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Ergonomic keyboards are designed to reduce strain by keeping your hands, wrists, and arms at more comfortable, natural positions than you can get with a standard keyboard. After spending months testing 10 of them, we recommend the Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB for anyone who does a lot of typing and is concerned about their posture or about hand, arm, or shoulder pain.
The Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB is the best option due to its fully split design; its responsive Cherry MX mechanical keys; the ability to tent the keyboard to 5, 10 or 15 degrees; its zero-degree slope and low profile; and its programmability. You can position the halves of the keyboard as close together or as far apart as you’d like in order to reduce shoulder strain and neck tension. With the recommended Lift Kit accessory, you can also tent each half (raise the inner edges of the keyboard halves) to keep your wrists at a neutral angle. Although it could take a bit of time – at least a few days, if not weeks – to get used to typing on a fully split keyboard, the Freestyle Edge was the easiest to get comfortable with thanks to its standard, familiar key layout. And if you’d like to remap keys for a different layout, you can do so in just a couple of clicks.
If you’re interested in better ergonomics than a traditional keyboard and don’t want to spend a lot of money, we recommend the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard. It has a partially split, slightly tented design and a negative slope attachment that put your wrists in a more ideal typing position. Although it’s not adjustable like fully split keyboards and its membrane keys aren’t as enjoyable to type on or as durable as mechanical keys, this is a great keyboard if you’re just testing the ergonomic waters or prefer laptop-like chiclet keys. Plus, the Sculpt connects via a 2.4 GHz wireless USB dongle, so you don’t have to deal with the unsightly wires typical of fully-split ergonomic keyboards, including those of our other picks.
If you want the most adjustable and customisable ergonomic keyboard and don’t mind paying more and dealing with a steeper learning curve, we recommend the ErgoDox EZ. This is the ergonomic keyboard for tinkerers: You can adjust the legs on the fully split keyboard halves to any tented and negatively tilted angle, you have your choice of 12 different switch types, the keycaps and switches are easily replaceable, and the open source firmware lets you remap keys and modify the backlight to your liking. But the ErgoDox EZ’s unique layout and blank modifier keys take time to learn, so it’s not for someone who just wants to plug in their keyboard and start typing. The ErgoDox EZ is for people who want their keyboard to fit and feel just so – and are willing to put the time and effort into relearning how to type.
Who this is for
Standard keyboards force you to hold your wrists and arms at stressful angles, which can cause discomfort or pain in your hand, arm or shoulder. An ergonomic keyboard can help you position your body more properly, with your shoulders relaxed, your upper arms close to your torso, and your forearms level with the floor. David Rempel, founder of the University of California’s ergonomics programme, says that if you use a keyboard more than 10 hours a week and already experience this discomfort or pain, you should consider an ergonomic keyboard. Like buying an ergonomic chair or a standing desk, an ergonomic keyboard is an investment in yourself.
That said, anyone who doesn’t type much or have any discomfort while typing probably won’t need one of these. There’s no clear evidence that ergonomic keyboards can prevent carpal tunnel syndrome or other kinds of repetitive stress injuries, although these alternative keyboards can help reduce the strain on your body. Also, keyboards, like a computer mouse or your favourite pair of sneakers, are a very personal choice. If you have a keyboard you love and you don’t have any pain or discomfort, you don’t need to upgrade.
If you’ve been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome or any repetitive stress injury, you should consult an ergonomics expert or your doctor for advice specific to you. This guide is about the most comfortable ergonomic keyboard for most people, but if you have pain, numbness or other serious symptoms, you’ll likely need a medically advised option tailored to your needs.
How we picked
We consulted our ergonomic experts, and these are the most important features to look for:
Key feel and well-functioning keys: The shape and size of the keys, how much force you need to press a key before it registers (called actuation force), and how much tactile and auditory feedback you get all affect how comfortable your hands will be after a long day of typing. Key feel will also influence how effectively you’ll type.
Rempel told us to look for “relatively light-touch keys with an actuation force between 45 and 60 grams”. According to Rempel, “The haptic feedback and consistent force are indicators of good quality. Typically a good feel is a key with some click about halfway through the stroke.” The keys should be easy to press to reduce strain on your fingers when typing.
For these reasons, we focused on mechanical switches, which are more responsive and comfortable to type on than cheaper and less durable membrane keys. We recommend Cherry MX Brown switches (or their equivalent), because they have a tactile bump and a lighter actuation force of 45 grams compared to other kinds of switches.
