Overview of the Kinesis Advantage

It’s a bit scary for me to think that there are a large number of our readers who weren’t even around at the time Kinesis first released their Advantage keyboard back in 1991. I’m not one of those, however—I was in high school at the time if that helps. [“Honey! Where’s my cane? You know I can’t walk without it….] At the time, a state-of-the-art PC consisted of high performance 486 CPU sporting as much as 64MB of RAM, though most users only had 4MB-8MB or in “extreme” cases they might have 16MB or possibly even 32MB (though I’m not sure I ever saw anything outside of a workstation with that much RAM). My PC in 1991: a 386DX/33 with 8MB RAM, 120MB hard drive, and some form of video—I think it had a Cirrus Logic chipset with 512K VRAM. Good times!

I also remember playing games like Wing Commander and the sequels while sitting on the floor in front of my 14” CRT monitor, which was on an old wooden chair, with my little kitten “Fang” pouncing on my hands while I was playing games. As you can imagine, 39-year-old-me cringes at the thought of working at a computer in such decidedly un-ergonomic conditions! And that’s as good of a place to start as any when discussing ergonomics: you absolutely need a good desk and chair first, in my opinion, or else you’re not going to get the full benefit out of an ergonomic keyboard like the TECK or Kinesis.

Getting to the keyboard itself, as noted it has two key wells with the keys laid out orthogonally—as opposed to the staggered layout found on typical keyboards. This means there’s less lateral movement of your fingers when you’re typing, and less reaching to hit keys on the bottom or top rows as well. There are also a large number of commonly used keys placed at the thumb position for easy access—Ctrl shows up for both thumbs, while PgUp/PgDn are on the right thumb and Home/End are on the left. The Windows key, Enter, and Space are also on the right thumb, with space falling directly under the thumb and the Enter key just to the side of that in easy reach. On the left thumb, Backspace gets the primary position with Delete just to the right of it, and Alt is in the top-right corner of the key group.

The key arrangement is basically intended to keep everything right at hand, if you will. It’s quite possible to do all of your typing on the Advantage with your palms firmly planted on the palm rests while reaching all of the usual keys. Not that I’m saying that’s a good way to type—most people would suggest having your hands hover slightly above the keyboard—but it’s possible nonetheless. The only keys where you may need to lift your hands off the palm rest to reach them are the function keys, or if you happen to use certain key combinations, particularly complex combos that require more than two keys at the same time.

This is where macros can be useful, and while I’ll save the discussion of actually using macros for the next page, the keys for macro access are in the top-right section of the keyboard. Press and hold the “Progrm” key and then press the “Macro” key (F11) and then the next key/key-combo you use will be set to a macro (i.e. it will quickly play back a sequence of keystrokes). Note that modifier keys like Shift, Alt, and Ctrl can’t be assigned directly to a macro. When you enter macro programming mode, the four indicator lights in the center of the keyboard begin blinking slowly, and you can now type up to 56 characters (142 on the Advantage Pro, as it has an extra memory chip for storing macros). However, some keys will use more than one keystroke—e.g. a capital letter uses three as far as I can tell: one for pressing Shift, one of the letter, and one more when you release shift—so you often end up with fewer than 56 characters at your disposal. By default the Advantage supports 24 macros, but you can set this to 36 or 48 if you prefer having more shorter macros. The maximum macro length with 48 macros is 28, or with 36 macros it’s 38, so basically macro length scales directly with the number of macros.

Along with the macro functionality, the Advantage has built-in key remapping. As with macros, you begin by pressing and holding the Progrm key, only then you press F12 (“Remap”). The lights begin flashing quickly, and all of the key remapping is at the original level (so that you never “lose” a key). When in this mode, you first press the key you want to duplicate (at which point the lights blight more slowly), then the destination key; you can remap as many keys as you want. When you’re finished, press Progrm+F12 again and all of the key mappings become active. The only catch is that if you ever want to switch between the built-in Dvorak layout (accessed via Progrm+Shift+F5) and QWERTY, or vice versa, any custom key remapping is lost (since the Dvorak layout essentially uses the key remapping feature with a hardwired set of key remaps.)

There are a few other features that the Advantage includes that I haven’t covered yet. First, there is a small internal speaker (really just a “buzzer”), which by default makes a very quiet “click” sound when you’re typing. It also makes a louder double-beep when you activate any of the lock keys (Caps Lock, Num Lock, Scroll Lock, or the integrated Keypad) and a single beep when you turn off any of those keys. Some people might like the feature, but after a little bit of use I decided I didn’t want the added noise so I disabled all beeping (Progrm+hypen for the Lock keys and Progrm+backslash for the key clicks). You can also switch between a Macintosh (m), Windows PC (w), and Non-Windows PC (p) setup by pressing and holding the equal sign and one of the letters listed (i.e. w for Windows); this primarily alters the thumb keys, but there are some additional changes for Macintosh like the Scroll Lock become Mac Power and holding F12 is Mac Eject.

