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The Truly Ergonomic Keyboard (TEK): Review

TEK keyboard

When you've bought your third expensive keyboard it's time to admit you have a fetish. Or that you spend most of your day glued to the business end of a computer. Or both! But face it: if you spend a lot of time writing, a decent keyboard is worth more than its weight in gold, for reasons of efficiency, health, and comfort alone.

I was in the mood for a keyboard built around a linear (not-staggered) layout, and a few reviews of the TEK ("Totally Ergonomic Keyboard") made it seem appealing. So I bought one and have used it for the past couple of weeks. Here are my conclusions, and a few notes of comparison with the Kinesis Ergo keyboard, which I also like and use daily.

First, this keyboard is expensive. But it is worth the money for the build quality alone. It's solid: the keys are made of a solid, thick feeling plastic you don't appreciate until you go back to something designed using flimsier specifications, and it's generally well-laid out. Unlike the Kinesis, the function keys are built just like every other key, which I like. There's a wrist rest you could remove if you preferred, but it requires unfastening nine screws to do so, which indicates to me you are really expected to use it. But it's extremely well made, so that's not a huge problem. And a huge level of effort has gone into really detailed design and building. It even comes with a custom-fit, plastic dust cover for the end of the day: I live in a dusty climate and eventually my keyboards look like they were dipped in mud, so this is a nice little extra that probably cost very little but makes a big different.

Layout issues: The linear layout is different and takes a day or two to get used to. But once you get accustomed to it you'll find it's a bit faster, and the spectacular key switches are comfortable, give great tactile feedback, and aren't tiring. There's no question about mechanical keyboards being superior. I had a few problems getting used to specific keys: I now use my second finger to strike the C instead of my first; that took some getting used to. I also had trouble getting used to the apostrophe being to the right of the P instead of directly to the right. And the hardest one of all was finding the square and angle brackets where my left pinky was expecting to find the tab key: that one still haunts me. I like very much having the Control key under my left pinky (and now, my right pinky too!). Having backspace, delete, and Super ("Win" or "Command") in the middle has worked fine for me. Having the Home/End/Page Up/Page Down cluster under the left hand, and the up/down/left/right arrows clustered under the right hand has been very nice. I find myself using Home and End quite a bit more now that it's not quite such a pain to reach for them each time.

Complaints? The escape key is really far away. That makes this keyboard slightly annoying for editing with the Vim text editor, for which I still prefer my Happy Hacking Keyboard. And the tab key is a bit small. Lastly, the Alt keys are nice and big, but you've really got to reorient your hands in order to find them. I'm still toying with the idea of making the left space bar and Alt key since I instinctively hope to find it under my left thumb, and apparently I only use my right hand for spaces anyway. The fact that you can remap any key to any character makes that possible and is a huge benefit! That also makes the Alt-Tab key combination for moving among windows slightly awkward (on my Linux machine I simply chose a more comfortable combination: hooray for configurability under KDE!). None of these things is a real deal-breaker, and the custom configurability makes it easy to adjust.

Conclusion: I'm definitely keeping this keyboard, and it's currently my favorite. It's comfortable, well-made, and lovely to use. The attention to comfortable keypresses is obvious - the actuation pressure, clickiness, and like are all superb. Having the wrists straight instead of pronated seems useful, though that was never a source of discomfort for me. But the mechanical key switches and build quality of this keyboard make it a real lifestyle-improvement. It seems made of higher quality materials than the Kinesis, and its keys are less wobbly. I still love the ergonomics of the Kinesis, but this seems to work well too. I will certainly continue to use them both, as the Kinesis is more comfortable but the TEK has nicer key action.


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