Chances are, the keyboard you’ve got in front of you is rectangular and flat — not much by way of ergonomics despite how much time you spend using it. Fortunately, plenty of companies are getting savvy to the benefits of ergonomic keyboards, particularly how they can reduce hand strain.
To find the most comfortable one, we’ve been putting ergonomic promises to the test, plugging and unplugging dongles and customizing keys over the past few weeks. Ultimately, we found two ergonomic keyboards we’re confident in calling the best:
A quick look at the winners
We wanted to narrow things down to a few quality picks that would work with all operating systems. There aren’t a ton of options when it comes to ergonomic keyboards, but those that do exist can differ wildly in design. So after a thorough exploration of expert reviews, popular brands and our own expertise in the keyboard market, we settled on a set of six devices to pit against each other, ranging in price from $60 to $130. Though there are a few keyboards that hit well over the $200 price range, we kept our testing pool concentrated at the lower end of the budget spectrum.
To test these keyboards, we considered four broad categories: design and comfort, customization, performance and warranty. Being ergonomic keyboards, comfort was of paramount importance, but we also placed similar emphasis on customization since a great ergonomic keyboard should not only feel good, but also be tailored to the user’s needs. Of course, value is always important to a CNN Underscored pick, so we also considered which keyboard would provide the most relief for shoulder and wrist pain for your dollars.
We found the Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com) to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably. The K860 also features some pretty handy tech: You can sync the Bluetooth keyboard with up to three devices and swap between them with a single keypress. The Logitech Options app allows you to customize your function keys and keep track of paired devices, too. This keyboard’s extraordinary comfort, broad customization options and silky typing experience justify its somewhat hefty price tag.
The Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard ($59.99; microsoft.com) compromises little despite its affordability. It’s built similarly to the K860: a split keyboard, curvature that brings the center of the keyboard off your desk and a palm rest along the bottom edge. Unlike the K860, this one is wired, so it isn’t nearly as easy to swap between devices. However, you’ll find a bit more customization options in the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center than those offered by Logitech Options. Not only can you customize function keys, but you can create custom macros to simplify otherwise complex tasks as well. While this keyboard isn’t as incredible as the K860, it is more than half the price and still heaps more comfortable than a traditional keyboard.
A deeper look at the winners
Simply put: The Logitech Ergo K860 will change your typing experience. The Ergo K860’s sleek design brings the keyboard into a modern era; no more of the hunched over, hunt-and-peck typing of yore.
First and foremost, the Ergo K860 is exceptionally comfortable to use. While with a traditional keyboard your shoulders are positioned closer to your torso and your arms are straightened out, we noticed that while using the Ergo that our shoulders were farther apart, their position more relaxed. Likewise, our arms came in at more comfortable inward angles and our hands were resting on a surface that conformed to our finger lengths. The end result — even after an almost two hour session — was a noticeable lack of shoulder or finger strain.
That’s, in part, thanks to the keyboard’s “split” design. A triangular gap exists in the keys, starting between F6 and F7 and growing to a roughly 4.5-inch space between the “b” and “n” keys. The spacebar bridges the gap, but is separated into two distinct connected bars. The other posture-aiding aspect is the curved build. Beside the flat region of the keyboard with the number pad, the keyboard begins to curve upward and off the desk like a small wave in water. The peak of this wave occurs just beneath the split. Combined with the triangular gap, we found our fingers resting over a curved surface that conformed to the lengths of each individual finger. As it would be transitioning from any standard keyboard to a split keyboard, this took some getting used to — our hands weren’t normally this far apart, nor did they typically rest this high above the desk surface. But as we typed away, we got used to the setup. After only a few hours of using this funky design, we didn’t want to go back to a regular keyboard.
A generously padded palm rest along the bottom edge follows the curvature of the keyboard, positioning your palms just above the level of the keys so your fingers lay naturally atop them. Even after hours of typing, the pressure on our palms was barely noticeable, and we didn’t experience any shoulder stiffness that often comes along with extended time at a keyboard.
This is not to say that the features discussed above are unique to the K680. Other keyboards, such as our value pick, the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard, also feature a split keyboard, curved design and palm rest. However, we found the K680’s design superior to its competitors. The palm rest kept our hands at just the right height above the keyboard. The flatter keys with shorter keypresses prevented us from having to apply any reach or strain to our fingers. The keys are made of quality plastic, satisfying to the press despite them being relatively shallow. They are each separated from one another by small gaps, which results in a clean, uncluttered look. And though the K860 features a full number pad, it measures at just under 18 inches, compact enough to fit on most desks.
