Kinesis Keyboard Review

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

A excellent, ergonomically designed keyboard is the Kinesis keyboard.

Kinesis Contoured Keyboard Classic
Kinesis Contoured Keyboard Classic. Kinesis contoured keyboard (image source)
Typing on Kinesis contoured keyboard. Trackball is DT225 Trackball. Kinesis contoured keyboard
Typing on Kinesis contoured keyboard, angled view. Kinesis contoured keyboard

Total Key Count

Kinesis total key count: 68. (not counting the rubber function buttons on top)

Each side has: 6 columns * 5 rows + 4 = 34.

Size Comparison

kinesis microsoft keyboard sizes
Kinesis contoured vs Microsoft Natural keyboard size comparison.

More, see: Ergonomic Keyboards Size Comparison

Design Advantages

There are several quality designs that went into this keyboard. I explain each item below. Note: the design of Kinesis seems to be originated from the Maltron Keyboard. Maltron was there first.

Thumb for Modifier Keys

Note that the modifier keys and other major keys such as {Space, Enter ↵, ⌦ Delete, Control, Alt, ⌫ Backspace}, are under the most powerful finger the thumb.

Kinesis keyboard doll
Kinesis thumb keys. image source ©cc

The ⌫ Backspace key is one of the most frequently used key, now it's under your thumb.

Kinesis also made the {Ctrl, Alt} keys much easier to press.

Microsoft also came up with a keyboard that moved the ⌫ Backspace to thumb. The Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Keyboard. However, it's pretty bad otherwise.

Key Columns Not Staggered

mechanical typewriter key detail
Staggered column from mechanical typewriter.

The reason that PC keyboard has staggered keys is because the mechanical typewriter needs the levers at the bottom of the key to be aligned. 〔➤see Computer Keyboard Design Flaws

On Kinesis, the key columns (➢ for example: 1 Q A Z) are laid out straight, so that your fingers moves in a straight line.

Palm Higher Than Finger Tips

Note the bowl shaped surface. When your hands rest on the keyboard, your wrists don't bend up. Your fingers naturally dip in on the keys.

The Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, introduced in 2005, and Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard (2014) , used the same ergonomic principle, by tilting the palm side of the keyboard higher.

Mechanical Key Switch

Kinesis uses mechanical key switch. It's either Cherry MX Brown or Cherry MX Red.

This means, the key press has better tactile feedback, easier on the fingers, and lasts some hundreds times longer than common rubber dome switches. 〔➤see Guide to Computer Keyboard Key Switch Mechanisms


Here's the detailed layout diagram.

Kinesis-keyboard layout 90455
Kinesis key layout.

The ❖ Win (Windows Logo) key or the Mac's ⌘ Cmd key can be set to one of the {Alt, AltGr, Ctrl}, or other keys, because the keys can be re-programmed.

Design Flaws of Kinesis

Nothing can be perfect. Here's design flaws.

Rubber F Keys

The function keys F1 to F12 became tiny rubber keys. Instead of normal key with good tactile sensation, now becomes rubbish. Hard to press and hard to know if it registered.

F Keys Not in Separate Blocks for Tactile Locating

The arrangement of F keys is now a contiguous row. The left row has F1 to F8. The contiguous design makes it difficult to find the key without looking at the keyboard, especially for keys in the middle of the row. 〔On PC keyboard, they are 3 blocks of 4 keys each.〕

Bad Esc Key

The Esc key is now part of the rubber key in the F key row. The escape key is important in linux vim editor.

Solution is to remap the Esc key. Most Kinesis users do this.

Hard to Reach Key-Combinations

Some key shortcuts with CtrlAlt keys are more difficult to press. For example, 【Alt+Tab ↹】 (switch window).

kinesis kbd design flaw 3
Problem with key-combos on the Kinesis. from Todd F Gamut on

Apps such as Emacs, or even just in Windows 〔➤see Microsoft Windows Keyboard Shortcuts〕, require a lot such key combos.

Some 3D app such as Second Life require using the mouse while a combination of Alt, Ctrl, ⇧ Shift held down. 〔➤see Navigate Camera in Second Life〕. This will be difficult with Kinesis, because the ⇧ Shift are far away from the {Ctrl, Alt} keys.

Solution is to change the shortcuts, which, may be difficult or impossible for many apps.

A better solution is to actually remap ⇧ Shift to one of the thumb keys.

Best solution is to use a proper input device such as 3D navigator for 3D apps. See: Input Devices: Mouse, Jog Wheel, Touchpad, Pen Tablet, Trackball, Joystick.

No Multimedia Keys; Not Enough Keys

Not enough keys. For a programable keyboard, it should have a lot special keys that people can assign them for dedicated purposes. F1 to F12 is not enough. They are often already used up by key-intensive applications such as emacs, 3D modeling apps.

For example, if you listen to music from your computer often, you'll miss the Play/Stop, Sound Level, Next/Previous song, keys.

Bowl Shaped Surface = Inconvenient for Casual Use

The bowl shaped surface makes it Inconvenient for casual use of the keyboard.

Sometimes you are watching a movie on your computer, or just need to press a few keys while reading in a browser. The Kinesis requires you to put both of your hands in position if you just want to press a few keys.

Final Words

I think Kinesis is one of the best.

I'm also a heavy emacs user for the past 10 years. If you have RSI problem, i also recommend:

See also: Celebrity Programers with Repetitive Strain Injury.


See: How to Chose Ergonomic Keyboards.

I highly recommend you get a Programable Keypads together with Kinesis. This will fix up the bad function keys on Kinesis.

〔➤see List of Programable Keypads

And or, i recommend a multi-button mouse. See: Best Mouse for Programers.

Shop at Xah Keyboard Store