Review: Kinesis Advantage360 Pro

Apr 15, 2023

Tags: keyboard, review

Update (March 2024): Kinesis has addressed some of the issues outlined in this review. They offer different switch types now (such as Kailh Quiet Pink) and brought back the spherical home row caps. Until I have the opportunity to try the new revision, I will leave this review as-is.


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I want to write up some reviews, but realistically it’s not going to happen in long-form. So I’ll try to do some short, blunt reviews without nice staged product shots with latte macchiatos.

Review tl;dr: Disappoints, could be great with a few changes.

Context

The Kinesis Advantage360 Pro is a wiresless keyboard with the following ergonomic features:

The Advantage360 Pro is one of the two successors to the Advantage2 (the other being the Advantage360). The main differences are that the Advantage2 had a fixed-width split and only one tenting angle (20 degrees). Moreover, the 360 Pro replaces the limited SmartSet firmware by the open source ZMK firmware.

I have used the Advantage360 Pro for four and a half months when writing this review.

The good

Split The variable split is a marked improvement to the fixed split of earlier Advantage models. People have different shoulder widths, and the 360 accomodates that. For people who liked the split distance of the earlier models, Kinesis includes a bar to connect the halves at that distance.

Tenting The two steeper tenting levels add additional comfort. The tenting mechanism is easy to use — you can put the keyboard at a different tenting level in seconds. The only issue that I have found is that if the keyboard is in the middle tenting option, it can snap back if I press the keyboard to firmly.

Key wells Even though they are a 30 year old design, the key wells are still undeniably good. They feel natural and put all keys close.

ZMK While the SmartSet firmware in the (non-Pro) 360 and Advantage2 is fine for users who want to do a few remaps and macros, it only provides limited customization. The open source ZMK firmware brings the 360 Pro all the features that enthusiasts long for. All I can say is that ZMK is fantastic.

The bad

Switches Kinesis switched from the outdated Cherry Brown switches in earlier generations to outright terrible Gateron Brown switches in the 360. Even though these switches are specced to actuate at 2mm, real-world measurements confirmed my immediate suspicion that the actuation is closer to 3mm. Additionally, the spring resistance does not increase a lot after the tactile bump. Combined this makes it very hard to type on the 360 without bottoming out. I’ve found typing on the keyboard to become tiring pretty quickly. Which is the opposite you would expect from an ergonomic keyboard 🤷. The switches are not hot swappable, so you are stuck with them.

Why Kinesis put budget switches (23 Eurocents a piece) on a 600 Euro keyboard is mystifying.

Keycaps The 360 Pro has backlight (not sure why, it’ll drain the battery quickly). To let the backlight shine through, the keyboard uses ABS keycaps. I liked the ABS caps on the Advantage2, but the ABS caps on the 360 Pro feel bad and do not sound great. If you buy a 360 Pro, you’ll want to replace them by PBT caps, but they’ll set you back another 50-100 bucks.

The keycap profiles have changed slightly since the Advantage2. The nice spherical home row caps have been replaced by XDA caps that make it slightly more difficult to find the home row. Also, the thumb cluster is less staggered, making it harder to hit keys in the upper row.

Connectivity Even though it is possible to use the keyboard wired, the two halves connect through Bluetooth. When the halves disconnect (eg. after flashing or switching them off), sometimes requires multiple power cycles with meticulous timing. Someone who offers a switch replacement service for Advantage keyboards reported that the key well FPC cable is running through the Bluetooth antenna clearance zone.

Flashing The web UI for customizing the layout is fairly limited and getting the firmware through GitHub actions (or building it locally) and flashing it is tedious. Admittedly, the SmartSet firmware of the (non-Pro) 360 is easy to configure. But the competition has the features of open source firmware with a friendly layout editor (see ZSA’s Oryx and Keyboardio’s Chrysalis).

Thumb cluster I think the thumb cluster is ok, but overdue for a bit of a redesign. I have average size male hands and I can only comfortably reach the inner two keys on both clusters with my thumbs. There are now plenty of keyboards out there that at least give comfortable access to at least three keys per thumb (e.g. Keyboardio Model 100, Dygma Raise).

Verdict

At this point I cannot recommend the stock Kinesis Advantage 360 Pro. It could be a great keyboard, but the switches, keycaps, and connectivity issues make it not worth the steep price (over 600 Euro at most European resellers). My recommendation to Kinesis would be to make a revision with:

  1. Good tactile switches that are to-spec and not tiring. Don’t cheap out on switches, they are one of the things that define a keyboard.
  2. Put the same PBT keycaps that are on the non-Pro 360 on the 360, even if it means axing the backlight.
  3. Fix the connectivity issues between the keyboard halves.
  4. Work towards a better UI for changing and flashing layouts, ZSA’s Oryx is the gold standard to beat here.

If you are looking to buy a prebuilt keyboard with key wells now, I would recommend getting a 360 Pro through Upgradekeyboards, since that allows you to get good switches and PBT keycaps from the start. However, it comes with a hefty price tag and a long waiting time.

Besides getting a custom 360, you should also consider the Glove80, which has different switch options, including soldering your own. It does not have connection issues, despite having the same nRF52840.

Finally, if having a fixed split and tenting angle is not an issue for you, the Kinesis Advantage2 is still a great keyboard, especially with a KinT board. Sure, the Cherry Browns and Pro reds may be a bit underwhelming, but at least they are close to spec and I have found them less tiring. Plus it work on your lap as well.