Ergonomic computer devices review and compare

Are ergonomic devices better for you? We put 10 on trial.
 
 
 
 
 
 

01 .Introduction

Please note: this information was current as of September 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Test results for 10 ergonomic devices priced from $77 to $341

It’s not only office workers that suffer from pain and discomfort caused by excessive keyboarding or mousing. The explosion in popularity of computers and mobile devices for social networking, email, instant messaging and games in the past few years means anyone can be at risk of the painful consequences of too much typing, texting and mousing.

With few exceptions, new PCs are still being issued with the same sort of basic (and cheap) keyboards and mice that we’ve been using for generations. There is, however, a range of elective options from specialist ergonomics suppliers, which can be used by people with overuse injuries — or people who want to avoid them. But they’re still very much in the minority. Which raises the question: If ergonomic devices are better for you, should everybody be using them?

While specially designed ergonomic devices can be of help to people suffering overuse injuries, prevention is sometimes better than cure. By their nature, ergonomic devices often break from the norm in their designs. So we invited a group of everyday users to see if they could adjust to some of these devices, and if they felt better and more comfortable to use than the traditional keyboard and mouse.

We bought two samples each of 10 ergonomic devices — five keyboards and five mouse alternatives — and gave them to 20 full-time office workers to try out for a full working week each. Each person trialled five devices and filled in a detailed survey for each, ranking:

  • installation
  • configuration
  • ease of use
  • comfort
  • overall satisfaction

What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics is all about matching up the job and equipment with the person who is using it. The aim is to maximise both health and productivity. Proper ergonomic design can help prevent repetitive strain injuries (RSI). This is also known as Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS). It can develop over time and cause pain, reduce mobility and even lead to long-term disability. Minimising repetitive tasks and awkward body positions can help prevent injuries from occurring.

The origin of ergonomics is credited to Ancient Greece. Evidence suggests that as far back as the 5th century BC Hellenic civilisation used ergonomic ideas (though not called such) in their work environment. The modern word ‘ergonomics’ comes from the Greek words ergon, meaning ‘work’, and nomos, meaning ‘laws’ — in effect, the laws of work. The term officially came into use in 1950.

Models tested

Keyboards

  • Logitech Wave Keyboard (Y-UV90)
  • Adesso Tru-Form Ergonomic Keyboard (PCK-208B)
  • Goldtouch Ergonomic Posture Keyboard 
  •  Kinesis Freestyle Incline Solo (KB700PBUS)
  • Microsoft Natural Ergonomic keyboard 4000

Mouse alternatives

  • 3M Ergonomic Mouse
  • Adesso Smart Cat Pro touchpad (GP-410UB)
  • Evoluent Vertical Mouse 3 (VM3R2-RSB)
  • Kensington Expert Mouse trackball K64325
  • Nomus Mouse
 
 

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The following models scored the best results in our test.

Brand Price
Keyboards
Logitech Wave Keyboard $130
Adesso Tru-Form Ergonomic Keyboard $77
Mouse alternatives
Adesso Smart Cat Pro touchpad (4 button) $150
Evoluent Vertical Mouse 3 $117

Full results for all models are shown in the table below.

 
ASSESSMENT
SPECIFICATIONS
Brand/Model
Price paid Overall Installation Ease of use Comfort Satisfaction Device type Software included Box contents Warranty (yrs)
Logitech Wave Keyboard (Y-UV90)
www.logitech.com
130 92 98 92 92 90 Keyboard SetPoint (Windows), Logitech Control Center (Mac) Keyboard, manual, CD-ROM 5
Adesso Tru-Form Ergonomic Keyboard (PCK-208B)
www.adesso.com
77 80 96 80 74 80 Keyboard None Keyboard, manual, USB to PS2 adapter 1
Kinesis Freestyle Incline Solo (KB700PBUS)
www.kinesis.com
315 70 74 70 66 71 Keyboard None Keyboard, quick start guide 2
Microsoft Natural Ergonomic keyboard 4000
www.microsoft.com.au
53 68 92 64 56 71 Keyboard IntelliType Pro 6.2 (Windows and Mac) Keyboard, quick start guide, product guide, CD-ROM 3
Goldtouch Ergonomic Posture Keyboard
www.goldtouch.com
200 66 88 58 68 65 Keyboard None Keyboard, quick start guide, USB to PS2 adapter ns
Adesso Smart Cat Pro touchpad (GP-410UB)
www.adesso.com
150 68 92 80 56 63 Touchpad Glidepoint (Windows) Touchpad, manual, CD-ROM 1
Evoluent Vertical Mouse 3 (VM3R2-RSB)
www.evoluent.com
117 67 89 71 62 62 Mouse Evoluent Mouse Manager (Windows) Mouse, quick start guide, mini CD-ROM ns
Kensington Expert Mouse trackball K64325
www.kensington.com
106 66 84 74 54 63 Trackball MouseWorks (Windows and Mac) Trackball, wrist rest, USB to PS2 adapter, manual, CD-ROM 5
3M Ergonomic Mouse
www.3m.com.au
106 65 94 66 56 63 Joystick mouse None Mouse, manual, USB to PS2 adapter 2
Nomus Mouse
www.nomus.nu
341 60 82 60 56 57 Roller mouse None [A] Mouse, USB cable, rubberised feet attachments, USB to PS2 adapter ns


