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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  • AndrewMorton - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    I had agonising RSI from using a mouse in work. I switched to using an A5 Wacom tablet - I had to use my left hand for it at the time, even though I'm mostly right-handed.. I still use a tablet left-handed from that initial habit, although using one right-handed is no problem now.

    At home, I have the luxury of being able to sit (cross-legged) on a cushion on the floor to use my computer, with the keyboard (Logitech Illuminated) raised a few inches and the mouse on the carpet to my right side, so I use the mouse with my arm fairly parallel to my body. A bit of circling my arms every hour or so, and no more RSI. And yes, I can play Crysis like that ;)
  • ThousandStars - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    I've <a href=" a Kinesis Advantage for years</a>, and the TECK would have to be an order of magnitude better to get me, or, presumably, most users to learn yet a third keyboard layout.

    That's probably true of most people: I imagine we're willing to learn one new, funky keyboard layout, but not two.
  • MatthiasP - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    So in the 8.5 years you write for AT you got 9 years older? Are the harsh labor conditions to blame?
  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 8, 2013 - link

    My birthday is in November, my first article was in September. So technically I was 30.83 and now I'm 39.33. I apologize for rounding and losing some precision in the statement. While I'm trying to be absolutely factual, I should also note that I've been with AnandTech for 8.43 years.
  • HobgoblinX - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    Since you didn't mention which headset you use, I might have to make some assumptions. I'm guessing you might be using the one that came in the box. Everywhere I've ever looked online, or anyone I've ever talked to agrees it's garbage. Also, if it works when you plug it into almost any laptop or desktop soundcard, it's also garbage.

    Let me explain. The reason both previous examples are garbage, is because they are almost certainly not active noise cancelling microphones. Active noise cancelling microphones require more power than the standard mic input provides on the vast majority of soundcards.

    Also, don't use a compact or bluetooth headset. The reasons are twofold. Bluetooth headsets use a smaller section of the audio spectrum. This is mostly okay as this is where most of human speech resides, but while most applications find this acceptable, it does cause the accuracy of recognition to drop. (Forgive me if I'm too lazy to look up the actual loss right now.)

    The reason to avoid a compact headset is, the further away from the mouth, the easier it is for outside sounds to make it past the filtering algorithms as there is less distinction between your voice and other sounds. Having a mic boom right next to the corner of your mouth makes sure that there is a clear distinction between your voice and other sounds so active noise cancellation can work properly

    When I first started using Dragon, I had a standard mic, and even the slightest noise messed up recognition. It could just be someone talking in the other room or a car driving by on the street.

    Now, I'm using a Sennheiser knockoff from KnowBrainer with an external USB soundcard with a high power mic port, and I routinely get 98-99%+ accuracy. The Sennhiser is $189, but the KnowBrainer knockoff is only $29 right now, and is only 1% lower on average for accuracy. Also, I can't remember the last time I've had an outside noise mess up dictation. I've had people walk into the room talking at full volume or a garage truck banging the dumpster around not 20ft from my office with nary a hiccup. Even if your kids are far louder, I think you would be surprised at how accurate you can be. I recommend Knowbrainer for stuff. FYI, I have no affiliation with Dragon or KnowBrainer in any way. I just like the software and the store.

    Hope you can find this helpful. I've had some issues with carpal tunnel in the past, and it is definitely no fun.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    If you look at the old Dragon article, I actually have a Sennheiser. It's a great mic, but the kids can be very distracting right now -- I don't really have a good office space set up. I may return to using DNS when we finish painting a couple rooms.
  • Ktracho - Thursday, March 7, 2013 - link

    About 16-17 years ago, I decided I would try the Dvorak layout, and I found that after an hour or two of e-mail and software coding, I no longer needed to look at the keyboard layout I had printed out. I still had to think before knowing which key to press, but after a couple days, it got much easier, and I've wondered ever since how come everyone doesn't mind having to make so much effort to reach the most commonly-used keys. I do have to switch back and forth between layouts because all our lab machines at work have standard keyboards, as do my wife's and children's keyboards. However, something that makes this easier is that I got the Kinesis Advantage with Dvorak layout at work and at home, so it's easy to mentally switch based on whether I'm using a Kinesis or not.

    Maybe it depends on how easy it is for a person to learn a new language. I'm fluent in English and Spanish, and, though rusty, can speak a bit of French. Depending on which one, I feel learning a new language is doable with some effort. Same thing with learning a new keyboard layout or design like the Kinesis - it's just not a big deal to me. Probably the fact I play piano helps as well - your mind gets used to thinking, "If you see a note on the sheet music in this place, that means you have to press the key over here with this hand. But if you see a note in this other place, then move your other hand and press over there." You get used to doing these translations in a fraction of a second without stopping to think consciously.
  • TeamSprocket - Friday, March 8, 2013 - link

    It depends on the specific user.

    Myself, it took me well over a month to get back up to speed from my original QWERTY speed, and another several months to be able to switch between Dvorak and QWERTY with relative ease. I did it, but I don't believe everyone could do it.

    If you're a touch typist to begin with, it's a matter of overcoming years (perhaps decades) of muscle memory. If you're a hunt-and-peck typist, then it really doesn't matter.
  • mcbowler - Friday, March 8, 2013 - link

    I had CTS starting at 30, 4 years ago... and my hands cracked just making a fist and tingled when typing. I started taking Juice Plus last year and I'm almost 100% improved. The keyboard looks decent though.
  • dothebart - Friday, March 8, 2013 - link

    are which are used in my (no longer manufactured) Cherry G80 5000 keyboard.
    Purchased in 1998, and heavily used everyday as I'm a coder.
    the only wear it shows is that the roughened surface gets bright on the hand rests.
    Oh, btw, touch typing dvorak for 15 years now.

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