Flat keyboard slope from front to back: We focused on ergonomic keyboards with at least a zero-degree slope or, even better, a negative tilt option. “To minimise the risk of injury and to optimize performance, it is important that a keyboard can be used with the hand in its most neutral position,” says professor Alan Hedge, director of Cornell University’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group. “That is, straight and level.” Most keyboards are angled upward from front to back, which makes you flex your wrists up 10 degrees or more to reach all the keys. This position, called extension, is a major cause of strain. The little feet that most keyboards have in the back, which raise the back edge of the keyboard upward like an old typewriter? Don’t use those.
“Repeated extremes of wrist extension can put excessive pressure on the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel of the wrist, and this impairs nerve function and eventually results in injury,” explains a Cornell research study. That same study noted that a keyboard with negative tilt (angled downward, away from the user) protected the carpal tunnel from critical pressure far more than regular keyboards.
In lieu of a negative tilt, however, you can adjust any keyboard’s tilt with an adjustable keyboard tray or, if you use a standing desk, an ergonomic keyboard stand.
Split keyboard: With split keyboards, you can hold your upper arms at the most comfortable position: by your sides. Conventional keyboards force your hands to angle in and your elbows to push out from your sides. This leads to hunched shoulders and upper back strain.
Split ergonomic keyboards come in two flavours: partially split and fully split. Partially split keyboards have a gap of an inch or two down the middle but the keyboard is a single unit, like a traditional keyboard, so there’s a lower learning curve. However, you can’t adjust the split or the tenting of the keyboard (more on that below). A fully split keyboard is basically a keyboard cut in half. This option is more flexible and adjustable; you can angle and position each half exactly how it would be most comfortable for you. It does come with a steeper learning curve, though.
If you’re a touch typist like me who crosses over (i.e., you type the Y key with your left hand and the B key with your right), it might take some time to adjust to a split keyboard – you’ll need to relearn how to press the keys near the middle with the appropriate hand. (To be fair, there’s a learning curve whenever you get a new keyboard of any type, much like switching from a car you’re used to driving to another.) But if you have wrist or shoulder pain, adjusting your typing technique is a minor hindrance if it might bring some relief.
No number pad: The built-in numeric keypad most keyboards have on the right side not only makes your keyboard take up more space on your desk, it also can cause strain on your body because it forces your right arm to stretch to use the mouse. A keyboard without a number pad lets you keep your right arm most properly closer to your side. That’s why we focused on keyboards without built-in numpads, also known as tenkeyless keyboards.
Tenting: Some ergonomic keyboards raise the middle of the keyboard slightly (it looks like a tent, hence the name), so your hands rest in a more neutral position. If you rest your hands on your keyboard and your wrists naturally bend outward, a keyboard with tenting will be more comfortable for you. “When you put your hands on [a regular] keyboard, your wrist is often bent so that the little finger is really bending away from the wrist, since your arms are coming in from the sides,” explains Hedge. “That’s called ulnar deviation. That results in compression on the ulnar nerve, and also it can cause compression of some of the tendons used to flex the fingers.”
Customisability: Since we first wrote and last updated this guide, most new ergonomic keyboards have been mechanical ones, targeted especially towards keyboard enthusiasts interested in programming alternate layouts for their keyboards. For this guide, we prioritised customisability when it comes to typing comfort and proper posture (including remappable keys and multiple tenting and tilting options) over customisable macros or backlighting (although those features are nice to have).
Palm rest: Large, comfortable palm rests are also nice to have so you can rest your hands in between typing; ideally, you shouldn’t be typing with your hands on the palm rests but rather hovering them over the keys at a neutral angle to prevent the wrist extension mentioned above.
We ruled out ergonomic keyboards that:
- You have to build or that require soldering. While the build-it-yourself keyboard community is thriving, with many interesting options for self-assembled split keyboards, most people want to use their keyboard out of the box.
- Felt cheap or plasticky. We looked for keyboards with solid build quality that gave us confidence the keyboard would last for years.
- Ditch commonly used keys. In an effort to be more compact, some keyboards eliminate navigational keys like the arrow keys and the function keys row at the top. They’re accessible via special key combinations, but most people want those dedicated keys, so we eliminated ultra-compact split keyboards.
