This is a review of the Kinesis Advantage 360 Pro. A wireless, split, programmable ergonomic keyboard that cost around £550 to get my hands on here in the UK.
Just let that settle in a minute. £550. For a keyboard. It doesn’t wash the dishes or put the rubbish out, it’s just a keyboard. What the hell am I thinking?
If you have watched any of my other reviews on YouTube, or here you will know that a good portion of them cover keyboards. I have been on a quest for the last few years to find the ultimate, for me, form of keyboard. Have a look through the back catalogue, and you will find reviews of the ZSA Moonlander, the Dygma Raise, the Zergotech Freedom plus some custom built models like the Sofle and the Dactyl Manuform. And that dear viewer, has led me to this point.
And, for now at least, while this board might not be perfect, if I was talking just hardware, this would probably take the crown as the best physical form for me.
But that’s not the whole picture.
Overview of the Advantage 360
When I first saw these boards announced in 2021, I didn’t get too excited as I found the price too much to stomach. However, having tried a whole bunch of other boards in the meantime and enjoying the Dactly Manuform but suffering due to the lack of wrist rests, when Kinesis announced they were getting more stock, I ordered through their UK distributor.
I received this board on the 31st October, and my initial thoughts were that it was frighteningly good . At this point I’ve been using it everyday for about a month and while I still think this is one of, if not the best split ergo board you can buy, I do have some reservations.
Kinesis do two versions of this keyboard, the standard, which is a wired version, running their own software, and this wireless one, the ‘pro’, which runs ZMK software and is fully programmable, and for reasons I’ll get to, might have been more suitably named the ‘Expert’ version.
Now, let’s get the potentially bad news out of the way at the outset. First of all, there is no choice of key switches. Furthermore this is not a hotswap board, so you can use whichever switches you want, as long as they are Gateron browns.
If you are in the US, or you can stomach even more cost when you factor in customs and taxes, Upgrade keyboards, in the US, can do you a totally custom build. Whatever switches you want. They even have options for additional sound proofing and increased battery power amongst other things.
But for most of us, we will be getting a board that is not hotswap and comes with tactile Brown switches.
Let me tell you about the features of this board. First of all, it’s got these lovely keywells. This is really the feature that is synonymous with Kinesis boards. The thumb cluster is very similar to the Advantage 2 and Ergodox, if you have used either of those two. I really wish the home row keycaps had a greater scoop but thankfully, due to the key well, your fingers are largely led to the correct place.
The build quality is far better than I was expecting. A while back I ordered an Advantage2 and kept it for literally 1 hour. I was shocked at how cheap it felt and hollow it sounded. Mercifully, that is not the case here. It’s got some pleasing heft. Like you could bludgeon someone to death with it in a pinch. Which I know is an important feature most look for in a keyboard.
It’s got a great tenting mechanism built in. You press a button on the underside and just lift it to the preferred height of the three possibilities. The adjustable feet are made of metal but the actual keyboard case is plastic. It’s good quality and feels very well put together. Designed and hand-built in the U S of A too. That’s good to see and certainly must contribute to the high price tag. Be aware that you can’t have the board flat, the lowest tilt is about 20 degrees from pinky to thumb so if flat is your preference go and order or ZSA Moonlander or Dygma Defy instead; both solid choices. Anecdotally I find the flatter form of the Moonlander thumb cluster more comfortable. I’ve been alternating days on the 360 and the Moonlander boards, and find the flatter profile of the Moonlander thumb area seems to suit me better. But this is perhaps a very personal thing, and for you, the converse may be true. But not having a ‘flat’ option, seems a shortcoming.
The sound signature is very nice out of the box, with only a little switch ping on the odd key. I haven’t opened the case up but I’m led to believe there is no glue used anywhere so it you did want to dive in, maybe invalidate your warranty, and add extra sound proofing, or de-solder the browns and put different key switches in, you should be able to fairly easily. I had it in my head that swapping the switches out was one of the first things I would do but I honestly like the way it sounds and feels just fine.
Around the back, or the top edge as it faces away from you, there are physical switches to turn each half off, alongside USB-C ports to charge each half, or for flashing firmware. Two cables are included to charge each side. But don’t go thinking you can connect each half together. That won’t work. You can connect to the computer with the cable and use it like that, but all communication between sides is done wirelessly.
There is white backlighting too but honestly, I could have lived without that. It drains the battery so I leave it off. There isn’t per key RGB lighting either, so if that’s a blocker for you, again, you can move on right now.
