It's Not "Ergonomic" I Need; I Need "Comfortable"
August 5, 2010 9:05 AM   Subscribe

It's not an ergonomic keyboard I need, just one that doesn't hurt my tendons -- any suggestions?

When I work on my laptop at work, or my netbook at home, the built-in keyboards feel fine. When I work at a desktop computer, with the standard issue keyboard, it hurts.

I had repetitive strain injury in both arms (severe -- couldn't work for 4 years) years ago, and I'm sensitive to what's going to inflame my tendons again.

I don't need a split keyboard, or a curvy keyboard, or different placement of the keys, or a wrist rest, or a splint, or increased breaks while typing -- I just need a keyboard that has keys that press down easily, like every laptop and/or netbook keyboard I've ever used.

I've checked past posts and none seems to address this issue.

I work full-time, mostly on a laptop, and I'm heading into the comps/dissertation phases of my PhD. I can't keep staring at tiny laptop/netbook screens. But I can't re-injure myself on a keyboard, either. I don't think I'm interested in getting a larger monitor and/or docking station to hook up to my netbook.

How come laptop keyboards are so easy on my tendons, and regular keyboards are not?
posted by vitabellosi to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You should visit an Apple store and try their wired or wireless keyboards. Both have very low-profile (short) keys that do not travel far, much like compact laptop keyboards. You may find in the end that your problem has as much to do with that as it does with the placement of the keyboard and the position of your arms in relation to your desk versus your lap.
posted by lizzicide at 9:07 AM on August 5, 2010

Seconding Apple's chiclet keyboard. Low travel space means less work for your fingers, which should hopefully resolve some of your pain.
posted by litnerd at 9:16 AM on August 5, 2010

There are laptop-type keyboards for desktops. Not the same size, but the same tensile feel. My friend uses one and I hate it to death, but he likes it.

It's probably because you only need to move your fingers when typing on a laptop keyboard, but a regular keyboard might require more attention from your wrist.

"Thin", "slim" or "chiclet" style keyboard is probably what you'd be looking for.

Of course, for something this specific going to a store is definitely better than wasting time and money trying various keyboards online.
posted by liquoredonlife at 9:17 AM on August 5, 2010

I agree the apple keyboards are surprisingly cool, and I am super picky like you about how much pressure is needed.

What liquored said. Also, which you probably already know - be ultra mega vigilant about your ergonomics anyway. : )
posted by bitterkitten at 9:22 AM on August 5, 2010

Go into Best Buy, walk down the computer aisle and try out a few of the ergonomic keyboards. There's really no substitute for actually feeling the differences between them.

Logitech makes several that have a low range of motion when pressing keys (I want to say one of them is called the wave).

Even though I love them, I can't recommend the MS Natural series for your specific problem, as the 4 and 7k series both require pretty deep depression before the key is activated.
posted by chrisamiller at 9:23 AM on August 5, 2010

Its probably the key force, which is controlled mostly by the mechanism the keyboard uses.

There was an Ask post very similar to this question a few years ago. Basically, most laptop keyboards use a mechanism called 'scissor switch'. Most full-size keyboards do not, but some do. Scissor switch keyboards tend to have very small key travel and low key force.

As recommended above, the Apple keyboards are, IMHO, tops in this area, but there's a lot of choices. Two of my friends who prefer these types of keyboards have Logitechs that they swear by. One says its greatly reduced his hand pain. Keyboards like the Apple keyboards, or the Logitech Di Novos, are basically laptop keyboards packaged up for freestanding use.

Anyway, the magic term you want to search for is scissor switch keyboard.
posted by jeb at 9:26 AM on August 5, 2010

You might also try what is essentially the ThinkPad keyboard in standalone format.
posted by grouse at 9:28 AM on August 5, 2010

Response by poster: These are great suggestions -- and thanks for the search term, jeb.
posted by vitabellosi at 9:31 AM on August 5, 2010

Yes, you're looking for scissor-switch keyboards, which fall into a category of mechanical keyboards. Normal (non-mechanical?) keyboards use a rubber dome which you press and it collapses - these tend to be mushy as they get older, and require more and more force to activate the key.

You also may want to consider other mechanical switches such as Cherry switches, which are full-travel like normal keyboards but require much less force so you don't have to pound the keys. These are even more niche items than scissor switch keyboards, so be prepared to pay more than you would usually. They also have a distinctive noise (some are loud and annoying). The best known/marketed of these is the Das Keyboard. They do have the advantage of lasting much, much longer than any rubber dome keyboard.
posted by meowzilla at 9:37 AM on August 5, 2010

I have both the wired and wireless versions of Apple's keyboards plus several Logitech's, Microsoft's, and other brands. I find the Logitech Illuminated Keyboard the most comfortable; it requires even less pressure than Apple's keyboards and the keys themselves feel warmer (temperature-wise), if that matters to you. I switch between the wireless Apple and the Logitech Illuminated throughout the day and the cold, chicklet keys on the Apple keyboard actually seem to tire my hands out more than the Logitech does.

They're both very good though.

Also, Microsoft's Comfort Curve 2000 is shockingly comfortable -- and cheap too -- but they have a tendency to poop out after a couple of years. Still, it's a great alternative if you're on a budget.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 10:02 AM on August 5, 2010

The Kinesis keyboard might be way fancier than what your aiming for, but it does have very light touch keys. Its springs are designed to provide just the minimal amount of force feedback so that you don't overstrike, and nothing more.
posted by gmarceau at 10:22 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have this keyboard from Evoluent that seems to fit your description nicely. The keys are very slim and require very little force or motion to depress them. I've suffered terrible RSI problems in my elbows, wrists, and fingers after years of computer work, and this thing helped a lot. As a bonus, it has the number pad on the left, so your right arm doesn't have to sit way out at a non-ergonomic angle to use the mouse. YMMV with that feature, though (especially if you mouse left handed or do a lot of number keying, I still can't touch type the numbers over there).
posted by vytae at 1:57 PM on August 5, 2010

Which one did you end up going with? I'm in a similar position of liking scissor switch keyboards but wanting something more ergonomic (split) than the Apple keyboards. But none of these quite fit that, do they?
posted by razorfrog at 10:28 PM on November 2, 2010

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