When looking for the most comfortable keyboard we immediately start looking at the ergonomics of the device. We look at shape, size, comfort of use, and often also wrist support.
What we regularly fail to do is consider that the keyboard is not the whole culprit when we look at the causes of repetitive strain injuries. Sure, the keyboard has a role to play, but it is certainly not everything.
A keyboard tray is an accessory that most people aren’t familiar with. The benefits of using one include reducing injuries, added customization, proper positioning, and increased productivity. The drawbacks include the cost of money and time to purchase and set one up, they may be uncomfortable for some users, and they tend to get in the way.
If you are someone that is especially cautious, or perhaps you are already, unfortunately, a little late to the show, you may be looking at a keyboard tray as a possible alternative to the standard desk. If you have never heard of a keyboard tray, or aren’t quite sure whether or not it might be something that you could benefit from, then you’ve come to the right place.
This article will cover everything you need to know about keyboard trays and even offers a good option for first-time buyers or previous owners alike.
What is a Keyboard Tray?
A keyboard tray is a very clever little device that allows you to adjust the height at which your keyboard sits. Ordinarily, your keyboard is simply sat at the height of your desk regardless of how comfortable or convenient that might be.
You may be lucky enough to have a keyboard that has multiple heights available, or perhaps just some kickstands to give you two options, up or down. With a keyboard tray, you are able to make many micro-adjustments in both height and angle to ensure that you type comfortably.
The tray simply sits on top of your desk where your keyboard ordinarily would, your keyboard then sits on top of the tray. A keyboard tray will often come with various settings specifically for people that already have some kind of repetitive strain injury or an inflammatory condition such as arthritis.
Some keyboard trays are designed to be very soft around the actual keyboard so it’s far more comfortable for you to lean on, but this isn’t always the case.
Many people who use standing desks make great use of a keyboard tray because the standard standing position isn’t always particularly great for lots of typing. It’s very unusual to type on an actual keyboard when stood up, rather than a phone keyboard for example.
Many offices will offer keyboard trays upon request because of just how much they can help reduce workplace repetitive strain injuries. I would always encourage you to speak to your office administrator or supervisor before purchasing a keyboard tray yourself. They can almost always be written off as a business expense and you may even find you could sue if your request was rejected. So always ask first!
Lastly, a keyboard tray doesn’t always sit on the desk. Sometimes, they are attached to the desk by a screw or bolt and swing-out towards you. This is far less common but is certainly an option.
Do I Need a Keyboard Tray?
Before we get on with listing all the pros and cons of having a keyboard tray so you can decide for yourself whether or not you might like such a tray, it’s first important to say that you certainly do NOT need one.
You can get by perfectly well without one and while they certainly have their benefits they simply aren’t for everyone.
I would again reiterate that if you are able to get one through your work for free that you should absolutely do so. Even if it turns out a keyboard tray isn’t for you, you haven’t spent any of your own money so what’s the real harm.
I’d actually encourage you to try using a keyboard tray at work for free first and then purchasing one yourself for at home later on. Keyboard trays are generally used for working but they can be just as beneficial to you when you’re gaming or just goofing around on the computer.
Depending on where you are in the world what your employer’s obligations to you regarding your health and well-being may vary widely. However, it’s pretty universal that the employer must take every precaution necessary to prevent RSI type issues from arising due to work-related activities.
If you do suffer RSI they may be liable so even if it wasn’t their legal obligation to provide a keyboard tray for you it would be a very fiscally sound decision.
The Benefits of Having a Keyboard Tray
There are numerous great benefits to having a keyboard tray. The benefits vary in importance from person to person, especially when you compare people who already have some sort of RSI injury to those who don’t. Here are the benefits of having a keyboard tray:
Customize your workspace to fit you and your needs with a highly versatile keyboard tray. You can adjust and alter various dimensions of the board to best suit your specific needs.
For example, the tray could be set at a slight angle to better help you work while looking at the monitor as well as sit comfortably. This angle could be on the horizontal or the vertical.
Many people enjoy working on a keyboard that is angled towards them ever so slightly. It makes the movements to the top rows of keys far easier in many cases.
Proper typing positioning. You are technically supposed to be typing at a very specific angle and elevation. Unfortunately, this is often not possible due to the height of your desk.
A keyboard tray that is extendable from the desk can be lowered to a more comfortable position on your lap. Many people claim that you should be typing at a 90-degree angle. I would disagree personally as I find that very uncomfortable, but, do what feels right for you.
