Ergonomic keyboards have never been hugely popular, but some people swear by them. I do, and I also use a trackball mouse, so I was interested to see samples of Microsoft's two latest ergonomic offerings.
Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop
The Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop is a keyboard, mouse and number pad combination. At £99.99 (inc. VAT) it's not inexpensive, but it does have a number of great features.
If you're used to a standard design, it may take a while to learn to work with the split keyboard. However, I'm used to this style of keyboard and found the isolated keys very natural to use.
The upward slope of the keys towards the centre of the board is surprisingly comfortable. The high, padded wrist rest reduces any potential for strain on the wrists, keeping them at a neutral angle. If you need more height at the front, there's a plastic riser that lifts the wrist rest a full 3cm from the desk at its highest central point.
The separate number pad isn't particularly ergonomic, but disconnecting it from the main part of the keyboard reduces desk space requirements if you don't need it or only want to use it occasionally. Both the keyboard and the number pad have a dedicated key that calls up the Windows calculator.
The Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse is domed and fits nicely into the palm of the hand, with a scooped section on the left designed to accommodate your thumb and encourage your hand and wrist into the best position. The Windows button will be handy for inveterate mouse users, but I still prefer my ball mouse, and larger hands may find the Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse too small and fiddly.
Sculpt Comfort Keyboard
The Sculpt Comfort Keyboard is an affordable option at £59.99 (inc. VAT). The keyboard is chunkier than the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop unit, with contiguous rather than island-style keys that have a pleasantly spongy feel. An interesting feature is the split spacebar, whose right-hand portion retains the traditional function while the left-hand end becomes a large backspace key.
The keyboard is contoured on the horizontal and pitched on the vertical so that the top row of alphanumeric keys sits higher than the bottom. To the right, the integrated number pad is in its standard, flat orientation. Again, there's a button to call up the on-screen calculator.
Risers built into the cushioned wrist rest allow you to raise the angle of the keyboard from the front; you can also remove the wrist rest altogether if need be.
Both keyboards have shortcut keys designed for Windows 8 users, and both are, of course, wireless.
Of the two keyboards, I found the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop more comfortable in everyday use. However, either would suit anyone considering an ergonomic keyboard.