When I was in college I reached a peak for the amount of typing that I did. I was a Computer Science student, so I was spending a lot of my time writing ode. Many of my other classes had me typing papers, and then in my free time I was using nothing but WASD for Unreal Tournament and Counter-Strike. It should come as no surprise that I eventually began to develop some wrist pain. Looking for a way to mitigate that while knowing that I couldn’t simply type less for the most part, I invested in a Microsoft Natural 4000 ergonomic keyboard. As a fairly quick typist, it only took me about a week to get back to my maximum typing speed on an ergonomic layout, and my wrist pain quickly vanished. Needless to say, I was quite the fan of the keyboard which I used through graduation and even took with me to my first job.
Unfortunately, I ended up losing the keyboard during a move to a different state and I never got around to replacing it. While I work as a sysadmin, I don’t spend quite as much time typing as I previously did so I was able to keep wrist problems at bay just by using trackballs. However, when Microsoft announced a new ergonomic keyboard, I couldn’t help but be interested in it. Called the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop, it’s a wireless keyboard and mouse combo designed keeping your hands and wrists properly positioned for the best experience. After using it quite heavily for the last few days, I figured it was time to give some of my thoughts on it.
Hardware-wise, both devices are pretty beautiful in my opinion. They have a black finish with some soft-touch accents in places. Unfortunately, the plastic surrounding the keys and the entire top of the mouse are a glossy plastic which will quickly attract fingerprints, so beware of that if you’re pretty obsessive about keeping your peripherals clean. The keyboard is divided into two pieces, as the number pad is a separate device entirely. While I wasn’t a fan of that at first, it really grew on me since it is more ergonomic — not to mention a lot faster — for me to reach my hand over to the mouse if I don’t have the number pad in the way, though I can quickly slide it into position if I need it.
None of the devices have rechargeable batteries, though you do get batteries supplied. The keyboard takes two AAA batteries, the mouse takes two AA batteries, and the number pad takes a circular, flat battery that’s roughly the size of a quarter. The battery covers are actually magnetic, meaning that while they stay securely shut, it’s very easy to pop them open if you need to replace anything. Likewise, the covers practically put themselves back on since the magnet will just snap them into place. It’s a very nice setup. The same happens with the wireless receiver which has a slot built into the mouse; it magnetically clicks into place to ensure you don’t lose it. Much like how the black HTC Evo 4G phone had some very slick-looking red accents under the battery cover, these devices have blue accents that just look really nice when you pop them open. They also jive well with the blue laser from the mouse.
Speaking of the wireless receiver, it’s a similar setup to what Logitech has been using for a few years where one receiver is used for all of the devices. While the mouse has a switch to turn it on and off, the keyboard and number pad are just always on. One issue I ran into with the receiver is that the range seemed to be a little on the poor side. As you can tell from the picture above, the keyboard and mouse are fairly close to my computer. I originally had the receiver plugged into the back of the tower, but I would run into occasional problems where my keyboard input would be laggy and missing letters. I tested moving the receiver to one of my PC’s front USB ports and the problems have not returned. Just be aware that if you have your actual PC on the floor or otherwise far away from the keyboard you may not see the best performance.
The keyboard itself has a soft-touch, padded area at the bottom where your hands and wrists rest. It’s very nice right now, but I don’t know how well the material will hold up to repeated use over a long time period. It also comes with an additional riser that you can magnetically connect to the bottom of the keyboard at the front. This will elevate the front of the keyboard and force you to hold your hands even higher when typing. I don’t use this piece, but again it’s very slick how it just snaps into place. The whole keyboard feels very solid, like it’s a quality device when you pick it up. Between the heft and the rubber feet, I don’t run into any issues with it sliding around on me while using it. However, it isn’t so heavy as to be a burden; I think Microsoft struck a nice balance.
Performance – Keyboard
While I understand that it’s what everyone is doing, I was a little disappointed that this keyboard uses chiclet-style keys with scissor switches. It essentially uses the same keys you would get on a laptop. I don’t enjoy flat keys with little travel as much as even rubber dome keyboards with greater travel, such as what the Natural 4000 had. That being said, I haven’t experienced any difficulty actually typing on the keyboard and the scissor switches mean that the keys don’t feel mushy like rubber dome switches can be; I just don’t enjoy the switches as much as I otherwise might. Despite not having used an ergonomic keyboard since 2009, I was able to adapt to this one almost immediately; if you’ve used an ergonomic keyboard before and enjoyed it, you’ll be immediately at home with this one.
The top row of Function keys serve double-duty as Windows-specific keys. Oddly, Microsoft opted to not use a Fn key to replace one of the Control and Alt keys to gain access to that extra functionality. Instead, there is a physical switch at the top right of the keyboard that you have to flip, which is quite a hassle for quickly moving back and forth between the two. Luckily, I’m actually using this keyboard with a desktop running Linux, so the Windows-based keys are useless to me; I can just leave the switch to the F# keys. If you are using it with Windows, though, this would be a major headache. The top row of keys are actually quite disappointing as well. They’re even shallower and the rest of the keyboard and are difficult to press. They just feel really cheap, so hitting Esc or Alt + F4 has been far more problematic than it has any business to be.
Unlike the Natural 4000, the Home – End cluster of keys are not in a standard layout, which took me a bit of time to get used to since I use those keys rather frequently when coding or editing text. Another minor annoyance is that there is no indicator on the keyboard for whether or not Caps Lock or Num Lock are turned on; if you don’t have an operating system which gives you some indication of it, you’re basically screwed without actually hitting some keys to find out.
Performance – Mouse
I wasn’t actually sure if I was even going to use this mouse since I’ve been using trackballs for the last two years. I gave this one a shot, though, and I’m glad that I did. You may notice from pictures that the mouse is a somewhat unusual shape; it’s much taller and rounder than the average mouse. Putting your hand on it is almost akin to putting it on a baseball that’s been flattened out just a tiny bit. That’s actually a benefit, though. The mouse has a groove cut out on the left side for your thumb (so no, this setup is in no way intended for people who use a mouse with their left hand), which forces your hand into a more perpendicular position with the desk rather than being almost parallel with it. This is to say that your palm faces the side more than it faces down, thus making for a much more ergonomic experience. It’s not as drastic as some ergonomic mice, but it’s enough to make a difference.
Performance-wise, I haven’t had any issues with the mouse though I’ll admit that the last few days have been a somewhat slower, clunkier experience than what I typically have just because I’m not used to having a mouse. I don’t really do much gaming, so I can’t say how it would hold up for that. As far as basic computing goes, however, there haven’t been any issues. It features the standard right and left mouse buttons along with a scroll wheel in the middle. The blue Windows logo is also a button that will pop-up your Start screen if you’re using Windows. At the side of the groove for your thumb is actually another button that serves as a Back button in a browser. It’s a handy button to have, though the position makes it somewhat awkward to press since you need to squeeze inward with your thumb to activate it.
Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. While the switches aren’t optimal for me, typing performance with the keyboard has nonetheless been a solid one. It’s just unfortunate that the Function keys are so poorly done, as that’s really the main thing holding it back for me. The weird setup for the Home – End cluster is also an annoyance, but it’s to be expected with any keyboard that doesn’t follow a standard layout. The price point is what’s going to hamper adoption for this setup, though, as I feel that $130 is a little much to be asking for it. Unless you just really want something wireless or you’re set on wanting this particular mouse, I think you’d be better off spending the $50 and buying an old Natural 4000.