MICROSOFT’S WIRELESSLY “ERGO” TRIO KEEPS HANDS/WRISTS COMFY & HEALTHY

Click image to enlarge.

Pros: Keyboard’s thoroughly ergonomic form incorporates quiet, low-profile, short-travel-distance, finger-fatigue-reducing keys (including a two-piece space bar) and a wrist-straightening, removable riser bar. Detached—repositionable—number pad shortens reach for the mouse. Stylishness and wirelessness of all three components. Battery life is reportedly extremely long.

Cons: The uniquely shaped mouse won’t feel perfectly comfortable for every user’s wrist and/or thumb. Several of the keyboard’s keys (e.g., “Home,” “End,” Page Up,” “Page Down,” “Delete” and “Insert”) are in somewhat unusual locations. No LED indicators on a keyboard for “Caps Lock,” etc.; instead, whenever the Caps Lock key is pressed, a little on-screen “Caps Lock: ON/OFF” indicator briefly appears near the lower-right corner, somewhat above the bottom taskbar. [Presumably the dearth of LEDs further extends the long life of the keyboard’s two AAA alkaline batteries; and it arguably enhances this product’s minimalistic elegance .] Unlike some prior Microsoft ergo keyboards, there are no dedicated “back/forward” web-browsing buttons [but the mouse does include a “back” button]. Beautifully glossy-black-plastic keyboard/keypad edges (and mouse’s main buttons) readily acquire fingerprints/smudges.

 

Microsoft’s wireless Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop Keyboard (with discrete “number pad” and mouse) features the most impressive fully (“split”) ergo keyboard I’ve seen. Its combination of ergonomically sculpted form, elegantly minimalistic style, and convenient overall compactness sets this package quite apart from its competition.

I previously used two other Microsoft ergo keyboards:

Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite

For nearly a decade I continually used and relished their significantly pain-relieving “Natural Keyboard Elite.”

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

Also, I recently tried Microsoft’s model 4000 ergo keyboard, whose somewhat “stiffer” keys pretty quickly started causing my susceptible left wrist and hand to experience anew annoying tingling (carpal tunnel) symptoms!

Thus I soon decided to replace that disappointing “4000” with this much more recently designed “Sculpt” model:

This “Sculpt” keyboard’s quiet keys have significantly decreased height and travel distance, allowing a touch-typist’s fingers to exert less force. Conspicuously, unlike the aforementioned earlier ergo models, this “Sculpt” has a space bar comprising two (separated, less wide) keys, making it quite unnecessary for the thumb(s) to endure so much striking force.

This keyboard’s also conveniently wireless, requiring just two AAA alkaline batteries (included) that reportedly can last for months.

Importantly, this keyboard includes an easily detachable “riser” (aka palm lift) that fits magnetically beneath the built-in, comfortably cushioned palm rest. I strongly suggest that you try using the keyboard with that palm lift attached. Doing so will help keep your wrists in the reportedly optimally healthful neutral position.

Just how compact is this ergo keyboard per se (separate from the number pad)? It measures about 8.9 x 15.25 x 1.8 inches ; and it weighs about 4.3 pounds. Nothing about it feels flimsy, and it rests stably and solidly upon my PC desk’s tray and flexes hardly at all.

The wireless number pad (measuring about 3.6 x 5.25 x 6/16 inches) takes one CR2430 lithium battery (included). Its bottom bears four shallow, rubbery feet to protect your desktop. Like the keyboard, the number pad includes a dedicated key that calls up Windows’ onscreen calculator. In fact, the number pad’s thinness and overall compactness make it akin to an easily held pocket calculator. And since it’s detached from the keyboard and can reside alone upon my PC desk’s tabletop, the keyboard’s own decreased width fits more easily upon the desk’s keyboard tray, and there’s more room (and less of a reach) to maneuver the adjacent mouse.

The wireless mouse—which requires two AA alkaline batteries (included)—has a “twice-as-tall” shape and a thumb scoop that are said to maximize wrist comfort and help maintain correct ergonomic hand and wrist position. This mouse measures about 3 x 3.75 x 2 inches, and it fits my average-adult-male hand reasonably well. I find its “elongated-ball” shape more comfortable than that of most—but perhaps not all—”conventional” mice having about 50% less height. Moreover, I’m occasionally feeling that this left-side thumb scoop’s depth is, for my finicky thumb joint, very slightly too great for optimal comfort [though most users may disagree]; thus I occasionally position my thumb slightly leftward upon the slightly lower, outermost left edge of the mouse, which is certainly easy enough to do. [As you can tell, I’m basically nitpicking here!]

