Whether you bang on keys for a living or are a hardcore PC gamer, a good keyboard is critical. It’s a peripheral that takes a lot of abuse, and while there are plenty of ways to upgrade your workstation, the best ergonomic keyboards should be at the top of your list.
Keyboards of this nature are an acquired taste, but all have one thing in common – they can alleviate wrist pain that occurs due to repetitive motion. Carpal tunnel is only one problem you can encounter if you’re using the wrong keyboard for the job, and RSI related injuries are more common than you think.
If you type for hours on end and are ready to give an ergonomic keyboard a shot, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve researched the top models available to provide you with a quick list featuring only the best. We’ve also put together a handy guide to walk you through the wild world of ergonomic keyboards if you’ve never used one before.
The Best Ergonomic Keyboards
Here are the five keyboards we feel stand head and shoulders above the rest. Each one is a little different, so make sure to give this article a good read and really weigh up the pros and cons of each one.
1. Kinesis Advantage 2 Ergonomic Keyboard
Overall Rating: (4.5 / 5)
If you are at high risk for RSI and spend the entire day behind your keyboard, Kinesis may have the solution for you. Kinesis cracked our list with several keyboards, but the Advantage 2 Ergonomic Keyboard is widely regarded as their best and one we highly recommend.
- Concave keywells
- Cherry MX switches
- Dvorak option
- SmartSet programming engine
- Extra keycaps
- The adjustment period
- Barebones set of features
- The price tag
What we like
The Kinesis Advantage 2 is the type of keyboard you may pass up at first glance. The learning curve will be steep for some, we won’t lie, but it’s among the best year after year for a reason.
That is partly due to the design, which places two sets of function keys in the middle and the home keys on the sides.
While splitting they keys is different, you have to see this one at an angle to appreciate it’s ergonomic nature. The keyboard has a gentle slope in the middle, but those keywells have a bit of a curve.
It’s funky at first, but feels natural and will definitely keep your fingers fresh if typing is your profession.
You’ll get a few options with this keyboard as well with a silver or black shell and your choice of Cherry MX Brown or Cherry MX Red switches. Want to switch up your typing style and go that Dorvak route? That’s a possibility as well…
Factors to consider
The learning curve is the only major issue with this particular keyboard. Your home keys remain the same on the KB600, so you’ll just get an extra row of letters on each side, and everything is easy to reach.
The biggest issue most folks have with this one is the fact you’ll need to hit enter key with your thumb, instead of your pinkie. The space key is next to the enter key, so it’s still in the middle, but you will have to adjust.
It’s also fairly basic compared to other styles as there are no real bells & whistles although you can set macros and remap thanks to the SmartSet engine. It comes with a 3-year warranty. It’s not cheap, but it is your best choice if you truly want something ergonomic with speedy Cherry MX switches.
2. Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000
Overall Rating: (4.3 / 5)
Microsoft may not be the first name to come to mind when dealing with ergonomic office equipment. Well, the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard is one of our top choices and best options if you want to make a slow, comfortable transition.
- Full set of keys
- 3-year warranty
- Dedicated media keys
- Integrated support
- Budget-friendly price tag
- It’s large
- Not as “fast” keyboard
- Quality control
What we like
Our favorite thing about the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 would be how easy and comfortable is to use. It’s not as wild as other keyboards in this class which makes it ideal when you want a smooth transition from a traditional keyboard. While you will notice and feel the difference, it won’t be nearly as drastic.
The 4000 has all the keys you’ll need, and maybe even a few more than your old keyboard. There are keys to take care of your multimedia controls, and ones that allow you to access your email or a browser with ease. Other features to note include a zoom slider and five customizable keys.
As this is a keyboard I’ve personally used, I can attest to the fact that it’s relatively sturdy given the price point. While I’ve gone the mechanical route since then, my old 4000 hit the ground on a regular basis and always lived to type another day. It’s not the Thinkpad of the keyboard world, but you may never have to put that 3-year warranty to the test.
