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The best ergonomic keyboard

A keyboard like this can help reduce hand, arm and shoulder pain.
Wirecutter, @wirecutter
May 26, 2019
Sarah Kobos/Wirecutter

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By Melanie Pinola

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter's independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commission. Read the full guide to ergonomic keyboards.

Ergonomic keyboards are designed to reduce strain by keeping your hands, wrists, and arms at more comfortable, natural positions than you can get with a standard keyboard. After spending months testing 10 of them, we recommend the Kinesis Freestyle Edge for anyone who does a lot of typing and is concerned about their posture or hand, arm, or shoulder pain.

The Kinesis Freestyle Edge is the best option due to its fully split design; its responsive Cherry MX mechanical keys; the ability to tent the keyboard to 5, 10, or 15 degrees; its zero-degree slope and low profile; and its programmability. You can position the halves of the keyboard as close together or as far apart as you'd like in order to reduce shoulder strain and neck tension. With the recommended Lift Kit accessory, you can also tent each half (raise the inner edges of the keyboard halves) to keep your wrists at a neutral angle. Although it could take a bit of time—at least a few days, if not weeks—to get used to typing on a fully split keyboard, the Freestyle Edge was the easiest to get comfortable with thanks to its standard, familiar key layout. And if you'd like to remap keys for a different layout, you can do so in just a couple of clicks.

If you're interested in better ergonomics than a traditional keyboard and don't want to spend a lot of money, we recommend the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard. It has a partially split, slightly tented design and a negative slope attachment that put your wrists in a more ideal typing position. Although it's not adjustable like fully split keyboards and its membrane keys aren't as enjoyable to type on or as durable as mechanical keys, this is a great keyboard if you're just testing the ergonomic waters or prefer laptop-like chiclet keys. Plus, the Sculpt connects via a 2.4 GHz wireless USB dongle, so you don't have to deal with the unsightly wires typical of fully-split ergonomic keyboards, including those of our other picks.

If you want the most adjustable and customizable ergonomic keyboard and don't mind paying more and dealing with a steeper learning curve, we recommend the ErgoDox EZ. This is the ergonomic keyboard for tinkerers: You can adjust the legs on the fully split keyboard halves to any tented and negatively tilted angle, you have your choice of 12 different switch types, the keycaps and switches are easily replaceable, and the open source firmware lets you remap keys and modify the backlight to your liking. But the ErgoDox EZ's unique layout and blank modifier keys take time to learn, so it's not for someone who just wants to plug in their keyboard and start typing. The ErgoDox EZ is for people who want their keyboard to fit and feel just so—and are willing to put the time and effort into relearning how to type.

Why you should trust us

I've been reviewing tech hardware and software for more than a dozen years and have written several articles about workspace ergonomics and health for sites such as Lifehacker. I've researched and tested ergonomic keyboards for Wirecutter for the last three years.

We interviewed experts in ergonomics and keyboard design to learn what to look for in an ergonomic keyboard. Both Dr. David Rempel, founder of the University of California's ergonomics program, and professor Alan Hedge, director of Cornell University's Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group, have extensively researched workplace ergonomics. Their decades of research have helped inform the ergonomic design of workstations, keyboards, mice, and more.

Who this is for

Standard keyboards force you to hold your wrists and arms at stressful angles, which can cause discomfort or pain in your hand, arm, or shoulder. An ergonomic keyboard can help you position your body more properly, with your shoulders relaxed, your upper arms close to your torso, and your forearms level with the floor. Rempel says that if you use a keyboard more than 10 hours a week and already experience this discomfort or pain, you should consider an ergonomic keyboard. Like buying an ergonomic chair or a standing desk, an ergonomic keyboard is an investment in yourself.

That said, anyone who doesn't type much or have any discomfort while typing probably won't need one of these. There's no clear evidence that ergonomic keyboards can prevent carpal tunnel syndrome or other kinds of repetitive stress injuries, although these alternative keyboards can help reduce the strain on your body. Also, keyboards, like a computer mouse or your favorite pair of sneakers, are a very personal choice. If you have a keyboard you love and you don't have any pain or discomfort, you don't need to upgrade.

If you've been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome or any repetitive stress injury (RSI), you should consult an ergonomics expert or your doctor for advice specific to you. This guide is about the most comfortable ergonomic keyboard for most people, but if you have pain, numbness, or other serious symptoms, you'll likely need a medically advised option tailored to your needs.

