Introducing the TECK

Back in late January, I received the TECK for review, a keyboard that goes by the not-so-humble name of “Truly Ergonomic Computer Keyboard”, manufactured by a company that likewise uses the name Truly Ergonomic (hello name space collision). I’m sure other companies that make ergonomic keyboards might take exception to the name, but as far as I’m concerned that’s mostly marketing. The real question is how the TECK fares in day-to-day use, and whether it’s really a better keyboard for serious typists—and particularly typists like me that suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)—compared to the other options.

I won’t sugarcoat the difficulty of the initial learning curve: it’s brutal, and I already wrote some first impressions on the subject. If you buy a keyboard like this, you’re going to need to plan on a solid three or four days minimum before you can start to approach your previous efficiency. Give it another week or two, though, and as with most things it becomes mostly second nature. With over a month of regular use now in my back pocket, I’m ready to provide some thoughts on the TECK experience. Can any keyboard possibly be worth a price of entry well north of $200? I suppose that depends on what you’re doing with it.

My Background—Why the TECK Matters

Let me start with a bit of background information so that you know where I’m coming from and why I would even be interested in using the TECK. Currently, I’m the Senior Editor of the laptops/notebooks section at AnandTech, but I also provide proofing/editing on various other articles, and I dabble in the occasional other section. I’ve now been with AnandTech for 8.5 years, and during that time I’ve gone from 30 years old to a ripening 39 year old. I have a habit of being perhaps more verbose than necessary in my reviews (my current record goes to the ~25K word socket 939 SFF roundup back in late 2005—and it’s the reason I try to avoid roundups these days). Succinctly put, I type quite a bit on a keyboard and as I got older I started having issues with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).

I’ve tried a few other approaches during the years to help mitigate the irritation of CTS, including doing a lot of dictation using Dragon NaturallySpeaking for a few years. I actually like Dragon, but when I got married and then had one young child and later a second enter into the equation (I now have a 10 year old, nearly 3 year old, and our baby just turned 1 this past weekend), I found that getting the necessary privacy to do proper dictation can be rather difficult. So as much as I like the idea of speech recognition, it’s probably not going to be viable for me until either my children get old enough that they can learn to leave dad alone while he’s working, or I get an office with a soundproof door I can lock myself behind.

My secondary approach to alleviating my CTS has been threefold. First, try to type less; I basically quit commenting on most hardware enthusiast forums because it was creating extra wear and tear on the aging carpals. Second, try to exercise more, eat healthier, and take breaks from the computer every hour or so—I’m not doing so well on that last part, though I’m definitely in better shape and eating healthier than when I was in my early 30s and 20s! Finally, I switched to a split keyboard back in 2004, a Microsoft Natural that I still have today—it’s so old that it doesn’t even have a USB connection if that helps. All of the above help to varying degrees, but until I fully quit typing I suspect I’m going to have to continue the search for ways to avoid causing my carpals undue stress.

When Dustin started reviewing mechanical keyboards last year, I started taking a minor interest. I have plenty of other keyboards around the house, not to mention a bunch of laptops as well, but they’re all “cheap” membrane-based keyboards. I was curious to see if anyone offered a good mechanical switch keyboard with an ergonomic design—basically something like my MS Natural but with Cherry MX switches. There was only one option at the time, from Kinesis, and it wasn’t quite what I was looking for plus it was priced way higher than I wanted to spend. Then early this year a press release crossed my email inbox (forwarded from Dustin) about a new ergonomic keyboard with mechanical switches, the TECK. I was intrigued and sent an email asking for a review sample, and that brings us to today’s review.

Now you know something more about my background and interest in the TECK. For the record, I now have a Kinesis Advantage for review as well, which will replace the TECK once I finish with this review. Then I’ll use it for a few weeks and will provide some thoughts on how they compare. But for now, let’s move on to the TECK itself and look at the design along with a subjective evaluation.

TECK: Rethinking Ergonomics
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  • pubjoe - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    I personally found that article terribly overblown. In his (long, grassy knoll style) build up, he quoted some simplified sound bites, like qwerty being "designed to slow down typists".

    You don't need to follow the whole doctrine to know that qwerty isn't the most efficient layout for modern typing. That remains obvious, and it remains a good example of 'standards monopoly'. Dvorak is usually used just to quickly emphasise a point - that alternatives are overlooked because it's too much work to escape a widely established standard. Dvorak conspiracies are irrelevant.

    If he'd written his findings without the heroic myth busting angle (which probably would have trimmed four of the five pages out), it would have been a lot more digestible, informative and interesting.
  • prophet001 - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    This guy takes way too long to get to the point. He's a fantasy author trapped in the tech world.
  • Sgt. Stinger - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    Hello Jarred!

