The working posture of an ordinary keyboard isn’t ergonomically sound. Your shoulders, wrists, and even elbows are placed into positons which make you unnaturally strained. It’s such a minor amount of stress on your body that you may not notice it happening. But after hundreds of hours being locked in those awkward positions, you can suffer from repetitive stress. Ergonomic keyboards solve that problem by diving the keyboard into two halves, and then placing those halves at an angle.
It’s a good design, and a solid improvement over a traditional keyboard. Unfortunately, the fixed orientation of an ordinary ergonomic keyboard means it’s only a solution to half of the problem. Without sufficient separation between each half of the board, the design may only address the ergonomics of wrist health while ignoring the rest of the body. And spending sustained time in poor keyboard postures may end up affecting far more than your wrists.
Split keyboard are fully ergonomic because they allow you to separate the keyboard into two halves. People who aren’t perfect typists will end up needing a small adjustment period, and people who aren’t touch typists will have a particularly steep learning curve ahead of them. But the rewards are absolutely worth it.
Whether or not you’re worried about repetitive stress injuries, a fully ergonomic keyboard is more comfortable than other boards because it can better fit your body. If you plan on using keyboards for more than two or three years, it’s worth taking the time to adapt to ergonomic boards.
Choosing the Right Ergonomic Gaming Keyboard
Depending on your intended use, you’ll find many types of keyboards exist. Typists tend to use similar keyboards to those used by gamers, but there are always subtle differences. Capitalizing on those differences is the difference between finding a good keyboard and a great keyboard.
These differences can seem small at first, but they’re not insignificant when you find yourself spending countless hours in contact with your keyboard. With enough frequency, seemingly minor issues with a keyboard can become serious agitations. Conversely, apparently small improvements can produce a board that feels almost inexplicably better to use.
Mechanical vs. Rubber Dome
Most inexpensive keyboards use a rubber dome design. With these boards, key strokes are actuated when keycaps press against a rubber dome. The dome acts like a sort of highly durable rubber spring. By contrast, mechanical keyboards have keystrokes which are actuated by special switches, usually involving a metallic spring. The most immediate difference is in how each board feels to type on.
Most mechanical boards are constructed with Cherry MX switches, or some mechanically similar variant. Minor variations between each switch make for huge differences in how boards perform. These switches affect factors like the actuation force required to press a key, whether or not there’s tactile feedback for actuation, and even the sound of the clicking itself. Some switches are silent, which can be good for typing away while your spouse is sleeping next to you. Other switches are intentionally loud to help provide an auditory noise que alerting the typist actuation has occurred.
What’s the big deal about actuation? When you press down hard into a rubber dome keyboard, your fingers are doing quite a bit of work to type. If you’re playing a competitive game and every second counts, only having to press a keycap to its actuation point means you can act faster. For the same reason, it means you may be able to type faster.
You’ll be less likely to strike a key and have the key fail to respond because you can get sensory feedback about actuation. And ultimately the board can feel more comfortable because you can literally type a little easier. The actuation point of each key, how far you have to press them, varies from one board to the next.
Keycaps are typically made from plastic, either ABS or PBT. Generally speaking, PBT is superior to ABS for keyboard keycaps. It’s durable, stiff, doesn’t wear in color, and doesn’t easily become glossy as you use the keycaps. There’s also a distinct sound difference between the two. PBT sounds more like a thump while ABS creates a higher toned clicking. PBT are also more resistant to solvents for the purposes of cleaning.
Keycap wobble is mostly a minor concern. Some people find keycap wobble jarring, especially during gaming. Other people never notice it, or otherwise don’t care. To experience the wobble, place your finger on one of the keys on your keyboard, press lightly, and do a circular motion with your finger. Unless you’re using one of the most expensive keyboards on the market, your keycap probably wobbled around to follow your finger. Some boards have more of this wobbling motion than others. Whether or not that wobble bothers you is entirely a matter of taste, up until the point that it becomes severe.
While very little research has been done into the efficacy of mechanical boards for fighting off repetitive stress injuries, anecdotally you don’t have to look hard to find people who’ve said boards have helped them. In any case, the keyboard you choose should help keep your arms and wrists in a neutral position. Having a split keyboard gets you 90% of the way there, finishing the rest is about ensuring the board you choose is sufficiently adjustable to your needs. Someone with wide shoulders may end up needing a different board than a petite person.
KINESIS Freestyle 2 Edge Split Gaming Keyboard
The KINESIS Freestyle 2 Edge uses a split-adjustable design that allows you to customize the positioning of the keyboard to your body. The connecting cord between each half of the board allow for 20” of separation, making this board adaptable for any body size. Kinesis also has a 9-inch separation board that’s marginally cheaper, but only suitable for those with small shoulders.
Build & Design
The KINESIS Freestyle 2 split keyboard does a great job of customizing to your body type. The 20” version is well-equipped to help even those with broad shoulders. Under the keycaps you’ll find pleasant-feeling low pressure rubber dome keys. Each key uses low-force tactile key switches, for smooth typing. Each stroke is low-force, allowing the board to remain very quiet with each press. Thanks to a standard layout, there’s no learning curve to picking up this board. You will have to get used to keys being in a slightly different physical position, but that’s much easier than learning an entirely new layout.