Factors to consider
The biggest drawback in our eyes is the keys. They are spongy so you’re not going to get the same response as you would from a mechanical switch, as Microsoft has used rubber domes.
Depending on your usage, you may find the lettering worn off quickly, and while it isn’t loud, it’s not the quietest keyboard around either. You won’t drive your co-workers nuts by any means, but it may irritate you if your current keyboard is silent.
Overall, we feel this is the only keyboard you should consider if you want something mild and affordable but still ergonomic. If you aren’t concerned about the learning curve and want something extreme, our other options may be better suited to your needs.
3. Mistel Barocco Ergonomic Mechanical Keyboard
Overall Rating: (4 / 5)
Mistel is one of those brands that may not ring a bell depending on your prowess in the keyboard department. While they don’t have the same name recognition as our other options, it’s hard to argue with the Barocco Split RGB’s style or performance.
- RGB lighting system
- Multiple MX switch options
- PBT keycaps
- Detachable cables
- The entire keyboard is programmable
- Design won’t be for everyone
- Poor user manual
- Replacement keys could be challenging to find
What we like
Gamers love RGB lighting, that’s a fact. It’s not something you tend to find on ergonomic keyboards, however, which is one reason the Mistel Barocco stands out. This keyboard has a full RGB lighting system beneath each key with modes like Rain, Wave, and Ripple. It also has durable Doubleshot PBT keycaps to boot.
Light shows are nice, but if you’re tired of QWERTY, you’ll be thrilled to know you can set the layout of this keyboard up any way you’d like. You can set a macro to any key, and there are three presets out of the box with QWERTY, Dvorak, and Colemak. As for the switches, it comes with Cherries although you can choose between seven different options.
While we’re not going to go through all the colors, we will say there is an option for everyone. Gamers will love the Red MX while writers or typists may want the Cherry MX Blue switches. Each color brings something gives you a different feel, and this explains things nicely if you prefer to dig into things a little more deeply.
Factors to consider
The design and the lack of a numerical pad are the main things you’ll want to keep in mind if the Mistel Barocco catches your eye. It’s split although you can press both sides together and adjust the gap to suit your needs.
If you can’t get by without the numerical pad, they do have a solution with the sleek but expensive Mistel MD200 Freeboard. This keyboard comes with a short 1-year warranty, but is an excellent alternative to our top options and well worth a look; especially if you’re a gamer.
4. Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard
Overall Rating: (4 / 5)
The Microsoft Sculpt is a popular option for consumers looking to go ergonomic. It’s another keyboard that will make the transition easy although that’s far from the only advantage the Sculpt brings to the table.
- Very comfortable to use
- The numerical pad
- Solid battery life
- AES 128-bit encryption
- Attractive price point
- May experience Bluetooth interference
- Takes up a lot of space
- Palm rest isn’t the best
What we like
Microsoft took a different approach with the Sculpt as this one has a partial split that separates the keys. The dome keyboard still slopes up in the middle, however, and there is a support beneath the top as well. It feels good when you type and the palm rest is cushy.
Users found the keys to be responsive on the Sculpt, and while it lacks a traditional keypad, you get a detached one that matches the keyboard.
The battery life is better than average across the board by most accounts, and the price point is tough to beat as well. There’s no doubt it will help protect you from RSI and ease your fears about carpal tunnel although there are a few small drawbacks we feel the need to point out.
Factors to consider
Have no doubt, the Microsoft Sculpt will promote healthy typing habits while keeping your wrists and hands in a natural position. That said, some users felt the adjustment period took longer than they initially expected. The break-in time may be a little longer on this one, and you’ll also need to clear out some space on your desk.
Despite the fact the keypad is detached, it’s 16-inches long and around 9-inches wide. By comparison, the Barocco is 11.5-inches long and a little under 5-inches wide. While the palm rest certainly makes a difference, you will want to keep the overall size in mind if you already have a cramped work area.
It comes with a 3-year warranty and three batteries, so it’s ready to roll right out of the box.
