on 8 September 2006
As a programmer, I type many hours every day and for a long time have been looking for ways to ease the stress my hands endure. At the moment, the available selection of ergonomic keyboards is very dire, but since buying this keyboard I can thankfully say this is not a problem.
Not all keyboards are created equal when it comes to ergonomics. One of the worst things about normal keyboards is their flatness. This keyboard and its predecessors have a raised middle which allows your hands to maintain a more natural angle. The gradient is slight but because human fingers are different lengths, it adds to the angle that your hands naturally form with the keyboard.
The left and right groups of alphanumeric keys are split and rotated slightly outwards. Here too the angle should not be too much because, as we have fingers of varying lengths, our hands do form a natural angle already. My experience of 3 models of Microsoft Natural keyboards has led me to believe that this angle is plenty and a greater angle would probably be too much. If you keep your keyboard relatively close, this angle will definitely improve things.
This keyboard has reverse tilt but you can remove the attachment and it does still have legs at the back. Having the attachment is nice because you can decide which tilt is right for you. If your desk is very low, reverse tilt might be suitable. I use my keyboard on my lap and for me, the best is without the attachment or legs. Many people talk about the ergo-benefit of reverse tilt, but I think it is contingent on your situation. Choose whatever feels right for you.
Hunt-and-peck typists will find this keyboard difficult to use. Trained QWERTY typists might also struggle initially. Many QWERTY typists use their index finger for 'B' and this habit might be difficult to shake. Also, the change of angle may mean that it feels awkward for a short while. This is a phenomenon typical of changing to a split keyboard, but I do think the change is worth attempting.
Ok, let's talk specifics. I have used both the MS Natural Multimedia and the MS Natural Elite before using this keyboard. The inverted-T arrows are back. The arrows on the Elite are scrunched together making cursor control more difficult. I am glad for the return to the conventional layout; the only loss is that the keyboard is wider for it. Having a wider keyboard has a penalty because the mouse is further away. My suggestion: learn the shortcuts in the programs you use so you don't need to use the mouse as much.
This keyboard has special keys but I don't tend to use them much, so I won't comment on them. One item I do use is the zoom-slider, but by default it is almost entirely useless. You can't configure it with the software at all. I have changed it to a 'scroller', you can achieve this by editing 'commands.xml' in the IntelliType folder. I'll not describe the process here but I found instructions online, so look if you are interested. I find using it to scroll much easier than moving to the mouse to use the mouse wheel or using the arrows.
Ok, apart from looking really nice and having the soft wrist-rest which I wish every keyboard would have because it is awesome, the keys are very quiet. The touch is very soft indeed. If you like soft-touch keyboards, you will love this keyboard. Unfortunately, the selection of clicky ergonomic keyboards is practically nonexistent. You don't really have a choice in the matter. Personally, I love clicky keyboards. Oh well.
So overall, I think this keyboard is great and a definite improvement over the two models I have mentioned. The main problem it has is shared with every keyboard in existence, which is that the keys are staggered, a heritage from the days of typewriters. But for what it does, it does it exceedingly well and I would absolutely recommend it.
on 29 December 2006
I recently got this when I lost the spacebar from my standard keyboard (long story, lost it whilst cleaning it!!) and since I got this the list of benefits has kept on growing.
1) It is insanely comfortable to use, the reverse tilt stops you straining your wrists and the split keys keeps your wrists straight, not bent at an uncomfortable angle.
2) The keys are easy to press and responsive. Even the spacebar, which is the size of belgium, reponds to a press anywhere on it, even the very corners.
3) It enables you to press down lots of keys at once, up to about 10 at once (well, I ran out of fingers at 10!!)
4) The media buttons (or whatever they are called). All the customisable buttons along the top are very useful. They save an endless amount of time because instead of having to reach over to your mouse every time you want to open a new program, you can have 5 saved to the favourite buttons, open your email, search for a file, open your internet browser, even scroll up and down a page, for each of these you just need to move a finger rather than reach over to your mouse.
