The keys are arranged in bowls that match the shape of your
hands. Touch-typing is practically unavoidable.
The Kinesis keyboard is programmable. You can
rearrange the key caps relatively easily with a supplied
Unfortunately, there are over a dozen (subtly)
different key shapes - and not every key will work at
its best in every location.
The main problem is that the keys have different
degrees of front-to-back slope.
Some of the key-caps are coloured. These keys are the
ones that would be home keys under the QWERTY layout.
You can see these keys have smaller upper
surfaces - clearly an attempt to provide tactile clues
to indicate the home position. After rearranging the
keycaps any usefulness of these cues would be much
My layout is based on the
Initially, I tried the Dvorak layout - but it didn't
work well for me. I didn't like the way it put the
letters "A" and "S" under my smallest fingers - and had
"P-U", "U-P" and "H-G" combinations - which
required using the same finger twice in a row.
However - I was impressed with the Dvorak design
principles - and I deliberately retained many of the
features of the Dvorak layout in my own design.
For example the vowels are all in the home row under the
left hand - while the five most common consonants are
in the home row under the right hand.
Also I attempt to follow the "alternating-hands"
It took me several days to settle on a design. I tried
a number of experiments in the interim.
Retrospectively, I might swap
R - since R would be nice
to have on the home row, and the left hand needs to be used more.
Initially I rearranged most of the key caps. You can
see photographs of the
results. However this meant that many of the keys
were no longer at the right slope - and that the home
position cues were much diminished.
Because I felt that initial experiments with relabelling
keys had been successful, I embarked upon relabelling on a
larger scale - in order to return the keys to their right
places. By the time I had finished, practically
every key had its own label. Unfortunately, such
labelling makes keeping the keyboard clean more
Since the keys activate before bottoming out,
feedback about when they have activated is desirable.
There is an optional audible click on every keypress - which
provides very useful feedback - and helps avoid "bottoming
I supplement this feedback with software on the computer
that performs much the same function - but has different
sounds for different keys - and has a volume control.
IBM's 'buckling spring' technology has the best feedback of
any keyboard I've used. It combines both tactile and
Since keyswitches can include LEDs, adding illumination to
this sort of keyboard is possible. If done in such a way
that the LEDs could be controlled, they could be used to
provide additional visual activation feedback.
This is a great keyboard - but there are some remaining
In my view, far the biggest problem is with
the microswitches that lie beneath every key.
These are much too stiff - and they bottom out
"Hitting the bottom" with too much force may be a
significant factor responsible for causing cumulative damage
disorders of the type most customers will be seeking to
Despite the existence of the feedback described above, I
feel that the force required to activate the keys is still
much too large - and it is still much too easy to bottom-out
accidentally. Also, hitting the bottom of the travel is like
running straight into a solid brick wall - there is no
"give" at this point at all.
I have used a number of other keyboards with better
feel and consistency than this one.
- The function keys are of inferior quality. In
particular, they sometimes produce their tactile click
response without signalling a keypress. Also, I
can't rearrange the keycaps; sticking labels to their
surfaces is an ugly hack - and there's practically no space
for any function key strip.
- Some way of extending the hand rest region towards the
user seems to be needed. I find this region to be several
centimetres too narrow.
- Remapping keys using macros has some
niggles. If you remap a key this way its auto-repeat
rate becomes unusably slow. I also note that pressing
such a remapped key in some applications causes them to
receive additional control characters - which can cause
them to malfunction. This happens (e.g.) using
pico via a telnet session.
I believe this bug has something to do with the way
shifted characters are replayed. It appears that a
sequence is generated - and the
keypress is causing problems.
Remapping keys using macros is the only way to
remap a key stroke without remapping all the
other functions bound to that key.
- The firmware's API is proprietary and undocumented.
There is no supplied software for many common OSs - so
this is a big issue. You can't save your settings, you
can't print out the existing macros - you can
only change things using the supplied firmware
and the manual interface. Perhaps the USB version
works better in this respect.
I have had to reprogram my keyboard from scratch
many times. Here's what I have
to do each time. An interface for doing this
programmatically seems highly desirable to me.
- Using 48 macros does not seem to work properly.
Kinesis acknowledge that there are some minor issues -
but I encountered major bugs that made employing
the 48 macro mode into an unthinkable proposition.
The problem was lost keystrokes. Not just when hitting
two keys in quick sucession (as
[the support site suggests]) -
but all the time. I could easily
press a key 30 times and still not have it register
once. Shift and control key operations only exhibited
Fortunately, reverting to 36 macros cures the problem.
- Bugs in the firmware mean that the shift keys sometimes
act as thopugh they are stuck down. This is pretty
irritating - until you find how to work around the
- More keys. 86 keys isn't anything like enough. It's
great being able to program keys - but a pain
having to bind them to key combinations for lack of physical
I think that an improvement would be to remove the existing
function keys - and to add on two additional rows of keys,
directly above the existing ones.
There also seems to be some space left for keys in the
bottom corners of the keyboard.
- Also, I would like more thumb keys. I'm
convinced that space could be found for these. It seems
to be important to have your main modifier keys
thumb-operated. As it is I have sacrificed the
functionality of the two "Alt" keys - and
turned them into additional "Shift" keys.
- After years of searching I finally found some keycaps suppliers.
I originally thought that ripping to bits a Cherry G80 series keyboard and scavenging its keycaps might work - but those keys are all
different shapes as well: this is not practical.
The POS-style technology
(as used by [X-Keys] looks good to me.
keycaps are interchangable with the Kinesis ones - because they use exactly the
same microswitches. Unfortunately, 'International Shipping' on a handful of
X-Keys keycaps comes in at $49.49.
After quite a search I found a UK supplier:
Photos of my keycaps can be found here.
I have performed spring surgery on
the thumbboard keyswitches - to reduce their activation
Alas, spring surgery on the
fingerboard keyswitches looks as though it will not be
practical to perform.
This problem is a serious one for me - and it probably means
that my Kinesis keyboard will eventually be retired.
My supplier charged me $250 (including shipping). That
worked out at £176. I had to pay another
£44 tax when it arrived. Total: £220.
The keyboard took four weeks to arrive by surface mail.
From here you can go back to My keyboard page.
Relating to this page
Photos of previous Kinesis configurations are available.
Remapping instructions for the current layout are available.
Kinesis review by Paul Fatula
Kinesis review by Bobulous
Roedy Green's essay on the Dvorak Standard Keyboard
Contoured Keyboards for sale
Kinesis cured my sore hands
Josh Carter's experiences with the Kinesis ergonomic keyboard
Reducing Wrist Pain, and QWERTY vs. Dvorak
Kinesis Keyboard Quick Reference
Shipman's Kinesis keyboard page