How we picked

Ergonomic keyboard

The best ergonomic keyboards from right to left: The Microsoft Ergonomic Sculpt, the ErgoDox EZ, and the Kinesis Freestyle Edge. Photo: Sarah Kobos

We consulted our ergonomic experts, and these are the most important features to look for:

Key feel and well-functioning keys: The shape and size of the keys, how much force you need to press a key before it registers (called actuation force), and how much tactile and auditory feedback you get all affect how comfortable your hands will be after a long day of typing. Key feel will also influence how effectively you'll type.

Rempel told us to look for "relatively light-touch keys with an actuation force between 45 and 60 grams." According to Rempel, "The haptic feedback and consistent force are indicators of good quality. Typically a good feel is a key with some click about halfway through the stroke." The keys should be easy to press to reduce strain on your fingers when typing.

For these reasons, we focused on mechanical switches, which are more responsive and comfortable to type on than cheaper and less durable membrane keys. We recommend Cherry MX Brown switches (or their equivalent), because they have a tactile bump and a lighter actuation force of 45 grams compared to other kinds of switches.

Flat keyboard slope from front to back: We focused on ergonomic keyboards with at least a zero-degree slope or, even better, a negative tilt option. "To minimize the risk of injury and to optimize performance, it is important that a keyboard can be used with the hand in its most neutral position," says Hedge. "That is, straight and level." Most keyboards are angled upward from front to back, which makes you flex your wrists up 10 degrees or more to reach all the keys. This position, called extension, is a major cause of strain. The little feet that most keyboards have in the back, which raise the back edge of the keyboard upward like an old typewriter? Don't use those.

"Repeated extremes of wrist extension can put excessive pressure on the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel of the wrist, and this impairs nerve function and eventually results in injury," explains a Cornell research study. That same study noted that a keyboard with negative tilt (angled downward, away from the user) protected the carpal tunnel from critical pressure far more than regular keyboards.

In lieu of a negative tilt, however, you can adjust any keyboard's tilt with an adjustable keyboard tray or, if you use a standing desk, an ergonomic keyboard stand.

Split keyboard: With split keyboards, you can hold your upper arms at the most comfortable position: by your sides. Conventional keyboards force your hands to angle in and your elbows to push out from your sides. This leads to hunched shoulders and upper back strain.

Split ergonomic keyboards come in two flavors: partially split and fully split. Partially split keyboards have a gap of an inch or two down the middle but the keyboard is a single unit, like a traditional keyboard, so there's a lower learning curve. However, you can't adjust the split or the tenting of the keyboard (more on that below). A fully split keyboard is basically a keyboard cut in half. This option is more flexible and adjustable; you can angle and position each half exactly how it would be most comfortable for you. It does come with a steeper learning curve, though.

If you're a touch typist like me who crosses over (i.e., you type the Y key with your left hand and the B key with your right), it might take some time to adjust to a split keyboard—you'll need to relearn how to press the keys near the middle with the appropriate hand. (To be fair, there's a learning curve whenever you get a new keyboard of any type, much like switching from a car you're used to driving to another.) But if you have wrist or shoulder pain, adjusting your typing technique is a minor hindrance if it might bring some relief.

No number pad: The built-in numeric keypad most keyboards have on the right side not only makes your keyboard take up more space on your desk, it also can cause strain on your body because it forces your right arm to stretch to use the mouse. A keyboard without a number pad lets you keep your right arm most properly closer to your side. That's why we focused on keyboards without built-in numpads, also known as tenkeyless keyboards.

Tenting: Some ergonomic keyboards raise the middle of the keyboard slightly (it looks like a tent, hence the name), so your hands rest in a more neutral position. If you rest your hands on your keyboard and your wrists naturally bend outward, a keyboard with tenting will be more comfortable for you. "When you put your hands on [a regular] keyboard, your wrist is often bent so that the little finger is really bending away from the wrist, since your arms are coming in from the sides," explains Hedge. "That's called ulnar deviation. That results in compression on the ulnar nerve, and also it can cause compression of some of the tendons used to flex the fingers."

