The Zergotech Freedom Ergonomic Keyboard is health altering technology — by Patrick Hentschel
By Patrick Hentschel.
(*This review is posted by Zergotech, with permission and on behalf of Patrick Hentschel — Senior Director of Global Accounts at Feedonomics, tech start-up based in Woodland Hills, CA)
Infrequently do I rave about health altering technology… Frankly, I’m usually quite skeptical of all things “ergo” given my years of experience trying one tool only to cycle it out for another after limited impact. Zergotech’s ‘Freedom’ keyboard is far and away the exception.
I’m a senior sales executive at a rapidly growing start-up based in Los Angeles, California. Though I’m uncomfortable to admit it, I probably spend upward of 8 hours a day during the week seated in front of a computer screen. I can type at a mean 120 WPM, and with this speed has come a price — for the last 1–2 years I’ve struggled with increasingly chronic hand pain that no keyboard (I’ve tried Logitech, Anker) has been able to ease. Slowing down my typing speed didn’t help, and each day was more disheartening than the last with respect to this soreness in my hands & fingers.
Finally I launched into a search with renewed vigor, committed to finding some cutting-edge solution to this malady that I reasoned must be affecting millions of others in my position. I will say that it took some digging… Because Zergo is an early-stage start-up, their marketing presence is not yet fully established, which makes it all the more impressive that they’ve received the distinctive accolades they have at this early stage in their development. The price point was of course steep, but I weighed that against the hours and hours of low-grade pain, lost productivity and prospective health care costs should I defer changing my work patterns.
To skip to the end, my hands, wrists, forearms, and shoulder feel MUCH better having adopted Zergo into my tech toolkit for the last four weeks.
From my experience, there are few key design facets that drive the effect.
1) The moving wrist pads. I prefer the taller ones. This allows your wrist to sit higher relative to your fingers, further reducing the curl in your wrist that lends itself to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. These things are probably the most innovative part of the keyboard (I’ve seen no other device that employs this design). They work because they allow my hands to freely drift around as they type, removing the needs to stretch my hands & fingers in order to reach certain keys. Moreover, I can keep my wrist resting while typing, rather than having to hover above the keyboard as is oft prescribed — this allows my forearm muscles to relax as they don’t have to sustain the weight of my hands for hours on end.
2) The keyboard splits in half. Who cares you ask? You should. Because the keyboard separates, you do NOT need to work in a fixed position all the time. You can change the way your arms articulate toward the keyboard, minimizing risk of chronic stress on your shoulders and forearms. On top of that, the way the keyboard is angled rather than square, lets me sit in a relaxed normal posture with my elbows spreading out, versus having them tucked into my body. This overall is more comfortable for extended periods of time.
3) Key placement makes a LOT more sense than regular keyboards. Why do you need the spacebar to be available for both fingers? You don’t. Instead they put the spacebar in line for the right thumb, and the ENTER key in line for the left thumb. Genius. Also the number keypad and arrow keys are overlayed on the main right hand keys. This is a little annoying at first, but once you get used to it, it’s WAY better because you don’t need to move your right hand to locate those keys. They are accessible just by holding the FN key with the left hand. The keys generally just feel great too. I am not a mechanical keyboard whiz by any means, but supposedly they are the way to go. Feels good to me and definitely doesn’t take any extra effort to depress the keys. I got the Brown keys (not referring to the color — you will see what I mean when you go to check out) and they’re great.
4) *** This is an honorary mention because while it’s VERY cool, I don’t think I’ll use it that often. The keyboard has an embedded mouse feature, meaning that you can hit a key and then easily drift your mouse, click, etc. It’s actually impressively precise. Maybe I will find occasion to use it regularly someday. For now my left hand is trained on my Kensington trackball mouse. I think what I’d rather see in a later version of the hardware is some kind of trackpad in the center of the keyboard that’s accessible to both thumbs. That’s what my hands seem to naturally want anyway…
So that’s the good stuff. Bad parts?
- There’s probably a 1–2 week learning curve. Be prepared to hit backspace a lot as you learn that the enter key is there by your right thumb, the “b” letter needs to be typed with your left not right hand, and the ~ is woefully far away (though understandably so as I am probably alone in my frequent usage of this key). The backspace key itself is in a new place accessible with the left pinky. Fortunately, the keyboard is 100% programmable. Though I haven’t attempted this, it seems easy enough. You’re free to pop out keys and swap them around however you like.
It’s probably as attractive as it can be given the need for moving wrist pads and detachable halves. Maybe in the future they can make the whole board thinner, the two halves could stack and clip to each other making them mobile friendly, and the moving pads could somehow bundle into all of that. I don’t know — it’s really not a big deal and they inventors are probably already thinking about it. Wireless/Bluetooth would be cool too in a future model.
In sum, if you’re an email power user like me, or long distance typer of ANY kind, definitely do yourself a favor and consider this keyboard. Hopefully they will get less expensive as time goes on, but I really don’t think most of you will regret the investment, as long as you’re willing to put in the time and patience. You’ll save yourself pain on the other side — I know I have.