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Buyer's Guide

Keyboard Buyer's Guide

Keyboard Tray Buyer's Guide

There are a variety of alternatives to the traditional keyboard, from models that split the keys into two halves to voice recognition software that turns you speech into text. Learn about them all, and find out about accessories that can make computing more comfortable - from wrist rests and keyboard trays to software that types for you.



Traditional Keyboard
The most commonly used type of keyboard, the 101-key "traditional" version is often included when you purchase a computer. (Some models improve upon the basic version by adding special "function keys" that can group keystrokes and reduce the amount of typing necessary.)

Split-Design Keyboards (Fixed- Angle)
Split keyboards are what people most commonly think of when they hear the term "ergonomic keyboard". These keyboards divide the letter keys into two halves, and angle each half slightly outwards. The premise is that this is a more natural position for your wrists and forearms (pointing inward, without requiring your elbows to come in as far) thus better conforming to the contours of your body - especially for people with broad chests.

Split Design Keyboards (Adjustable- Angle)
Adjustable-angle split keyboards are similar to fixed-angle, with the advantage that the angle between the two halves can be changed and sometimes the two halves can be physically separated. This allows you to position each half wherever your wrists most naturally rest - or place each half on specially-designed trays attached to each arm rest. (Some people even arrange them vertically, and position their wrists as if shaking someone's hand.). Split-angle designs often also allow you to change the slope (tent) of the keyboard.

Contoured Keyboards
Contoured keyboards are sculpted to fit the hand; they place the keys in recessed curves that more closely match the natural position of the fingers. This reduces the distance your fingers have to travel when striking keys. These keyboards don't feature quite the same layout as traditional keyboards - some keys are rearranged to be operated by the thumb, since it's stronger than the other fingers.

Chording Keyboards
Chording keyboards use fewer keys than traditional keyboards, and are operated by using combinations of keys instead of individual keystrokes. This reduces the total number of keystrokes and - since your fingers generally stay on the same keys - the amount your fingers or hands must move (this helps reduce the repetition that can lead to Repetitive Stress Injuries.) Since this is a "non-traditional" layout, it takes time to learn- and efficiency (even after training) is often slightly worse than with other layouts.

Dvorak Layout
Dvorak designs rearrange the key layout so that the most commonly-used letters are positioned directly under a user's strongest fingers - and in the "home" row. This improves typing efficiency, but as with all alternative layouts, takes time to learn.

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Keyboard Trays
Keyboard trays attach underneath your desk or work surface, and provide a framework for your keyboard that's height and position-adjustable - a huge improvement, ergonomically. They're a nearly essential part of any ergonomically-optimized workstation. Some higher-end models include an integrated mouse tray - a good feature to look for. Some keyboard trays only allow the keyboard to be angled upwards (positive slope) - these aren't recommended because they compromise wrist posture. Other trays only allow the keyboard to be angled downwards (negative slope) - these are recommended because they improve wrist posture. Some keyboard trays allow the keyboard to be angled upwards or downwards (positive or negative slope) - these are only recommended if users are taught to angle the keyboard tray slightly downwards. In addition, there are lap-held keyboard trays, which may be helpful for people whose short desk depth would otherwise force their monitor to be positioned too close. Since these trays aren't attached to a desk, users can vary their distance from their workstation to help maintain the proper ergonomic viewing distance.

Wrist Rests (Palm Rests)
Wrist rests are cushions placed in front of your keyboard that support your wrists during periods of rest. There are a number of different options to choose from - gel-filled, rubber, etc. Remember DO NOT REST YOUR WRISTS ON A WRIST REST. Rather, rest the heel of the palm of your hand on the rest. Do not use wrist rests while typing or mousing - only while resting.

Voice Recognition Software
These programs allow you to dictate instead of type. Special software lets you speak to your computer (via an attached microphone), and then transcribes your voice into text that can be edited manually. This technology is constantly improving, and many developers claim accuracy rates as high as 95-99%. Remember, however, that your vocal chords are *also* muscles - and can become just as tired or worn out as your fingers!

Macros and Key Sequences
Key Sequences or "Macros" allow you to automate common tasks (such as formatting a document or inserting your address), significantly reducing the amount of typing you need to do (and hopefully reducing repetitive stress injuries!). You can even buy software programs that allow you to easily record macros for *any* software and assign complex key sequences.

Break Timers
Break timers keep track of your keystrokes or usage, then remind you at certain intervals to take rest breaks. Proper work pacing is thought to help reduce the occurrence Musculoskeletal Disorders.

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