Does it make sense to buy an ergonomic keyboard instead of a normal one?

Yes, it can make sense to buy an ergonomic keyboard instead of a normal one.And that’s if you can type blindly and write a lot regularly.

From my own experience with pain after many years of intensive keyboard use (RSI) I can say that the use of an ergonomic keyboard can significantly alleviate the discomfort.They can also be taken for prevention, so as not to allow it to get this far.

However, there is a wide range of different keyboards that call themselves ergonomic.

The most important aspect of relaxed typing, in my opinion, is that the hands are neither bent sideways nor upwards.A relatively cheap keyboard that makes this possible is the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000.

Microsoft Natural Ergnomic Keyboard 4000 , Image of DraugTheWhopper , CC BY-SA 3.0

As you can see, the main keyboard area is divided into a left and right area and slightly rotated, so that you don’t have to buckle the wrists sideways.

The removable foot under the palm rack is there for the keyboard to fall backwards. In addition, the center is slightly raised like a tent. As a result, the hands do not have to be turned completely horizontally and a buckling upwards is avoided.

Otherwise, the key arrangement is unchanged compared to a standard keyboard.This means that you need virtually no acclimatization time. If you can write blindly on a normal keyboard, you can do it with this keyboard, only much more relaxed.

There are also similar keyboards from other manufacturers.However, I worked with this myself for a few years. The only disadvantages are the membrane keys, which after some time begin to rattle or no longer function at all. After one to two years of intensive use, one should expect to buy a new copy. But it is a cheap entry-level keyboard into the world of ergonomic keyboards.

If you search for them, you will find ergonomic keyboards in a wide variety of shapes and price ranges.Ultimately, everyone has to find out by trial and error which one suits you best.

I will briefly outline some aspects of ergonomic keyboards below.

Divided keyboard areas for left and right hand:

Here you can find the slight split as with the above Microsoft keyboard.But there are also those where there are two separate hardware components for both hands as here:

Separate keyboard components using the example of the Micro TRON Keyboard, Photo by Yoshiyuki Oguma , CC BY 3.0

These are usually connected with a cable, so that you can set them up, for example, shoulder-width.

This relieves the shoulders, as the arms can be held straight forward. With some of these keyboards, the individual components can also be positioned at an angle, sometimes even vertically. See e.g. the Ultra Ergo Wireless Split Keyboard.

The space between the two keyboard parts can also be used for the mouse or the trackball (see below for the image for the Ergo Dox EZ).

There are also keyboards with cavities for hands, such as the Kinesis Advantage 2:

Kinesis Advantage 2 with troughs, Image of Fastily , CC BY-SA 4.0

The palms are on the cushions and the fingers are hanging directly above the buttons and you only have to move your fingers minimally, the hands remain completely relaxed.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t try out how to write it. However, some users swear by it.

With/without number pad for right-handed

Standard keyboards with number pad are very wide.If you then reach for the mouse, you have to reach very far to the right if you are right-handed. This can be stressful for the shoulder. Therefore, many ergonomic keyboards do not have a built-in number pad, are therefore narrower and the hand does not have to reach as far as, which relieves the shoulder.

If you do not want to do without the number pad, you can buy a separate number pad keyboard, which you can position freely.There are also sets such as the Microsoft BT Mobile Keyboard 6000 or Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop with a tenkeyless keyboard and a separate number pad keyboard:

Microsoft BT Mobile Keyboard 6000 , Image of Microsoft Sweden , CC BY 2.0

Column-by-column key arrangement

As you can also see with the Kinesis Advantage 2, the buttons are arranged in columns.

With the Microsoft keyboard or the Micro TRON, on the other hand, you can see the usual staggered layout, where the keys are arranged line by line and slightly moved up and down sideways.In the split arrangement, the fingers have to move less when typing. But beware: it takes some time to get used to it.And it may be that you can no longer type so well on conventional keyboards.

Different key arrangements in comparison, Image of pietergen , Public Domain

Thumb buttons

Many commonly used keys such as Shift, Control, Enter are operated by the weakest fingers – the little fingers – on standard keyboards.

On the other hand, the thumbs are almost not used as the strongest fingers. Just to press the space bar and maybe AltGr you take a thumb. Actually, it should be called 9-finger system and not 10-finger system. This is wasted potential. Therefore, there are keyboards that have special thumb keys and thus distribute the writing load more ergonomically over the fingers. For example, the above Kinesis Advantage 2 has special thumb buttons. Space and Enter are served with the right thumb, backspace and delete with the left thumb.

Another representative with thumb keys is the Truly Ergonomic Keyboard (TEK).

Truly Ergonomic Keyboard, Picture by Hustvedt, CC BY-SA 3.0

Here, the thumb keys are not quite as pronounced.

The ErgoDox EZ is both divided and equipped with many thumb buttons:

ErgoDox EZ , picture by Stephan Orth, all rights reserved

Keyboard layout

The keyboard layout normally used in Germany is QWERTZ.

But there are also alternative layouts such as Dvorak or Colemak, with which you can type faster or be more ergonomic.Everyone has to try this for themselves. The keyboard layout can be set in the operating system, the labeling of the keys is no longer correct. Some keyboards also have versions with a Dvorak layout printed on them.

Dvorak keyboard layout, Image of Tiki katin , CC0 1.0

Colemak keyboard layout, Image of Unknown , CC BY-SA 3.0

I started learning Dvorak and found it very pleasant.

Especially because you use a lot more buttons on the basic position. However, I could never fully make friends with it, the standard layout was too burnt in with me over the years.

Sometimes, however, even very small things help.For example, when programming using a German layout, you need the AltGr key as a modifier to be able to type square and curly brackets and some other characters. This has always led to dislocations of the right hand, e.g. right thumb on AltGr and index finger on 8 to tap. But if you put the AltGr key on CapsLock, you have already won a lot; then you can operate AltGr with your left little finger.

Programmable key layout

Some keyboards offer that you can change the key assignment completely freely and set it yourself.Especially with the keyboards with thumb keys, this is also useful in order to be able to find the pleasant occupancy. All three keyboards above with thumb keys can be programmed accordingly. With the Kinesis Advantage, this goes directly to the keyboard. At the TEK and the ErgoDox EZ there are corresponding websites from the manufacturer, on which you can put together the layout. Then you download the firmware created with it and push it to the keyboard with an appropriate tool. The keyboard layout of my ErgoDox EZ looks like this: Ergodox EZ Configurator

If you use a German keyboard layout, however, you have to note that the displayed letters and characters are translated again.The display corresponds to a keyboard with a US layout. If there is Y, it is Z in a German tastastur layout. This is a bit confusing at first, but if you put a standard US layout next to a standard German layout, it’s quite simple.

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