Aside from the thumb clusters, key layout is near identical to a Moonlander whereas the thumb clusters on the 360 are more like the Advantage2 or Ergodox. Just like with those boards, I find more than three keys in a thumb cluster too much to make good use of but your mileage may vary.
I do appreciate the ‘oh so slightly’ wider 1.25 unit keys at the side. I definitely prefer that than all 1U wide keys. It’s very subtle but I do think it helps to distinguish those keys, especially as most people tend to stick their utility and meta keys on the outer edges.
Worth noting for those of you coming from an Advantage 2; they do include what they call the ‘bridge’ connector, which spaces the halves out so your hands end up the same distance apart as they were on the Advantage 2.
There are also a few extra and alternative keycaps for Mac and the like in the box but I got the extra blanks keycaps you can see.
Finally, I would say, RTFM or Read The Fantastic Manual. It’s well written and organised and I guarantee you will learn something.
Switches, backlight, key caps
I’m a Colemak user, so the standard printed keycaps that ship with the 360 are a bit wasted on me I also ordered the optional blank ones. The standard keycaps are fine and if you use QWERTY I’m not sure I would recommend switching to the blanks you can see above. But they are slightly nicer in my opinion, and make a slightly more pleasing noise.
If you do swap keys for the blanks, be aware that they come laid out in the right order. That’s important with the 360 as the keys are not a uniform height. Even across the same row they can differ, so don’t just tip them out; replace them in the order they arrive.
The non-uniform keys may seem an odd choice and aesthetically a bit ‘minging’ but having lived with it for a little I think it is genuinely useful to discern one key from another, particularly in the thumb clusters. I don’t notice the difference any more but I do appreciate it from a tactility point of view.
The other extra I ordered is the wrist pads. Hover them over the 360 and they pull satisfyingly into place with magnets. They are very luxurious but I’m not sure if they are necessary. A bit like the hard wrist rests on the Moonlander, without the pads is actually fine and in some ways preferable. The pads slip under the palm of my hands a little at times as I move and it irritates me just enough to cast them aside at times. Depending how heavy you rest your hands, this may not be something to worry about but I don’t think they are an essential addition.
Connections (wired/wireless, pairing, resetting)
Now to get things up and running, you switch each half on, generally left first as that is the master. You get some initial flashes on each half and then it settles when the two halves are connected. If you get three reds on the right then it can’t find the other side. This happens from time to time. It’s usually possible to remedy with a power cycle (always do the left slightly before the right) but it is still pretty annoying. If that fails, or your computer won’t see the board, there is a pin hole with the worlds smallest reset switch in. Pressing that resets the half, so do that on each half and that usually sorts it. I’ve learnt to always keep a paper clip on hand!
If you often switch between devices, you will find the wireless software gets muddled fairly frequently. Once every couple of days say. There is no doubt about it; wireless ZMK is simply not as reliable as wired with something like QMK. If QMK was a possibility on the wired model and you didn’t mind the wires, that would be a better option, resilience wise, but it isn’t. There is a halfway house option of plugging in the left half via USB. That’s not a bad compromise if you are more interested in stability than aesthetics.
The key thing to remember when choosing a 360 variant, is that, as of right now, if you want full customisability, you need to opt for wireless, pro, variant of the 360.
When it comes to creating the keymap for your board, this is where I think this model should be called the ‘expert’ and not ‘pro’ edition. There are plenty of pros out there that will have no knowledge or desire to grapple code just to configure their keyboard. But grapple code you must.
There is a third party GUI that hooks into your GitHub repository and provides a limited interface for setting basic keymaps. But just listen to that. Even with some GUI you still need a GitHub account, the where-with-all to set-up a repository and some kind of conceptual understanding of what the hell is going on. In fact not all of that is entirely true. You can also do the building locally but you then need to use Podman or Docker, neither of which I would call user friendly!
Now, I’m a Web Developer by trade, so Git is familiar to me and I got through all these shenanigans fairly easily but for a professional that isn’t a software developer, it’s just a whole lot of friction.
Personally, I used the GUI to get a basic Colemak layout and then went to code to set more complicated stuff like auto-shift, and a few tap-dance keys that the GUI doesn’t support. And that’s a problem. As powerful as the ZMK software is, and it is very powerful, it’s not accessible to the average Joe. I’m not suggesting you need to be a member of Mensa to use it, or frankly I’d be screwed but it is not simple. Even when you think You have got your keymap sorted, getting the code building via GitHub actions is a route fraught with opaque messages and errors. Definitely not for the feint hearted. And that’s a shame, because the capabilities are incredible.
