Many years ago, when computers were new to the average workplace, there were no ergonomic keyboards to prevent wrist strain and injury. I know because I developed De Quervain’s Tendinitis in both wrists from my job as a reporter. At the time, the only recourse was to stop typing so much.
Eventually, the ergonomic keyboard was developed and I’ve used them ever since I first bought a desktop PC back in 1993. I’ve never had a flare-up of the wrist problems since then though I have developed some issues with my elbow and shoulders from overuse of both the keyboard and the mouse. I’ve not been entirely satisfied with Microsoft’s natural keyboard, however. It keeps my hands apart but it can be clunky to use and I don’t like where my wrists rest. So when I heard Smartfish had developed one as well, one with some bells and whistles, I was eager to try it.
Smartfish sent me the Reflex Keyboard with Anti-Fatigue Comfort Motion, which retails for $149.95, to review. As someone who not only prefers but needs this kind of keyboard, I love the design because it never lets my hands become stuck in one position. For someone who’s never used an ergonomic keyboard, however, I would say that it requires a breaking-in period. For instance, I was hoping my youngest daughter would use this during her computer time but she quickly grew frustrated with having to hit the keys a little harder than usual and she didn’t like the location of the arrow keys, which are farther away from the qwerty section than on the MS Natural or a traditional keyboard. Her complaints decreased within a week as she grew accustomed to typing differently.
What the Smartfish keyboard does is automatically change the positions of your hands by shifting the contours of the keyboard. In other words, it moves.
It shifted as I was typing this, raising the section below the qwerty keys higher to alter the way my wrists are resting. The Smartfish has six different configurations. Sensors embedded inside the keyboard track your typing motion and when you’ve typed a certain number of words, the keyboard shifts. The first time it happened, it was a little disconcerting but it only took a day for me to accept it as a normal part of my typing. The value of pain-free hands completely outweighs the temporary sensation of the keyboard moving under my hands.
I found it superior to the Microsoft keyboard because of my previously mentioned issues with the resting place for my wrists and because while splitting the keyboard helps force my hands out of cramped motions, my hands can still become stuck in the same fixed position. As you can see, however, the arrow keys on the Microsoft are directly parallel to the qwerty keys while the Smartfish located them somewhat lower. This took a couple of days adjustment for me.
The Microsoft retails for $59.95 new, so there is a price difference. Given my history with tendinitis, I’m more than willing to spend the extra money. If you are a fast typist, I’m of the opinion that an ergonomic keyboard is absolutely essential to the long-term health of your hands. My only regret is that the Smartfish was not compatible with my MacBook. I can use a regular keyboard for web surfing but I like an ergonomic keyboard for heavy typing and, being a writer, I do a lot of heavy typing.
The Microsoft Natural is compatible with the MacBook and with Apple products, so I will probably keep the Smartfish permanently attached to my desktop and use the other keyboard for my Macbook when I have marathon writing sessions.