Customizability: Since we first wrote and last updated this guide, most new ergonomic keyboards have been mechanical ones, targeted especially towards keyboard enthusiasts interested in programming alternate layouts for their keyboards. For this guide, we prioritized customizability when it comes to typing comfort and proper posture (including remappable keys and multiple tenting and tilting options) over customizable macros or backlighting (although those features are nice to have).

Palm rest: Large, comfortable palm rests are also nice to have so you can rest your hands in between typing; ideally, you shouldn't be typing with your hands on the palm rests but rather hovering them over the keys at a neutral angle to prevent the wrist extension mentioned above.

We ruled out ergonomic keyboards that:

  • You have to build or that require soldering. While the build-it-yourself keyboard community is thriving, with many interesting options for self-assembled split keyboards, most people want to use their keyboard out of the box.
  • Felt cheap or plasticky. We looked for keyboards with solid build quality that gave us confidence the keyboard would last for years.
  • Ditch commonly used keys. In an effort to be more compact, some keyboards eliminate navigational keys like the arrow keys and the function keys row at the top. They're accessible via special key combinations, but most people want those dedicated keys, so we eliminated ultra-compact split keyboards.
  • Have all blank keys, such as the Koolertron. Blank keys—those that don't have printed letters or numbers or symbols on them—are fine for touch-typists and ideal for those creating their own alternative keyboard layout. For the rest of us, printed keycaps and a standard layout are more important. Ergonomic keyboards take time and patience to get used to, so throwing in blank keycaps is just another complication.

How we tested

After consulting with our ergonomic experts again and reevaluating our criteria, we researched all of the currently available ergonomic keyboards and tested 10. These include our previous top picks as well as seven new keyboards we hadn't tested before.

I used the keyboards for about a month and a half, writing, emailing, web browsing, and playing typing games. (As a full-time writer and editor, I did a lot of typing!) I frequently switched between keyboards so that each keyboard got time both in the mornings, when I was less likely to have typing fatigue, and in the evenings, when achiness was most noticeable.

Comfort is subjective and everyone has different postures and varying hand sizes, so I combined my testing with the opinions of four panel members to find out how much strain the keyboards placed on their bodies and how the keys felt compared to those of their current keyboards.

Our pick: Kinesis Freestyle Edge

Ergonomic keyboard

Photo: Sarah Kobos

The Kinesis Freestyle Edge is a fully split ergonomic keyboard for anyone who spends most of their days typing, even though it's positioned as a keyboard for gamers. It meets all of our criteria for a great ergonomic keyboard: It's available with three of the most popular mechanical switches, Cherry MX Brown, MX Red, and MX Blue; it can tent at 5, 10, or 15 degrees with the recommended Lift Kit accessory; it has a zero-degree slope and a low profile, although it lacks negative tilt; and you can program it to fit your needs. We found the keys to be comfortable and responsive, whether you tend to "bottom out" (fully depress the keys so the caps hit against the switch plate) when typing heavily or tread more lightly as a typist.

The Freestyle Edge also comes with eight extra keys on the left that you can program for macros, as well as the Fn key (which locks the function layer until you press it again) and the key to toggle the Freestyle Edge's blue backlight. If you're so inclined, you can create up to 9 different keyboard layouts or remap any of the keys pretty easily either onboard or via the optional SmartSet software included with the keyboard.

Ergonomic keyboard

The optional Lift Kit accessory tents the keyboard halves at 5, 10, or 15 degrees. Photo: Sarah Kobos

Overall, our panelists and I found this to be the easiest fully split ergonomic keyboard to get used to; the well-spaced keys and large, smooth palm rest make for a pleasant typing experience even at the end of a long day of writing.

Ergonomic keyboard

By tenting the keyboard halves, you can keep your hands in a more neutral, ergonomic position. Photo: Sarah Kobos

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Ergonomically speaking, the Freestyle Edge's biggest drawback is that it doesn't allow for negative tilting, so if you want a keyboard with that negative slope from front to back to protect your wrists, the Microsoft Sculpt or the ErgoDox EZ would be better options. Or you could use a keyboard tray.

The keycaps are made of smooth ABS plastic, which can become shiny over time, but I've used the Freestyle Edge since the summer of 2018 after buying it on Kickstarter and haven't seen an issue with that so far. Kinesis doesn't sell replacement keycaps, and the Freestyle Edge's nonstandard layout means it will be difficult to find replacements. If you need replaceable keycaps, we recommend the ErgoDox EZ.

