2017 is coming to a close before long. I'm not getting any younger, and neither are my wrists. I've been fortunate to avoid the worst of repetitive strain injuries so far, but the occasional aches and intermittent numbness in my wrists and fingers are getting harder and harder to ignore. In the early part of this year, I spent a considerable amount of effort looking for an ergonomic keyboard that wouldn't impact my workflow or gameplay too much, but I just couldn't find one that had all the features I was looking for.
Then, about a month after I gave up looking, we did a front-page news post about the Kickstarter campaign for an upcoming gaming keyboard. It seemed too good to be true. The keyboard ticked almost every single box on my wishlist of keyboard features: ergonomic design, mechanical keyswitches, LED backlighting, and even full programmability with macro support. I backed the crowdfunding campaign even as I was finishing up the news post about said campaign and eagerly waited for the keyboard to arrive. Well, now it has: gaze upon the Kinesis Gaming Freestyle Edge.
Well, not exactly. I've actually had my Freestyle Edge since the middle of September. The initial units went out to backers just a few months after the Kickstarter ended, and starting today, the company is selling them to the general public. When mine arrived, I gleefully broke into the box and started using it. That's why the pictures in this review show quite a bit of wear on the keyboard—it's been in heavy use (12+ hours a day, every day) for over 2 months. Let me assure you that when the Freestyle Edge came out of the box, its velvety finish was gorgeous and unmarred by the marks you see in these photos.
In all that time, I've put every function of the Freestyle Edge through the wringer, and it has come out smelling... well, mostly like plastic, actually. But its performance was and remains excellent. Kinesis has crafted Freestyle Edge keyboards using Cherry MX switches in Blue, Brown, and Red varieties. Genuine Cherry MX switches are more expensive than their clones, but you get what you pay for. The keys actuate smoothly with no grainy or rough texture, and the whole keyboard has a very consistent feeling.
My personal Freestyle Edge keyboard that I'm reviewing today uses Cherry MX Red keyswitches under its 95 keys. MX Reds are my favorite of the basic Cherry offerings, owing to my gamer tendencies. Since they don't have audible or tactile feedback, most typists using MX Red keyswitches will bottom out on every keystroke as if they were using a membrane model. That can make MX Red typists ironically even louder than those using the noisy MX Blue switches as the loud "clack" of plastic on metal fills the room with every keystroke.
That's not the case with the Freestyle Edge, though. The switches are mounted to a backplate that's coated in a special shock-absorbing material. I have experience using a lot of mechanical keyboards with Cherry MX switches—both genuine and clones—and this is easily the quietest of them all. I don't know what Kinesis' shock-absorbing coating is made from, but it does the job. Key clatter is kept to a minimum, and it also softens the feel of the keyboard considerably.
The Freestyle Edge's blue LED backlighting looks great. The light shows through the ABS keys' legends very clearly and sharply, and it has adjustable brightness in a range from "barely noticeable" to "I can't see my monitors." That's only half a joke—when I took the keyboard out of the box and hooked it up the lighting was so bright it was legitimately uncomfortable to look at the board. Fortunately, not long after I got the keyboard Kinesis issued a firmware update that flattened the brightness curve a bit.
I'll talk more about the keyboard's logical functions in a bit, but let's pause a moment to take a good gander at the Freestyle Edge's physical functions and layout. Once again, keep in mind that this keyboard has been heavily abused for the last two months as you peruse the photos.