- Have all blank keys, such as the Koolertron. Blank keys – those that don’t have printed letters or numbers or symbols on them – are fine for touch-typists and ideal for those creating their own alternative keyboard layout. For the rest of us, printed keycaps and a standard layout are more important. Ergonomic keyboards take time and patience to get used to, so throwing in blank keycaps is just another complication.
How we tested
After consulting with our ergonomic experts again and reevaluating our criteria, we researched all of the currently available ergonomic keyboards and tested 10. These include our previous top picks as well as seven new keyboards we hadn’t tested before.
I used the keyboards for about a month and a half, writing, emailing, web browsing, and playing typing games. (As a full-time writer and editor, I did a lot of typing) I frequently switched between keyboards so that each keyboard got time both in the mornings, when I was less likely to have typing fatigue, and in the evenings, when achiness was most noticeable.
Comfort is subjective and everyone has different postures and varying hand sizes, so I combined my testing with the opinions of four panel members to find out how much strain the keyboards placed on their bodies and how the keys felt compared to those of their current keyboards.
Our pick: Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB
The Kinesis Freestyle Edge RGB is a fully split ergonomic keyboard for anyone who spends most of their days typing, even though it’s positioned as a keyboard for gamers. It meets all of our criteria for a great ergonomic keyboard: It’s available with three of the most popular mechanical switches, Cherry MX Brown, MX Red and MX Blue; it can tent at 5, 10 or 15 degrees with the recommended Lift Kit accessory (available with palm rest support or without); it has a zero-degree slope and a low profile, although it lacks negative tilt; and you can program it to fit your needs. We found the keys to be comfortable and responsive, whether you tend to “bottom out” (fully depress the keys so the caps hit against the switch plate) when typing heavily or tread more lightly as a typist.
The Freestyle Edge also comes with eight extra keys on the left that you can program for macros, as well as the Fn key (which locks the function layer until you press it again) and the key to toggle the Freestyle Edge’s blue backlight. If you’re so inclined, you can create up to nine different keyboard layouts or remap any of the keys pretty easily either onboard or via the optional SmartSet software included with the keyboard.
Overall, our panellists and I found this to be the easiest fully split ergonomic keyboard to get used to; the well-spaced keys and the large, smooth, and well-padded palm rest make for a pleasant typing experience even at the end of a long day of writing.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Ergonomically speaking, the Freestyle Edge’s biggest drawback is that it doesn’t allow for negative tilting, so if you want a keyboard with that negative slope from front to back to protect your wrists, the Microsoft Sculpt or the ErgoDox EZ would be a better option. Or you could use a keyboard tray.
The keycaps are made of smooth ABS plastic, which can become shiny over time, but I’ve used the Freestyle Edge since the summer of 2018 after buying it on Kickstarter, and I haven’t seen an issue with that so far. Kinesis doesn’t sell replacement keycaps, and the Freestyle Edge’s nonstandard layout means it will be difficult to find replacements. Although Kinesis sells textured, rubberised keycaps for the WASD and arrow keys, if you need replaceable keycaps for your entire keyboard, we recommend the ErgoDox EZ.
Like all fully split ergonomic keyboards, the Kinesis Freestyle Edge requires an additional wire to connect both keyboard halves. This adds some unsightly desk clutter, but it’s a worthwhile trade-off for better ergonomics.
Budget pick: Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard
If you’re interested in better ergonomics than a standard keyboard and don’t want to spend a lot of money, the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard is the best place to start. Because it’s one piece, the learning curve is less steep than you’d find with a fully split keyboard – it feels natural to use straight out of the box. It checks off most of our ergonomic criteria: tenting and negative tilting (with the included riser), and a separate numeric keypad. Plus, you don’t have to deal with the unsightly wires typical of fully-split ergonomic keyboards, since the Sculpt keyboard connects to your computer via a 2.4 GHz wireless USB dongle. But its low-profile membrane keys aren’t as pleasant to type or as durable as the mechanical keys in our other picks, and the Sculpt is less customisable.
We found the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard more comfortable to use for hours on end compared to a traditional keyboard, though not as comfortable or customisable as the Kinesis Freestyle Edge or ErgoDox EZ. Compared to similarly priced ergonomic keyboards we’ve tested like the Adesso WKB-3150UB, the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard feels less plasticky and better designed; the keys feel springy and easy to press, unlike the more wobbly keys of cheaper keyboards. The Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard’s row of function keys, however, are tiny and harder to press, more like buttons than regular keys.