5. Kinesis Maxim Combo Keyboard
Overall Rating: (4.5 / 5)
Rounding out our top 5 is another keyboard from Kinesis called the Maxim Combo. It can hang with the rest of the pack when it comes to ergonomics and even has a few features you won’t find on other models. It also happens to be one of the most configurable keyboards around.
- Variable split 0 to 30-degrees
- Adjustable lateral tilt
- PS/2 port and USB
- Removable palm rest
- Bland design
- Rubber dome keys
- Lack of media keys
What we like
The first thing that drew us to the Maxim was its ability to transform from a classic tenkeyless keyboard into something a little more ergonomic. That’s a bit of an understatement actually as it’s the only one that allows you to adjust the “split” from 0 to 30-degrees.
You can also set the lateral tilt from 8 to 14-degrees; an ergonomic combo you won’t find elsewhere.
We’re big fans of removable palm wrests and we’re pleased to say this one snaps off in seconds. The supports are a bit underwhelming but comfy and easy on the wrists.
The keys are as responsive as you’d expect from a rubber dome setup and have a travel distance of 3.66mm. They are solid although not on par with mechanical switches.
Factors to consider
While the ability to expand and adjust the Maxim is a huge bonus, there is one small drawback. The palm support puts the width at over 10-inches, and it’s around 19-inches long when fully extended. That said, it’s only a temporary setback considering you can remove the palm rest and slide the keyboard together when not in use.
It’s also safe to say the design isn’t exactly what we would consider modern.
This is another keyboard I feel would be a perfect choice if you’re not sure what you need, but want something to help with strain and fatigue while you type. The Maxim has a 2-year warranty, a six-foot cord and is compatible with any system sporting a USB or PS/2 port.
Ergonomic Keyboard Buying Guide
What is an Ergonomic Keyboard?
As its name implies, this type of keyboard values ergonomics. This is the process of designing the workplace environment and the products employees use to maximize efficiency and safety. Thus, it’s the complete opposite of forcing an individual to adapt to their work – rather it is adapting your workplace to suit you.
An ergonomic keyboard is designed to help relieve stress, particularly around your arms, hands, and wrists. It takes a form that allows you to rest your arms and hands in a more natural manner. Of course, this form isn’t singular — ergonomic keyboards still differ from one another.
Main Benefits of Ergonomic Keyboards
1. Prevent RSI
RSI stands for repetitive strain injury. While the cause isn’t always typing, it’s a common reason. RSI usually involves upper body parts such as your hands, wrists, and elbows — all of which you use for typing. Of course, typing is also repetitive, stressful, and more of than not involves bad posture.
With RSI, you can suffer from a variety of symptoms: stiffness, cramps, aching, and numbness. Ignoring it can lead to longer periods of pain; might even experience swelling for months at a time. Medicine and therapy are necessary to treat RSI, but ergonomic keyboards can help you prevent it in the first place.
In particular, an ergonomic keyboard can help ease carpal tunnel syndrome, which is one of the many forms of RSI. Combine this with an ergonomic mouse and a standing workstation and you’ve already ensured a more comfortable office space.
2. Avoid Harmful Hand and Wrist Positions
There are at least three well-known wrist positions that do a lot more harm to your elbows, hands, and wrists in the long run than you might expect: deviation, extension, and pronation.
Without getting too technical about wrist posture, there are two terms to keep in mind: radial deviation and ulnar deviation. The former happens when you move your wrists and hands closer to your body. If you do the opposite and move them away from your body, it’s known as the latter.
Whether you perform one over the other, the fact is that doing it over and over can lead to injury. This is more the case if you constantly apply pressure while moving your hands toward or away from your body. The deviation occurs whether you’re writing, handling your phone, or typing with the keyboard.
Employees are taught to work in a safe manner to prevent injuries due to wrist deviation. Likewise, ergonomic equipment helps a lot. In the case of ergonomic keyboards, this means that they have separate or curved key rows — allowing your elbows and wrists to angle themselves better.
The wrist is capable of many movements, but one dangerous position is wrist extension.