    I was diagnosed with CTS 2008. By 2009 I had the operation done on the right hand, and let me tell you, it made such a difference. Before the operation I couldn't write with pen and paper for more than five minutes before my whole hand was numb, except my pinky. After the operation, I dont have any problems at all in the right hand.

    It wont help for everyone and there are different kinds of operations, but I would at least consider it if I were you.
  • vanteo - Friday, March 8, 2013 - link

    And I'll add a caution that often with computer professionals who have had CTS surgery, the symptoms return after some time because the CTS is a symptom and not the root cause. This book makes the point:

    It's Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome!: RSI Theory and Therapy for Computer Professionals

    For me, wrist, hand, and arm pain tingling and numbness is caused by the systemic problems of prolonged computer use--shoulders rolling forward, chest compressing, and neck falling forward (instead of head tilting downward). If the pain jumps around for you, I would seriously consider the bigger picture.
  • DorkMan - Saturday, March 9, 2013 - link

    CTS can be fixed.

    I began to note a tingling numbness in my left thumb about five years ago, and over a year's time it spread to more fingers. Conduction-speed tests showed it was due to a constriction in the wrist. The solution was simple: the surgeon intentionally cuts a ligament spanning the wrist like a thick rubber band, and when it heals it becomes much looser, eliminating pressure on the tunnel.

    Recovery took a few weeks, with feeling returning to the fingers within six months. When the doc diagnosed the left hand, he asked about the right. No issues, I said. "You will," he replied. Sure enough, a year later I had the surgery to the right hand.

    Now, perfectly normal in both hands. No issues of any sort. The CTS surgery was a huge plus, not too much discomfort or hassle. My issues had nothing to do with typing position, or quantity of typing. It was simply a constriction of the wrist tunnel which was easily corrected.
  • Silma - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    Of course the qwerty layout is suboptimal and other layouts can be showed to be better as we statistically can predict letter sequences and distribution with great precision.
    So if you ask people to invest a week or two getting used to a keyboard it would be made more sense to get them used to a better layout at the same time.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    This is generally not recommended, as the change to a new keyboard layout (e.g. TECK) combined with switching to Dvorak or something other than QWERTY ends up being two changes at once and generally results in a discouraged user. Both Truly Ergonomic and Kinesis recommend you learn the keyboard first and then try Dvorak.
  • msackman - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    Hmm, yes, me thinks they want your money first, and then might allow you to try something which might have helped fix the problem in the first place without parting you from your money.

    However, I am just a cynic...
  • msackman - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    First up, I've not read the whole article. I intend to. I have however watched the video you make of yourself typing on both keyboards.

    I have suffered from CTS and RSI over the years. Initially I was typing very badly (self-taught, no typing tutor) on QWERTY layouts. I reasoned it would be easier to learn a new layout properly than try to correct my use of QWERTY. This is why I switched to Dvorak. However, I don't really have any specific comments about that other than it's clear from your video that QWERTY is giving you a left-hand bias. That may or may not be a problem.

    What I notice about your typing is that your hand is very rigid. Look at the way your thumbs are bent back. You are pulling on tendons that you really don't need to be pulling on. You also tend to move your whole hand rather than just the finger required. Your fingers really need to "dance" over the keys, having a light touch and springing back to where they came from. You may want to try and go and see a Piano teacher - much good advice about sitting at a keyboard is the same as sitting at a Piano.

    Personally, I am extremely anti wrist-wrests. In my opinion, the keyboard should be on the front lip of the desk, and if you want to wrest your hands, you put them in your lap on by your sides. Wrist rests encourage you to type with your wrists on the rest, which massively strains ligaments and tendons through the bottom of your wrist. Your wrists should always be elevated and in plane with with forearms (which should be roughly horizontal). I find arm rests to similarly be awful.

    I have suffered from a lot of upper-back pain from typing and it's always been posture related. These days I sit on a saddle-stool, which I find is very good for rotating your pelvis forwards, making you sit up, and keeping you relaxed in your upper back and arms. It has helped me a lot.

    All that said, everyone has different physiologies, and there is not an answer that works for everyone. I have colleagues who slouch and slump and I can't believe they're not in pain, but they're not and that's just we're all different sizes and shapes. However, it is (obviously) never a good idea to be in pain in front of a computer so if you are, start experimenting and change things. There are solutions, you just need to find them!
  • Dribble - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    My experience of CTS/RSI is it occurs when you bounce off the range of movement of a joint a lot. If you can work out where you are doing that (which is pretty obvious when you look at how you type) and correct that then you can solve most problems.

    For example with a normal keyboard with keys facing straight at you then you have to bend your wrists in the direction of the pinky as far as they will go to line up with the keys. This will cause RSI, hence natural keyboards angling keys. The other obvious one is no wrist support so wrists are lower then keyboard and have to bend up almost as much as they can to reach the keys. This will cause CTS so doing something to keep wrists flat will solve that.

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