I recently purchased a Kinesis Freestyle 2. I usually type in a text editor. I bought it because it is ergonomic. As my primary editor is the infamous Emacs, I’m wary of contracting the dreaded RSI. Emacs users tend to be susceptible to it. In the months before this, I was conscious of the strain in my fingers and wrist after a long typing session. Disclaimer: I am not a RSI sufferer though.
The Freestyle is not my first ergonomic keyboard. My first ergonomic keyboard is the Microsoft Natural 4000. Unfortunately I find the keys are too stiff. My impression is that typing on the Natural keyboard feels like twice the force needed for a Macbook keyboard. Not only did it added more strain, it cuts my typing speed. No complaints with the key layout though. In the end I kept the Natural mouse but ditched the keyboard. I wouldn’t recommend buying the Microsoft Natural keyboard.
Getting used to it
After 2 weeks of using the Kinesis Freestyle, I realised that I don’t feel the strain in my fingers anymore. Not even in my left pinky. That is remarkable. For this benefit alone, it is worth the purchase. I think there are a few factors that contribute to it.
First the activation force is smaller. Compared to the Macbook, the Freestyle feels softer. My fingers don’t need to strain themselves as much. I won’t deny that the tactile feel of the keyboard feels better. Second, the split allowed my shoulders to be more relaxed. It made me notice that my shoulder muscles gets slightly tensed up when I’m using the conventional keyboards. Splitting it allows my hands to be wide apart, which in turn eases my shoulders. Third, the slope allowed me to type at a 15 degree angle. My arm feels relaxed in the angled position. The setup makes your arm and shoulders more relaxed, which released the strain in my fingers and wrists. On the typing noise, it is louder than the typical Macbook keyboard, but less noisy than a mechanical keyboard. It is not so loud that your co-workers will notice.
Gripes with the layout
I took about 2 weeks to get back to my former typing speed. At first I wasn’t used to the new layout. My biggest gripe is the B key. It was found on the left half of the Freestyle keyboard. I’m used to typing B with my right hand. I’d often try to type the phantom B with the right hand. It took some getting used to, but I’m now typing B with my left hand. The position of the Command and Option key is different too. The Command key was directly below X and the Option key is directly below Z on the Macbook. On the Freestyle, it is shifted a little to the left. I’m using the Option and Command key for many of my keyboard shortcuts. My hands had to stretch further to the left. The Escape key is rather unconventional too. I feel that it was placed too far to the top left. I guess all these can be overcame as I get used to the layout.
There is a whole bunch of keys which I hardly use. The 2 rows of cut, copy, paste keys on the left. And the single row of page up/down. Unfortunately, I cannot attach custom macros to those keys.
I don’t think using the Freestyle significantly improved my typing speed. But my hands and shoulders did feel much better when typing on it. Given that I spend long hours typing almost everyday, it is a worthwhile purchase.