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Ask HN: Most comfortable keyboard?
12 points by quantumpotato_ on July 23, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 21 comments
I use Microsoft Ergonomic 4000. They keys take a lot to press, so I'm considering a mechanical keyboard like a rat7.

However, I feel the layout of most keyboards (rectangular) isn't adapted to a natural form of my hands (more open, spread away from the torso instead of closed in).

What's the best keyboard for long-term programming?

I'm a fan of the Kinesis contoured keyboards, which I've been using for 15 years now.

The two major keyboard fora, which you can use to help research and discuss what would suit you, are http://deskthority.net/ and http://geekhack.org/

I second the Kinesis - although, I could never get into the foot pedals.

I have one of the foot pedals, and I use it sometimes, but mostly to shock my coworkers. I never really got into the hang of using it in my day to day life.

For me, not layout but key force and travel became problems. I've ended up with a Kensington keyboard... Ci73 that has a "low profile" and "laptop-type" keys/keyswitches. Much better...

The 73 is wired. They also make a wireless model; however, wireless keyboards have had security issues, particularly at the time I settled on the Kensington, and so I avoided wireless.

I have it adjusted to the "right height" behind a 3M gel wristpad model that, unfortunately, is no longer made.

Amongst the choices in this category, note that IBM and now Lenovo make a ThinkPad style external keyboard. The last I checked, there were two revisions. I think the former had an integrated trackpad while the latter did not. Opinions varied as to which was better.

YMMV. But for some, it may be worth considering key action and travel, particularly if you've ever found yourself favoring a laptop keyboard (perhaps before so many of them went "chiclet") over a desktop/external keyboard.

I have a Noppoo Choc Mini. It's on the quieter side of mechanical keyboards (Cherry Reds). It's more of a typing/gaming keyboard, but I can still type 110+ WPM consistently and without pain. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0091QOCNA/ref=wms_ohs_prod...

If you're looking to reduce RSI/wrist pain, I found that far more important than a keyboard is your posture and arm position. More or less: http://www.egodevelopment.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/4.j... (I would actually have my monitor a tad higher than in that picture)

It depends. I've used a lot in the ~20 years or so I've been programming; and I've come over the last decade or so to rely on the Kinesis Advantage. The big reason I chose it when I did is because it doesn't force your wrists into a positive angle, which always causes me pain.

I used to use a Model M or one of its derivatives; I also spent a lot of time on the old Sun keyboards. I never found the key action to be as important to my continued health as the physical design; I also don't use a custom layout. I'm happy with my choices, although occasionally I try something new.

A mechanical one, for sure. Then, what it would matter it's the type of the switches. I use black ones, because I like gaming and it's what its for but i code a lot with it. It depends on your taste.

Probably the most comfortable but expensive ones are the Topre's capacitive switches, used on Happy Hacking keyboards, they're a mix of best quality, comfort and healthy keyboards you can acquire.

For coding, writing, experts recommend blue or brown switches, but in the end, it is our own taste what it will matter.

I've been a fan of the Kinesis Freestyle keyboards for years http://www.kinesis-ergo.com/freestyle2.htm.

They're a little more expensive than most, but totally worth the price. I never could get used to the MS Ergo keyboards, same experience, the keys take too much effort. Bonus, all of my wrist pain as disappeared since switching to the Freestyle.

http://ergodox.org/ you can get more info at http://deskthority.net/workshop-f7/split-ergonomic-keyboard-... or geekhack.org/index.php?topic=22780.0;nowap

It's open source, but I purchased my own DIY kit a few months ago from massdrop.com

I second this, and I would third this if possible; I obtained mine through massdrop as well.

Having suffered from debilitating RSI at one point that took several months to even moderately recover from, an ergonomically sound keyboard (along with other habits) is a necessary step for satisfying best practices and not having to change careers as a result.

RSI is an extremely annoying and potentially career ending injury that is not resolvable fully through surgery, so doing everything possible to avoid ever having that is very smart.

If you ever have it you will wish you went with the ounce of prevention rather than the pound of cure route.

At one point the injury was so bad that I could not even read a book or touch a surface without searing pain; any force on my hands was agony basically and empathizing with people who have physical disabilities is accessible at a whole new level.

An unfortunate side effect of RSI/CTS is that while you appear perfectly healthy to external observers you are incapable of actually doing the same things a healthy individual can without worsening the injury and prolonging recovery in addition to the searing pain.