If you use the Escape key a lot, you'll need to get used to it being farther away, as it's above those extra hotkeys all the way at the upper left edge of the keyboard. Kinesis made it a large key, which is nice, but you'll have to stretch to get to it. With the included mapping software, however, you could replace the Escape key closer to the home row by swapping, for example, the Caps key with the Escape key.

Like all fully split ergonomic keyboards, the Kinesis Freestyle Edge requires an additional wire to connect both keyboard halves. This adds some unsightly desk clutter, but it's a worthwhile trade-off for better ergonomics.

Budget pick: Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard

Ergonomic keyboard

Photo: Sarah Kobos

If you're interested in better ergonomics than a standard keyboard and don't want to spend a lot of money, the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard is the best place to start. Because it's one piece, the learning curve is less steep than you'd find with a fully split keyboard—it feels natural to use straight out of the box. It checks off most of our ergonomic criteria: tenting and negative tilting (with the included riser), and a separate numeric keypad. Plus, you don't have to deal with the unsightly wires typical of fully-split ergonomic keyboards, since the Sculpt keyboard connects to your computer via a 2.4 GHz wireless USB dongle. But its low-profile membrane keys aren't as pleasant to type or as durable as the mechanical keys in our other picks, and the Sculpt is less customizable.

We found the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard more comfortable to use for hours on end compared to a traditional keyboard, though not as comfortable or customizable as the Kinesis Freestyle Edge or ErgoDox EZ. Compared to similarly priced ergonomic keyboards we've tested like the Adesso WKB-3150UB, the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard feels less plasticky and better designed; the keys feel springy and easy to press, unlike the more wobbly keys of cheaper keyboards. The Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard's row of function keys, however, are tiny and harder to press, more like buttons than regular keys.

Ergonomic keyboard

The Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard's manta ray-like design puts your hands in a more comfortable and ergonomic position than a traditional keyboard would—at an affordable price. Photo: Sarah Kobos

Other trade-offs for the lower price: no programmability, no backlighting, and, most importantly, no ability to separate the keyboard halves to position them for your body's needs. If you have consistent aches while typing, you need more customization, or the Sculpt Ergo doesn't fit your body's ergonomic needs, the Kinesis Freestyle Edge or the ErgoDox EZ may be better for you.

The non-detachable palm rest is large and cushion-y, but even after a week of use, we found it gumming up. As one Amazon reviewer puts it: "The piano-black finish and padded wrist rest are gorgeous... until you start using your keyboard. It's still a beautifully designed keyboard, but it gets dirty easily and the wrist-rest is quickly stained by the oil from your skin." Keep some cleaning supplies handy!

Upgrade pick: ErgoDox EZ

Ergonomic keyboard

Photo: Sarah Kobos

If you want the most adjustable and customizable ergonomic keyboard and don't mind paying more and dealing with a steeper learning curve, we recommend the ErgoDox EZ.

It meets all of our ergonomic criteria: responsive keys with great feedback, a fully split design, and support for both tenting and negative tilting. It's available with 12 different switch types, including Cherry MX Browns—you can even swap out the switches yourself without a soldering iron. But the unique layout takes more time, effort, and patience to get used to, even with the convenient configuration options.

Ergonomic keyboard

The legs on the ErgoDox EZ can be positioned at any angle. Even this one. Photo: Sarah Kobos

The little legs on the ErgoDox are infinitely adjustable to any angle—for both tenting and negative tilting—so you can set this keyboard up exactly to fit your posture needs. It takes experimenting to get the angle just so, but once you do, you might feel like this keyboard was built for you. Even the palm rests are flexible: Unlike those on other keyboards, the ErgoDox EZ's palm rests are detached from the keyboard, so you can place them as close or as far apart from the keys for comfort. The palm rests have a weird rubbery texture that can collect lint, but they're sturdy and comfortable to rest your palms on.

Ergonomic keyboard

You can adjust each half of the ErgoDox EZ into the best angle for your body. Photo: Sarah Kobos

The ErgoDox EZ has an ortholinear layout: Its keys are arranged in columns, rather than the staggered layout of traditional keyboards. This is meant to reduce how far your fingers have to stretch to reach each key, but it will probably take you weeks to get used to. And its clusters of unlabelled modifier keys and unusually placed keys (like the quotation mark moved to the left side of the keyboard) can be time-consuming and frustrating to get used to. Be prepared to fiddle around with the keyboard layout using the graphical configurator, although it is easier to use than you might expect.

