I recently had the chance to use a new keyboard at work – the Smartfish Engage. It’s main feature is the ability to change angle and spacing at various times to reduce fatigue and RSI.
I have had problems with my right hand for a year or so as a result of doing too much on computers at work, and have tried a bunch of things to help. I’ve tried a bunch of different keyboards from all the major manufacturers, and more specialized folks like Kinesis. Most of them helped a little, but I always seemed to go back to the usual Microsoft curved keyboard.
So when I saw the Smartfish Engage, I was very interested, given that it looked like it had the same Microsoft curve, and it was built to help reduce fatigue and RSI.
I got the keyboard around the beginning of January, and used it for 3 weeks before writing this post.
The keyboard is very well built and pretty heavy – after all, it has motors inside that change the angle of the keyboard, and move the two halves of the keys away or towards eachother. I really like how it all runs off of the same USB connection as is used for data.
You can adjust how frequently the changes occur – useful if you type fast (like I do) and don’t want it changing so frequently. It only changes after a certain # of keypresses, so you can be assured that it’s not changing when you’re in a meeting.
The moving motors experience gets easier with time – the first few times the motors fire up it will be quite surprising – there’s no warning when it’s going to happen, and the motors are not quiet. I can now even continue typing as it’s moving, which is sort of a fun game.
While the motion definitely helped in the fatigue area, the keyboard keys themselves caused me more fatigue than a normal keyboard. They didn’t always fire when I pressed them, and they took more pressure than many of the other keyboards I’ve used in the last 5 years. This meant that by the end of the day, I was actually more tired than if I didn’t use the Engage. Disappointing.
There were also some strange placement choices for keys which caused me to hunt for things more than I would have liked. Most keyboard manufacturers get creative with some of the less used keys, admittedly, but there were a few on this one that were just too obscure or mixed in with other keys.
I think as a concept, the Engage is a great idea, and I look forward to further refinements in the future with the keyboard keys themselves, and perhaps other competitors trying to do something similar.
The nice surprise was the Smartfish Whirl mouse, which I also have been using. I really enjoy this mouse, and it’s definitely helped my hand/wrist fatigue. It’s super easy to use – no changes or training required. So far I have not found a single thing wrong with it. I am surprised more folks haven’t developed similar products. Very natural feeling compared to a normal mouse.
Overall I think Smartfish has some great concepts, and look forward to more great products in the future.