But this is an area where the Moonlander and Dygma products absolutely rinse the 360. Lovely interfaces with frictionless updates. Basically how it should be for a keyboard that costs this much. Hopefully Kinesis can help fund ZMK to make some kind of more polished GUI for the 360 because the current system, for all but the coneheads, is honestly a bit pants.
But lets suppose you have your keymap sorted, you push it to your repo, GitHub actions spits you out your download. You connect a half, put it into bootloader mode by double pressing the reset switch with a paper clip, then drag your firmware file for the relevant half back onto it. Same with the other side and you are in business. What is it actually like?
The 360 is solid, it sounds good, the keywells are very comfortable. When you want to pair with another device, these LEDs are fantastic. Each profile gets a different colour, so it’s simple to know which device the board is connected to. When you press a layer change button you also get some feedback on the LEDs. Super useful. I really, really appreciate that and you can even turn them off in the firmware if you don’t like them. The tilting mechanism works amazingly well, no complaints there. You occasionally get a situation where it clicks up to the next one but I’m being super picky there.
While I am being picky, I wish the power switches at the back were a little easier to feel and toggle. I turn each half off after use as otherwise it has a tendency to wake my Mac back up and I with they were a little easier to toggle.
A boot up noise would be nice. And another noise when the two halves find each other would be good. But as far as I’m aware the 360 doesn’t have a speaker built in like some of the other premium ortho boards.
There is no carry case included. I’d like to take this back and forth to the office but as this price, it’s not something I’ll just chuck in my back without some protection. The lack of a carry case feels a bit mean. Especially when Dygma and ZSA include one at a far lower price point.
At this price, no hotswap sockets also seems a bit mean. There must have been engineering challenges that prevented Kinesis making this hotswap because at this price point, you could be forgiven for expecting it to do the typing for you.
And the same goes for fancy RGB lighting. Personally I couldn’t care less, but at this price, perhaps the absence is enough to turn you off.
There are other little absentees that are not deal breakers in themselves, but are definitely ticks in the against column. A dedicated RF receiver for this may well have mitigated the sporadic connection woes I’ve got for example.
Putting cost aside, it’s easier to judge this keyboard on its own merits. It’s a really, really good piece of hardware. Design choices like the LED feedback for the different profiles and layer changes, in such a prominent position, are great. The different profile keycaps to help discern keys is fantastic. And most importantly, it’s just really, really nice to type on totally stock.
So, hardware wise, the Advantage 360 is an absolute triumph. I like pretty much every choice Kinesis have made. Sure, there’s no hotswap, and having no choice of switches when you order is a bummer but if you have a solid idea that the browns are OK for you, this is a great feeling premium board.
But it’s impossible to ignore the enormous cost. And, because of the eye-watering cost, it is easier to grumble about the lack of a carry case, or the fact the choice of keycaps is an extra, or the fact you have to pay extra for the wrist rests. Or wonder why this board can’t work fully wired as well as wireless.
The bottom line is, if there was a slick, friction free way to define your keymaps, enabling things like auto-shift and tap-dance, without having to delve into code, and a way to fully connect the board to skip the wireless side of things, even with the other shortcomings, this would be the best split ergo board I’ve looked at, and I’d have no trouble universally recommending it.
But the software story is not great. ZMK is a great project, and if you need help, their people on the Discord are incredibly helpful. I’d just be keen, if Kinesis can fund it, to see a dedicated GUI for dealing with the keymappings.
So, as it stands, I’m a little torn. Value for money wise, right now, I still think the ZSA Moonlander is the best value-for-money split ergo board. It’s the complete package. I’ve been using one for over a year and it’s been absolutely rock solid. I maintain it is worth every penny.
The 360 betters it in some areas but it is woefully behind it in others. If Kinesis and ZMK can get some user friendly keymapping software together, this would be the complete package, regardless of price.
As it is, you need to be comfortable with a huge price jump over competitors and with getting your hands dirty a little. If you are happy with those caveats, this is a fantastic product. Probably the best of its class.
If your pockets aren’t that deep, or you want an easier life, I’d suggest opting for a board from ZSA or Dygma.