Table notes

1 Price paid in June 2009, Australian dollars.

2 Assessment: Overall score includes a user assessment of:

  • Installation (10%) how easy or difficult it was to install and set up the device including the installation and configuration of any included software
  • Ease of use (25%) how easy the device was to learn to use
  • COmfort (25%) how comfortable the device felt to use at the end of the trial period
  • Satisfaction (40%) how much the user enjoyed using the device, assessed at the end of the trial period

3 Specifications: Device Type keyboard, mouse, trackball or touchpad; Software included the software that comes included with the device if any; Box contents all items supplied as standard with the device including manuals, adapters, software, additional hardware and accessories; Warranty standard manufacturer’s warranty for the device as supplied.

Footnotes

[A] Software can be downloaded from website. Downloaded software is in Swedish.

ns = not stated.

How we tested

We bought two samples each of 10 ergonomic devices — five keyboards and five mouse alternatives — and gave them to a randomised selection of 20 full-time office workers (eight male and 12 female) to try out for a full working week each.

Over five weeks, each person trialled five devices and filled in a detailed survey for each device, ranking it in response to specific questions covering installation and configuration, ease of use, comfort and overall satisfaction.

The keyboard range included both fixed format (one piece) and split models. The pointing devices included mouse-based units, a trackball and a touchpad.

Ergonomic devices are often chosen to help alleviate pain and aid in rehabilitation of specific injuries, but they can also be a preventative measure. The choice of which device to use can be highly subjective. Some people prefer trackballs, for example. This highlights the need to have ‘hands on’ experience with a device before purchasing. None of the devices in our trial were universally liked or disliked by our trialists and all had at least one user who said they “liked it a lot”. Most users also felt that more time spent with a device would yield better results.

Of the keyboards, the Logitech Wave was most favoured by the trialists, followed by the Tru-Form. The split-style keyboards were generally less well liked and took longer to get used to. The mouse alternatives varied dramatically in their approach. Most highly favoured by our trialists overall was the Smart Cat Pro four-button touchpad and the Evoluent Vertical Mouse 3 . 

Profiles - What to buy

Keyboards

Logitech Wave Keyboard

Logitech Wave KeyboardPrice: $130

This one-piece keyboard has a contoured shape designed to keep your hands in a neutral position without having to split the keys. Hotkeys activate Vista functions such as Flip 3D, Zoom, Photo Gallery and Gadgets, and other programmable keys give instant access to programs, folders and web pages. The palm rest is cushioned for comfort. Height is adjustable three ways and headphone cords can be tucked away in a channel underneath.

Trialist comments:

“Everything I need, nothing I don’t. Calculator and media (button) is handy.”

  • “Very good wrist support and natural positioning of fingers. Very comfortable (due to wave shape).”
  • “Happy to keep it.”
  • "Didn’t want to let it go.”
  • “I quite like it. It gave me the same speed and result as my usual keyboard within a short period.”

Adesso Tru-Form Ergonomic Keyboard

Adessor Tru-Form Ergonomic keyboardPrice: $77

This one-piece keyboard has a gently sloped shape combined with a split key configuration to encourage a natural hand, wrist and forearm position for comfort. It has a built-in wrist support and split spacebar. Eight programmable one-touch multimedia hotkeys can call up web searches, music and programs.

Trialist comments:

  • “It’s a little too big, for my desk and my hands.”
  • “Its bulbous shape was natural to use, but it was just a little too spaced out for my hands.”
  • “It took quite a bit of time to get used to the layout.”
  • “Harder to touch type or use shift keys.”
  • “Because I was getting faster I quite liked the possibility of improved speed, but it is quite big.”

Mouse alternatives

Adesso Smart Cat Pro touchpad

Adesso Smart Cat Pro touchpadPrice: $150

The Smart Cat touchpad is a compact programmable mouse alternative. It has one-touch scroll and zoom, and distinctive sounds for each operation. Its one-touch zones can be independently programmed to open files, start programs, control browser functions, perform mouse actions and more. The supplied software adjusts for speed or fine motion control. You can also quickly activate vertical and horizontal scrolling and magnification by sliding a finger along the touchpad edges.