So be prepared for strange looks in some social situations from those unaware of your ailment.

Anyways, the ErgoDox keyboard is currently the state of the art if ergonomics is being maximized for, all other keyboards are either completely incompetently designed and effectively not designed for human beings or suffer from more flaws than the ErgoDox does.

Researching ergonomic keyboards and ways to help recover from my injury as well as avoiding having the same thing happen again revealed that most keyboards had show stopping design flaws inherited from typewriters or as a result of maximizing for cost and ease of manufacturing rather than quality and usability.

As someone who wants to avoid re-injuring myself, uses a keyboard heavily, and uses emacs and vim as much as possible I choose what keyboard to use based on these qualities:

1) Modifier keys (shift, alt, control, and in my case option fn as well as another key to act as a fifth modifier so that I have hyper and super keys in emacs) must be accessible by the strongest digit humans have: the thumb.

Designing modifier keys such that they are solely accessed by the pinky while the other fingers remain on the home row, the least durable digit, is utterly bereft of intelligence.

The Kinesis Advantage and the ErgoDox satisfy this property.

2) Modifier keys must have a mirrored layout such that they exist in the same location on both sides of the keyboard.

The ErgoDox* and Kinesis advantage satisfy this property as well as the Truly Ergonomic.

The Truly Ergonomic does not feature an island for thumb keys though.

* Note that the ErgoDox is the only one that satisfies this if the user needs more than three modifier keys (alt, shift, ctrl).

3) When the hands are on the home row, the entire hand and forearm must be aligned perpendicular to the keys,* deviating from this is main contributor to RSI and why in part laptop keyboards are not comfortable to use for long periods of time.

Split keyboard designs are the best design for satisfying this requirement for as many users' body types as possible as the different halves can be arranged the appropriate width apart.

The split keyboard design is rarely found due to manufacturing complexity as well as increased component cost.

That requirement is why most keyboards can be immediately crossed for not being designed for humans.

The ErgoDox satisfies this property; as the degree of deviation from perpendicular alignment the worse the keyboard is to use in practice.

* Note that in the case of the fingers their differing lengths may be taken account for via a sunken key design which the Kinesis Advantage utilized where the fingers curl inward comfortably

Ideally, the keyboard design would also be such that it is trivially disassembled for regular maintenance, such as removing the grime that develops over time from using the device, however I have not found any keyboard which actually has this property; it is on my wish list for a keyboard.

4) While the fourth one is not necessarily a requirement, it is very nice to have and an expectation. I expect the keyboard to have quality components, which means no rubber dome switches used. Buckling springs, mechanical switches, or capacitive switches satisfy this.

Ergonomically speaking, capacitive switches require the least force to trigger a key input, however they also have no tactile feedback by themselves and as a result there is no indication while touch typing that the key was actually pressed.

Capacitive switches are the least popular due to their cost and also the need to modify them to have some sort of tactile feedback so that the user does not bottom out the keys.

Cherry MX switches are the most popular among quality keyboards, however there are other mechanical switches available such as the Topre ones.

What switches the user will prefer varies; however the user can modify them to require less force to depress or have greater tactile feedback if they wish or simply swap them out for another switch that still fits the keyboard. The Cherry MX switches fit the ErgoDox.

Personally, I like the Cherry MX Blues, but the Cherry MX Brows that the Kinesis Advantage uses also had a nice feel; your mileage may vary here.

On top of the switches and springs used, the keycaps can be independently sourced and swapped out through various manufacturers; depending on the manufacturing process the keycaps will have different properties, some having a flat design that appears on the DAS keyboard, others having a depressed surface.

While an entirely aesthetic choice, keycaps also come in many different colors; so if the user wants keycaps with pink elephants etched on top the surface that is possible.

So far, the ErgoDox keyboard has been the keyboard I have found the least flaws with, and I now use it over my Kinesis Advantage all the time except when traveling, at which point I am resigned to the unfortunate keyboard design laptops have.

The one flaw the ErgoDox has is that the island of thumb keys are not all comfortable and not awkward to access while having the fingers on the home row.

I think that the Grand Piano keyboard design (http://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=44940.0) will rectify that issue though, and I am very anxious to actually be able to purchase a keyboard that utilizes the design as a result.

