Playing the keyboard: Kinesis Advantage 360

I bought a new keyboard. Some first impressions.


I’m a happy owner of a Kinesis Advantage2. I bought this keyboard two years ago, after positive experiences trying out someone else’s Advantage2, and I’ve been using it nearly full time since then. I work with computers professionally, and I would like to avoid getting RSI (or at least defer it as long as possible), so putting some investment into ergonomic accommodations – such as a good keyboard – is more than likely worth the effort.

The Advantage2 groups the keys on the keyboard into a pair of concave wells on either side of the board, one for each hand. The concavity is intended to better match the natural range of motion of the fingers and reduce strain on the wrists, compared to traditional flat keyboards. Additionally, there are a pair of key clusters which sit under each thumb. As the thumbs are stronger than other fingers, they’re better suited to some repetitively used keys (such as space and backspace) and holding modifier keys which are often chorded with other keys.

The big proviso with the Kinesis keyboards is that they’re not cheap, especially if you’re trying to buy one outside of North America – it’s quality equipment, with a price tag to match.

At some point in 2021, Kinesis announced an new development in the Advantage series: the Advantage 360. This is a departure from the preceding Advantage keyboards (whose heritage, according to English Wikipedia, goes back about 30 years): the prior Advantage keyboards are all single pieces, while the Advantage 360 is a split keyboard with two physically separate halves. While the Advantage2 connects over USB, the 360 has both wired and wireless variants, with the latter using Bluetooth.

This was really exciting news – if nothing else, I have a soft spot for the aesthetics of split keyboards. In more practical terms, split keyboards allow people to set the spacing between the two halves in accordance with their own individual shoulder width, which wasn’t possible with the single-piece fixed-width Advantage2. This isn’t an acute problem for me personally, but having tried out an Ergodox EZ keyboard once, I appreciate how the additional flexibility might be useful. Additionally, one of the limitations with the Advantage2 is that it’s physically quite bulky, which makes it a bit difficult to transport at times.

Actually getting my hands on an Advantage 360 took some time, as it was in high demand when it was initially released, and for a long time after that I didn’t really consider buying one. I think it’s only possible to buy directly from Kinesis if you’re in the US, and in the rest of the world you need to find a reseller or distributor. Both times I’ve bought Advantage2’s have involved going through Amazon (and in at least one of those cases, the keyboard was a return from a previous buyer, which worked out cheaper than a brand new one).

However, someone recently pointed me at a specialist office equipment supplier in Germany who stocks the Advantage 360, so I bought one, which arrived yesterday morning.


The Advantage2 is a single piece, with a moulded plastic body and keycaps. The cable is internally connected on one end, with a USB-A plug on the other. The “standard” Advantage2 model comes with Cherry MX Brown switches. This was the first mechanical keyboard I’ve owned, so I don’t have any particularly strong keyswitch opinions – I don’t have any issues with the Browns. They’re not silent, but nothing which can’t be blocked out by shutting a door. I mostly work from home, but on the odd occasion I’m in the office, people sometimes pop their heads round the door at the sound of the keyboard noises coming from a usually unoccupied room.

The Advantage2 ships with palm pads, which attach to the palm surface of the keyboard with adhesive. These are foam pads with a fabric covering – Kinesis’s website says the fabric is Lycra, which I wouldn’t have been able to tell you otherwise. The palm pads are consumable, and do wear out over time, but I haven’t had to replace mine yet, in spite of regular usage.

The “F”-keys (F1 through F12) are provided on the Advantage2 by a row of buttons which are positioned above the keywells, which also includes escape(!), media buttons and the “Program” button for triggering onboard firmware functions. They’re a bit tricky to reach, and I find I need to move my hands out of position in order to press them.

The Advantage 360 is a different beast – the big selling point being the split design. I bought the wired model, so the two halves are connected to each other via a USB-C cable, which is provided in the box, as is a C-to-A cable for connecting the keyboard to a computer. Each piece has a moulded plastic body, which is mounted on a metal base frame, which can be adjusted to change the tenting of each half – the inside edge can be raised relative to the outer edge, which serves to rotate the resting position of the wrists relative to the surface the keyboard rests on.

Palm pads are not included with the 360, and these have to be bought separately. Instead of adhesives, these attach using magnets, which is a neat trick. My first impression is that I’d prefer adhesive pads, but the magnets do seem to hold the pads down fairly firmly, so I suspect I’ll get used to them. The surface fabric is different: smoother texture, with different thermal properties – it initially feels cooler to the touch than the Advantage2 palm pads.

The 360 also has different switches: these ones are Gateron Browns. I’m not sure what the difference is, from a technical standpoint. Compared to the Cherry switches in my Advantage2 (which are probably a bit worn given the regular use), the tactile feedback in the Gateron switches unexpectedly seems a little less pronounced – slightly mushier. Someone has suggested out to me that the Advantage2 and the 360 have differently shaped keycaps, which might influence how the actuation feedback is perceived, but I haven’t swapped the keycaps around to test this. The keys on the right half of my 360 feel mushier than the keys on the left half, though that could easily be lack of wear, and they might ease up with some use. Overall, after a few hours’ use, the Gateron switches feel noticeably lighter than the Cherry switches.

