YOUR “STRAIGHT” KEYBOARD MAY BE INJURING YOU!

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

Pros: “Split” ergonomically sculpted keyboard (including cushioned palm rest and optionally attachable palm lift) is said to maximize comfort while minimizing/preventing painful “carpal tunnel” symptoms. Several extra “dedicated” keys conveniently perform frequently used functions for web-browsing, volume control, calculating, etc. Full-height (albeit not “mechanical”) keys’ “feel/feedback” superior to many entry-level keyboards’. Wired USB connection never requires batteries. Impressive appearance.

Cons: With its keys’ somewhat greater tactile resistance, it’s actually not quite as comfortable—and definitely not as pain-dispelling—as Microsoft’s prior, white (“Natural Keyboard Elite”) ergo keyboard model [and Microsoft’s most recently released “Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop” keyboard—with which I’m presently replacing my model 4000—so far appears to constitute a more comfortable, pain-alleviating option for touch-typists]. Keys’ non-engraved, decal-like labels could eventually wear off [but clear nail polish could help prevent that]. Some users (e.g., those not using the “palm lift“) might dislike that the 12 function-key labels are printed on those keys’ front edges (instead of their upper surfaces). Certain extra “programmable” keys won’t work unless you download (from Microsoft) pertinent—reportedly potentially buggy or confusing—software. Keyboard’s approximately 10.75-inch depth may be too large for some locations [but I’ve found it okay to let the palm rest’s/lift’s curved front edge overlap my desk’s keyboard tray by as much as one inch].

 

Now, I’ll grant that some other people—primarily those with narrow shoulders—will find a conventional “straight” keyboard appropriate—and optimally comfortable—to use. But about a decade ago, after having experienced symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome in my wrists and hands, I bought my first Microsoft “ergonomic” keyboard: the white “Natural Keyboard Elite.” The latter model, which largely dispelled my wrist and hand discomfort, remains fully functional to this day; unfortunately, however, its cable’s “PS2” plug won’t work (not even via a “USB-to-PS2” adapter) with my recently purchased Dell Inspiron desktop PC.

Thus I recently bought (directly from Amazon for $34.99) this somewhat more recent Microsoft model, the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, whose hardwired USB connectivity was exactly what I needed with my Dell “Windows 8.1” PC.

Through the 1990s I’d been particularly fond of the famous IBM/Lexmark keyboards’ “clicky” keys’ tactile and aural feedback. While the keys of my aforementioned Microsoft white “Natural Keyboard Elite” don’t feature that level of feedback, they nonetheless struck me as being “close enough” to satisfy.

This Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 implements keys that are still less “clicky;” in fact, the aural pitch is still lower, with the overall volume more subdued. Even so, switching from Microsoft’s “Elite” to this “4000” seemed—initially—altogether easy. Within mere minutes I felt pretty much at home, despite the fact that several of the primary keys’ contours and placements subtly differ, and (more to the point) all the keys’ tactile “resistance” (stiffness) feels slightly greater than that of my old “Elite.” However, after quite a few hours of further use, I experienced some slight tingling in the left wrist and hand (which, for many years, has been my region most susceptible to carpal tunnel pain). Reading numerous Amazon customer reviews of this “4000,” I’ve noticed that one of the recurrent complaints involves the “stiffness” of the space bar relative to the other keys. I must report that this one-piece space bar is somewhat “stiffer” and conspicuously audibly different (in tone) than the other, smaller keys; and I can see why some users wouldn’t like it, while others may scarcely mind it. [Note: I myself felt enough uncertainty about this keyboard’s overall relative “comfort” to replace it with my recently acquired specimen of Microsoft’s newer, costlier “Sculpt Ergonomic” keyboard, whose keys are shallower and whose space bar comprises two separate keys allowing gentler thumb force. (More on this—including  a product photo—below.)]

Another recurrent complaint of other reviewers involves the keys’ non-engraved labels, which reportedly start to wear off (long before the keyboard is very old). Now, that, I suspect, is a (more or less) valid criticism. However, a minority of clever reviewers has suggested occasionally applying some “clear nail polish” to each of these key’s decal-like labels to help prevent abrasion. That approach sounded plausible enough to induce me to purchase (for the first time in my life!) a tiny bottle of nail polish at Walmart today; and I’ll be using it soon, with the expectation that those wee labels will thereafter remain adequately legible “forever.”

