Splitting hands. How a true ergonomic keyboard can change your game.

I have suffered from RSI (repetitive stress injury) for years. This can be caused by a variety of reasons and some people are more susceptib...

I have suffered from RSI (repetitive stress injury) for years. This can be caused by a variety of reasons and some people are more susceptible to it than others. Of course, as an avid gamer and working in IT I had to make choices to either play games with mouse and keyboard on PC and not be able to work the next day or work and not able to play games. At least not without serious pain due to inflammation in the joints and muscle tissue. Controllers worked to mitigate that to a point, but it did suck to have to forgo my trusty keyboard and mouse. 

Over the years I have learned to better manage the pain and the flare-ups with the biggest change coming from posture. the right desk height, no slouching and proper placement of the hands made a world of difference.  

Which brings us to another issue. There are a lot of keyboards (and mice) out there that address the gamer with cherry MX switches, RGB, etc. And lately the custom build your own market has really picked up as well, but in the sphere of ergonomics very little has really been delivered to address real issues, in spite of what the colorful bullet points might say on the box. And I could get a proper peripheral for my needs, but I like my fancy clickety RGB loaded toys. (don't judge me, I like shiny things.)  

In comes ... a company that has been building ergonomic products for over 30 years. A few years back they saw an opening in the games space and dedicate new products to fill the void that addressed real needs while also providing a slick keyboard to the market. We talked for a while on the PAX west shop floor, and I tried some of their products there, some were simple like a travel keyboard with a low profile and a simple slant to provide good angles, others were wildly different and confusing where the keys were sunken in some concave layout totally changing your experience. A few minutes on a show floor however do not really give you a good feel for a product, it is like laying shoes on a mattress in store to determine your nightly routine for the next 10 years. Kinesis reached out and offered to send me one of their keyboards to try in change of a review and so we chose the Freestyle Edge RGB Split Mechanical Gaming Keyboard and for the past month and a half I have been using it writing, gaming and chatting. Does it hold up as an ergonomic keyboard? How about as a RGB gaming device? did it improve my RSI symptoms etc. Here are my thoughts on it after this extended period of time. And yes, I am typing this on said keyboard as we speak.

The Freestyle Edge RGB retails for around $199 at most retailers as well as on Kinesis' own website. First up let's look at some of the box bullet points and highlight features of this keyboard.

  • True Cherry MX switches in a choice of three varieties. (red, blue and brown)
  • 1MS Response Time
  • Comfortable ergonomic design with its split keyboard form factor.
  • Detachable Soft wrist rest /palm support.
  • Customizable RGB lighting.
  • Fully programmable
  • NKRO Mode
  • Game Mode
  • 9 Programmable Game Keys
  • Braided Cables
  • 100% Anti-Ghosting
  • 4MB Onboard Memory

The keyboard comes in a smart looking package already indicating by its shape that this is no ordinary keyboard. The split keyboard comes as its name suggest in two halved and is held together by a 20inc braided cord with any access easily stowed in a hidden compartment.

Setup is as easy as any other keyboard with a simple USB plug and you are ready to go. The keyboard is split up between the 6tgb and 7yhn keys. with no number pad on the right but with two rows of functional and programmable keys on the left, more on the later. The placing was perhaps the hardest part for me to get used to because of the years I had developed the muscle memory to hit the B with my right hand and not it is only there for my left. Of course, I can move my right hand over but that would mean more effort as it if further away and defeat the purpose. After a few days and weeks however I have adjusted well and am now typing this without too much effort and without looking down at my fingers every 3 seconds.

To unlock the real power of the keyboard you need to install the proprietary Smartset app from the Kenisis website. Unlike the software for let's say Corsair or Logitech this software does not stay active all the time you use windows. Only when you want to make a change to the keyboard do you load it up and when you are done all information is stored on the keyboard itself. 

In the Smart app you can set any layout you prefer and even create 9 different layouts and save them neatly to their own profile that you can recall with the touch of a button. You also assign hotkeys that can do a variety of things depending on your needs and creativity. Simply highlight a key by clicking on it indicate what will do, from its backlighting to it becoming a mouse click, a special action like windows key etc. You can even record an entire macro to the key.  Do you want to reassign all keys to different letters? Go right ahead and with the easy removable keycaps you can even physically make them match, so go ahead make that azerty layout if you prefer it of move your WASD to a more logical spot for your hands, and there is no need to every make change in that game or program each time. Just make yourself a handy profile.

Embedded Tab key performs one left-mouse double click

You are not only dependent on the Smartapp to set your keys however, using the special keys at the top of the keyboard you can quickly change profiles, program a macro of remap a key on the fly as well. It is of course a bit more difficult to see what you have done that way until you open the app though. Such an experience I had when my cat had walked all over my keyboard, and it was not until a little later that I thought my computer was possessed because it started typing all by itself and windows opened and closed all over, it was really weird. I took me a bit of time to figure out that the N key was now programmed with a macro that had filled over a time since the cat walked on the keyboard until it was full and now every time, I used the N key it started playing the entire macro over and over. Lucky for me the SmartApp allowed me to see the issue and return back to normal.