Reduce Chance of Injury
The biggest benefit I would say is reducing or preventing pain caused by an injury. You simply won’t see as many RSI issues in an office where everyone makes use of a keyboard tray vs one where people don’t. Whether or not you prefer having, or not having, a tray you can’t deny that they do reduce the risk of pain and suffering in the workplace.
Getting problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome is a lifelong issue. You can’t be cured of it, you’ll always have poor mobility and find it difficult to use your fine motor skills. We all lose those abilities somewhat as we age. Losing them almost completely in your middle age can be utterly depressing.
Lastly, since you are more comfortable and typing is far easier you will actually find that your productivity and efficiency increase tremendously. This is most notable in two areas, the general speed of typing and accuracy of keystrokes.
Luckily for those of us who enjoy gaming, the latter can greatly affect your abilities in-game. Being comfortable allows for longer periods of work or play without taking a break. You should still take frequent breaks, of course, but they are now going to more likely be by choice rather than necessity.
The Drawbacks of Having a Keyboard Tray
Just as you’ll find with anything else in life, there are not only positives to be considered when looking at keyboard trays, there are a fair few negatives that you should be aware of. They are as follows:
Some Find them Uncomfortable
Not everyone finds them that comfortable, it’s important to separate what’s comfortable and what’s correct for your body. For example, sitting up straight isn’t always more comfortable than slouching but it’s certainly better for you.
With the keyboard tray, you may find that it’s more comfortable to just work on your desk as normal rather than trying to find an obscure position. This is normally a short-lived problem as you will soon adjust to your new typing position.
Could get in the Way
Keyboard trays, especially ones that extend outwards from your desk, can become quite annoying when they are always in the way. They take up far more room than the keyboard would if it was on its own.
The ones that extend outwards can even make sitting at your desk more uncomfortable simply because they are always right where your legs should be.
Detaching the keyboard tray when you get sick of it isn’t always as simple as just unclipping it, sometimes it’s bolted into the table itself and the whole process can be rather arduous. Ones that sit on top of the desk rather than underneath/in front of it are easier to remove but take up far more room.
You’ll lose a huge chunk of your workable desk space almost immediately. And, trying to reach anything behind the tray is difficult because you have to reach over an oftentimes elevated tray. If you are someone who enjoys or at least ends up with, papers, folders, and books strewn across the desk you are in for a rude awakening.
It’s a Money and Time Investment
Lastly, keyboard trays are not always free. If you are lucky enough to have one provided to you by your work then congrats, you can pick and choose whether or not to use a keyboard tray at your leisure. For the rest of us, that’s not an option and we are left to foot the bill.
Buying and then installing a keyboard tray isn’t going to cost thousands but it’s not cheap, either. It’s not always financially feasible to spend our savings on something arguably trivial like a keyboard tray. Even if you could argue that it’s a good investment in your future, that doesn’t change the dollars and cents cost.
The Best Keyboard Tray
There is of course no actual “best” keyboard tray as we all have specific wants and needs that determine what is important or even needed at all, for us. That being said, there is one tray that I have in mind that I would recommend to most typists look for a middle ranged tray. And that would be the 3M AKT150LE.
This very nifty little keyboard tray is far subtler and far better looking than most of the options on the market. It is fully adjustable height-wise as well as giving you directional options for more versatility. It even makes special considerations for your mouse with an inbuilt precision mouse pad.
It does everything you could need a keyboard tray to do. It comes with a very long-lasting battery (For its advanced mousepad) as well as a very comfortable memory gel wrist rest that will over time start to conform to the shape of your wrist for maximum comfort.
What I especially like is the lifetime warranty on the connecting arm to your desk. That means should your keyboard tray break somehow you wouldn’t be out all that money. You can pick up the 3M AKT150LE from various retailers but I’d honestly just encourage you to buy it from Amazon. It just makes life easier for everyone.
If I had to fault this keyboard tray I would say my biggest gripe is the mouse pad section looks a little gaudy but that is a very minor complaint. I would genuinely highly recommend this keyboard tray to typists, programmers, and gamers alike.
Hopefully, this article has not only helped you understand what a keyboard tray is and what it’s useful for but whether or not it is something that you might be interested in. Only you know whether or not a keyboard tray is actually going to be beneficial to you. But, I would guess that it is.
It’s a pretty no-nonsense device that only aims to make your life easier. You don’t need to spend $150 on a keyboard tray, but you probably should. Any less and you are likely getting a subpar product that isn’t going to last very long. It could even make your injuries worse if it breaks on you.
Whatever you decide, good luck on your mission to find the most comfortable way to type! Remember, if you can get your employer to pay for your keyboard tray it’s a win-win for everyone involved. It can’t hurt to ask!