We also recommend the ErgoDox EZ Glow if you don't mind spending a little more for programmable RGB backlighting and PBT keycaps, which tend to be more durable and have a grittier texture to them. The standard ErgoDox EZ comes with ABS keycaps—like the Kinesis Freestyle Edge—that can wear down and become smooth and shiny over time. Because it uses only standard keycap sizes (albeit in strange places), it's somewhat easier to find replacement keycap sets for the ErgoDox EZ than it is for the Freestyle Edge—and ErgoDox offers replacement keycaps and switches so you can customize the keyboard even further.

Wirecutter project manager Sam Morrison said it took them about 2 weeks to get used to the ErgoDox EZ after modifying the layout extensively and using a typing tutor every morning to train. (Epistory is a wonderful typing game for both learning to type faster and entertaining yourself.) After adjusting the layout to be more like a traditional keyboard, I'm not quite back up to my full typing speed after a couple of weeks, but I'm getting there.

The competition

The other keyboards we looked at and tested all made too many compromises for us to recommend them. For example, some models we looked at were labeled "ergonomic" but didn't meet the ergonomic criteria our experts laid out.

The Kinesis Freestyle Pro is very similar to the Freestyle Edge, but we think the Freestyle Edge is a better option for more people, because for just $25 more, you get backlighting, included detachable palm rests, a Cherry MX Blue switch option, and a slightly better build quality with touches like braided cables.

If you need a wireless keyboard, the Kinesis Freestyle2 Blue is a solid Bluetooth option, but its membrane keys don't feel as responsive or comfortable as the newer Edge's and Pro's mechanical versions.

Microsoft's Surface Ergonomic Keyboard shares the Sculpt Ergo's partially split design, but the non-removable number pad and the lack of a keyboard riser for negative tilt make the Surface Ergo less ergonomic than its cousin.

And the wireless Adesso WKB-3150UB felt cheaper and more plasticky than the Microsoft Sculpt Ergo for around the same price.

We tested a few compact keyboards for this guide but ultimately ruled them out because they made typing harder by eliminating critical navigational keys. But if you're interested in that category, you might consider the Mistel MD650L Barocco or the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard—both fully split ergonomic keyboards. While we enjoyed typing on the MD650L keyboard, modifying the keyboard isn't simple because there's no graphical interface. The UHK lacks dedicated arrow keys and other navigational keys, which frustrated some of our testers. And the Mistel Barocco didn't meet our ergonomic criteria because it has an upward slope and also lacks arrow keys.

The Keyboardio Model 101 has one of the more interesting keyboard designs, with a fully split butterfly-shaped maple wood body, two function keys under the palms, and an unusual circular base for the keyboard halves that you can rotate to adjust the keyboard angles. Although we enjoyed the keyboard's build quality and colorful backlighting options, our panelists were frustrated with the single, small space bar—more of a space button—and the keyboard is currently difficult to customize unless you know how to code in Arduino.

The Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000, Perixx Periboard 512, Logitech MK550, Adesso Tru-Form Media, Fellowes Microban, and Microsoft Sculpt Comfort all have built-in number pads, which pushes the mouse arm and wrist into a non-ergonomic angle, among other issues.

The build quality on the Goldtouch Go and the Goldtouch GTN-0099 V2 wasn't as high as competing keyboards, and the Kinesis Maxim model is quite outdated (from at least as far back as 2002—it has a PS/2 port option, not to mention a 1990s design).

We eliminated ergonomic keyboards that have a high price but aren't adjustable. For example, the Kinesis Advantage 2 is well-regarded among ergonomic-keyboard enthusiasts, but its fixed design with extreme horizontal and vertical angles means it isn't a good fit for most keyboard users—at nearly $350, we'd like more adjustability in an ergonomic keyboard. The Truly Ergonomic Mechanical Keyboard uses a unique symmetric-column key layout and has a small footprint. It's also fully programmable, so you can create your own custom layout. But at its high price, we prefer a keyboard that can accommodate more body sizes, wrist-tilt preferences, and so on.

This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

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