Ergonomic Mechanical Keyboards vs Regular Keyboards

May 9, 2024

It's easy to regard the standard computer keyboard that you're using now as just another input device---just another computer peripheral. However, don't you know that they are not designed to work with the natural physiology of a human?

Surprising, isn't it? Well, not really considering that these standard keyboards still use an ancient design when ergonomics and human factor engineering were not a thing.

But today, ergonomics has revolutionized keyboard design so that ergonomic mechanical keyboards actually work with your body. They make typing more comfortable and enjoyable. Most importantly, they help you avoid repetitive strain injury.

Let's check out these ergonomic keyboards.

Ergonomic Keyboards vs Standard Keyboards for a Design Perspective

All keyboards are input devices. But that's like saying all ball sports are the same. While they may have the same primary functions, ergonomic mechanical keyboards and regular keyboards have distinct design differences:

  1. Layout: Ergonomic keyboards are designed to adapt to human physiology. Thus, some models can split in the middle to allow typing at a shoulder's width for a more relaxed typing position. Some are contoured so that the wrists are in a more natural position. In contrast, regular keyboards usually have a single, straight layout.
  2. Key arrangement: Some ergonomic keyboards have a non-standard key arrangement such as a curved or staggered layout, which reduces reaching and stretching movements. Regular keyboards follow the traditional QWERTY layout without significant ergonomic considerations.
  3. Key switches: Ergonomic mechanical keyboards use mechanical switches that are more durable and tactile than the silicone dome membranes used in regular keyboards. Mechanical switches can be replaced, so users can choose to customize their keyboard.
  4. Wrist support: Ergonomic keyboards usually have built-in wrist rests or palm supports for a more relaxed wrist posture during typing. Regular keyboards generally do not offer integrated wrist support although standalone wrist rests can be used with them.
  5. Adjustability: Many ergonomic keyboards offer adjustable features such as tenting (tilting the keyboard halves upwards), split angles, and customizable key layouts to accommodate different hand sizes and typing preferences. Regular keyboards often lack these adjustable features.
  6. Thumb clusters: Some ergonomic keyboards include additional keys or clusters positioned near the spacebar to be activated by the thumbs. This helps reduce strain on the fingers and creates a more balanced typing experience. This feature is not typically found on regular keyboards.

Pros and Cons: Ergonomic Keyboards vs Standard Keyboards

Both ergonomic mechanical keyboards and standard computer keyboards have their own advantages and disadvantages. It pays to know these pros and cons so you can choose the best device for your needs and preferences. 

Ergonomic Mechanical Keyboards

Pros

  1. Improved Comfort: These keyboards are designed with ergonomic principles to reduce strain on the wrists, shoulders, and hands by forcing users to type in a more natural posture.
  2. Customization: Ergonomic mechanical keyboards have adjustable features such as split layouts, tenting, and customizable key arrangements to position the keyboard to their specific needs and preferences.
  3. Reduced Risk of Injury: A more neutral hand position minimizes repetitive movements. Ergonomic keyboards help prevent or mitigate repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) like carpal tunnel syndrome.
  4. Typing Efficiency: The ergonomic layout and key placement of ergonomic keyboards help increase typing speed and accuracy.
  5. Durable and Responsive Switches: The switches of ergonomic mechanical keyboards are more durable and pleasant to type on.

Cons

  1. Learning Curve: Switching from a standard keyboard to an ergonomic one may require an adjustment period as users strive to accustom themselves to a new layout and key arrangement.
  2. Price: Ergonomic mechanical keyboards are more expensive than standard keyboards.
  3. Limited Availability: While ergonomic keyboards are becoming more popular, they are still less widely available compared to standard keyboards.
  4. Less Portable: Some ergonomic keyboards, especially those with split layouts or adjustable features, may be bulkier and less portable than standard keyboards.

Standard Keyboards

Pros

  1. Familiar Layout: Standard keyboards with a traditional layout are ubiquitous and intuitive to most users.
  2. Affordability: Standard keyboards are more budget-friendly than ergonomic mechanical keyboards.
  3. Widespread Availability: Standard keyboards are readily available in various styles and price ranges.
  4. Portability: Many standard keyboards are compact and lightweight, making them ideal for users who need to travel or work in different locations.

Cons

  1. Potential for Strain: The straight layout and lack of ergonomic features in standard keyboards can cause discomfort, especially during prolonged typing sessions. In worst cases, it can lead to repetitive strain injuries. 
  2. Limited Customization: Standard keyboards generally have fewer customization options compared to ergonomic mechanical keyboards.
  3. Less Durable: Standard keyboards with membrane switches are more vulnerable to faster wear and tear.
  4. Less Tactile Feedback: Membrane keyboards often lack the tactile feedback provided by mechanical switches, which many users prefer for typing comfort and accuracy.

How To Make Your Keyboard More Ergonomic

an image of an ergonomic mechanical keyboard with LED lights

Whether you're using a high-tech ergonomic mechanical keyboard or an ole' classic standard keyboard, there are ways in which you can make them work with your body. Let's check them out.

  1. Use proper posture: Sit with your feet flat on the floor or a footrest. Your knees should be parallel to the ground. Keep your back straight and supported by your chair, and position your keyboard so that your elbows are at a slightly open angle, allowing your wrists to remain in a neutral position while typing.
  2. Adjust the keyboard height: Position your keyboard so that it is at the height of your elbows or slightly below. Adjust your chair height or use a keyboard tray.
  3. Consider a split keyboard: If you frequently experience wrist or shoulder discomfort, use a split keyboard with separate halves for each hand. This allows you to position the keyboard halves at shoulder-width apart, reducing strain on your wrists, forearms, and shoulders.
  4. Use a wrist rest: A wrist rest supports your wrists and keeps them in a neutral position while typing. Look for a wrist rest that is sufficiently padded.
  5. Adjust the keyboard angle: Adjust the angle or tilt of the keyboard to keep your wrists and hands straight when typing. Experiment with different angles to find the most comfortable position for your wrists and hands.
  6. Consider keycap profiles: Keycap profiles can affect typing comfort and ergonomics. Some users find that sculpted keycaps or keycaps with a contoured surface provide better finger support.
  7. Invest in a quality chair: A supportive and adjustable chair can significantly improve your overall comfort and posture while typing. Look for a chair with lumbar support, adjustable armrests, and a comfortable seat cushion to reduce strain on your back, shoulders, and arms.
  8. Get some ergonomic accessories: There are various accessories available to boost typing comfort. These include vertical mice, keyboard trays, monitor stands, and more.

Conclusion

Typing isn't exactly dangerous, but it can be if you don't do it right. An ergonomic keyboard helps ensure that you're typing in a healthy, restful, and relaxed manner. Give your old mechanical keyboard a rest, and invest in a keyboard that is designed to suit your physiology.

Chris Greiner, a Mechanical Keyboard specialist, boasts a solid educational background with dual bachelor's degrees in Computer Science and Business Management from Lewis University. His additional certification in Mechanical Keyboard Design showcases his dedication to staying on the forefront of keyboard technology. Chris primarily writes for keyboard enthusiasts and has been featured on platforms like Jestik, solidifying his reputation as a thought leader in the mechanical keyboard community.
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