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

    By the way, I think you're missing the word "feel" on this sentence on page two: "at least I don’t like the TECK might fail in the near future".
  • jonkullberg - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    Interesting read Jarred, I've been looking forward to this since your preview. I just wanted to share my own experience of going from QWERTY to DVORAK (or the Swedish SVORAK, actually) back in 2007 or so when I was writing for Tom's Hardware. I was also living in Berlin at the time, so the hipster allure of being the only one with a weird keyboard layout was very tempting.
    I too was using the same white and blue MS Natural before becoming smitten with the looks of the then new TypeMatrix EZ-Reach 2030:
    The switch was indeed huge! I mean, just look at the layout of the damn thing! =) Not a single button was where it was supposed to be, and my typing speed was severely crippled for a very long time. I think it probably took me 3-6 months to get where I didn't ever have to look at the keys again. I eventually stopped using DVORAK/SVORAK alltogether.
    I'd say this on the matter:

    Pros: I found the DVORAK layout noticeably more relaxing for my arms, hands and fingers. I'd probably even go so far as to claim that it is more relaxing for your whole brain, since you don't have to move your fingers around so much (my typing is fairly fast, but I probably only use 2-3 fingers on each hand most of the time). If I remember correctly, TypeMatrix themselves claimed that DVORAK would reduce finger movement by 50% or so. I wouldn't dare to second that, but it was indeed noticeable. I saw someone in the comments here say that their fingers had a lazy feel, and that's probably an accurate description. I would be typing fairly fast, but completely without the focus and strain that comes from doing so with qwerty.

    Cons: The time it takes to get used to it of course. The hassle of rebinding keys for every game you are going to be playing. Not being able to use normal hot keys (ctrl + c and so on) like you are used to. Frequently switching between qwerty and dvorak was pretty horrible for me since my "muscle memory" would dump whatever layout I wasn't using.

    I'm a bit interested in the TECK, and I might actually even consider going dvorak on it if I ever get it. As for recommending dvorak to others: it's really awesome to use, but there is a looot of hassle involved.
  • evonitzer - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    Steam and other modern games automatically handle key binding correctly with dvorak. Meaning I don't have to switch. But the easy solution is just to leave both keyboards as options and switch between them in game. For me, it is Left Ctrl + Shift. If I enter a game that requires qwerty binding, then I just use qwerty in game and change when back at the desktop.

    I don't understand how there is a lot of hassle? You just change the language options in Windows, spend the time to learn, and then you have Dvorak.

    Do you need the keycaps changed? I thought everyone was a touch typist these days. In my experience, I just had a piece of paper sitting next to the keyboard with the key assignments, and I played typer shark or some other silly game to learn where the keys are.

    The copy paste thing is a real issue, I will grant. You can still use them, but now they are two handed operations or else awkward with the left hand.
  • Belard - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    "! 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"

    They still make ps/2 connector keyboards to this day, which I have no problem using... They still tend to just work better since the OS doesn't have to load up USB drivers to detect the keyboard.

    Anyho... MY keyboard IS SO OLD, it doesn't even have a ps/2 connector! I got it in 1995 as ATX was just coming out. Yep, it uses a huge AT connector. I use an adapter which is heavy and 2" long, so I also use a ps/2 extension cable so the adapter doesn't (A) require 3-4" rear clearance behind my desktop and (B) add a lot of weight and fall out of the ps/2 port. And (C) possibly break the connector on the motherboard.

    They of course stop making My keyboard long time ago. As of today, there are no good replacements for it. When it dies its going to SUCK. Not only because of its style but that most of today's keyboards are crap. Using cheap decals for letters and short life spans. I don't have cts, but I'm also a light typist... I don't have much key wear after all these years.

    I have a Lite-On ergonomic keyboard, it's a knock off from the MS natural keyboard from the 90s with their own arrangement and of course lower price of $23. What makes it good or different (even thou it's not mechanical but still rather noisy by today's standards.)

