On the Kinesis Advantage 2 and why it's not the cure all for RSI
  11-15-2018 · 9 minute read · 1894 words

Post Update, it’s May 9th, 2020 and I’ve been using the Kinesis Advantage full time since November 14th, 2018. I’ve updated this post to reflect all my thoughts about the keyboard after this period of usage. This is literally my brain dump of all things Kinesis past and present. Excuse the scatterbrain paragraphs.

Story time and the early signs of RSI

I’ve been suffering from on and off bouts of wrist pain and really tired forearms after a full day of typing lately. Things got scary when I felt tingling finger pain, and really sore wrist after a day of typing on my Apple Magic keyboard 2 so when I recently met Jesse Hallett he was typing on his strange foreign contraption known as the Kinesis Advantage my curiosity got the best of me and I had to give the keyboard a shot.

Since then it’s has been quite a journey. Not only did I learn about the Kinesis advantage but I got a complete informal lesson on keycaps, keyboard layouts (Dvorak vs Qwerty), and the various types of key switches that reside in mechanical keyboards. Big thanks to Jessie Hallet for schooling me in this overlooked aspect in being a computer geek.

The following is a review + journey after using the Kinesis full time for the last 8 months. I purchased my first Kinesis on November 6th of 2018 and am still currently using it as of Jun 17th 2009.

What sold me on the idea of owning the Kinesis

Here were a few factors that really sold me on the Kinesis Advantage.

  • Ergonomic features

    • Concave key wells - That’s what gives the Kinesis such a unique look was the keys are concave into wells
    • After reading a lot of reviews it seems everyone had the same conclusion, this was the keyboard to use if you were suffering from any type of RSI or strain while working with a keyboard all day.
  • Mechanical Switches

    • Unlike rubber dome switches in most standard Dell keyboards, the Kinesis ships with mechanical switches. Unlike Dome switches mechanical switches are more tactile and give the user a more satisfying feedback. Just the sound of mechanical switches can really change the tune of a workspace. For me it was hearing the cacophony of bursts of types as thoughts were coming out of someone’s head and coming to life on the screen that would make me want to work harder and produce something greater
  • Visually completely different than anything you’ve ever seen.

    • People either love it or hate it, either way someone will strike up a conversation with you about it.
    • In my opinion it’s visually awesome! - Sure she’s a bit big and wonky looking but that’s what makes her interesting!
  • A Productivity tool. I use the tool as a cue/signal to start becoming more productive! Let’s face it we spend 8 hours a day coding and writing why not have a tool that sets the tone for the day? When the Kinesis is out we don’t goof off and do other things. I’ve made it a habit that I only do work on the Kinesis and nothing else once the keyboard goes away I’m done for the day.

  • Ability to replace the keycaps! No longer will you have to deal with shiny keys that look like you’ve just ate a bucket of chicken and started typing with your keyboard. You can now replace the keycaps with cool PBT keycaps.

  • Ortholinear layout - This might fall under ergonomics - In a standard keyboard the keys are staggered so they are not directly on top of each other. So you have to slightly reach to get to another key. The Kinesis has ortholinear keys all aligned evenly vertically and the thought is that you do less reaching since the keys are right there. (This may just be marking hype, I have no conclusive proof that this has done anything for my typing speed or reduced any RSI). I’m leaving this in there because maybe I was fooled.

  • Concave key wells - Another one up there similar to ortholinear but the thought that since the two key wells are sunken in your fingers naturally fall into place.

  • Ability to customize - This was a big one for me which I don’t think I got with the HHK pro keyboard was that all the keys on this keyboard are programmable. Don’t like that the arrow keys are on the right side? Fine re-program and make it your own. Although the controller is limited at least the option to do so is there and if you don’t like it you can swap it out.

Hesitation and jumping in the deep end

One of the biggest things that I think anyone looking at the Kinesis is the weirdness of the layout and the thought of how difficult it might be to re-learn to type.

  • Why is it so large and what’s up with the keys.
  • Is this a gaming keyboard? Is it heavy?
  • If I wanted to use it is it hard to learn?
  • How will you carry that around with you?
  • And last but not all will I be considered some type of poser if I started using this keyboard and wasn’t a programmer?
  • Is there a learning curve? Will I have to relearn how to type?

All these questions will be addressed below.

What I was using prior to the Kinesis?