Now for those who like a little bit of show and spectacle to their computer and peripherals, let's talk about the RGB portion of the Keyboard as it is so prominently displayed on the box. The SmartApp comes with a few lighting maps as seen in the picture above and you can change the speed and direction of each of these, with various degrees of effect depending on the pattern you picked. Same as with the key layout you can assign different light patterns to each of the different profiles, a nice way to keep track of which profile you are using.  However, this is where the RGB integration stops, and it shows the limitations of the way the app is used. Having it not run all the time can be seen as a positive because it does not hog up any resources, but at the same time it also prevents the keyboard from having any cool integrations with any games you play such as with iCue where effects on screen ripple through on your keyboard for immersion. I know this is not a useful feature, but there are many out there that love the full use of RGB and you need to be aware that this is not what you are getting with this product. And for those that do not like to have the rainbow at their fingertips? Just get the non RGB version OR make every backlight a nice soft single monochrome color.

How did the keyboard perform, and did it help with my posture and pain management? First of all, in terms of performance I am no keyboard expert that might notice even the slightest inconsistencies; however, the feel of the keys is good, and it has a satisfying click to each key.  The caps are all removable for easy cleaning but if you look to replace them with, let's say new caps you will run into some issues with the split spacebar and maybe the shift key etc. other than that you should be fine.  The anti-ghosting and the Key Roll over ( NRKO) create a very responsive keyboard that worked smoothly for me in Guild wars, overwatch 2 and COD.  When typing for work such as this article the same applied, easy to use keys and a great performance all out. In fact, after getting used to the layout I believe my typing has actually sped up from what it was before. 

In terms of ergonomics, I had to do some adjustments and experimentation. At first, I negated the split of the keyboard somewhat by placing the two halves closer together, more like a traditional keyboard. However, by spreading them out some more and square them up with my shoulders I instantly felt myself straightening out and got instant relieve on my arms, but also on my back. It was very surprising to feel that I had such bad posture, even with me being usually so aware of it. It does take a moment to get used to it again as your brain gets a little confused in terms of typing but the relieve felt is well worth it.

When gaming the split keyboard has another advantage as I can move the right half of the keyboard far aside and use simple the WASD part with the mouse in just the right way squared up with my shoulders for a more comfortable experience. Does this give some issues when you need the keys of the other half? yes, so it might not be for all games or programs, however, always remember you can reprogram the other keys to make up for that.
Unfortunately, the nice, braided cord even though it is pretty long, is permanently attached. It would be nice if you could disconnect it all together and really put it aside from your desk if you wanted too.

The comfort of the wrist pads is some of the best I have experienced. It is soft and easy to clean off. They detach very easy allowing you to have a more traditional looking keyboard that takes up less space and boy does this keyboard take up space, but the benefit of the wrist support cannot be ignored so for me they stayed on.

The true power of the Kinesis Freestyle RGB did not really get unleashed however until I received the additional lift kit that allows you to angle your keyboards and relax the stress on your wrist even more. The keyboard by itself does not include and lifts and lays very flat on your desk. I feel the lift kit is essential to make this keyboard do what it does best, giving you posture relief and reduce pain and stress inflammation. It is a shame that this not come included. It is an additional purchase of $30 for the lift kit if you used the wrist pads or $27 if you remove the wrist pads. Yes, you read that right, there are 2 different lift kits, because one is longer than the other. As I said before though, they are absolutely essential and worth the purchase, but as the keyboard is already $200 retail it hurts to have to get them as an aside, and if you are not aware that you need them a separate order also means new shipping costs as well, so if you pick this keyboard up be sure to grab a lift kit right away, you won't regret it.

In conclusion, the Freestyle takes a little bit of time to get used to, but it has held up very well with the different use cases I have had for it and allowed me to continue work and play without having to deal with the usual pains I deal with. Of course, it is not a cure to RSI, but using this setup has served me well and seriously reduced my flare-ups and allowed me to have longer sessions at my PC working and gaming comfortably without suffering the next day. I do miss the RGB game integration a little and my pudding caps I had just purchased for my old keyboard, but it is a fair trade off to feeling better and more refreshed. The software is not super user friendly and takes some tinkering to get the most out of it and a detachable cord would be a good upgrade that is currently missing.  Lastly the lift kit is what makes this keyboard go from good to great and should be included or at least indicated somewhere is is a necessity. For those looking for something not as large of a keyboard Kinesis also makes a small profile keyboard called the TKO, that also has a lift kit available for it. In terms of ergonomic keyboards though I am of the opinion that despite a few of its shortcomings the Freestyle is one of the, if not the, best option out there.

About the writer: DadGeek (Rob) is the co-founder of GeeksVsGeeks. He is a product of the eighties and never let go of his geek interest and hobbies no matter how often someone told him to stop. His love for gaming and all things geeks has been part of his parenting style and permeates throughout the whole family. A family of Geeks vs Geeks 


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