    1- the split is staggered, unlike MS or Logitech... Also angled differently.
    2- the number 6 key is on the right side of the split.
    3- it has somewhat useless TAB and ENTER keys in the center, while it does have them in the normal places.

    But what I really like about this keyboard is the following:
    4- the large L shaped ENTER key
    5- along with a large BACKSPACE key. Try finding that combo on the same keyboard! They were able to do this by placing the pipe &\ key ( |\ ) below the ENTER key on the right corner, making the little used R-SHIFT key a bit smaller than usual. But look everyone, the R-SHIFT key is the longest key there is!

    6- the keyboard is white/beige so you don't need as much light to see the keys in the dark.

    The only thing IMHO would make this layout/keyboard better is if the INS & DELETE key were turned into a single large DELETE key and the INSERT key was used to replace the useless SCROLL LOCK (make it into a shift key activation) and of course then swap locations with the PRT SCREEN key.
    7- there is a slight cutout at the front of the wrist rest to make it very easy to pickup or grab the keyboard... While on others, there is no grip on the front.

    When this keyboard dies... I'm in trouble. Even thou I'm used to standard keyboards for the most part. There pics of this on the net.

    ( typed from my iPad touch screen )
  • Juddog - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    Am I the only one that went "WTF" with regards to how the 6 key was used by the author on the MS Ergonomic keyboard picture? I don't understand why someone would use their right hand to reach way over to the key that's purposefully put on the other side of the split keyboard.

    I always use my left hand to hit the number 6. Good article in general, just thought that one odd bit bothered me for some reason.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    On the MS, I use the left hand for the 6, but the TECK basically requires you to learn to use the right hand for it. I didn't intend to imply this is "better" (and the TECK image showing you using the right hand for the 6 is a bit much).
  • savagesword - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    Not just you.
    I hit '7' with the first finger of the right hand, and '6' as you said.
    The other odd thing was the slant of the right hand described in the diagram. My hands 'center' on the two split layouts, and the thumbs rest on the space bar. It's as comfortable as it gets. No aches, and no problems, even for extended hours.
    The exceptions are of course, if I want to use the number pad for lots of numerical entries, (I'm also used to those +, -, * and / keys there now). The num pad is also used extensively for shortcuts (like in Nikon View NX2) - use the number keys to assign a color or star rating to a photograph.
    My only gripe is that they do not make a backlit natural split keyboard.
  • savagesword - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    I just tried sitting and positioning my hands on the MS4000 the way the nutcase drew those lines. In this case, I'm at an angle, about 35-45 degrees to the monitor. My eyes are almost in line with the left edge of the monitor (at about 2.5 feet away of course). It's highly uncomfortable. I can't type at half normal speed in this scenario.
    The person who did this was obviously high at the moment he thought this up.
  • TeamSprocket - Friday, March 8, 2013 - link

    You're supposed to hit 1-5 with your left hand, and 6-0 with your right hand. After all, you're supposed to hit T (on QWERTY) with your left hand, and Y (on QWERTY) with your right hand, and 5 is above T and 6 is above Y.
  • marvdmartian - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    As an OLD GUY, who originally (in high school) learned to type on a manual typewriter (55 WPM, thank you!), and later had to use electric typewriters (what the heck is a RETURN key??), I think I'd find this keyboard to be more painful to learn, than beneficial to use.

    Pretty sure that I'd learn to hate the location of the keys on the lower left & right (PgUp/PgDn, etc, and the arrow keys), as I generally don't use them a lot anyways, and like having them out of the way. I do utilize the "natural" keyboards for day to day use, and haven't had any medical problems (though I do notice, if forced to use a straight keyboard, that my forearms ache after about 10 minutes of typing).

    One thing I did notice in your article, is the relocation of the number 6 key to right side. Actually, if you ever learned typing on a typewriter, you'd know that the number 6 was taught to be pressed with the right index finger, not the left. It was one of the harder things I had to get used to, switching to a natural keyboard, was using my left hand index finger to hit the 6 key. So I guess there'd be at least one thing I'd like about this layout!

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