Writing Through the Pain
A Writer's Review of the Kinesis Freestyle 2 Keyboard
I was moved to seek out a new ergonomic keyboard when I found myself saddled with a painful bout of tendinitis coupled with carpal tunnel syndrome. The dull aching, stabbing, sharp pencil-jabbing, tingling numbness in my right hand was enough to bring wails of frustration.
And then I found the Kinesis Freestyle 2 keyboard.
Keep in mind, I'm still in the throes of a full run of wrist and hand inflammation as I write this. I can still feel the periodic burn in my elbow as the nerves fight through the congestion in my digits, but I was compelled to take a break from my medical break and talk about this remarkable input device.
I won't bury the lead. I'll come right out and say it: This is by far the best keyboard I've ever used. Period.
As a long-time sufferer of carpal tunnel syndrome and problems associated with repetitive use of mice and keyboards, I've become something of a connoisseur of ergonomic equipment. Until now, I'd kept all my eggs in the Microsoft basket, my latest being the Microsoft Comfort Keyboard 5000—which I strongly recommend for those of you who suffer from repetitive stress syndrome who aren't confident enough to take the extreme leap toward a fully segmented input device like the Kinesis ergonomic keyboards. The Microsoft Comfort offers a gentle curve to the keys that ease your hands away from the “pinched wrist” position of a normal keyboard.
If, however, you've had it up to that familiar pain in the neck with repetitive stress—and if you're a “touch typist” (one who can type without having to look at the keys)--allow me to proudly introduce you to Kinesis.
The most striking feature of the Kinesis Freestyle 2 is its segmented design. The keyboard is divided into two “halves.” Imagine sawing a regular keyboard in half between the G and H keys and you'll get the idea. Out of the box you have the option of angling the two halves to accommodate your hands through the use of a pivot hinge, or you can easily unsnap the hinge and spread the two halves about the width of the arms of a common office chair.
The purpose of segmenting a keyboard like that is to give you a range of options for the best comfort. Ergonomically, your wrists should be straight and your hands resting comfortably. Kinesis realizes that everyone is built differently and there are as many variations of comfortable positions as there are people. So, the Kinesis Freestyle 2 goes one better by giving you the option to spread open your posture all the way to your arms so you can keep your elbows at a comfortable 90-degree angle without twisting them in or bending your wrists awkwardly.
And speaking of comfort... The soft touch of the Kinesis Freestyle 2 is smooth and silky, and the button clicks are so quiet you could type at a rattling 75wpm in the same room with a sleeping spouse and not disturb them. There are tactile nubs on the F and J keys as well as on the HOME, END, PAGE UP and PAGE DOWN keys, which are aligned along the right side of the keyboard since the Kinesis Freestyle 2 does not have a dedicated number pad. More on this in a moment.
While the placement of the QWERTY keys are aligned as you'd expect them, I was concerned that I'd have some difficulty finding my way to the CTRL, ALT, BACKSPACE, ENTER and arrow keys. I was pleasantly surprised that my brain directed my fingers to where they should be and that's where I found them.
The left side of the Kinesis Freestyle 2 features pre-programmed keys for Web navigation as well as—get this—one button functions for “CUT,” “DELETE,” “COPY,” “UNDO” and “PASTE.” I find this to be a godsend, especially when I use those functions a lot in graphic design as well as writing. Bye-bye CTRL key.
What some users may not like about the Kinesis Freestyle 2 is the aforementioned lack of a dedicated number pad. Kinesis does sell an add-on number pad for a price if you really need one; otherwise, you can train yourself to utilize the “Function Toggle” to use the number pad that doubles as your J, K, L, U, I, O, 7, 8 and 9 keys. Just be mindful of the toggle or you might wns 4- ry-5nf n6nawnaw d6e QH53WA (end up typing nonsense for awhile) without even realizing it. Fortunately, it's pretty hard to accidentally hit the toggle. The Fn key is all the way on the bottom left of the left half of the keyboard. If you feel like you can get used to it, however, the Function Toggle is just as intuitive as the rest of the keyboard. I find it easy to shift to “NUM pad” mode after tapping the toggle, and there's even a function key that opens your computer's calculator. Handy!
Another sticking point might be the “forced purchase” of certain ergonomic accessories. You can find the Kinesis Freestyle 2 for between $80-90. That's not bad for a high quality ergonomic keyboard, until you realize that the secondary ergonomic part will cost extra.
Kinesis calls it the “VIP3 Accessory,” and you can buy the Freestyle 2 with the accessory for a few extra bucks. Sold separately for $30-40, the VIP3 is really nothing more than a pair of “kickstands” and wrist supports that clip easily onto your Kinesis Freestyle 2. The legs are adjustable and allow you to “tent” your keyboard halves at 10 and 30 degrees. I personally don't use the tenting legs because I found that a dull ache developed along my biceps, probably because my desk surface is a bit higher (or my chair a bit lower) than it should be. Still, it's a good accessory to have, particularly for the wide and very comfortable wrist rests. Now, while the wrist rests are built just as sturdy as the rest of the VIP3 kit and the keyboard itself, I had to groan when I saw that I had to peel-and-stick the foam padding on the rests myself.
People who know me know that I'm not terribly gifted when it comes to maintenance of any kind. I'm not good at “crafty” things or aligning parts that go together. Come on, Kinesis! If you're going to make us pay extra for the ergonomic trifecta, at least have a machine, or a tribe of old ladies, glue on the foam pads!
So, what about the bottom line? Is shelling out $110 to $130 worth it for an ergonomic solution to your typing dilemma?
Despite the lack of a numeric keyboard and having to purchase the adjustable tenting option (and wrist rests) separately, the Kinesis Freestyle 2 is the perfect keyboard for writers, bloggers, or anyone who spends a lot of time typing. The first time I used the keyboard was during the pinnacle of my tendinitis pain. I didn't suffer at all during its use, and the right side of my palm and wrist actually felt better after typing a few minutes. It was almost like therapy for my RTS because I could move my hands and fingers effortlessly with my wrists and elbows in the perfect position to allow freedom of movement for all my tendons and muscles.
Medical Sidebar Disclaimer Type Thingy: There is no substitute for medical attention, physical therapy and rest for repetitive stress issues. If you suffer with pain anywhere from your fingertips to your neck, consult a doctor and check out the treatment options that are best for you. In the short run, I recommend resting as often as possible. Ice is also your friend.
If you'd like to find out more about the Kinesis Freestyle 2, or any of the other awesome ergonomic products offered by Kinesis, visit them at www.kinesis-ergo.com. They have a great trial option for businesses looking to provide ergonomic solutions for their employees as well. They're definitely worth checking out.
And, if there's a question I didn't answer about the Kinesis Freestyle 2, or the VIP3 accessory, write to me at riggstories(at)gmail.com (Or via my Contact Page) I'd be more than happy to talk about it (because it will give me a reason to type with it).
Marketing and Sales Disclaimer Type Thingy: I bought my Kinesis Freestyle 2 and VIP3 accessory from Amazon and paid full price. I was not contacted by Kinesis to act as a pitchman, nor am I a spokesman for ergonomic equipment in general. I'm not a chiropractor or an orthopedic surgeon. I make no money from selling wrist braces or Tylenol. I'm just a user who suffers from repetitive stress and strain who is very satisfied with this product.