Kinesis Advantage Review: Long-Term Evaluationby Jarred Walton on July 2, 2013 10:15 PM EST
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.