First Impressions: the TECK Ergonomic Mechanical Keyboardby Jarred Walton on January 19, 2013 4:48 AM EST
This is my very first encounter with the “world’s first Truly Ergonomic Computer Keyboard”, aka the TECK. I received the keyboard today after inquiring about a review sample—the reason for me being the reviewer this time around is that Dustin has no interest in an ergonomic/split key keyboard. The company that makes the TECK goes by the name Truly Ergonomic, and right now this is the only product they make.
Several years in the works, the main claim to fame is that the keyboard is designed from the ground up for ergonomics. To that end, they’ve ditched the traditional layout and staggered keys in order to provide an optimized layout that offers better comfort while typing, but the changes are something that will take a lot of practice typing before you can type anywhere near your regular speed. And Truly Ergonomic makes no claims to the contrary—they recommend spending days if not weeks with the keyboard before you decide whether or not you really like it, going so far as to offer a 60-day money-back guarantee. Oh, and let’s not forget that the TECK also comes with mechanical switches, specifically Cherry MX Brown switches that are relatively quiet compared to many of the other mechanical switches out there.
Initial impressions are shocking—if you’ve ever tried the Dvorak key layout, I don’t think this could be any more alienating. Just about every "special purpose" key that I have become accustomed to locating by instinct is now in a new location—delete, tab, backspace, and enter are in the center column, with the spacebar split around the enter key. On the left, the Shift key is moved up one row, with CTRL where Shift normally resides and the ALT key at the bottom-left where CTRL usually sits. The right side gets the same treatment, and the enter key as noted has been relocated to the middle of the spacebar. Even the main body of the keyboard with the normal seeming QWERTY layout can feel equally alien to a “formerly” touch typist at first (I find that staring at the keys a bit while typing helps a bit right now). Elsewhere, where I normally find backspace is now an equal sign, the backslash and forward-slash are at the left where tab should be, there’s an extra key in the top-left that shifts all the numbers right one key, and we haven’t even gotten to the document navigation keys. The cursor keys reside under your right hand, down from the JKL area; Home/End/PgUp/PgDn are similarly located under your left hand.
The above paragraphs are the first paragraphs I’ve tried to type on the keyboard (plus some editing after the fact) and it has taken me fully twenty minutes with nearly constant mistakes to get them out! I’m already getting a bit more competent, but when the documentation suggests taking a while to adapt, they’re not kidding around. Truth be told, the whole experience can be a bit maddening at first—if you’ve ever been frustrated to the point where you feel a bit queasy in the gut and want to quit what you’re doing and go find something else more pleasant (like maybe beating your head against a wall)…well, I’m feeling a lot of that right now! I’m mostly writing this to give me a small amount of practice before trying some speed typing tests. I don’t think that the test is going to go well the first time around, but let’s find out.
I will be taking the tests twice on the TECK: once earlier in the writing process and a second time much later. Scores are expressed as “Gross WPM/Errors=Net WPM”. I found these tests on TypingTest.com, and I’m using three different text selections: Aesop’s Fables, Rules of Baseball, and Tigers in the Wild. And yes, these tests are hardly scientific, as typing the same text repeatedly on different keyboards can potentially skew the results. To help mitigate that, I’m serpentining through the keyboards and taking each test twice (so six tests on one keyboard). I’m starting at the top of the list with my old Microsoft Natural Elite, moving to the Rosewill RK-9100, and then finishing with the TECK before heading back up. I’m going to take each test four times and report the best result. (And for the final TECK result, I’ll revisit the test later.)
|Round One Typing Test Results|
|Keyboard||Test 1||Test 2||Test 3|
|MS Natural Elite||69/1=68||67/0=67||64/0=64|
|TECK (30 minutes)||24/2=22||27/7=20||31/8=23|
|TECK (90 minutes)||44/2=42||56/4=52||45/5=40|
Ouch. I am still very clearly on the early part of a rather steep learning curve, but we’re talking about overcoming roughly 25 years of muscle memory as I adapt to the layout of the TECK—yes, in case you weren’t aware, I currently hold down the fort as the old fuddy-duddy for AnandTech, having just celebrated my 20-year high school reunion last summer. Another major difficulty for me is that I shift routinely between my desktop and various laptops, and if you’ve read my laptop reviews you probably already know that I’m quite particular about keyboard layouts. Here however the TECK isn’t a slightly tweaked layout just for kicks and giggles; it’s a completely whacked out (at first) arrangement that’s designed to be more ergonomic. And honestly, even in the short time I’ve been typing this, I’m starting to think they might be on to something, but change is never easy.
You can see the results from the table above, and when I get into a sort of zone while typing with the TECK, my speed seems to be better than before and I feel less strain/discomfort. The problem is that I’m not in the zone most of the time (yet), so I’ll go really fast for a few words or maybe even a whole sentence before the wheels fall off and I start hitting “=” instead of backspace. The layout definitely feels more compact and requires less movement, and I like everything in theory, but in practice I’m still making a lot of errors. But with only 90 minutes of typing on the TECK that’s hardly surprising; I’m at least getting closer to where I was on my previous keyboards. Where will I be in a week’s time? We’ll have to wait to find out, which is why this is only a “First Imoressions” rather than the full review.