5) If you need to do calculations often there is a hyperlink button to open the calculator (just above the number pad) and they have some extra buttons built into the number pad that you often need to use, =, (, ), and backspace.
All in all, if you need to use a keyboard for any length of time then get this
on 20 November 2005
I've suffered from RSI in my right arm for about 2 years and after going through some treatment a year ago I purchased the original Microsoft natural keyboard. This one recently failed and I needed to purchase another and replaced it with this one.
Whilst I awaited for Amazon to deliver the 4000 I used a normal keyboard that was supplied with my Dell. Within a few days the pains in my hand, arm and neck returned, I was very concerned.
Yes almost within the day that the new keyboard was used my discomfort retreated, Amazing! This keyboard is simply excellent. The angle it sits at forced me to raise my chair and adopt a much better seating position. The keys have a beautifully easy action and I found my typing was better than with a standard keyboard. I have made very few typos since using this keyboard, although this could be that I was used to the previous ergonomic layout.
I've now added one of these to my wishlist for my home PC (work paid for the one I have now) and would recommend this to anyone with or without RSI related problems.
on 12 February 2007
So far I haven't heard a bad word said about this keyboard hence why I was encouraged to go out and get myself one. For me personally the keyboard turned out to be a little dissapointing in terms of usability.
Being a touch typist I had hoped that an ergonomic design might actually benefit my typing speed, ironically I found the split keys to be one of the most irritating features because they made typing feel more awkward. I like to know where my keys are without looking but the partitioning in the centre of the board meant that I had to try to reajust my technique to adapt.
The size is another drawback for me, this keyboard is a whopping great thing so if you are limited on deskspace then avoid it. In part this is due to the extra buttons on the top and the non-detachable wrist rest needing that extra space. The keys are also lower set compared to my old keyboard (MS Internet Pro) and I found that coupled with the wrist rest it was particulary hard to get used to when playing first person shooter games. Just because I'm not used to having the extra height in the position of my hand I guess.
Another drawback is that some of the keys have had the standardised size altered to fit the keyboard design. In particular I found the Enter Key to be a pain as it has been made smaller meaning it's not quite as easy to locate without looking. The lip on the right-hand side of my B key also gets stuck under the cenral partition every so often which is driving me mad.
The space bar is another victim of the design, it is curved upwards in the middle and I found that you have to apply more pressure with your thumb than a normal keyboard when touch typing. It has caused me to accidentally miss spaces now and again when attempting to type long letters.
Besides the cons it is a stylish looking board and quite comfortable on the wrists. It also has a lot of extra buttons to make office and internet activity easier (Undo, Redo, New, Open, Close, Back, Forward, Home, Favourites, Mail, Volume, Play, Pause and more). If you have already used an ergonomic board or if you have the patience to adapt to one then I would definately recommend this. Unfortunately I think I am of the old school and prefer the standard design which I am used to, hence I am selling mine and reverting to a more standard design.
This is the most comfortable keyboard that I have ever used. The reverse slope that makes it look so unusual is a wrist saver in itself. Combined with the split down the middle, different size keys, gentle touch (no clackity-clack), and the comfortable wrist support at the front, the whole package is a major improvement over any other keyboard that I have used (and I thought previous Microsoft natural keyboards were way better than most standard keyboards). Short of spending a lot for a "specialist" keyboard that pretty much moulds around your hands, I cannot imagine anything better than this for normal money.
The downside to watch out for is that if you are right-handed, your mouse will be pushed far to the right. If you have problems with your right shoulder/arm then this may be a problem. In that case you may find switching from a normal mouse to a 3M Optical USB Ergonomic Mouse may help up to a point, although you will still be stretching - you just won't be twisting your wrist to use the mouse. For me, losing the keys between the main keys and the numeric pad would make this keyboard perfect as that would make it narrower and avoid that stretch (in the process I'd move the PrtScn, ScrLk and Pause buttons to above the numeric pad, replacing the keys that are there now). Microsoft may want to consider that. But in the meantime, be aware of the stretch if you are right-handed.