Prior to the Kinesis I’ve owned the Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2 and what really drew me in was the form factor. It had a small footprint and you could take it anywhere. In a prior life but I always had this weird minimalist philosophy that if it couldn’t fit in my backpack I didn’t want it since I couldn’t take it anywhere. But that anywhere really was just to work and sitting in my living room, so the logic didn’t make too much sense. Another peeve of mine with the HHK was customizability. As far as I remember there weren’t any ways to get layer support working. After several months I ended up selling it and went back to Apple Magic keyboard 2 because it was sleek thin.

The Adjustment period

You’ll have to re-learn how to type, or at least I did.

Due to the nature of ortholinear keys being vertical and not staggered, After years of typing on a standard non ortholinear keyboard, I was making mistakes all over the place when switching to the Kinesis. It will probably take you 2 weeks to make the adjustment and start being productive again.

After spending a few hours with the keyboard I’m still struggling with the following things although improvement is getting gradually better as I retrain my muscle memory.

  • Typing period but ending up smashing ] and then triggering Vim to auto expand a closing brace.
  • Not knowing where c,v or b are located and still adjusting to using the correct keys for the job. c - is directly under you’re middle finger, v is below your index and b is to the bottom right of your index finger.

I can best describe switching to the Kinesis akin to learning the key bindings with Vim. At first you’ll be inefficient make tons of mistakes and essentially halt your productivity for a week but after getting used to the keyboard I’ll say you’ll be back to normal and potentially having healthier wrist.

It’s not the holy grail to RSI and posture is everything

Just owning and typing on the Kinesis won’t save you from RSI, correcting your posture and work setup in conjunction with the Kinesis will make things much smoother.

I’ve been reading a lot of post on different Kinesis owners and they all rave about how it virtually eliminated all signs of RSI once they switched to the Kinesis. My results where not so apparent and I still do suffer bouts of pending RSI after days of heavy typing.

What’s really more important is that you need to account for your posture, desk position, and seating position or workstation ergonomics. I primarily work out of a co-working space and I found that the chairs provided by the space were a bit to low relative to the height of the desk. To correct this I just ended up lugging a thick Biology book into the space and I use that as a booster seat to get me my forearms parallel to the desk while typing.

I notice on days that when I’m especially sleepy and my posture is pore that those are the days that even with using the Kinesis I return back to the default state of having the same amount of pain as before.

What I dislike:

  • ABS keycaps
    • I really wish Kinesis would use higher quality key caps on their keyboards than ABS or even give people the option of choosing a premium set of keycaps rather than exotic colors. Although the ability to swap out keys is easily done with buying a set from Kinesis directly, many people want to invest in higher grade keycaps
  • The size
    • The Kinesis is huge when you are contemplating switching from a Magic Keyboard. It’s gigantic and looks like a gaming keyboard, but after using it you’ll realize that you’ll deal with the size as long as it means you can work comfortably for longer periods of time.

What I love

  • Mechanical switches - The stock Kinesis that most people get ship with Cherry MX Browns which are awesome for typing. My first full experience with typing on Mechanical switches and they sound lovely.

What’s the difference Kinesis Advantage 2 vs the older Kinesis Advantage

  • Function keys with all mechanical switches. From talking to Jessie, they were rubber on the older Kinesis models.
  • Removed the USB hub on the Kinesis Advantage 2 (I was really ticked off about this initially since it would have been great to plug in a mouse but got over it.)

If you want to save some money you might give the original Advantage a shot if you don’t mind the two limitations listed above.

Improvements I would make

  • Allow us to run QMK similar to the Ergodox

    • I ended up removing my stock controller and replacing it with a Stapleberg, this was worth every cent and I recommend it if you don’t like the stock keyboard controller.
    • What’s confusing about remapping keys is you have to map keys from the stock keyboard settings to the new key mappings. This gets somewhat confusing if you have changed your keyboard layout to use a mac layout you have to be sure that you aren’t using the mac mappings in for your new mappings.
    • I also found out that the layer’s wasn’t what I’d imagined layers to be but only allowed you to toggle a layer to use the number pad embedded in the right key well. In my head I was thinking you could map functions and re-assign keys to the layer but sadly that wasn’t possible. However if you are willing to swap out the stock controller for a Stapleberg, this is all possible!
  • Make PBT keycaps default, This is an expensive keyboard, you shouldn’t compromise between ABS.

    • As a work around for this I swapped out my keycaps with a set from keycaps.sh

And here she is

Kinesis Advantage 2

Kinesis vs the Magic keyboard.

kinesis   advantage2  

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