Accessories aren’t included, but the Freestyle2 Edge’s design is compatible with palm supports, V3 lifters, and the addition of a numeric keypad. It’s also compatible with Linux, and all versions of Windows 7 and beyond. One common criticism of this board is the escape key is positioned unusually far away. Additionally, convenience keys are placed in ways that make accidental keystrokes increasingly possible. And those keys can’t be remapped because they’re hard coded.
Mistel Barocco Ergonomic Split PBT Mechanical Keyboard
The Mistel Barocco keyboard is incredibly stylish thanks to its lack of bezel around the split keys in the center of the board. The resulting jigsaw-like appearance is both aesthetically distinctive and convenient for helping learning the layout of the board. Along the top of this keyboard, you’ll find PBT keycaps, built to last for millions of keystrokes without missing a beat.
Build & Design
You get a good idea about the quality of this keyboard from examining the connecting cord alone. It’s a thick, braided wire that looks virtually indestructible. The Mistel Barocco Ergonomic Split PBT board uses a fairly compact design, sitting around 11.6 x 5 x 1.5-inches. It’s ideal for taking on the road, or saving space on a small desk. And of course it has every other modern essential you want from a mechanical board, like N-key rollover to prevent key ghosting and highly accessible media keys.
Mistel Barocco’s mechanical boards are available with cherry Black, Blue, Brown, and Red switches. Gamers love cherry red switches for their actuation, while typists like brown for the tactile feedback and quiet strokes. Aesthetically, these boards are available in white and black, and with multicolor LED backlit keys.
These Mistel Barocco mechanical boards includes a Mini USB cable, a micro USB cable, an orange enter key, and a key-puller for cleaning the board. They also use PBT keycaps resistant to friction, and specifically designed to keep keycaps comfortable over time with heavy use.
You can program the layouts on the board with on-board bindings, so you don’t need to rely on computer software to make your macros. Every key is programmable, and any key can become a macro key. But if you’re looking for an easier way, you’ll also find 3 built-in preset layouts, including the standard QAERTY layout, DVORAK, and Colemak. Having three programmable layouts makes this board ideal for programmers.
KINESIS Freestyle Edge Split Gaming Keyboard
Sometimes you want a small travel keyboard, and sometimes you want a board that’s larger than full-sized. The KINESIS Freestyle Split Keyboard is on the larger side of things. The connecting cable allows 20” of separation between each side, which is enough room for all body types. Gamers will appreciate it’s easy to remove the right side of the board from your desk entirely, providing more space and ergonomic possibilities.
Build & Design
The most important thing to notice about this board is how it feels great to work on. Of course, it has a generally high quality build, including braided cables. But when it comes down to the feel of the board, what really matters its impressive 1ms response time. The Edge Split is available with Cherry Red, Brown, Blue, and Silver switches. Whether you want tactile feedback or auditory feedback, it’s easy to find the right board.
Since Blue and Silver are some of the least common switches, it might be worth explaining those individually. Blue switches are extra-clicky and include tactile bump. They’re intended for typists, but they’re not great for gamers because of their actuation point. Silver switches have an exceptionally low actuation point of 1.2mm instead of the typical 2mm, and a travel time that’s 0.6mm shorter than Red switches.
Beyond that, you’ll find a fully programmable board that includes its own programming engine. Within, you can create 9 customized load outs for the board, including macros, easy key remaps, and 8 designated game keys. For style points, you’ll want to notice the adjustable LED backlighting and their 9 brightness levels. You’ll also want to notice the only available color for those LEDs is blue.
These KINESIS keyboards are compatible with Mac OS X, Linux, Chrome, and Windows 7 through 10. They’re bigger, full-sized boards, weighing about 3 pounds, and not ideal for traveling. It’s nice this board includes a palm support, and it’s great they made it detachable for people who aren’t interested in using a palm support. But the palm support isn’t cushioned, so it’s not exceptionally comfortable.
Choosing Between 3 Great Ergonomic Split Gaming Keyboards
For a compact and portable board, the Mistel Barocco Ergonomic Split keyboard is great. The PBT keycaps and mechanical design are a high standard for a small board. The preset layouts and programmable layouts are layers of added value and convenience. It has all the right features, and all the aesthetic options you could hope for. For travel or saving desk space, it’s a great choice for someone who wants a medium-sized board.
The KINESIS Freestyle Edge Split Gaming Keyboard is good for people who want something bigger. The ability to only use one half of it makes this a great option for gamers, and the available 20″ of separation between each board makes it a good choice for people with broad shoulders. And the option of Cherry Blue and Cherry Silver switches is quite unique.
If you don’t care about keycaps, actuation points, and other seemingly minor details, then you probably want the KINESIS Freestyle 2. It’s a great budget-oriented option that can help you get a solid ergonomic design without paying for a bunch of stuff you don’t care about. The rubber dome keys are reasonably comfortable, and a “good enough” choice for anyone who doesn’t spend hours upon hour behind their keyboard.