In addition to this keyboard’s “conventional” keys (which, as expected, function correctly), there’s an assortment of “extra” (optionally usable) keys. However, not all of those extra keys—be they “programmable” or “dedicated”—actually work (unless you download some pertinent software from Microsoft). For example, at the uppermost row of the keyboard, there’s a cluster of five “Favorites” (programmable) keys that, according to Microsoft, “give you instant access to the folders, files, and Web pages you use most.” However, since no printed/CD instructions or software drivers were included with this keyboard; and since my phone call to Microsoft’s toll-free “support” yielded me merely a protracted runaround (i.e., each clueless, script-reciting rep merely connected me to yet another clueless “department”); and since a pertinent “compatibility” webpage stated this keyboard is compatible with Windows 8.1 but simultaneously stated that only “1 of 4 people” in their “community” voted this keyboard “compatible” with Windows 8.1; and since I’d also read several online customer complaints citing sundry “Microsoft-downloadable-software-caused” glitches involving the programmable and/or other keys, I finally decided not to risk downloading any such ostensibly compatible “programmable-keys” software (despite surmising that it would probably actually work). For, I can easily live with this keyboard’s degree of functionality exactly as it stands. That’s because—fortunately—most of the extra, silvery keys already function correctly (indeed, virtually all of the particular ones that I myself much care about work splendidly with my Windows 8.1 PC). Such nicely functioning “dedicated” keys include not only the bottommost pair of “back/forward” (web-browsing) ones but also the following top-row ones: “homepage,” “volume mute/restore;” “volume decrease;” “volume increase;” “search;” and “calculator.”

Thus I deem this keyboard’s “extra keys”—collectively—a reasonably significant, continually usable feature.

In addition to the padded palm rest, this keyboard includes a detachable palm lift (i.e., a rigid piece of plastic mountable beneath the built-in palm rest), which helps keep your wrists optimally ergonomically unbent while typing. According to Microsoft,

“The detachable palm lift on the bottom of the keyboard was designed to work with the cushioned wrist rest to improve typing posture by reducing wrist extension (vertical bending of the wrist).  It does this by lifting up the front of the keyboard to provide a 7-degree reverse slope to the keyboard – a benefit that was recently documented by two independent studies.”

Note: In the above-quoted passage, I boldfaced the expression wrist rest to call attention to the fact that, according to HealthyComputing.com,

“A ‘wrist rest’ should be used to rest the heel of your palm, not your wrist itself.”

Initially, I (like many other customer reviewers) felt that the included palm-lift attachment was annoyingly awkward, and I hastily removed it. However, I’m currently reconsidering that decision, for I’m keen to avail myself of any means to prevent/reduce tingling or discomfort in the wrists and hands. [I’m now tentatively typing these words with that “palm lift” attached; and I strongly suggest that you too give it a fair trial period, during which it might prove enlightening if you’d temporarily position a large mirror such that you can visually compare the degrees of “straightness” of your wrist with, and without, the palm lift attached.]

Microsoft has released still more recent “ergonomic” keyboard models, all of which (unlike this model 4000) are wireless, and one of which—the most recent, Sculpt Ergonomic model—features a detached numeric keypad.  I’m presently getting used to my recently arrived (from Amazon) specimen of that “Sculpt” keyboard, which—so far—appears to be altogether more comfortable (not to mention compact) than the model 4000; and I’ll likely be writing and posting a pertinent review in the near future.

Microsoft Sculpt Ergo Keyboard with Mouse

 

Please revisit my summarizing “Pros” and “Cons” (near the top of this review); but, bottom line, Microsoft’s “4000” ergo keyboard—retailing for around $40—strikes me as not only admirably stylish but also fairly respectably ergonomic. While I myself am so far not liking its overall “comfort” as much as that of its renowned predecessor (the white “Natural Keyboard Elite”), some other users have reported being satisfied with this product. And, factoring this keyboard’s padded palm rest [not to mention the attachable “palm lift“]; the power and convenience of its several aforementioned extra, “dedicated” keys; and its enhanced stylishness (that harmonizes splendidly with any predominantly black PC), to certain users this model 4000 could seem a step up, not down, from Microsoft’s venerable “Elite” model.

Addendum:  I strongly suggest you view the following pertinent, concisely informative webpage:

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