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
Logitech Wave Keyboard
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.
“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
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.
- “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.”
Adesso Smart Cat Pro touchpad
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.
- “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
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.
- “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.”
Kinesis Freestyle Incline Keyboard
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.
- “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
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.
- “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
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.
- “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.”
Kensington Expert Mouse Trackball
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.
- “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
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.
- “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!”
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.
- “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.”