I’ll post a complete review of the keyboard once I’ve had enough time with the device to really say how much I like (or perhaps dislike) what they’ve done, but as someone that has enjoyed using an MS Natural Elite PS/2 keyboard for most of my time writing for AnandTech, there’s a lot on tap here. I’ve long heard the benefits for touch typists of mechanical keys, but until now I haven’t seen anyone doing a curved/natural/ergonomic keyboard with mechanical keys (not that I've really looked around much--see the comments for a couple other options). The TECK is the first I’ve seen that’s readily available in the US, and while the current $222 price will almost certainly make you think twice it's actually lower than some of the alternatives, and I can tell you from personal experience that the costs of dealing with RSI, CTS, and other similar health problems are far higher than that. You’ll hear more about the TECK in a couple weeks, but for now I’m very intrigued. I’m just not sure how I’m going to go between desktops and laptops without feeling baffled for a little while if I end up sticking with the TECK!
Here’s one final parting shot to consider, taken after the rest of this article was written. I’ve now spent over two hours playing around with the TECK, and my speed and accuracy continue to improve. The worst part for me continues to be finding keys like quotes as well as accidentally reaching too far into the center keys (delete, tab, backspace) and messing things up. I’m getting better, and I can see the potential for the layout, but it will take some time….
|Final Typing Test Results|
|Keyboard||Test 1||Test 2||Test 3|
|TECK (120 minutes)||55/5=50||62/8=54||51/2=49|
While I try to come to grips with the TECK, I’d love to hear any suggestions on ways to better adapt to a completely different keyboard. I’m also happy to entertain requests for any specific tests you’d like me to try, or if you have questions about the unit itself I can answer those as well. Incidentally, the keyboard is very solidly built, with far more weight to it than the diminutive size would suggest. I actually like the weightiness, though it would be less ideal for transporting it in a backpack. The palm rest is also removable and attached securely via multiple screws, which is a great way of doing things. Aesthetically, there’s a lot I like about the TECK, which is part of the reason I was so interested in getting a review sample. The only question is how well I can type after spending some quality time with the TECK.
To be continued….
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PetriW - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - linkI've used the blank model 109 since launch and I really like it. I'd like to make a few notes though.
- The new shift/ctrl placement makes sense, it's just a pain to get used to. Alt can be hard to hit on the 109/209.
- Unless you actually use both thumbs for space I'd recommend remapping backspace to the left space bar.
- The width of the keyboard lets you move the mouse a lot closer, this really really helps.
- Don't buy the TECK expecting the "Reprogrammable" feature to be released any time soon. It was promised to be there on launch (and the delayed launches...) and it's still not here over a year later. Mail them about it and you get no reply.
- TECK support is pretty bad, I suspect it's just one guy with way too much to do.
- Switching between laptop/pc is not really a big issue outside the whole shift/ctrl placement thing and you could always remap those on your laptop too (caps lock is a waste of a key anyway).
- Shipping to Europe is way too expensive, even when ordering multiple keyboards.
JarredWalton - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - linkRemapping keys is extremely easy to do, actually. Here's one utility you can try that should do the trick: http://www.randyrants.com/sharpkeys/
Why it would take TE that long to create a similar utility is beyond me, but SharpKeys can remap most keys without issue. Being fully mechanical, you can also move most of the keys around on the TECK, so going Dvorak wouldn't be hard at all. Or you can get the blank model and just map it how you see fit. As an added benefit, if anyone comes to try your PC, the lack of labels will drive them away!
santeana - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - linkYeah, do stick with it! I can't wait to see a follow up review in a few weeks when you have gotten used to the new layout! :)
SilthDraeth - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - linkSince this seems to be the only company that makes this keyboard and the layout is so different from every other keyboard, and the design will likely never make it into a laptop...
I really don't see the point of spending two months learning it, as it will just slow down your ability to use other keyboards.
Now if you where to switch to it 100% and didn't type on any other layouts, then I could see changing.
piroroadkill - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - linkNah, I can type QWERTY, Dvorak, and my custom layout based on Dvorak although to be fair, I haven't typed on normal Dvorak for some months now.
It's almost like languages - people who learn many languages don't necessarily forget their previous languages..
Chapbass - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - linkNo, changing back and forth is easy. If its anything like my Kinesis Advantage, then basically it goes like this:
a few weeks to get used to the new keyboard, then a few weeks to learn how to adjust back and forth. Then its easy peasy. I switch back and forth between my Kinesis and a laptop standard keyboard flawlessly (though my kinesis is much more comfortable).
IanCutress - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - linkI tried switching to Dvorak, but dropped below 10 WPM and got too frustrated I couldn't respond to IMs or emails that quickly. I couldn't change the keyboard layout at work, and after a couple of days of struggling going back and forth, I just switched back and saved the hassle. I don't get any typing pains, writers block is perhaps more prevalent.
Jammrock - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - linkI would try it if it wasn't a flat keyboard. I don't ever use flat keyboards if I can avoid them. Far to uncomfortable for long term typing.
piroroadkill - Saturday, January 19, 2013 - linkTruly Ergonomic isn't flat, try looking it up.
boli - Monday, January 21, 2013 - linkThe keyboard itself is flat (flat PCB, unlike say Kinesis Advantage).
The profile of the key caps however is different in each row, so that the surface forms some sort of bowl:
Personally I'd rather recommend trying a Kinesis Advantage (I own both).