As long as your wrist bends backward, you’re in a position of wrist extension. Even bending your wrists to a slight degree when typing can be detrimental in the long run. Continued wrist extensions will eventually affect the structure of nerve tunnels, which will then cause you pain.
A design principle applied to combat the effects of wrist extensions is the negative tilt. Think of how regular keyboards enable you to raise their back portion. Some ergonomic keyboards feature the opposite option: You can lift the front portion to reduce the need to bend your wrists backward.
Finally, pronation occurs when you twist your wrists inward. A good example would be when you rest your hands with the palms facing the flat surface. Not all ergonomic keyboards address this, but there are those with a split and vertical design.
3. Ease Stress
Ergonomic keyboards are meant to help you finish your work in a more efficient manner. Their sometimes unusual designs are made for your hands and wrists to feel more comfortable when typing. And if the device positions its key rows well, you won’t have to move your hands at all to reach a letter.
These keyboards can help you save time at work. Even if you do get stuck for long hours, they will help you ease any pain you might feel from typing all day. And if you use the computer for at least 10 or so hours, you should already consider getting one for yourself.
Different Types of Ergonomic Keyboards
There’s great variety in how ergonomic keyboards look. This is primarily due to how each brand has its own approach to tackling work efficiency and wrist pain – there’s even a keyboard with no actual standard keys at all. But for the most part, the following are the usual forms of ergonomic keyboards.
1. Handheld Keyboard
If you’ve ever had a game console such as an Xbox or a PlayStation, you won’t find this type too unusual. A handheld type doesn’t have to stay on a flat surface. You can pick it up anytime you want and keep on typing. There’s no need to position your arms and elbows the same way for hours on end.
In fact, you can even go around the office and place your seat further from the computer and keep on typing. Plus, there are ergonomic keyboards of this type that include mouse control — ensuring that you can type and navigate your computer no matter your position.
2. Split Keyboard
There are two types of split ergonomic keyboards: the fixed and the angled split type. The former features just one keyboard. What makes it different from the regular keyboard is that the keys are grouped into two or three sections.
It’s not just one straight keyboard — each section is angled in a way that’s more convenient for typing.
Then there’s the adjustable version, which is the second type. The angled split-type keyboard allows you to change the angle of each part. This way, you can find the best position that suits your typing style.
3. Contoured Keyboard
This type takes inspiration from the split keyboard design. What sets it apart is its contoured form that minimizes the need to move your arms and wrists. There are at least two sunken sections that match the average shoulder width.
Likewise, the function keys are placed between these parts for easy reach with your thumbs.
Factors to Consider in Buying An Ergonomic Keyboard
Size and Footprint
The type of keyboard for you depends on your work. If you’re going to need the number pad for performing quick calculations on Excel, go for the full-sized ergonomic keyboard.
But if you don’t use the number pad often and you’re more familiar with the keyboards on slim netbooks, choose the smaller variants.
Similarly, picking a smaller keyboard might be better if you work in different places. A portable ergonomic device is much better than having to carry a full-sized variant to the airport or cafe. Then again, a bigger keyboard helps to avoid pressing the wrong button or two buttons at the same time.
What computer do you use? Some ergonomic keyboards work on any of the most popular operating systems, but there are those specifically built with the Windows PC or the Mac computer in mind. Compatibility is a basic but important factor, especially if you’re using an Apple computer.
There are programs that will allow you to configure the keys to work well on a PC or Mac, but it’s arguably better to get a device that’s already compatible with your computer.
Feel and Travel Distance
The old or cheap standard keyboards aren’t the best in terms of comfort and efficiency. More often than not, you’d have to press down with sufficient pressure to make a key type a letter or register an action. A good ergonomic keyboard shouldn’t require you to press down all the time since this gets tiring.
In particular, better keyboards utilize low-force key switches. These switches are highly responsive — the travel distance is drastically reduced. Thus, you get to type more in the same timespan as you would with an average keyboard.
Of course, you can also choose an ergonomic mechanical keyboard. While this doesn’t feature slim keys, its design gives you the best tactile feel. Plus, this type offers splendid durability. It uses physical switches to register a keypress and ensures better typing accuracy.