Trialist comments:

  • “Good size, a smaller footprint on desk than most trackballs.”
  • “Pretty intuitive, especially if you’ve used a laptop.”
  • “Easy and natural to use but may require a wrist rest long-term.”
  • “Hand cramps. Probably due to having to hover hand while using, fingertip on pad.”
  • “I’m concerned over (its) long-term ergonomic credentials. My hand spent a lot of time hovering and lots of small movements.” 

Evoluent Vertical Mouse 3

Evoluent Vertical Mouse 3Price: $117

This optical mouse is designed to give you all the control of a normal scroll wheel mouse, but with your hand remaining in a vertical handshake position. This is designed to avoid the forearm twisting normally required to hold a mouse. Because it operates like a standard mouse, but sideways, minimal training is required for existing mouse users. It has five buttons that can be programmed for various functions and scroll wheel. It is available in left-handed (Evoluent Vertical Mouse 2) or right-handed versions.

Trialist comments:

  • “Its shape is more natural. Due to height and consequent inability to rest wrists, not sure if I’d like it permanently.”
  • “I enjoyed the fact it felt lighter and less strained on the hand. However, the buttons could have been positioned better.”
  • “Easy to hold, but hard to handle cursor.”
  • “It was a little uncomfortable for my small hand.” 
  • “Good ergonomics but hard to control.”

Keyboards

Kinesis Freestyle Incline Keyboard

Kinesis Freestyle Incline KeyboardPrice: $315

The most expensive of the keyboards we trialled is also the most versatile, with its range of optional (extra cost) accessory kits that can dramatically change the standard configuration. In this version, this adjustable split keyboard provides moderate slope and adjustable splay, and has replaceable padded palm supports.

Trialist comments:

  • “Somewhat inconvenient at first, but later I adjusted and now find the standard keyboard inconvenient.”
  • “It took about three days to feel really comfortable with it.”
  • “With the accessory base a touch too large, otherwise OK.”

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic keyboard 4000

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic keyboard 4000Price: $53

This fixed position keyboard has a split key layout, with keys for internet and email and five programmable ‘favourites’ keys for folders, files, programs and web sites, plus multimedia keys for audio and video. A soft, integrated full-width rest provides wrist support.

Trialist comments:

  • “Took some time to get used to but was okay after a day or two.”
  • “Hump in the middle of keyboard is difficult to use.”
  • “I didn’t get used to the hump, but probably would given more time.”

Goldtouch Ergonomic Posture Keyboard

Goldtouch Ergonomic Posture KeyboardPrice: $200

This keyboard pivots apart and tilts vertically to enable a more natural hand position. Its continuously variable adjustment allows up to 30 degrees in each direction and locks into position. It also has quiet keys with a soft end-stop to minimise jarring. Options include a numeric keypad and palm supports.

Trialist comments:

  • “Lack of number pad on right hand side, including ‘Enter’ button was frustrating. Page Up and Down, Enter, all too small and close together.” 
  •  “It was fairly easy to get used to.”
  • “Like the small size.”

Mouse alternatives

Kensington Expert Mouse Trackball

Kensington Expert Mouse TrackballPrice: $106

This optical trackball is quite large and has four programmable buttons that can be used to launch programs, websites and mouse functions such as drag-lock, double-click and so on. The large ball allows precise control, while a movable ring around the ball controls scrolling. It comes with a large, detachable wrist rest.

Trialist comments:

  • “Buttons all fall naturally under fingers. Loved the scroll ring.”
  • “It took a couple of days to get used to the placement of the buttons.” 
  •  “I have small hands and found it difficult with the top buttons and right click.”

3M Ergonomic Mouse

3M Ergonomic MousePrice: $106

The 3M Ergonomic Mouse, also called a Joystick Mouse, is an optical mouse controlled by a handle. It is available in two sizes. The idea behind the vertical shape is that it can be gripped like a handshake, eliminating rotation of the wrist and forearm. The thumb rocks left or right on the top button to click and the button on the handle controls scrolling and a task bar feature.

Trialist comments:

  • “No scroll wheel! Fine control of mouse pointer was very difficult!”
  • “The functions made logical sense and were easy to use.”
  • “I did not find (learning) it difficult at all.
  • “This is the best of the trial mouses!”

Nomus Mouse

Nomus MousePrice: $341

This one could easily be called the ‘enormous mouse’, as it runs the length of a full-size keyboard. It incorporates a full-width wrist rest with a roller bar and mouse buttons for both left and right hands to share the load, plus a central scroll button. Because it sits in front of your keyboard it lets you work close to your body, rather than reaching.

Trialist comments:

  • “By the end of the week it wasn’t completely natural, but pretty good nevertheless.”
  • “Way too big. It’s not a keyboard, but it hogs that much space.”
  • “Once you get used to the weird look it feels quite comfortable to use.”

