Research by Matt Rowan, B.S.
Updated July 7, 2020
What is a Keyboard Tray?
A keyboard tray is a device you install beneath your desktop to allow your keyboard and mouse to be positioned and adjusted independently from your desktop. Most keyboard trays can also slide under the desk entirely when not in use. There are a variety of different mechanical designs but most look like the diagram featured.
Why Use One?
A keyboard tray it a great compliment to both standing and sitting desks. Installing a keyboard tray can dramatically improve your work or home office ergonomics. Keyboard trays offer the ability to separate your keyboard from the confines of your desktop and enable adjustment in height, tilt and position relative to your body. This adjustment enables you to raise your desk and monitors to the right position for viewing while not compromising your typing position or posture. Keyboard trays can be be very effective at alleviating upper back, neck and wrist pain typically caused by poor typing posture.
When it comes to finding a good keyboard tray we take into account the following factors.
- Adjustment - keyboard trays need to have a range of adjustment both in height and angle. We created our list with the expectation that almost anyone should be able to adjust the tray without limitation. This comes into play especially if you are someone that is either tall or short of having a long or short torso as your typing position relative to your desk and monitors will be different.
- Size - Many, if not all keyboard trays are designed to enable the use of a full keyboard with number pad, however, this may compromise the space of your mouse. Depending on how much space you need for mouse movement you may want to pay attention to the width of the tray.
- Stability - This is a key factor in purchasing a keyboard tray. While typing on a desktop placed keyboard will always offer the most stability, we judged each tray on its stability, especially it’s lateral(side to side) stability. As you type and use the mouse you’re applying pressure to different areas of the tray and it can become frustrating if the tray wobbles, gives under normal use or feels flimsy.
- Mouse Surface Area - Some keyboard trays have very slick surfaces making the use of a mouse without a mousepad not possible.
- Quality and Design - We look at the design and quality of construction in every product we review. A keyboard tray is going to get extensive use and be very visible. You’ll want to buy one that will hold up long term and look good.
- Value for Money - There is a spectrum of keyboard tray prices and the value for money will differ from tray to tray. We’ll point out which option we think is the best value for money.
Best Keyboard Trays
We found that many keyboard trays on the market do not offer a good combination of quality and value for money. While there are cheap options available, many do not have the ergonomic benefits of tilt and height adjustment. More expensive options are very impressive but often cost more than the desk they are likely to be installed on. While our list is short, we stand behind our choices. Here are the categories:
The Vivo Keyboard Tray is our best value choice in ergonomic focused keyboard trays and it is among the best options regardless of price around. Vivo has taken a proven design and refined it in many ways. It’s sturdy construction, large mounting bracket, well-designed hinges, and moving parts, and smart keyboard surface seriously impressed us. Many other keyboard trays, at this price point and above, suffer from poor designs, bulky hinges, and worse, wobbling (lateral and vertical).
In addition to design and quality, the Vivo is excellent in ergonomics and range of adjustment. Due to the large height, tilt and swivel ranges we think anyone would be able to find their ideal posture relative to their desk. Like many other keyboard tray designs, it also features a sliding action which allows it to be slid out of view when desired.
Best for Standing Desks
The Uncaged Ergonomics (model: KT1-b) has taken the traditional keyboard tray design and added an excellent feature: a mouse surface that can be adjusted independently from the keyboard. This is especially important to those of us using standing desks. If you’re standing you’re more likely to want a downward tilt on your keyboard. Many keyboard trays offer a significant downward tilting adjustability but it may be frustrating to have your mouse surface at the same angle, constantly sliding forward. The Uncaged Ergonomics design is great since you can independently adjust them. Keep in mind, this tray does have a bulky hinge. If you’re tall or have long legs you’re likely to hit your knees when sitting. Obviously, there is no issue if you’re standing.
Best Clamp-On Tray
While clamp-on keyboard trays are not tilt or height adjustable they do provide the great benefit of a tool-free installation on your desk once assembled. While we prefer keyboard trays that have tilt and height adjustment large clamp-on trays like the ErgoActive give you enough room to use a wrist rest and still get very comfortable. You'll be able to use a full-size keyboard with number pad and still have plenty of space for a large mouse pad. If you're working with a narrow space the ErgoActive is available in two other smaller sizes.
3M offers a range of options with their most popular keyboard tray but we’re talking about the tray that features the Adjustable Platform and Easy Adjust options. This tray features everything you’re looking for in a quality keyboard tray. At just over $200, or double the price of others on this list, it needs to be good, and it is. Like the Uncaged Ergonomics Tray, the 3M tray features an independently adjustable mouse surface which will make it great for standing and sitting alike. The mouse surface can also be moved to the left side for left-handed users. What is unique about the 3M tray is its horizontal adjustment. With this adjustment, you can move the keyboard and mouse platform side to side independently. This can aid in finding the ideal keyboard and mouse position, especially for broad shouldered or individuals that may want their mouse surface a few inches away from the keyboard tray. The tray also has a great warranty.
|3m Easy Adjust||25.25"||10"||5"||$210|
Keyboard Trays and Avoiding Back, Neck and Wrist Pain
- Wrist Position - A keyboard tray allows for a tremendous range of adjustment. As you're setting it up for the first time ensure that your wrists are inline or 180 degrees of your forearm. A keyboard tray makes it easy to maintain this but make sure you're avoiding any hard upward angle in your wrist when using a keyboard tray.
- Monitor - Make sure your screen is tilted backward 20 degrees and if for example, you have a 24-inch monitor, make sure you're about 24 inches away from it to prevent squinting and hunching forward. After you install your keyboard tray you may need to pull your monitor closer to you by 5 or 6 inches.
- Elbow Position - Since you're installing keyboard tray, make sure to review your elbow position. Unless you're positioning the keyboard at the exact height of your desktop you will likely need to raise or lower your chair, adjust armrests and pull your computer forward. Remember that you want your elbows at about a 90-degree angle and avoid having your arms too close to your torso.
- Seating Position - Make sure your back is making contact with the backrest of your chair throughout your spine and readjust constantly. Many of us have habits of sliding forward out of our chairs putting tremendous stress on middle and lower back areas.
Ergonomics and Pain Resources
- 17 Things of can do to Prevent Back Pain - A great resource for things you can start doing right now to avoid or alleviate your back pain
- Back Pain and Sciatica Stretches - Back pain expert Dr. Ryan Burke weighs in on back pain and what you can do to treat it.
- How Sitting Causes Back Pain - An analysis on the common issues associated sitting and especially extending sitting periods.