I love my ErgoDox and consider it state of the art as previously mentioned, however Acidfire's design would have all of the features I like about the ErgoDox while fixing the issue with the thumb key placement that the ErgoDox and Kinesis Advantage have.

Fixing that will cause the thumb keys to be even more ergonomic for users like myself that want a control, shift, alt, fn, and a fifth mirrored key that is comfortable to use frequently in chords (a prominent design property in computing outside of designs employed by vi/vim).

I wish laptops followed the same design somehow while still not being massive in scale to accommodate that.

An 11" or 13" laptop with retina or better resolution with sufficient battery life to last 12+ hours per charge and an ergonomic keyboard available without using an external device is my ideal laptop, unfortunately such a laptop does not actually exist, so I will have to make due with only having 2 of those wants until then.

In addition to using an ergonomic keyboard though, I also regularly take breaks from using my hands, especially from typing and gaming, and use the colemak layout.

The workman programmer layout is hypothetically an even nicer layout for English, however not having that layout available by default in any OS is a deal breaker, so I use the colemak layout for that reason.

Using an alternative layout has not resulted in issues with touch typing in qwerty still, I can switch between the two fluently still; I was somewhat concerned that touch typing with a qwerty layout would become an issue starting out, but in practice it has not been a problem whatsoever.

I also use evil-mode in emacs and make use of meta, hyper, super, escape, shift, and control so that I can use key chords that only consist of a sequence of one modifier key plus a one non-modifier key in the vast majority of cases.

Having a hyper and super key in emacs allows me to avoid experiencing as much collisions that occur with default key bindings in emacs due to ctrl, meta, and shift becoming so overloaded in modes; I also abstract out common commands between modes to use the same chords consistently as they are not unified across emacs modes by default regrettably.

Doing so greatly reduces the solution space and required learning curve when changing between modes and states and implementing new features.

Aside from being a vim refugee, still using vim for some tasks, and being as lazy as possible to the point of aggressively eliminating anything that is redundant, potentially automated, and reducing what is reducible in effort, the reason I use evil-mode is that having access to vim's modal design makes per state bindings available as well as per mode bindings.

As a result not only do I have chords that are composed of merely two keys to issue a command thanks to having a hyper and super keys, I also often have to press only one button to accomplish a task thanks to the potency of vim's grammar.

All of these habits come together for a very comfortable and efficient computing experience with as little hazard as possible to my health without a career change, plus I have access to C-x M-c M-butterfly (https://xkcd.com/378/).

I liked the MS Ergo but, due to an office change, needed a wireless keyboard. I switched to the Logitech wireless keyboard and have absolutely hated it. The keys are too small and I make so many mistakes while coding, and that's after a year with it. Whatever you buy, check the size against the MSFT keyboard so that you don't do what I did: get stuck with a keyboard that's too small for you.

I always wanted a HHK (happy hacking keyboard, http://www.pfusystems.com/embedded-keyboard/hhkb/index.html), but it seems impossible to get one around here (Brazil).

At home I use a razer cyclosa (not mechanical, but feels really good though). At work I use a dell keyboard (with a huge spacebar, I love it).

I actually prefer the feel of laptop style keys so the apple keyboards get my vote. I find the low travel and light weight touch is easier on RSI.

Having mechanical switches is a mandatory keyboard feature for me (and I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to find others who agree)

If you want to go all out get one of these http://www.trulyergonomic.com/ (ergonomic, kinda different keyboard layout, mechanical switches). There'd be a definite learning curve.

I had a coworker swear by the Das Keyboard. Very pricey but was nice on the fingers and reduce typing noise. I have had this on my list of things to buy. I use a cheap HP SK-2880 keyboard meow but it is pretty comfortable.


I've been using the Kinesis Maxim for years, and I highly recommend it. It's split, adjustable (both width and height), has great keying, and is very sturdy:


The Microsoft Natural is my pick. Split enough for ergonomics, good key response, not very expensive.


Deck 82 key. Glowing yellow symbols on black keys. Smooth action. Built like a tank. It's perfect.


Goldtouch two axis adjustable ergo keyboard for Mac (and PC):


work: Kinesis Advantage home: IBM Model M (from my first computer)

the kinesis advantage has been a huge improvement for my wrists and elbows. the large space between where my hands are positioned has probably been the greatest factor.

This keyboard is extremely good. I've been using it for years and I've never gone back to anything other than this.


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