Note added April 2009 - I have two of these keyboards, one at home and one that I took into work to use there. On both, one of the supporting "legs" at the back has broken. Each time this has happened, the keyboard had been in use for less than a year. Neither had been misused. It seems that the plastic used is simply not durable enough. I'm not reducing my 5 stars because of this, but I am disappointed that this has happened twice.
on 15 May 2006
I can't recommend this keyboard highly enough. The split keyboard is the most comfortable one I've used and is as it follows exactly the natural angle you hold your wrists at. I believe the split keyboard is, for touch-typers, far superior to the ones that are merely curved. For me, curved keyboards don't go far enough and still force my wrist into a slightly unnatural 'straight' position, hence I assume are aimed at people who can't actually touch-type. If you can't touch-type, I don't think this is the keyboard for you.
The negative tilt and the large curved wrist rest were the reasons I chose this keyboard in particular - it's the most natural position to hold your hands in and type. Most keyboards have feet at the back to tilt the keyboard at you and whilst this seems to be accepted as the norm, it's probably the worst thing you can subject your wrists to as you have to angle your hands upwards to type. The negative tilt on this keyboard fully supports your hands and wrists in the most comfortable typing position.
I'm not sure whether Microsoft have improved the keys on newer models because I don't have any problems with 'hammer' keys or keys that don't push down properly that other users have mentioned. The T, H, G and N keys are wider than the other keys and the space bar is huge, so whereas on previous models I've 'missed' hitting a key because it wasn't large enough, Microsoft have now rectified this problem.
This is the most comfortable keyboard I've ever used and I can now type for hours without the wrist pain I've experienced on standard flat keyboards. In fact find this keyboard so good that I'm buying one for home use too!
on 27 December 2006
I've been trying out various keyboards in search of the perfect input device. I've tried two Logitech models; the MX5000 and the LX300, both wireless. The 5000 has Bluetooth connectivity problems and the 300 is okay in that department but has started to give me RSI problems so I've decided to widen my horizons by re-considering wired keyboards and looking at ergonomic models.
But let's get back to the Ergonomic 4000. First of all, it looks great with sliver and grey trim and buttons and the ergonomic design means it has an attractive curved shape.
Functionally, the keyboard is no slacker either. There are keyboard status LEDs in the middle which give the num lock, caps lock, function key and scroll lock status. The function keys double as program task shortcuts such as "Help", "Undo", "Redo", "New" etc as well as acting as normal F1 to F12 function keys - which you get depends on the status of the F Lock key - if it is pressed then the you get normal function keys. The row of silver buttons (not keys!) near the back edge can do things like open the web browser, email client etc. as well as providing 5 programmable buttons. The two buttons labelled "Back" and "Forward" under the space bar allow you to go to previous and next pages in your web browser - I use Firefox and these worked first time and didn't have to be re-programmed as with the Logitech keyboards. As for localisation there has been a problem with one or two Microsoft models which are not really UK keyboards, even though they are advertised as such and so initially I was wary about buying this keyboard so I did some research on the Web and found some close up pictures which showed the Ergonomic 4000 to have a real UK layout. So there IS a £ sign and a symbol and the others are in the usual place for a UK keyboard.
The keyboard is USB only. This caused a slight hickup during installation. I plugged it in and it worked during boot up but then didn't work when I reached the XP login screen. A system reset solved the problem, for some reason. Some hardware profile issue I guess.
I'm experimenting with the reverse tilt attachment. This is a plastic skirt that clips to the front of the keyboard. With the feet at the back folded away, this arrangement gives you somewhere to rest the wrists (on the padded wrist rest) which seems quite comfortable. I think the idea here is to reduce RSI due to excessive wrist bending since the keyboard tilts away making less of an angle between hand and arm. I think it's going to take a few days or so to fully get used to it, however.
