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PC World

Keyboard fights finger fatigue


by David Essex

(IDG) -- KeyTronic this week unveiled ErgoForce, a patented keyboard design that varies key resistance to match finger strength.

The design promises more comfortable typing, especially over long periods, according to KeyTronic. The new design is being used in two $29.95 KeyTronic keyboards.

Most standard keyboards require a consistent 55 grams of force to register keystrokes. In contrast, ErgoForce's keys respond to force ranging from 35 to 80 grams. Its keys need the smallest force when hit by the weakest (pinky) fingers and the strongest when hit by the thumbs.

Letters on the far left and right, such as A, Z, and P, require 35 grams of force. The keys that tend to get hammered the hardest include the spacebar, Ctrl, and NumLock.

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KeyTronic doesn't claim ErgoForce will help prevent repetitive strain injuries. Vendors for some more radical, split-design keyboards, like the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite, claim their designs are healthier than those of standard keyboards. KeyTronic based its design on customer feedback and hasn't formally studied the ErgoForce's long-term ergonomic benefits.

"It's more of a comfort thing," says John Barnes, KeyTronic's marketing manager. "It seemed the users who had the most discomfort mentioned that the discomfort was in their outside fingers." ErgoForce is for typists who use all their fingers; one-finger typists get no particular benefit from the varying key resistance, Barnes adds.

Ergonomics consultant Gary Karp of Onsight hasn't seen ErgoForce, but says most people type with more force than is necessary. Keys that bottom out or lack the right degree of springiness can cause finger shock, which sometimes has long-term effects, Karp says.

I found ErgoForce's differences only slightly noticeable after five hours of touch typing with all fingers, though the spacebar offers markedly more resistance. The five pressure levels are easily discernible by pressing keys individually with an index finger. Switching to a standard keyboard made fatigue in the outside fingers more apparent.

The ErgoForce design will appear in two models, the Ergo3600-C and Ergo3601PS2-C, in KeyTronic's most popular line, the 3600 series. Each keyboard sells for $29.95.

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