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How to choose the best ergonomic keyboard, according to a tech expert

Ergonomic keyboards can make working from home more comfortable. Learn what to look for before shopping for one, according to a tech expert.
Finding the right keyboard for your work (or gaming) norms is largely up to your needs and limitations.
Finding the right keyboard for your work (or gaming) norms is largely up to your needs and limitations. Goldtouch

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Working from home provides one huge advantage over a traditional office setup: You can adjust your workspace to fit your needs. And if you’re prone to wrist pain after typing all day, it may be time to review your setup. One of the key places to look for adjustment is that keyboard you’re using throughout the day. If you’re ready to step up that desktop setup, or even adopt a keyboard that isn’t built into your laptop, the options are plentiful. As a tech reporter who has covered a plethora of laptop and computer setups, I know it’s extremely important to choose the right keyboard to fit your workday or gaming needs.

SKIP AHEAD Best ergonomic keyboards

How to buy the right keyboard

First things first: Keyboards are not designed for universal use — that's why many have adjustable features like wrist rests, splits and even key type. In fact, depending on how you work best at your desk, a typical "ergonomic" keyboard may not even be right for you. When shopping for an ergonomic keyboard, consider the layout of its keys, potential for tilt, rests and switches.

Key layout

Some ergonomic keyboards will have a split layout, where the two halves of the keyboard are split to either a curved, more natural position or a completely separated set. While the former is more common, a separated split keyboard will provide more adjustability for your setup. Keep in mind that a split keyboard isn’t likely to solve all of your wrist pain. As Cornell University’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group notes: “Most people can use a standard keyboard design without any risk of injury.” However, split-angle keyboards can increase comfort for some people, such as people with broad shoulders or those that struggle to keep their arms in proper ergonomic typing form.

Tilt and adjustability

Your keyboard’s tilt is an essential component of your setup. While it may seem easier to tilt the keyboard higher so the top keys are taller than the bottom ones, this isn’t necessarily good for your wrists. In fact, wrist extension can worsen Carpal Tunnel symptoms, so it’s best to avoid those retractable feet on the keyboard’s undercarriage, no matter how tempting it is to raise them. The more adjustable your keyboard is, the more likely you’ll find a comfortable position that works with your body.

If you’re still feeling like you’re angling your keyboard too high while it’s sitting on the desk, then an under-desk keyboard tray might be best for you (it’s something I use as a part of my ergonomics setup). The best model will really depend on your desk setup, and you can find one that suits you best on retailers like Amazon, Best Buy and Walmart.

Bush Business Furniture Keyboard Tray with Negative Tilt

No matter what keyboard you choose, consider also using an under-desk keyboard tray that allows you to tilt it downward, avoiding those wrist extension issues. This model from Bush Business Furniture is very adjustable, though the best model for you may depend on your desk setup — there are plenty of others on Amazon.

Wrist rests

Wrist rests, while seemingly beneficial, haven’t proven effective in the long term. In fact, Cornell’s ergonomic guide notes that “research studies haven't demonstrated any substantial benefits for wrist rests,” and you can run into the exact same Carpal Tunnel issues you see with the keyboard rise. While low-profile palm rests are less problematic, you still could be putting unwanted pressure on your wrists, leading to long term harmful effects.

Switch types

Keyboards run off of the “switches,” and depending on your preference, you may want the typical membrane switch that most keyboards come with. More specialized keyboards use mechanical switches. Mechanical keyboards slide along a stem for a smoother typing experience. If you prefer clicky but solid response keyboards, you’ll want a blue switch — those who prefer a smoother, less noisy typing experience should opt for the red, which provides a quiet typing experience, or brown, which combines the best of both the red and the blue worlds.

Best ergonomic keyboards

The ultimate deciding factor for comfort, specs aside, is you. If you’re not experiencing pain or discomfort, then it doesn’t make sense to replace what’s working for you. However, if you’re finding yourself stretching your arms to relieve pain, then it’s time to invest in something that will ease any physical concerns. Be sure to take a look at the less traditional options below. Give yourself a little time to adjust to the new setup and note if they relieve any discomfort. If not, it’s in your best interest to return it and try another option.

Based on my experience covering tech and devices like keyboards and mice, here are some highly-regarded keyboards I think are worth considering across different use cases.

1. Steelseries Apex 3 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard

Technically, this is a gaming keyboard, but it serves another, more work-friendly purpose by providing the hybrid switches. You won’t have to worry about the key’s clicking and will still enjoy a smooth mechanical experience, and the aluminum alloy design means it will last a long time. If you find that a wrist rest is absolutely essential, it comes with a magnetic one that you can attach or pull away at your leisure. It also provides an IP32 waterproof rating — a feature not usually seen in most keyboards. If you absolutely need something with a tenkeyless feature, there are dozens of tenkeyless options out there that will spare you from reaching for the numpad. While it’s recommended to opt for a tenkeyless keyboard, my personal preference is to use a keyboard with the numpad.

2. Kinesis Freestyle Pro Split Mechanical Keyboard

When it comes to split keyboards, I recommend fully split options like the Kinesis Freestyle Pro. It has a few different tenting options that can help you find more comfortable wrist positions, and you can place each half wherever you want on the desk — it doesn’t force your arms into a specific position like fixed split keyboards do. Its brown mechanical switches also feel very nice. Alternatively, Kinesis makes a cheaper traditional rubber dome version as well as a backlit gaming model with blue and red switch options.

3. MoKo Universal Foldable Keyboard

MoKo’s Universal Foldable Keyboard is technically geared towards iPads and Surface tablets, but that hasn’t stopped me from using this device while I’m traveling. It’s not only compatible across all devices, but its thin shape also fits right over most laptop keyboards so you can type more comfortably (which is what I do during my travels). The 166-degree angle offers an easier typing angle thanks to the foldable, split design, especially for those who need to type while on the road or on a small desk space. For those who eschew the wrist rest, this is .23 inches, so it’s small enough you won’t feel like you’re typing on a bulky keyboard.

4. Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard for Business

If you think a split design would help your wrist pain but don’t have much to spend (or don’t want to), Microsoft’s Sculpt Ergonomic keyboard is lower priced but fixed — you don’t have the adjustability other options offer. It does, however, offer a riser that negatively tilts the keyboard, and separates the number pad so it isn’t in the way of your mouse hand. As a user of this keyboard for over six months, it’s become my go-to for when I find myself typing for hours in my home office.

5. ErgoDox EZ Split Ergonomic Keyboard

If you know a split, tentable design works well for you and want to upgrade to the mac-daddy of ergonomic keyboards, look at the ErgoDox EZ. It’s certainly an investment, and the learning curve is steep (you’ll almost certainly create your own custom key layout using their software), but it offers more adjustability than just about anything else out there. For dedicated, tech-savvy folks, this built-to-order keyboard is about as good as it gets.

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Whitson Gordon contributed.