrist strain without springing for a new keyboard.
A split and/or splayed design: Slicing the keyboard into two parts allows you to comfortably place each half in line with a wrist and a shoulder, reducing tension even in the upper back. Arranging the keys in a splayed, inverted V formation cuts down on joint deviation, too.
Tenting: When you raise the center of the keyboard, it limits wrist strain by placing the area where your thumbs and index fingers rest higher than the area for your pinkies. In some models, the angle is predetermined. In others, you get to adjust it to fit your needs.
Tilting: Traditional keyboards often slope upward toward the keys in the back, but that actually increases wrist extension. It’s much better to have the keys dip away from you, so you simply reach down with your fingers to activate them. In the best case scenario, the keyboard comes with front legs that can be raised or lowered to help you adjust the pitch.
To evaluate those features on the keyboards we tested, we photographed a volunteer as he typed away on each model. We then reviewed those photos looking for signs of stress in his wrists.
Beyond those ergonomic features, you may want to consider a model that lets you connect wirelessly to your laptop via Bluetooth. That frees you up to place the keyboard almost anywhere you want, though it also requires regularly replacing the batteries required to power the device.
Many models also offer keys that provide shortcuts, media controls, and programmable functions.
As you’ll see in the product cards below, the keyboards are compatible with various operating systems, including not only Mac and Windows but also the Android and Apple iOS systems used in mobile devices. That won’t interfere with your typing, but it may impact the shortcuts, media controls, and port access for devices like mice, printers, and external hard drives.
Make Sure You Have the Right Chair
If you can’t adjust the height of your seat, don’t bother investing in an ergonomic keyboard. “Just buying the equipment isn’t a panacea,” says Harris. “If you don’t use it correctly, you’ll have issues.”
To achieve that 90- to 100-degree angle in the elbow, you have to position the keyboard at the proper height, which may require raising your chair or using a keyboard tray.
In the proper setup, says Keester, your feet are flat on the floor or a footrest, with the thighs parallel to the ground, the chair supporting your back in a slightly reclined position, and the monitor positioned so that you can read the top line of text without leaning your head back.
If you don’t have the money for a new chair, use a cushion or pillow to prop yourself up. To create a low-cost footrest or monitor stand, try a stack of books.
Prepare for a Learning Curve
Don’t unbox your new keyboard on the day your novel is due to the publisher. Give yourself some time to get used to it first.
“It’s like an athlete getting a new pair of shoes,” says Harris. “There’s a break-in period.”
To get some idea about how hard it is to adapt to using each model we purchased, we conducted repeated typing tests, recording the speed and number of errors in every trial.
"If you're a classically trained typist—with your fingers on the home row—it's not that hard to master an ergonomic keyboard," says Keester. "Most take a few days. In some cases, though, you may need a few weeks to get fully comfortable."
Jessica Colnago, a Ph.D. student in societal computing at Carnegie Mellon University, agrees.
“At first, it was weird to type with my hands so far apart,” she says of the split-design on her partner's Kinesis Freestyle 2 keyboard. After getting the hang of it, though, she ended up buying her own. “Overall it’s been great,” she confides.
The More Adjustable, the Better
There’s no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to ergonomics. A pro wrestler is likely to have much broader shoulders than a grade-school librarian, for example, so why settle for a fixed keyboard design—especially if you’re stuck buying the product online?
Keester recommends looking at models that adjust to meet your personal needs.
As noted above, the Kinesis Freestyle 2 splits in half to accommodate any Hulk Hogan.
The Microsoft Sculpt features a separate number pad, which permits accounting wizards to place it in a prime spot, while wordsmiths like me can stow it out of reach.
(If you ever find yourself on Computer Jeopardy, models that don’t have a built-in number pad are sometimes referred to as tenkeyless—or TKL—keyboards.)
And models like the Logitech Comfort Wave provide legs that let you adjust the tilting to varying degrees (including no tilt at all). Be sure to consider the ideal option for you before you select your purchase.
Here’s a closer look at each of the models we studied.
Price: $89 - $126
Available in a wired or wireless configuration, the Kinesis Freestyle2 features a fully split design. That means each half of the keyboard can be positioned directly in line with the user’s shoulders, effectively reducing internal shoulder rotation and ulnar deviation of the wrist. The membrane keys are easy to activate and include options for shortcuts and media controls. The palm rests, adjustable legs, and number pad are sold separately ($35 to $50). Compatible with Android, Chrome, iOS, Linux, Mac, and Windows.
The Logitech ERGO K860 is a Bluetooth keyboard featuring a tented, split design, effectively reducing ulnar deviation and wrist pronation. The model has a comfortable palm rest and legs up front to adjust the tilt angle, allowing the wrists to rest in a neutral position while typing. The membrane keys are easy to activate and include a number pad, shortcut/media control options, and programmable functions. Compatible with Mac and Windows.
Price: $120 - $130
The Microsoft Sculpt is a Bluetooth keyboard featuring a tented, split design, effectively reducing ulnar deviation and wrist pronation. The membrane keys are easy to activate. The model includes a comfortable palm rest and a detachable front riser, allowing the wrists to rest in a neutral position while typing. It also comes with a separate number pad. Compatible with most Windows computers. Limited functionality for Mac and Android devices.
Price: $336 - $369
The Kinesis Advantage2 is a wired keyboard featuring a tented, split design. The mechanical keys are placed in two bowl-shaped wells roughly 9 inches apart, effectively reducing internal shoulder rotation and ulnar deviation of the wrist for some users. Broad-shouldered people may find that the wells do not line up with the shoulder joints, which is less beneficial. The model has a comfortable palm rest and non-adjustable tenting. Both effectively reduce wrist pronation while typing. The keys are easy to activate and include shortcut/media control options and programmable functions, but no number pad. They’re also unusually quiet for mechanical switches. Compatible with Android, Linux, Mac, and Windows.
BUY AT: Amazon
Price: $37 - $60
The Logitech K350 is a Bluetooth keyboard featuring a contoured, wavelike design. The palm rest provides a slight reduction in wrist extension but does not quite achieve a neutral wrist position. The model has adjustable legs, but in the back, which is no help with ergonomics. The keys are raised in some areas and laid out with a slight curve, but neither feature is effective at reducing ulnar deviation or wrist pronation. The membrane keys feel slightly squishy, which makes them less easy to activate. They do include a number pad and shortcut/media control options. Compatible with Windows.
Price: $60 - $75
The Microsoft Comfort Desktop 5050 is a Bluetooth keyboard featuring a contoured, wavelike design. The palm rest is comfortable but provides little reduction in wrist extension. The keys are laid out with a slight curve that is not effective at reducing ulnar deviation or wrist pronation. The membrane keys, which feel slightly squishy, are not as easy to activate. They include a number pad, shortcut/media control options, and programmable functions. Compatible with Android, Mac, and Windows.
Price: $36 - $40
The Adesso PCK-208B is a wired keyboard featuring a tented, split design that reduces ulnar deviation and wrist pronation. The plastic palm rest slopes steeply away from the relatively high keys, providing no relief from wrist extension. The membrane keys are somewhat difficult to activate but include a number pad and shortcut/media control options. Compatible with Windows.
Price: $44 - $60
The Fellowes Microban Split is a wired keyboard featuring a tented, split design that reduces ulnar deviation and wrist pronation. The plastic palm rest slopes steeply away from the relatively high keys, providing no relief from wrist extension. The membrane keys are somewhat difficult to activate but include a number pad and shortcut/media control options. Compatible with Windows.
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