I won’t get into the remaining details, but the online PDF manual covers everything if you’re interested. Suffice it to say, there are lots of little extra features integrated into the Advantage that can potentially make it more useful, depending on your particular use case. Personally, other than turning off the audio cues for the keys, I left nearly everything at the default settings. I also made exactly one “permanent” key remapping: I set the right Ctrl key to be the Windows context key, as I happen to use that on a regular basis. With the general overview out of the way, let’s move on to the subjective side of the story.

More than a Month with the Kinesis Advantage Subjective Evaluation: Give and Take
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  • Ktracho - Friday, July 5, 2013 - link

    I've been using the Kinesis Advantage since the late 90's. I certainly didn't invest hundreds of hours into getting used to it - half a day to a day is more like it. It's certainly less effort than learning a new keyboard layout like Dvorak, which took me a couple days to be comfortable with. I do have an Apple laptop at work, though I rarely remove it from my desk, so when I use it, I always have my Kinesis keyboard connected to it. However, we have a couple labs with dozens of systems, and my wife and kids don't use a Kinesis keyboard at home on their computers (I do have a Kinesis keyboard for my computer at home), so I often have to switch between my Kinesis keyboard with Dvorak layout and standard keyboards with QWERTY layout. It's not a big deal - it's like being fluent in two languages and having to switch between them, which I have to do as well. Every once in a while I start typing in the wrong "language", but it's easy to get back to the right "language". Reply
  • JayJoe - Sunday, January 11, 2015 - link

    Nope, switching is really not that hard. You are not replacing your knowledge (or rather muscle memory) you are extending it. Have you ever forgotten a language when learning another? Have you ever forgotten one type of sport you practice when learning another? In this case it is not problem to use standard keyboards and the Kinesis simultaneously. The same way you can type Querty AND Dvorak (once you learned it). People are so afraid of new things, but we don't forget the old things by doing so. Reply
  • Menty - Saturday, July 6, 2013 - link

    Far, far more people use desktop PCs for business than use them for gaming. Reply
  • Manch78 - Saturday, July 6, 2013 - link

    At work, I type....a lot!, so I would be in that category. At home I mostly play games. While this would be useless for me at home, it would be great to have at work. Ergonomic keyboards are defnitely not a niche in the business world. You could always get one of these for typing and a nostromo or something similar for gaming. Best of both worlds. Reply
  • subvertigo - Saturday, September 21, 2013 - link

    Ergonomic keyboards are about getting the right tool for the job. You trade off the flat, common array of keys for better typing. There /are/ ergonomic keyboards for gaming, and instead of having to remap games, you remap the board. Notably the Razer Orbweaver has mechanical keys, but altogether the Razer Nostromo, Saitek Command Unit, and Logitech G13 all have ergonomic aspects for gaming: thumbsticks for WASD, macros and shift levels so you don't have to run all over the keyboard to ergonomically play games.

    In addition, any gameboard bigger than the Belkin/Razer Nostromo has enough keys to function as a complete numpad which many ergonomic keyboards don't have.
    Reply
  • Chubblez - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    I suppose gaming comes down to type of game, mouse, and modifier keys. I game on a Goldtouch Key Ovation because I need the smartcard for work, and am too lazy to change back and forth. Mouse is a standard Microsoft 5 button.

    No issues with Crysis (Original) and very little issue with WoW, using 1-6 with ALT and Shift as modifier keys.
    Reply
  • krazyderek - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    kinesis lets you do hardware remapping of the keys directly in the keyboard, i swapped the backspace, delete, enter space buttons so it was a mirror image of how the keyboard comes stock, that pretty much removed any gaming problems, and swapping the windows key and end key was also really nice, once i remapped them in the keyboard it's self, i just popped the keys off with a butter knife and physically moved them and never had trouble again! Reply
  • Azethoth - Saturday, July 6, 2013 - link

    You are wrong in generalizing about the split: it makes it better for games because it reduces positioning errors and hitting keys beyond your target keys. Gaming means left hand on keyboard, right hand on mouse. A split layout lets you accurately position your left hand to the right hand position to use infrequent keys.

    Take a look at that MS natural of yours: The inner edge keys (like T G N, etc. are larger than usual as well). MS Natural had the best layout and sizing of keys for me. The Kinesis does not have the fatter keys of course but would retain the other advantages of splitting.

    Also: I remap to ESDF always so nothing to complain about on that front. The lack of G keys is what kills this board for me, not gaming.

    Finally you are wrong to diss gamers like that. I have an easy existence proof of a gamer that also wants a good keyboard: me. I am willing to pay lots for that keyboard and have many times. I buy them in pairs to cover work and home, and they need to game as well as produce code and forum rants;-)
    Reply
  • Azethoth - Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - link

    I forgot to add, this is just in response to dismissing the concerns of gamers for a keyboard. I am totally fine with Jarred not having the time, energy or bandwidth to test gaming in addition to typing for a month+ per keyboard.

    If you can type fast on the board, its likely also going to be good for gaming. +/- tweaky cherry red vs brown vs black etc. preferences.
    Reply
  • randomstar - Monday, July 8, 2013 - link

    As a note: to the guys commmenting negative - anyone who can afford one of these to help their typing comfort can have two keyboards - one for powetyping, and one for gaming. Reply

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