The most common configuration on the planet is known as QWERTY, and it’s the system in which most of us learned how to type. Other configurations are said to increase efficiency and alleviate strain, but it’s not something we recommended unless you’re intentionally looking to make the jump.
You don’t want to learn how to use a split keyboard and deal with oddly placed keys at the same time.
With that in mind, if you’re right-handed, you may want to consider a Dvorak keyboard. This layout is considered faster by putting 70% of the keystrokes on the home row compared to only 32% for QWERTY-based keyboards.
Many people get an ergonomic keyboard for work at the office. But what if you need one for gaming?
Just like with standard keyboards, there are also ergonomic keyboards specifically made for video gamers. These models usually have dedicated keys and RGB lighting that improve gameplay.
When you use a mouse, it’s often recommended to have a wrist rest to keep your wrists from getting strained. The same goes for using ergonomic keyboards. In order to protect your wrists and elbows from constant stress and RSI, it can be better to have a wrist rest.
A wrist rest isn’t typically included in the package when you buy an ergonomic keyboard, but it’d help you save some money if it was a built-in feature. After all, the regular wrist rest simply won’t work on an ergonomic keyboard that has a lot of curves and angles.
Wired or Wireless
Finally, you have to pick between a wired keyboard or one that connects through Bluetooth. You might think that the latter is undoubtedly the better option, but note that many wired ergonomic keyboards will work through USB ports, and often these are the cheaper options. Plus, there are always cable ties to organize the USB cord.
If you do prefer the wireless variant, you have to check how fast it connects through Bluetooth. There are many devices that don’t immediately detect other Bluetooth devices.
Moreover, the wireless version might cause a bit of lag, which isn’t a good thing if you’re playing intensive online games.
What type of typist are you?
Are you a typist that takes the “hunt and peck” approach or someone that has all their fingers in the proper position and eyes up while you work? If it’s the former, you won’t even need an ergonomic keyboard, but you need to consider the keys first if it’s the latter.
The most common and cheapest keyboards typically have dome switches. This means there are dome-shaped rubber switches that push through a membrane when you push down on a key. It’s the type of keyboard that comes bundled with almost every PC, and one that doesn’t offer up much in the way of tactile feedback. On the flip side, they do handle spills better than your next option.
Mechanical keys are your best bet when speed is crucial, and they are rated to last considerably longer than their rubber-based counterparts. Different types of switches can provide you with varying levels of feedback as well. The only drawback is the fact most are noisy aside from the Cherry MX Silent switches and a few other styles.
While searching for the best ergonomic keyboards, build quality was one of the first things we looked for. A keyboard should be comfortable to use, but it should also hold up well to a little abuse. Most of us have seen our keyboards take a tumble, and the end result isn’t always pretty.
There are keyboards built with aluminum frames and exotic materials that can handle a drop with ease. Unfortunately, most of those aren’t considered ergonomic by any means. That means you’ll deal with standard plastic frames so the thicker, the better. Long, sturdy cables are good as well, and we’re big fans of the removable palm rests as they can usually be replaced.
Any good keyboard will have a warranty of at least a year, but you might be hard-pressed to find one beyond that. It varies by manufacturer but is one of the first things you should focus on when it’s time to buy.
So, finally, do I need an ergonomic keyboard?
There’s a good chance you’re looking to improve your efficiency or deal with pain and fatigue if you’re considering an ergonomic keyboard. If you believe you have a serious condition, a new keyboard may help, but we highly recommend a trip to a specialist first.
Ergonomic keyboards are built for people that type for extended periods of time, and not something you want to pick up because it looks cool. It’s nice to try different things, but trust me when I say that this type of keyboard is an acquired taste.
As someone that makes a living typing, I can tell you it is not an easy switch to make. It will increase your speed and efficiency – just be prepared for the break-in period.
Now that you know what to look for from an ergonomic keyboard, we hope you found a solution for your desk in one of our choices. If we left out your favorite brand or there’s a keyboard you want our team to consider, sound out in the comments section and let us know!