Overview of the Kinesis Advantage

It’s a bit scary for me to think that there are a large number of our readers who weren’t even around at the time Kinesis first released their Advantage keyboard back in 1991. I’m not one of those, however—I was in high school at the time if that helps. [“Honey! Where’s my cane? You know I can’t walk without it….] At the time, a state-of-the-art PC consisted of high performance 486 CPU sporting as much as 64MB of RAM, though most users only had 4MB-8MB or in “extreme” cases they might have 16MB or possibly even 32MB (though I’m not sure I ever saw anything outside of a workstation with that much RAM). My PC in 1991: a 386DX/33 with 8MB RAM, 120MB hard drive, and some form of video—I think it had a Cirrus Logic chipset with 512K VRAM. Good times!

I also remember playing games like Wing Commander and the sequels while sitting on the floor in front of my 14” CRT monitor, which was on an old wooden chair, with my little kitten “Fang” pouncing on my hands while I was playing games. As you can imagine, 39-year-old-me cringes at the thought of working at a computer in such decidedly un-ergonomic conditions! And that’s as good of a place to start as any when discussing ergonomics: you absolutely need a good desk and chair first, in my opinion, or else you’re not going to get the full benefit out of an ergonomic keyboard like the TECK or Kinesis.

Getting to the keyboard itself, as noted it has two key wells with the keys laid out orthogonally—as opposed to the staggered layout found on typical keyboards. This means there’s less lateral movement of your fingers when you’re typing, and less reaching to hit keys on the bottom or top rows as well. There are also a large number of commonly used keys placed at the thumb position for easy access—Ctrl shows up for both thumbs, while PgUp/PgDn are on the right thumb and Home/End are on the left. The Windows key, Enter, and Space are also on the right thumb, with space falling directly under the thumb and the Enter key just to the side of that in easy reach. On the left thumb, Backspace gets the primary position with Delete just to the right of it, and Alt is in the top-right corner of the key group.

The key arrangement is basically intended to keep everything right at hand, if you will. It’s quite possible to do all of your typing on the Advantage with your palms firmly planted on the palm rests while reaching all of the usual keys. Not that I’m saying that’s a good way to type—most people would suggest having your hands hover slightly above the keyboard—but it’s possible nonetheless. The only keys where you may need to lift your hands off the palm rest to reach them are the function keys, or if you happen to use certain key combinations, particularly complex combos that require more than two keys at the same time.

This is where macros can be useful, and while I’ll save the discussion of actually using macros for the next page, the keys for macro access are in the top-right section of the keyboard. Press and hold the “Progrm” key and then press the “Macro” key (F11) and then the next key/key-combo you use will be set to a macro (i.e. it will quickly play back a sequence of keystrokes). Note that modifier keys like Shift, Alt, and Ctrl can’t be assigned directly to a macro. When you enter macro programming mode, the four indicator lights in the center of the keyboard begin blinking slowly, and you can now type up to 56 characters (142 on the Advantage Pro, as it has an extra memory chip for storing macros). However, some keys will use more than one keystroke—e.g. a capital letter uses three as far as I can tell: one for pressing Shift, one of the letter, and one more when you release shift—so you often end up with fewer than 56 characters at your disposal. By default the Advantage supports 24 macros, but you can set this to 36 or 48 if you prefer having more shorter macros. The maximum macro length with 48 macros is 28, or with 36 macros it’s 38, so basically macro length scales directly with the number of macros.

Along with the macro functionality, the Advantage has built-in key remapping. As with macros, you begin by pressing and holding the Progrm key, only then you press F12 (“Remap”). The lights begin flashing quickly, and all of the key remapping is at the original level (so that you never “lose” a key). When in this mode, you first press the key you want to duplicate (at which point the lights blight more slowly), then the destination key; you can remap as many keys as you want. When you’re finished, press Progrm+F12 again and all of the key mappings become active. The only catch is that if you ever want to switch between the built-in Dvorak layout (accessed via Progrm+Shift+F5) and QWERTY, or vice versa, any custom key remapping is lost (since the Dvorak layout essentially uses the key remapping feature with a hardwired set of key remaps.)

There are a few other features that the Advantage includes that I haven’t covered yet. First, there is a small internal speaker (really just a “buzzer”), which by default makes a very quiet “click” sound when you’re typing. It also makes a louder double-beep when you activate any of the lock keys (Caps Lock, Num Lock, Scroll Lock, or the integrated Keypad) and a single beep when you turn off any of those keys. Some people might like the feature, but after a little bit of use I decided I didn’t want the added noise so I disabled all beeping (Progrm+hypen for the Lock keys and Progrm+backslash for the key clicks). You can also switch between a Macintosh (m), Windows PC (w), and Non-Windows PC (p) setup by pressing and holding the equal sign and one of the letters listed (i.e. w for Windows); this primarily alters the thumb keys, but there are some additional changes for Macintosh like the Scroll Lock become Mac Power and holding F12 is Mac Eject.