There are also a number of handy customizations available. Built right into the keyboard, beneath the palm rest, are a set of tilt legs that can raise the front of the device to two distinct angles (-4 degrees and -7 degrees). These are great for keeping the angle of your hands aligned with the keyboard when the surface of your desk is a bit lower beneath you.
You can also pair the keyboard with up to three different devices to seamlessly transition between, say, your desktop, your laptop and your Chromebook. Near the top right of the keyboard are three keys that you can press to immediately swap between devices.
And to keep track of paired devices and customize your typing experience, there’s the Logitech Options program, available on both Windows and Mac. Logitech Options provides a world of customization to the K680: You can customize every function key (and a few others) with a number of commands, from opening folders or files to zooming in or undoing. You can also create different sets of custom keys that apply to specific applications. We found this incredibly useful for creating shortcuts in complex programs like Photoshop. You can also pair up a compatible mouse for even more cool functions, like gesture control and dragging or copying files between connected devices.
The K860 is wireless, running on two AAA batteries. Included is a USB Bluetooth dongle that can be stored in the battery compartment. You’ll receive a one-year warranty — which does fall short of the three-year warranty of our value pick, the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard.
We didn’t realize how uncomfortable traditional keyboards were until we tried the Logitech Ergo K860. Its ergonomic palm rest, split keyboard and curved design relieve strain not only on your fingers, but in your arms and shoulders, too. And the Logitech Options program, along with seamless multi-device support, make it easy to swap between devices in a snap. While the $129.99 price tag may dent your budget, if you’re in the market for ergonomics, you won’t find a better option than the Logitech Ergo K860.
There’s a lot to love about the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard, though there are a few differences compared to the Logitech Ergo K860: The keys take on a more traditional design and are a bit big and boxy with little space between each letter. The Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard is also wired instead of Bluetooth, so you won’t have as much versatility as you do with the Logitech.
But aside from those sacrifices, the Microsoft Ergonomic offers much the same ergonomic benefits as the Ergo K860 — specifically shoulders wider apart and arms more relaxed inwards — and at about half the price.
The Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard features a “split” design that mirrors that of the K860 (beginning between F6 and F7 and ending between the “b” and “n” keys). There’s also the wave-like build with the base of the keyboard curving upward to form an arch. Like that of the K860, this curvature peaks beneath the keyboard split. But unlike the K860’s wave, the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard’s curvature makes a sharper peak just beneath the spacebar. This design choice ultimately gave us a little less freedom in where we placed our hands on the palm rest, but otherwise did not affect comfort. An unfortunate result of this design choice, however, is the formation of a concave section of keys. In other words, the design’s higher peak creates a dip centered around the “z”, “x” and “c” keys that can take some getting used to. You may find yourself erroneously pressing the keys above these letters during your first few sessions, but, as we did, you’ll quickly get the hang of things. And while you may need to curl your finger slightly to hit these letters, we didn’t notice any long-term discomfort as a result.
On the K860, the palm rest is a little puffy, which held our palms at just the right height above the keys, allowing our fingers to relax and rest naturally on the curved surface. On the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard, the palm rest is aligned with the surface beneath the keys. As a result, your fingers may have to reach a bit more to hit certain keys. Fortunately, this barely had an effect on our experience. Only after sessions of well over an hour did our fingers feel a little tired (though still no shoulder discomfort), which is way better than how we felt after using a traditional keyboard for that long.
The Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard doesn’t offer much by way of physical modification. But there’s plenty you can do with the PC-only Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center (don’t worry, the keyboard works on multiple operating systems). Like Logitech Options, this program allows you to customize a number of keys to open applications as well as perform tasks like undo and zoom. You can even create different customizations for different applications. Above the row of function keys is an additional row of keys to control volume, music playback and more. This is where most customizable keys are housed. What we loved about this row was a set of three buttons on the top left (labeled “1”, “2” and “3”). These buttons are specifically included to be customized to open applications or perform a variety of functions.
And our favorite part of the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center was the creation of macros. A macro is a single command (like the push of a button) that can perform a complex and specific set of functions. You can record a series of keyboard and mouse inputs, and even specify how long they last and create delays between them. We bound the “1” customizable key to save a file in Photoshop, for instance.
The Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard, while not quite as top-notch as the Logitech Ergo K860, still boasts impressive ergonomics. Paired with the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center program, there are many ways to make this keyboard work for you. Its only major downsides are the wire that tethers it to a single device at a time, its PC-centric customization program and the little dip in the keys. But at $59.99, you’re getting tremendous value and comfort at about half the price of our top pick.
