Recommendations for a portable ergonomic keyboard
August 12, 2019 1:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm starting to get quite bad RSI so I need recommendations for ergonomic keyboards. However, I am currently living on the road, so I am in the market for a keyboard that is quite portable and compact.

I've started getting pain and numbness in my right hand and limited mobility in my upper arm, so clearly it's time to take action. I'm trying to break my habit of keeping my laptop on my lap and now need a keyboard.

Please could you recommend a relatively portable ergonomic keyboard that has worked for you? I do travel a great deal so it can't be a static set up. Almost all my work is based on typing, so that is probably the main strain, and since I'm self-employed I can't afford to not keep typing.

In case this affects your recommendations, I use a Thinkpad T-series laptop, and prefer the older pre-chiclet keyboard. Preferably available in the UK, but I should be able to get it from the US if necessary. Of course, it should be currently available, so no Kickstarters etc ending next year.

I am about to order a Kensington Expert trackball (wired) but if there is a trackball that others recommend very strongly I will change my mind.

Cost is a concern, but I will swallow it if necessary if it helps to keep my hands functional.

I have looked at online reviews, but I would prefer personal recommendations that you or someone you know has benefited from.
posted by tavegyl to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

I am a software engineer and a writer with some chronic RSI issues that will occasionally flare up pretty seriously. I've used a Kinesis Advantage for two decades now and I think it's extended my career. It is not exactly compact, but it's not huge, either. I also rotate between a vertical mouse and a regular mouse, and switch off mouse hands regularly. Mousing is super bad for your hands so it's good to spread the wear out. Personally I would be wary of compact keyboards -- I have wide shoulders and my own experience is that the elbows-out posture necessary for me to peck at a compact or laptop keyboard really hurts me.

But that's my body, and your body is certainly different. Also, RSI is a large family of problems, each of which can have different treatments and mitigations. Your situation is unique to you and I strongly recommend you see a health care person and figure out precisely what's hurting before you splash out for new gear. My funny keyboard and mouse are just one element of my RSI management strategy, treatments from occupational and physical therapists have been extremely important in recovering from flareups and preventing new ones.

Good luck! RSI sucks bad; I'm sorry you're dealing with this.
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:47 PM on August 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hey--I'm writing in case this is helpful to you, although I'm also watching this for suggestions because I too have RSI/travel issues.

I have, but do not recommend for your use case, a Kinesis Advantage; it's great for the RSI, but also built like a tank and in nooooooo way suitable for travel. However, I have been considering a Kinesis Freestyle (e.g. Freestyle 2 Bluetooth for PC), which is separated into left and right halves connected by a cable. Kinesis's refurbished store lists some for $70 and up. I'm probably going to bite the bullet on a Freestyle myself, but not this month.

I hope someone else will write in with suggestions based on personal experience.
posted by yhlee at 1:49 PM on August 12, 2019

I’m a software developer and use a Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic keyboard to keep my hands functional - something mysterious is going on with my nerves, causing loss of functionality in a couple of fingers if I type too much, and the Sculpt allows "too much" to be a period in excess of a working day, while with a normal flat keyboard "too much" can be under an hour. My problems are not your problems, but the solution (or rather, workaround) might be the same.

It's cordless (runs off two AAA batteries, talks to the computer via a tiny USB dongle), very lightweight, rigid and - I've just checked - fits (just!) into my laptop bag, designed for a 15.4" laptop, with my current 15" workhorse laptop already in there. It's relatively narrow compared with standard desktop keyboards because it doesn't have a built-in numeric keypad; that's separate, so if you don't need it you can leave it behind. It doesn't feel narrow or tight to me, though I should probably point out that I'm an average-size woman, making me small for a human. It also doesn't need too much depth in the bag: the height of the base of the keys above the desk varies from about 1cm to about 3cm, enough to ease tension in the hands and wrists but less than you sometimes see on ergonomic keyboards.

The keys probably have less travel than you would prefer, but I think that might actually be a good thing in an ergonomic keyboard (less finger movement, less stress). The shape of it takes some getting used to when you've always had a flat keyboard, especially if you don't have textbook-perfect touch-typing (if you're typing any keys with the "wrong" hand, this is how you find that out), but when I tried out a friend's, I noticed immediately how much more relaxed my hands felt, and that gave me the confidence to order one for myself.

NB The Amazon listing I've linked you to is for a keyboard/numeric keypad/mouse combo; what I have is just the keyboard and numeric keypad, so I can't vouch for the mouse - and I don't actually use the numeric keypad, so can't vouch for that either. Also, beware of the similarly-named Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Keyboard, which seems to be completely different, and the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard, which is much bulkier.

Happy to answer specific questions if you have any. I know how awful it feels to find you can't quite rely on your hands any more, and I hope you can find a keyboard that works for you.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:52 PM on August 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I get RSI if I use a mouse a lot, much better if I just use the touchpad. It takes some adjusting, but my neck,shoulders, and arm are healthier.
posted by theora55 at 4:01 PM on August 12, 2019

I have the Kinesis Freestyle 2. The concept is great (especially with the extended cable).

It’s not sturdy enough to travel with unfortunately; one key cap has snapped off irreparably with normal in-and-out-of-bag use. I also find it mushy and unpleasant to type on — I’m not a huge keyboard nerd or a mechanical-key purist, it just is hard to actually be accurate with it.

yhlee, if you want it for a trial, I’d happily send it to you for like shipping plus beer money. (The snapped-off keycap is a superfluous nonstandard function key so you’re not missing anything there)
posted by sixswitch at 8:50 PM on August 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ah - I should mention that I don't actually travel with my Sculpt keyboard; I only work in two locations, and I have one in each. So I can't vouch for its robustness to travel knocks, only for the fact that it's small and light enough to go in a bag.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:26 AM on August 13, 2019

Second the sculpt keyboard. Also maybe try a vertical mouse.
posted by creiszhanson at 10:52 AM on August 13, 2019

Response by poster: Thank you, all, for the ideas as well as the sympathy! I will see if I can try out a couple of the suggestions, both to see how robust they seem and for ease of typing, and take it from there.
posted by tavegyl at 12:05 PM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

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