I won’t get into the remaining details, but the online PDF manual covers everything if you’re interested. Suffice it to say, there are lots of little extra features integrated into the Advantage that can potentially make it more useful, depending on your particular use case. Personally, other than turning off the audio cues for the keys, I left nearly everything at the default settings. I also made exactly one “permanent” key remapping: I set the right Ctrl key to be the Windows context key, as I happen to use that on a regular basis. With the general overview out of the way, let’s move on to the subjective side of the story.

More than a Month with the Kinesis Advantage Subjective Evaluation: Give and Take
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  • Azethoth - Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - link

  • HisDivineOrder - Tuesday, July 9, 2013 - link

    Seems like a valid question.

    You say it's like asking how a Tesla is for games. I say it's more akin to having a professional workstation you also game on. Like asking how a Quadro is for games. I get that you are defensive over this new product category you seem to like, but you must less biased and more objective.
  • ppeterka - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    "What's it matter how fast you can type on this keyboard, if it's useless for games?"

    I use a computer for 8-10-12 hours of work. On each weekday. Sometimes a bit on weekends.

    I play games average 10 minutes each day.

    And so do my very own few thousand colleagues.

    And so do the few million people using computers to earn money.

    In this concern, gamers are a minority. A tiny rounding error. For your own balance of mind, please go and read articles about watercooled triple GPU configs - that seems to be more your field of interest. And don't forget to ask for money from dad.
  • geniekid - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    This is a hardware enthusiast site so I think a significant number of people who come here use their computers for gaming, maybe not for its primary purpose, but at least a significant amount of the time. So I don't think it's that crazy to want a little more perspective on how well this keyboard is used for gaming purposes.

    "For your own balance of mind, please go and read articles about watercooled triple GPU configs - that seems to be more your field of interest. And don't forget to ask for money from dad."

    That was rude, unconstructive, and detracts from the argument you're trying to make.
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    "This is a hardware enthusiast site so I think a significant number of people who come here use their computers for gaming" - Not exactly true.
  • geniekid - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    I don't think you have any evidence to back up that claim. Not that I have any to back up mine anyway, but do you really think a significant number of the people who read this site don't play games on a daily basis? By significant I mean at least 20%.
  • KLC - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    I'm a long time Anandtech reader, very interested in computer tech since I first got to use a dual floppy IBM PC about 30 years ago. I have zero interest in games. Broaden your horizons.
  • geniekid - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    I'm also a long time Anandtech reader, and I have lots of interest in games and how well ergonomic keyboards deal with them.

    Please note I'm not arguing that any content in the article be replaced with some kind of gaming test, just that a request for a little more information is not that unreasonable.
  • hfm - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    I have been reading Anand for a ridiculously long time as well, since the late 90's if I'm not mistaken. I am 100% sure that over that time most of the content has been geared toward people who care about high performance computing, most of those people being gamers. That said, there's also plenty of content that would be of use to those who couldn't care less about games.

    The big problem is that these two statements are just closed-minded:

    "What's it matter how fast you can type on this keyboard, if it's useless for games?"

    "For your own balance of mind, please go and read articles about watercooled triple GPU configs - that seems to be more your field of interest. And don't forget to ask for money from dad."

    Article like this particular one will bring out the set that doesn't care about games since they are probably the ones that care most about how many WPM they can type in a day. The cross-section is going to be much larger here than a review of the Titan or a Gaming Notebook.

    Can't we just all get along? :) (never is the answer to that question... hasn't happened yet.. probably won't.. ever..)
  • Chapbass - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    I guess I can shed some light on this. I'm a Kinesis Advantage user, I have two of them (one at work one at home) and am a relatively serious gamer. I'm of decent skill level (CAL-M CS1.6, CAL-I DOD:S, and I've played lots of MMOs, RTS, and other genres), and i actually really enjoy using the Kinesis for gaming. Theres a few differences from a normal keyboard:

    1. I've switched from WASD to ESDF for any and all movement. This is because the E and D keys are physically lower than W and S. Because your middle finger is the longest finger on your hand, this ends up feeling incredibly natural, and I actually like it better than a standard keyboard.

    2. Your thumb is incredible on this keyboard. With barely moving, I have easy access to: Backspace, Delete, Control, Alt, Home, and End. The one issue with this is that some games don't like using Backspace and Delete as bindable keys. The way around this is to have the Kinesis remap that as a different key (any key) so that it will treat it as such (its easy to unmap and remap). The macros I would imagine could come in handy, but I almost never use them. (fighting games might be ridiculous...)

    3. The one major issue I've found: With your left hand, you only have access to the numbers 1-5. This can become problematic with games like WoW where you have a ton of spells, keybinds, macros, whatever. I would've enjoyed having access to 6 or 7 with my left hand, but no big deal. There is also the +/= key to the left of 1 (where tilde normally is) so that gives you an extra key. Plus, with the extra keys on your thumb it almost balances out.

    Any other questions, feel free to ask or PM me on the forums (since I'm not sure how much I'll check this).

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