Other trade-offs for the lower price: no programmability, no backlighting, and, most importantly, no ability to separate the keyboard halves to position them for your body’s needs. If you have consistent aches while typing, you need more customisation, or the Sculpt Ergo doesn’t fit your body’s ergonomic needs, the Kinesis Freestyle Edge or the ErgoDox EZ may be better for you.
The non-detachable palm rest is large and cushion-y, but even after a week of use, we found it gumming up.
Upgrade pick: ErgoDox EZ
If you want the most adjustable and customisable ergonomic keyboard and don’t mind paying more and dealing with a steeper learning curve, we recommend the ErgoDox EZ.
It meets all of our ergonomic criteria: responsive keys with great feedback, a fully split design, and support for both tenting and negative tilting. It’s available with 12 different switch types, including Cherry MX Browns – you can even swap out the switches yourself without a soldering iron. But the unique layout takes more time, effort and patience to get used to, even with the convenient configuration options.
The little legs on the ErgoDox are infinitely adjustable to any angle – for both tenting and negative tilting – so you can set this keyboard up exactly to fit your posture needs. It takes experimenting to get the angle just so, but once you do, you might feel like this keyboard was built for you. Even the palm rests are flexible: Unlike those on other keyboards, the ErgoDox EZ’s palm rests are detached from the keyboard, so you can place them as close or as far apart from the keys for comfort. The palm rests have a weird rubbery texture that can collect lint, but they’re sturdy and comfortable to rest your palms on.
The ErgoDox EZ has an ortholinear layout: its keys are arranged in columns, rather than the staggered layout of traditional keyboards. This is meant to reduce how far your fingers have to stretch to reach each key, but it will probably take you weeks to get used to. And its clusters of unlabelled modifier keys and unusually placed keys (like the quotation mark moved to the left side of the keyboard) can be time-consuming and frustrating to get used to. Be prepared to fiddle around with the keyboard layout using the graphical configurator, although it is easier to use than you might expect.
We also recommend the ErgoDox EZ Glow if you don’t mind spending a little more for programmable RGB backlighting and PBT keycaps, which tend to be more durable and have a grittier texture to them. The standard ErgoDox EZ comes with ABS keycaps – like the Kinesis Freestyle Edge – that can wear down and become smooth and shiny over time. Because it uses only standard keycap sizes (albeit in strange places), it’s somewhat easier to find replacement keycap sets for the ErgoDox EZ than it is for the Freestyle Edge – and ErgoDox offers replacement keycaps and switches so you can customise the keyboard even further.
Wirecutter project manager Sam Morrison said it took them about 2 weeks to get used to the ErgoDox EZ after modifying the layout extensively and using a typing tutor every morning to train. (Epistory is a wonderful typing game for both learning to type faster and entertaining yourself.) After adjusting the layout to be more like a traditional keyboard, I’m not quite back up to my full typing speed after a couple of weeks, but I’m getting there.
The other keyboards we looked at and tested all made too many compromises for us to recommend them. For example, some models we looked at were labeled “ergonomic” but didn’t meet the ergonomic criteria our experts laid out.
The Kinesis Freestyle Pro is very similar to the Freestyle Edge, but we think the Freestyle Edge is a better choice for more people because for a little more money you get backlighting, included detachable palm rests, Cherry MX Blue and MX Red switch options, and a slightly better build quality with touches like braided cables.
If you need a wireless keyboard, the Kinesis Freestyle2 Blue is a solid Bluetooth option, but its membrane keys don’t feel as responsive or comfortable as the newer Edge’s and Pro’s mechanical versions.
We tested the Matias Ergo Pro in 2017, and at the time it performed the best of the ergonomic mechanical keyboards we tested. Since then, however, the keyboard has received many negative reviews regarding long-term reliability. Matias told us that there were production issues in some batches and that the company has since updated the switches and made other adjustments. But with continued reports of poor quality and issues such as key chatter even after Matias’s update, we can no longer recommend this model.
Microsoft’s Surface Ergonomic Keyboard shares the Sculpt Ergo’s partially split design, but the non-removable number pad and the lack of a keyboard riser for negative tilt make the Surface Ergo less ergonomic than its cousin.
And the wireless Adesso WKB-3150UB felt cheaper and more plasticky than the Microsoft Sculpt Ergo for around the same price.
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