The 360 doesn’t have separate “F”-keys like the Advantage2; instead, they’re exposed on the number row at the top of the keyboard on a different layer. Accessing this layer requires chording with some “function” keys, which are themselves an addition over the Advantage2’s layout, positioned below the left and right shift keys. Initially I had some difficulty with these function keys, as I kept on accidentally pressing them instead of the shift keys. There are also some additional keys on the inside edge of each half of the keyboard which are dedicated to accessing firmware functions.

I’m very surprised by the placement of escape and caps lock in the default 360 layout. On the Advantage2, escape is awkwardly placed in the row of buttons above the keywells, and caps lock is under the left pinkie (above left shift and below tab); on the 360, escape takes the place of caps lock under the left pinkie, and caps lock is instead under the left ring finger on the bottom row! The caps lock position is very unusual, however moving escape into an easier to reach position is an excellent design choice.


The Advantage2 comes with Kinesis’s own in-house keyboard firmware, called SmartSet. In comparison to the general purpose operating systems and distributed systems I deal with in my professional life, this is a delightfully simple system. SmartSet has onboard support for remapping keys and recording macros, among other functions. These are mostly accessed by magic chords and keystroke sequences involving the “Program” button and the “F”-keys

There’s an advanced configuration mode, where the keyboard will expose a FAT storage volume over its USB connection. When mounted, this volume contains a few text files which include the key remapping and macro definitions in a human readable format. These files can be edited, so you can change the keymap by editing the corresponding text file. This is great if you have a heavily customised layout, as it gives you a way to back up and restore your modifications, in case you need to reset the keyboard, or you get a new one and want to import the layout from the old one. I find defining the layouts in the text file far more convenient than using the onboard functionality for remapping keys – the latter requires mentally keeping track of which mappings exist already, which is a bit confusing.

The Advantage 360’s two different flavours come with different firmwares. The wired version uses a derivative of the same SmartSet firmware used in the Advantage2, while the Bluetooth version uses ZMK, which is an open source keyboard firmware project. A big part of why I chose the wired version is because I wanted Kinesis’s own proprietary firmware – I was used to it already from the Advantage2, and I value the ability to manage my layout as a text file. ZMK might have this functionality, but I didn’t bother checking, because USB is a more universal interface than Bluetooth, and I prefer the former on the basis of reliability.

Even with the SmartSet firmware, the 360 really seems like it has a much more capable microcontroller than the Advantage2. It supports multiple different layouts, and each layout has multiple layers, which are accessed using the previously mentioned function keys, as well as a separate “keypad” key. In comparison, my Advantage2 (which is otherwise one of the most recent Advantage models) has separate QWERTY and DVORAK layouts, with per-layout key remapping, but as far as I know there’s only a single layer available per layout.

Similar to the Advantage2, there are keystroke sequences available for accessing onboard configuration and programming functions. However, the 360 has dedicated keys for calling into the firmware, in constrast the the Advantage2 reusing the “F”-keys for this purpose. Like its predecessor, the 360 can also expose the layout definitions and other configuration through a mountable FAT volume, with a separate file for each of the nine user-programmable layouts. I’m really glad the 360 firmware has kept this functionality.

I only use a single layout, for simplicity more than anything else, but there’s a lot of scope for customisation with this keyboard, especially with multiple special purpose layouts (e.g. separate gaming layouts).

The Advantage2 and Advantage 360 use similar syntax for their text-based layout definitions, but they use different names for some keys, which tripped me up when getting started with the 360.

My current Advantage2 layout is defined like this:


This moves the arrow keys entirely under my right hand, and moves around the modifiers in the thumb clusters (especially so that control is easily reachable).

The corresponding layout on my 360 looks like this:






This has separate stanzas for the different layers, however I’ve only made changes to the base layer. Some of the key labels are different, but the resulting layout is much the same as the Advantage2 layout above, with the additional difference from the default layout being that I’ve moved caps lock back under the left pinkie, and substituted a backslash key in its original place (which roughly corresponds to my habitual UK QWERTY layout).

Closing thoughts

I’ve had my Advantage 360 for less than 48 hours, but so far it seems at least as good as my Advantage2, and I’m intending to switch to the 360 for daily use at work.

That being said, while the separate halves and the adjustable tenting are worthwhile flexibility, neither of them make a significant material difference to me personally. So it’s debatable whether the 360 has any particular… well, clear advantage (har har) which distinguishes it from its predecessor – at least for my own use. If nothing else, there’s certainly value in having a spare keyboard around in case the one I actively use is lost or damaged.