December 7, 2013

Kinesis Advantage after four months

Posted in Software at 23:58 by graham

Update Dec 2018: It’s been five years and I still use that same Kinesis Advantage every day, all day and I still love it. I have commuted with it in my bike panniers, in my backpack, and carried it across several home moves: It’s solid. I switch easily between that and my laptop keyboard, my wrists and hands are healthy, I touch type faster than I can think. As I said five years ago: I’m not going back.


I have been using a Kinesis Advantage keyboard for the past four months, since August. I love it. Here’s my trip report.

Kinesis Advantage

Before this keyboard I had been using Microsoft Natural keyboards for many many years.

Let’s cut straight to the chase: The first three days were very hard. It’s the same feeling as when I switched to vim. You tell your fingers to do something and they don’t do it. It’s especially hard when you do lots of text chat. My typing rate went way down, so I couldn’t ‘talk’ as fast.

After three days I was over the hump, and by the end of the first week I was comfortable. I went all in, not allowing myself to use any other keyboard during the first week. Now I type significantly faster than I did on the MS Natural, and can better type ‘blind’ (touch type) than I ever could before. The shape of the Kinesis means that you have to touch type.

I use the Kinesis primarily on my desktop, but also plugged in to my laptop. I use it from my standing desk and sitting. It’s pleasant to use from both.

I was surprised how compact the keyboard is; it takes about 10% less desk space than the MS Natural did. I have no problem switching back and forth between the Kinesis and my laptop keyboard – my brain can do both it seems.

Having luckily never had any injuries such as RSI or Carpal Tunnel, I can’t comment on it’s medical use. I credit never having had those partly to luck, and partly to the Microsoft Natural I used previously.

To use the Kinesis well with Linux, vim and tmux, I had to configure a few things:

Turn off the beeps: Progrm \ for the general one, and Progrm - for the caps-lock beep

Fix laptop power save: It’s a USB device, and my laptop was aggressively power-managing it, so if I stopped typing for more than 3 seconds it stopped working. To fix that:

  • lsusb to find the device id (it looks like 03b2:0007)
  • Edit /etc/laptop-mode/conf.d/usb-autosuspend.conf
  • Add the device id to AUTOSUSPEND_USBID_BLACKLIST

Re-map some software keys: In Ubutu the windows key should open the panel, which wasn’t working by default. Also Alt-Tab on the Kinesis is almost impossible to press, so I replaced that with both Ctrl keys (which are right under your thumbs).

  • Run dconf-editor, expand to org/gnome/desktop/wm/keybindings
  • Change panel-main-menu to Super_R (the Windows key)
  • Change switch-windows to <Primary>Control_R (both Ctrl keys at once)

In Ubuntu to find what a key sends open settings / keyboard / shortcuts and press the key. Remove the Mod part when putting into dconf-editor.

Re-map some hardware keys: Finally, programming needs a lot of Shift, so I swapped the Delete key (under the left thumb) with the right Shift (very bottom right). The kinesis allows you to swap any pair of keys very easily – instructions are printed on the bottom of the keyboard.

If you type a lot, and you can face the three-day learning curve, I highly recommend you upgrade to a Kinesis. I’m not going back.

5 Comments »

  1. Dave said,

    February 23, 2019 at 17:42

    Since Graham did not comment on carpal tunnel benefits of the Kinesis Advantage keyboard, I thought I’d share my excellent results. I’m on my second Advantage keyboard (a key went out on the first one and I had Kinesis repair and refurbish that keyboard which I use when I travel).

    If I type on a conventional keyboard, WITHIN AN HOUR, I begin feeling the telltale carpal tunnel strains on the backs of my hands. Using the Advantage, I can type and do fussy graphics work (keyboard and mouse) for several long days at a time before I have to back off. The different is so dramatic that I consider the Advantage a minor miracle.

    Graham talks about the learning curve which is real. My family members do not enjoy their occasional use of my desktop because of the Advantage. I keep a standard Dell keyboard nearby for the use of others. The learning curve is a result of the two big design features that help with carpal tunnel:

    1. The bowled out keys under your fingers (not the thumbs) have the same key layout as conventional QWERTY keyboards, but due to the bowl, your fingers move far less distance AND most of the movement is naturally up (towards the top letters) and down (towards the bottom letters); these are easy motions for our fingers compared to the sideways stretching that conventional keyboards require and which, personally, aggravate my carpal tunnel the most.

    2. Important key actions are located under the thumbs, our wonderful opposable digits. These keys include the all-important Enter and Space buttons under the right thumb and the Delete and Backspace buttons under the left thumb. Trust me, even for typists without carpal tunnel, using the thumbs this way makes typing easier and faster.

    Some historical context: It’s important to know that the layout of the QWERTY keyboard was made deliberately awkward because fast typists were jamming early typewriters. A Dvorak keyboard (designed with keys placed by frequency of use) requires only 1/16th as much motion as a QWERTY keyboard. Think of that waste! When I first got carpal tunnel over 20 years ago, I tried a Dvorak keyboard; the learning curve was onerous and it was impossible to go back and forth. Graham notes he can switch with the Advantage; I can too, although I can’t say I enjoy doing so. After my Dvorak experiment, I went to the Advantage; it was a concession to the universality of the QWERTY layout, but with modifications that reduce finger movement and strain enormously. No debilitating carpal tunnel incidents since!

    It makes me sad that I don’t see the Advantage in Best Buys or Staples. I think of all the people it could help, including folks in pain and doing damage to their hands using inferior keyboards.

  2. Ronie said,

    September 26, 2017 at 20:48

    Thank you a lot, the “alt-tab” to “ctrl-ctrl” saved me!

  3. justaguy said,

    June 1, 2017 at 18:28

    Greetings,

    I just got my hands on an old kinesis advantage and I’m on day 2. Its a love hate relationship atm but more love than yesterday. Love your review, and it covers a huge pain point for me, the alt tab.. Problem being I’m in Windows, not Ubuntu, you wouldn’t happen to know how to do what you did in Ubuntu on Windows 7 would you?

    It would make this stranger incredibly happy since I’ve been through 50 pages of forums and nothing.

  4. Kinesis ergonomic keyboard review and impressions said,

    January 17, 2014 at 11:06

    […] Kinesis Advantage after four months […]

  5. Ergonomic keyboard – the Kinesis said,

    December 19, 2013 at 20:12

    […] Kinesis Advantage after four months […]

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