How we tested
We put every keyboard through a series of tests with typing sessions lasting over an hour each. During these sessions, we typed hundreds or thousands of words and generally felt out the quality of the keys and keypresses. We examined comfort by comparing our experience to using a traditional keyboard, Razer Blackwidow Lite mechanical keyboard (the Stormtrooper version, of course). Finally, we tried out every customization option, tested for Bluetooth connection issues, checked battery life and researched warranties.
See how we broke down each category below.
Design and Comfort
- Overall design: We looked at the structure of the keyboard and palm rest, as well as the style and arrangement of the keys, and also noted the presence and function of any buttons in addition to those of a traditional keyboard.
- Comfort: We used each keyboard for more than an hour at a time. During these sessions, we compared comfort between each keyboard as well as a Razer Blackwidow Lite, which sports a traditional keyboard design. Specifically, we paid attention to any finger, arm or shoulder strain. We also noted how comfortable the palm rest was, if one was present.
- Materials used: We determined the material composition, and quality, of each keyboard. In part, this came down to feeling and comparing keys and palm rests, as well as the actual base structure of each keyboard.
- Customization: We explored every customization option for both the physical keyboard and its accompanying software, if any. The former includes attachments, buttons that aren’t typically included on a traditional keyboard, tilt legs and more. The latter includes changing the functions of keys, swapping between connecting devices, macros and more.
- Overall use: We took thorough notes on our typing experience. Specifically, we took into account how keypresses felt, whether keys were spaced well, any notable finger strain and how accessible/useful special keys were (i.e. buttons that aren’t typically included on a traditional keyboard).
- Bluetooth: We rated the connection quality of Bluetooth keyboards and whether they included a dongle. Wired keyboards received half points to compensate.
- Battery: We noted what kind of battery/batteries a keyboard required and how long each keyboard was expected to last on fresh batteries. Wired keyboards received half points to compensate.
- Warranty: We researched what warranty/warranties covered each device.
How we rated
Every keyboard received a score in each subcategory described above. The combined scores of each subcategory comprised its respective category’s maximum potential score. We placed the greatest emphasis on comfort and customization, two of the most important features in an ergonomic keyboard. Take a look at our exact point breakdown below.
- Performance had a maximum of 45 points: overall use (15 points), Bluetooth (15 points) and battery (15 points).
- Design and comfort had a maximum of 30 points: overall design (5 points), materials used (5 points) and comfort (20 points).
- Customization had a maximum of 20 points: customization (20 points).
- Warranty had a maximum of 5 points: warranty (5 points).
Everything else we tested
The Kinesis Freestyle2 for PC takes “split keyboard” to a whole new level. Between the “F7” and “F8” function keys, down to “b” and “n” keys, this keyboard is literally split into two separate pieces. Along with attachable palm rests and tilt legs, called V-lifters, this keyboard has a lot going for it. You can set each side to the exact position you find most comfortable, though the setup certainly takes some getting used to. Unfortunately, you can’t customize much about the keys as there is no software available. Plus, we found the keypresses and palm rests to not be of very high quality, which negatively affected our experience overall.
The Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop follows the wavy design of our top and value picks; a split between the keys and curvature raises this area up to your hands. Plus, it has a comfortable palm rest, though it doesn’t hold your hands at as comfortable a position as the Logitech Ergo K860 does. This keyboard even takes the split a step further: The triangular area actually has a gap in the base of the keyboard, giving it an artistic, modern look. You can also utilize the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center program to customize some keys and create macros. On top of that, it’s Bluetooth, unlike the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard. Ultimately, though, this keyboard provides less customization and similar comfort to our value pick at more than twice the price.
The $129.99 Microsoft Surface Ergonomic Keyboard is very similar to the Logitech Ergo K860. It features a split keyboard, a nice ergonomic wave in the keyboard’s structure and a comfortable palm rest. This keyboard is also Bluetooth, though it does not come with a dongle. We even liked the Surface Keyboard’s build a little better for its use of aluminum on the keyboard’s base and its keys that had a little more key travel. However, this keyboard is limited to the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center. And while the program provides very similar options to the Logitech Options program, it’s only available for PC. The Surface Keyboard also doesn’t include built-in tilt legs.
The $59.99 Logitech Comfort Wave is the only keyboard with a more traditional, flat structure. The major feature it shares with others we tested is a palm rest, access to a customization software and Bluetooth functionality. And while the keys do actually fluctuate in height, we didn’t notice any particular benefit from this. This keyboard is, however, laden with extra buttons that can be customized using Logitech Options. Overall, we weren’t very excited by this keyboard. We found that the other options simply provided more ergonomic options.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed prices at the time of publication.
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