Microsoft's ergonomic keyboards, First Take

Microsoft's ergonomic keyboards, First Take

Summary: If you're seeking something more comfortable than a standard-design keyboard, Microsoft has a couple of options that could fit the bill.

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TOPICS: Hardware, Reviews
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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.

ms-ergo-desktop-main
Microsoft's Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop costs £99.99 (inc. VAT). Image: Microsoft

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.

ms-sculpt-ergo-mouse

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

ms-sculpt-comfort-keyboard
The Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Keyboard costs £59.99 (inc. VAT) and includes an unusual split spacebar with backspace functionality. Image: Microsoft

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.

Topics: Hardware, Reviews

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15 comments
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  • Used to have one...

    I had the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 for a few years, but it never felt all that great. Three years ago I switched to a Kinesis Freestyle keyboard and haven't looked back. For the mouse: Evoluent Vertical Mouse 4. Gone are the wrist pains.
    MikeR666
    • YMMV

      I've used the MEK 4000 and personally, I think it's one of the best membrane keyboards out there.

      Likewise, I still prefer my Model M to any of the recent releases for modern keyboards.
      ForeverCookie
      • I also had one

        I had it on my main computer and I really liked. The problem is I move around to many computers all the time. They only had standard keyboards. The difference was causing a lot of mistakes. I had to give it up so now all the keyboards I use are the same.
        MichaelInMA
  • Used to love Microsoft hardware

    but the past few years I've found their hardware to be "lacking". I went to a Logitech Performance MX Pro mouse - best mouse I ever found. With keyboards, I always make sure the keyboard has an insert key - many of the new ones don't, or have it way at the top (old time Windows users still remember Ctrl+Ins and Shift+Ins).
    roteague
  • Is that it, then?

    Is that really all Sandra Vogel has to say about the Sculpt Ergonomic? I use it and consider it to be fine keyboard, but there are some points which should have been brought out in the review.

    Firstly, the keys to the right of the QWERTY set (such as Home, End, Insert, Delete, etc) have a non-standard layout which might matter to some people.

    Secondly, the dual-purpose function keys along the top are half-height and - crucially - there isn't a proper 'F Lock' key. Bizarrely, there is a tiny slider switch to the top right which switches the function keys between the standard F1, F2 functions and a laptop-like set marked in blue, offering play/pause, mute, volume up/down, search, etc.

    Finally, I must mention the excellent key feel. They are not mechanical keys like the Cherry range. However, they are lighter and shorter travel than those in the 4000 keyboard, quieter, but still with a nice over-centre action, and the end stop has just the right hardness. They are amongst the best non-mechanical keys I've used.

    Oh, MS have given us an amusing little feature: the stand-alone number pad has a Calculator button, which starts up the standard Calculator app in Windows 8. Thus you can pick up the number pad just as you would pick up your desk calculator, type in the calculation and see the result on your screen. Quite handy.

    @roteague: I agree - the Logitech MX Pro is the finest mouse I've ever used. I was so impressed I immediately went out and bought another, which I keep in a cupboard as a spare. The big drawback for me with Logitech mice is the lousy driver/settings software they produce.
    Thack
  • I"ve used MS Natural Keyboard for as long as they have been made.

    I have relied on the natural curve to reduce my carpal tunnel and it has worked very well for me.
    the Sculpt is wonderful because it eliminates the numeric keypad and moved the arrow keys closer to the letters so I can mouse without moving my whole arm so far to the right. that has solved my rotator cuff pain that has lingered for years. I have been looking for a keyboard that was narrower (like the sculpt) for a long time now and had been so frustrated that I had to put the mouse so far to the right. I had learned many many keyboard shortcuts just to avoid having to reach for the mouse too often. that's in the past now thanks to Sculpt.
    mjm5
  • IBM Model M && Logitech Mouse

    There's no better keyboard than the old IBM Model M with the buckling spring, period--if you type extensively.

    For mice, multi-button Logitech mice are best. I use three mice--2 laser cordless and one corded and the Model M--works great.
    chienshengwtsai
  • I learned

    to type on a manual typewriter: Underwood. Then, I moved on to others which all had real keys with proper spacing in between them for my large hands. The tiny laptop keyboards don't work for me with touch typing. In fact, most keyboards, I often hit two or more keys at once, and the "flat" layout doesn't feel natural to me. There is no "feedback" on the newer ones (spring action.) Therefore, I have a difficult time typing on newer machines. Even the IBM Selectric had wider key spacing and a sloped keyboard (never designed to lay flat) which can only be achieved by putting up little "legs" on a modern keyboard, or propping a phone book under it, which slants the keys at the wrong angle, and I still hit many keys at once.
    How about an old-fashioned keyboard designed for us old-timers with big hands?
    janitorman
  • "Left" out again

    I know i'm only part of the 10%, but speaking only about that mouse, it is useless for a southpaw like me. You would think that the company of Bill Gates, a lefty, could do better. You'd be wrong.
    Kinetixx
    • As with most things

      People develop for the majority the majority of the time. When my youngest was a natural lefty I helped him write with his left hand and use his mouse with his right hand. When he asked me why I told him that some things are made a certain way. Better to learn that way and get good at it than to find the rare good mouse made for the left hand. I am pretty sure I have seen Bill using a right-handed mouse in presentations as well... even though he is left handed.
      JennTech
  • Friends don't let friends type qwerty on twisted boards.

    QWERTY - not ergonomic
    DVORAK - ergonomic
    Left twisted staggered keyboards - painful and not ergonomic
    Matrix keyboards - ergonomic

    The only solution:
    http://www.typematrix.com/images/bepo/2030usb_us_dvorak_703x289.png
    TheTrueFalcon
    • How do straightly aligned keys work better

      than those with slanting? My fingers are not the same length, so slanted keys work much better. I have a wireless Microsoft ergonomic keyboard, it works beautifully. I do wish I could really learn Dvorak, but I need some dedicated time to learn it so it would be as fast as my current qwerty usage.
      grayknight
      • Alignment - are you assymetrical to the left.

        If it's slanted to the left, it can't work better with *both hands.

        It's left-slanted which twists the left wrist and makes the right fingers stretch further than necessary.

        Try straight alignment, I dare you. You'll never go back.
        TheTrueFalcon
  • Sculpt Comfort

    I have used the Sculpt Comfort keyboard for awhile and it works well. I have a media computer where it was too big and I got the Logitech keyboard track pad combo keyboard instead. but for a desktop, the Sculpt Comfort Keyboard helps with ergonomics without needing to relearn typing like so many ergonomic keyboards need.
    JennTech
  • From a keyboard geek...

    ... I've used the best of both Logitech and Microsoft, as well as others. To date the best keyboard I've ever typed on was the original IBM Model M. It was big. It was heavy. It was loud. But with it's buckling springs I could type for hours without problem and the keyboard is not going to wear out after a few years.

    I was thrilled to find out that they are still made. IBM sold them off to Lexmark. Lexmark sold them off to Unicomp. Unicomp still makes them to this day and in a nice black with an USB interface. I've got two of them and love them.
    RaulYbarra