Switching to Kinesis Advantage
Posted on August 10, 2017, by joomy, in: keyboard, mac, vim

I’ve been looking for a keyboard that would allow me to type without moving my wrists and I ended up acquiring a used Kinesis Advantage from eBay. This post will describe how I adapted my workflow to my new keyboard.

My thumb cluster keycaps are not accurately named, so:

On left and right edges of the keyboard, Step keys are Shift, Mode is where CapsLock is supposed to be, and the key that has “Function” is Tab.


I use a Thinkpad x220t that runs OS X El Capitan. There is a very limited number of applications that I daily use, namely Firefox, Vim (in iTerm2), Preview and Spotify.

Let’s start with my key remaps. (compared to the standard Advantage bindings)

Now the shortcuts that are not application specific. There are three major Mac shortcuts that I use all the time:

Command + Space

Command + Space


Heeding Ayberk’s advice, I have been using VimFx to browse the web, which helped me reduce my mouse usage tremendously. This was also a necessary step to stabilize my wrists most of the time.

Even with default VimFx settings, there were some browser actions that were uncomfortable on the Advantage. Default tab switch commands on Firefox are Command+Option+left (or right), which requires a weird right hand movement on and Advantage. Right thumb presses Command and Option, and some other right hand finger pressed an arrow.

Tab switch

Tab switch

Surely one can remap the keyboard and move the left and right arrow keys to the left hand, but I

Thumb cluster

Thumb cluster

So I looked for alternative solutions. What I realized is that VimFx provides a way for me to perform the same actions Home/End/PageUp/PageDown keys do. This means I can remap those keys to something else. My solution was to use the bottom ones to go to the previous/next tab, and the upper ones to move the current tab to the left or right. The primary reason for this is that I don’t move the tabs around as much as I switch to other tabs, and the bottom keys are easier to reach than the upper ones.

VimFx settings

VimFx settings

Surely this doesn’t correspond well to the actual functions of these keys, but it makes the most sense to me in terms of how much I need to move my hand to switch tabs. Most important of all, I don’t need to move my wrist.


My habit of using tabs manifests itself in iTerm as well. I assigned End and PageDown to switch to the previous/next tab. However, I also use splits all the time, so I assigned Home and PageUp to switch to the previous/next split. (or in iTerm terminology, pane)


As if that’s not enough, I use tabs and split in Vim as well. I already have Vim shortcuts for them, most importantly gt and gT for switching Vim tabs. (You probably noticed that I had them in VimFx as well.) The problem with that is that they require too many keystrokes that are inconvenient to type consequently. The g and t keys are exactly above each other because of ortholinearity, and unless I use my index and middle finger together, it’s not ideal, and I want to keep my fingers at the home row as much as possible.

Trying to press g and t

Trying to press g and t

So my solution was to use space and backspace to move to the previous/next tab. In my settings they were not already assigned to anything.

The other problem is that I was using backslash as my leader key. Given that I will sometimes have to use my laptop keyboard, I didn’t want to switch to an entirely different leader key. So I mapped my enter key to the leader key. I also have pressing enter twice as a quick save shortcut.

" Kinesis Advantage
nmap <Space> gT
nmap <Backspace> gt
nmap <Enter> \
nmap \<Enter> :w<CR>

Other apps

For Preview and Spotify, my options are more limited. I can still use the Home/End/PageUp/PageDown keys as intended. I also don’t mind using my mouse so much for Preview.

For Spotify, I set up my functions keys as media keys using Karabiner.

Karabiner settings

Karabiner settings

I don’t remember a time I needed to use the function keys on Mac, but if I absolutely need to I suppose I can disable Karabiner.


I wasn’t sure whether I should keep the stock keycaps that came with the Kinesis Advantage, then I decided to change them because I already had a set of DSA Granite around and after the macros and remappings I needed something that makes more sense. Also I like the flat profile of the DSA keycaps. I should note that SA profile keys do not fit by default on an Advantage, but DSA does.

Since the keycap sizes of the Kinesis Advantage are a bit unusual, I had to use 1x keycaps for the key on the side, which should in fact be 1.25x. I also needed 4 keys that are of size 2x for the thumb clusters. I could find those keys from a grab bag I have. (not to mention the 1x backslash key which is has a different color)

My other concern was that I wouldn’t be able to use the thumb clusters as well as they are supposed to be used. Especially to reach the command, control and option keys, I would need to be careful not to press other keys in the cluster. To avoid that, I used 4 SA profile keys (taller flat keycaps) from the grab bag.

Left thumb cluster Right thumb cluster


It has been a week since I got my Kinesis Advantage, so far I found it nothing but delightful! Ortholinearity took some time to get used to, I kept typing m instead of n for a couple days, and realized that I was pressing y with my left hand before, but now I have a chance of fixing my bad typing habits. My typing speed dropped in the first days but I was able to reach the same speed I had before in 4-5 days. I don’t think I’ll switch to a different keyboard for a long time, though I might consider attaching some kind of a trackpad/touchpad module on it later.


I acquired an Ergo Touchpad and attached on the Advantage with Velcro. I also changed the Home/End/PageUp/PageDown keycaps with blank SA keycaps to make them easier to reach with my thumb.



Since Ergo Touchpad doesn’t have a middle click, I added some extra settings to Karabiner to have key bindings for mouse keys. Now my private.xml file for Karabiner looks like this:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
    <name>Simultaneous Key Presses [W+S] to LeftClick</name>
    <autogen>__SimultaneousKeyPresses__ KeyCode::W, KeyCode::S, PointingButton::LEFT</autogen>
    <name>Simultaneous Key Presses [E+D] to MiddleClick</name>
    <autogen>__SimultaneousKeyPresses__ KeyCode::E, KeyCode::D, PointingButton::MIDDLE</autogen>
    <name>Simultaneous Key Presses [R+F] to RightClick</name>
    <autogen>__SimultaneousKeyPresses__ KeyCode::R, KeyCode::F, PointingButton::RIGHT</autogen>

Now I can use the “mouse” with my left hand on the home row and my right hand on the touchpad.