Allsop “ComfortBead Mini” pillow

I sometimes place an Allsop ComfortBead Mini “wrist pillow” [$6.99 at Office Depot] beneath the base of my palm while using this tallish mouse. Being still new to this mouse, I’m not sure if I’ll continue using this pillow often, but it’s at least an intermittently comfortable option.

In addition to the usual left and right mouse buttons, there’s a wheel that’s handy for scrolling upward, downward, leftward or rightward through (for example) a word processing document. Finally, there are two other buttons on the left side: A conspicuous blue-and-white button activates the Windows 8 “start” screen; and directly beneath that, there’s a scarcely noticeable black “back” button for web browsing (unfortunately, though, there’s no companion “forward” button).

Arguably, one minor disadvantage of this (or virtually any wireless) mouse is that if you want to maximize the life of its batteries, you must remember to keep it switched off (via a small, blue, sliding switch on the mouse’s underside) whenever you’re not using your computer.

If you ultimately decide to eschew this Microsoft mouse per se, you could simply slide its power switch to “off” and return to using a more conventionally shaped mouse. [I’ve personally verified that that’s doable (with no resulting driver conflicts or software glitches).] I myself tentatively plan to alternately use this mouse and another, more conventional (less tall) mouse. That said, I do—by and large—like this mouse and will probably end up using it about as often as my “ordinary” mouse.

Note that Microsoft ingeniously implements built-in (not visible) magnets—in lieu of hinges or clips—for “attaching” not only the keyboard riser but also the keyboard and mouse undersurfaces’ battery doors. This elegant approach works conveniently and reliably.

Also note that the included USB dongle (which allows the wirelessness of the keyboard, number pad and mouse and which you’ll plug into one of your PC’s USB ports) comes within a storage niche inside the mouse’s battery compartment.

All of the keyboard’s frequently used keys’ non-engraved labels might eventually fade or wear off (maybe before the keyboard’s extremely old).  However, a minority of clever reviewers of Microsoft’s old model “4000” ergo keyboard suggested occasionally applying some “clear nail polish” to each of the keys’ decal-like labels to help prevent abrasion. That approach sounds plausible enough to me to try it someday—“if and when” any comparable “label fading” actually starts to occur with this updated Sculpt model.

If (shortly after “connecting” this keyboard/mouse package to your PC) Microsoft’s “Mouse and Keyboard Center” software automatically wants to download (and you let it proceed), do yourself a favor and don’t interrupt or cancel that download and installation. [I inadvertently did so and thereby incurred weirdly slow or broken Internet Explorer functionality (evidently due to one or two faultily installed keyboard/mouse drivers) until I “system restored” my PC’s settings to what they’d been just prior to that abortive Microsoft installation. After subsequently fully cooperating with yet another automatically offered Microsoft “Mouse and Keyboard Center” software download, I found that my aforementioned “Internet” glitch was, thankfully, still gone.] Now, regarding the actual usefulness of that supplementary software, I doubt that the majority of average, casual PC users will end up deriving much (given that all “standard/default” key/button functions are already activated). But then, I admittedly haven’t yet spent enough time fiddling with that software to make any definitive declarations. I’m merely saying that you can evidently safely ignore that software (once it’s successfully installed) if you so choose.

Most of this keyboard’s keys are positioned such that I’m able to type virtually as accurately and speedily as I could do with either of those other two aforementioned ergo keyboard models. However, I must say that there will inescapably be a fairly lengthy (re)learning curve involving several of the other keys (e.g., “Home,” “End,” Page Up,” “Page Down,” “Delete,” “Insert” and the four “arrow” keys), which are now in more or less unusual locations (mostly within a two-column cluster at the far-right side of the keyboard). Apparently Microsoft’s designers were compelled to use this new arrangement in order to achieve maximal overall compactness. Enjoying the resulting extra space for the adjacent mouse upon my desk’s keyboard tray, I figure that having to retrain myself vis-à-vis that rightmost cluster will ultimately seem a worthwhile tradeoff.

While I’m not yet sure that this fairly recently received keyboard is relieving my longstanding carpal tunnel wrist/hand discomfort “absolutely 100%” as much as did my trusty “Natural Keyboard Elite” of yesteryear, after several days of intermittent typing—including the entirety of this review—I do already feel it’s much more effective than the aforementioned “4000” model, and I’m feeling increasingly confident I can live with this “Sculpt.”

The majority of touch-typists should definitely check out this keyboard/keypad/mouse bundle, which generally retails for around $130 but is available new from Amazon for “only” $84.50. [Note: I nabbed my perfectly “Like New” package from “Amazon Warehouse” for $69.91.] This “made in China” product ironically evinces absolutely no cheapness in its construction, feel or appearance. Here’s one case where you do get what you pay for.

 

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