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How to Buy the Right Ergonomic Keyboard

Contrary to the common belief, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to ergonomic keyboards. The typical “ergonomic” design may not be right for you at all. When buying an ergonomic keyboard, here are a few things to consider.

Work type

There are a variety of ergonomic keyboards designs available in the market today, each ergonomic keyboard type has specific features to suit different work requirements. So, the first thing you should consider when buying an ergonomic keyboard is the kind of work, you’ll be doing with it.

There are ergonomic keyboards tailored for gamers. Get one of them, if you are serious about gaming. These gaming ergonomic keyboards have special gaming keys to facilitate playing computer games. But if you do a lot of typing, then get an ergonomic keyboard that offers a comfortable typing experience.

Also, if you work with numbers, get an ergonomic keyboard with a numeric keypad. What you do should dictate, to a large extent, the type of ergonomic keyboard you should buy.

Key layout

Most ergonomic keyboards have a “split” layout, with the two halves of the keyboard either fixed in place at an angle or completely separated into two pieces. This allows you to place each half wherever you want. But contrary to popular belief, split keyboards aren’t an answer to all your ergonomic woes.

In fact, according to the Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group from Cornell University, most people can use the standard keyboard with no risk of injury. Split keyboards can increase comfort for many people, especially larger people, pregnant women, and people with broader shoulders who have trouble keeping their arms at their sides. For programmers, a keyboard in the DVORAK layout is a better choice than the standard QWERTY layout. For those obsessed with cleanliness, there are washable keyboards available as well.

Since there are many types of ergonomic keyboards available, it’s essential to choose one that meets your requirements.

Tilt and adjustability

The tilt of a keyboard is more crucial than the angle of the keys. Most keyboards tilt upwards — the keys at the top of the keyboard higher than those at the bottom. This causes wrist extension because you have to bend your hands when typing, which can be painful over time. That’s one reason why you should avoid using the retractable “feet” that most keyboards come with.

When choosing an ergonomic keyboard, the more adjustable a keyboard is, the more you’ll find a comfortable position for your hands. Thus, an ergonomic keyboard that allows for different angles is the best choice.

Regardless of the ergonomic keyboard you choose, consider using a keyboard tray; this’ll allow you to tilt your keyboard downward to avoid wrist extension.

Switch types

When shopping for an ergonomic keyboard, you’ll come across keyboards that use different switches. A keyboard switch is the spring mechanism underneath the keys, which determines the feel and response of typing. Some types of keyboards have membrane switches, especially laptop and desktop keyboards.

The more specialized keyboards use mechanical switches, which slide along a stem for a smoother feel. Mechanical switches can be broken down further into clicky or “blue” switches, which are noisy but offer good tactile feedback. Linear or “red” switches are very smooth. And tactile or “brown” switches provide a tactile bump without the clicky sound. Brown switches are the best choice for those who have never used an ergonomic keyboard before.

So, when shopping for an ergonomic keyboard, test how the keys feel. Because there are keyboards with sensitive, soft, feather-like keystrokes, and there are others that require extra pressure to register key presses. Remember, that switches make all the difference in sensitivity, noise level, and comfort.

Wrist rests

Again, contrary to the popular brief, wrist rests are not always necessary. No research has shown the substantial benefits of wrist rests; some even increase the pressure on your wrists. But the ergonomic guide notes from Cornell University note that low-profile palm rests are less problematic; however, they also note that putting pressure on your wrists may do more harm than good.

Wired vs. wireless

Both wired and wireless keyboard configurations have their pros and cons. Wireless keyboards have no cords that clutter your desk, but they are likely to interfere with other wireless devices.

For gamers, wired keyboards are a better choice because wireless keyboards lag, which slows gameplay. Also, wireless keyboards are battery-powered, so they need to be charged or replaced regularly. This makes them expensive. Thus, an ergonomic keyboard that supports both wired and wireless configurations is the best choice, especially if you want the best of both worlds.

Final thoughts

You can see that what we think of as “ergonomic” is not always the best choice. Because we are all different, the ultimate deciding factor is what meets your needs — that’s why alternative keyboard designs exist. If your current computer setup is working, then don’t fix what isn’t broken. But if you experience wrist aches and pain, then it’s essential to upgrade your keyboard and get an ergonomic keyboard that improves your comfort.

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Autonomous’ #WorkSmarter publication is a resource hub to share the hacks, shortcuts, and tips we’ve picked up on our journey to create the workspaces of tomorrow, today. As the saying goes, the only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on.

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