There is a need for much clearer documentation with most of the devices we tested. Quite often the devices will work in a standard manner with just plug and play, but require the installation of software to enable special features, such as function buttons or customising controls. But few of the devices on trial came with detailed information on their particular ergonomic benefits.

The effectiveness of a well thought out ergonomic device can be reduced if the user doesn’t know how to best set it up, or to adjust and configure it. We gave the devices to our trialists to set up and use without additional instructions or training, just as a consumer would do if they ordered one online. Here’s what we found from their experiences:

  • Typing skills — Despite the flexibility of split keyboards in being able to have a better angle for more comfortable positioning of the hands, some of our trialists found the placement of certain keys a problem. Not everyone has perfect touch typing skills and having a key that you usually press with the right hand being on the other side of the ‘split’ and now requiring the left hand takes some relearning.
  • Numeric input — In the interests of being compact and keeping the hands centred in front of the body, some keyboards don’t have a numeric keypad. Instead, numbers are overlaid on letter keys and activated by selecting a Function key. This means the numbers don’t line up in straight rows as they do on a dedicated numeric keypad, and can slow down those who enter a lot of numeric data.
  • Patience — You might take longer to get used to a new device, depending on how often you use it. One trialist noted: “ I don’t type all day, everyday so it takes time to get used to something new”. Another said: “I need to overcome years of conditioning to normal keyboards”. We found that while many devices were easy to learn, few could be mastered in less than a week of normal use to match the speed and accuracy of a traditional keyboard or pointing device. You will need to spend a number of weeks adjusting to become comfortable with a new device. For our trial, at the end of a week’s use a common comment was: “I’m still getting used to it”. 
  •  Size — Size does matter, especially with ergonomic devices. Being able to fit the device comfortably into your normal workspace and being able to reach and use the controls in a natural manner is important to its effectiveness. Several of the devices were considered by some to be too big or bulky. Trialists generally found the Evoluent Vertical Mouse, ExpertMouse Trackball and Nomus Mouse in particular a little on the large side.
  • Cost — While some trialists felt favourably towards particular devices, few found the difference great enough to make them willing to part with more money for it. There would have to be a significant benefit to purchase a so-called ergonomic version at much higher cost. The devices tested were most commonly rated with the comment “I’d pay a bit more” or “I wouldn’t pay any more”. The Logitech Wave Keyboard was the only device for which several trialists indicated “I’d pay quite a bit more”.

Do you need one?

Any long-term computer use, especially for extended periods at a time, can put you at risk of developing overuse related injuries (such as repetitive strain injury). How well people cope with frequent computer use is individual, and the same goes with the use of ergonomic devices. If you have a pre-existing condition, you may find an ergonomically designed device provides relief, while someone without any issues may find they don’t provide an immediate benefit. Among our trialists, only one user had a pre-existing condition, and the results of our trial reflect how healthy users find ergonomically designed devices.

As with any medical condition, self-diagnosis or treatment of ergonomic-related injuries is not advised. If you experience any pain while using a mouse or keyboard, listen to it and seek professional help — pain is an indicator something is wrong and shouldn’t be ignored. Keep in mind also that ergonomic devices are only one component of a healthy workstation and can’t make up for bad posture or bad work habits.

Finally, if you’re interested in buying an ergonomic device, we advise trying them out in person before buying, preferably with the help of an ergonomic specialist who can point out all the features and correct usage and may be able to advise on which device might best fit your needs.

Tip: When first trying out a new device, it’s a good idea to not do it when the pressure is on — give yourself time to ease into it while processing a lighter workload. New devices can take some getting used to and the added pressure of trying to meet a deadline can create tension and possibly contribute to the very injury you’re trying to avoid. For example, one trialist said she woke up with a slightly sore wrist on the first day of the trial, but only noticed it when using the new keyboard.

For extensive information on ergonomics topics, downloadable fact sheets and other reference material, check out Safe Work Australia.

The QWERTY curse

Standard ‘flat’ style keyboards are still the norm for most of us, as is the QWERTY key configuration. Taken from the first six keys on the top-left letter row, QWERTY is a hangover from the early days of manual typewriters. The keys were largely arranged that way to actually make it easier for the typewriter, not the typist, in order to help prevent the machine from jamming up. This design was used in the first commercial typewriter, manufactured in 1874 by Remington & Sons.

By the time typewriter engineering eliminated the problem of jamming, the QWERTY layout had become the standard and remains the norm today, despite claims that alternatives such as the Dvorak layout (named after its creator August Dvorak, not the way the keys are arranged) make typing easier, faster and more accurate.

The flat shape of a keyboard can also trace it’s origins to the first typewriters, but ergonomic designers have experimented with split and angled keyboards to help take the strain off wrists and make it more comfortable and easier to type.