Ok, now for a few minor gripes. Some reviewers have said the keys are heavy. Well, I don't think they are, apart from the space bar which is a bit small and stiff. Sometimes I don't get a space character when I hit it. I think this is because I'm hitting it off centre - it seems more reliable when hit in the middle. This suggests that they're using a single key switch in the middle instead of one at either end which would be better. Then there's those function keys. The alternative functions (for program control) are on the top, whereas the F1-F12 legends are on the front side. Might have preferred it the other way around.
So, I think Microsoft have come up with a really nice keyboard, one that comes very very close to my idea of perfection and which has eliminated the RSI in my wrists and hands, so it looks as if my search is over.
on 18 January 2006
I've been a long time user of Microsoft's 'Natural' range of keyboards after developing painful RSI in my hands a few years ago.
Seeing as offspring number two had adorned my Natural Multimedia Keyboard with a black marker pen, I decided to treat myself at Christmas and buy a brand new Natural keyboard. Hey, I'm a software developer - I'm easily pleased!
Anyway, this model is a huge step up from the Natural Multimedia I was used to; for a start the appalling double sized Delete button has gone. The Function Lock which was off by default on the Natural Multimedia is now on - I found this a major annoyance on my previous unit.
At first, the reverse slope of the keyboard was offputting, but now I'm a total convert. The leatherette wrist supports are comfortable and help to reinforce using the reverse slope configuration.
If you so wish, you can remove the plastic support at the front of the keyboard and use the feet to raise the back as in a standard configuration but I would recommend that you at least try the backward slope for a couple of days first.
I've been a software developer now for over 20 years and I can honestly say that this is the most comfortable keyboard I have ever used. Normally it's quite hard to get excited about something so mundane as a keyboard, but once you try one you'll understand.
on 14 July 2007
I know people love to hate Microsoft -- but they do sell good hardware. When I finally had to abandon my ancient Trust ergonomic keyboard because my new laptop wouldn't support an AT connector even through an adaptor, I went straight for a Microsoft keyboard -- the Microsoft Natural 4000. I've had it just over a year, so it's time to report.
The 4000 is a split-and-angled layout designed to reduce RSI. Even though I'd been using such a layout for the last ten years, it did take me a few days to get used to this one, as the exact slope and dishing of the keypads is slightly different to my old one. And I can remember how long it took me to get used to an ergonomic keyboard the first time. If you've never used one before it will take a while to adapt, especially if you're like me and have a fast but totally untrained typing method that wanders all over the keyboard.
It's well worth taking the time, as for most people a good split keyboard such as this will reduce the risk of RSI and help people who already have problems. This model is very comfortable to use -- the keys generally give good feedback without feeling spongy or requiring a lot of force, although the space bar needs something of a heavy hand. There's an integrated padded wrist rest, which is very comfortable and used properly reduces arm strain. There are foldaway feet to raise the back of the keyboard if desired, but there is also a clip-on platform for the front of the keyboard which gives a slight reverse slope, which is actually more comfortable for many people. (Note that it may not a good idea to rest your wrists/palms on the rest while actually hitting keys -- what it's good for is dropping your hands into a supported rest position for a second while you think about what to type next.) I have RSI that will flare up with very little provocation, and this is one of the two most comfortable keyboards I've ever used.
There's a collection of extra buttons, some programmable -- most of which I personally don't use, but which are likely to be useful to some people. The two that I do find I use regularly are the zoom lever, which is a godsend when trying to read webpages with tiny fonts, and the mute key, which lets me switch off the sound *fast* when I hit a webpage with annoying embedded sound.
The shape means that it takes up quite a bit more desk space than a standard keyboard. One word of warning -- I use a left-handed mouse, and you'll have to stretch for the mouse if you place it on the right.
It's relatively pricy by the standards of ordinary consumer keyboards, but if you have problems with RSI and this one works for you, it's worth the extra money, and it's a *lot* cheaper than some specialist keyboards.
on 9 February 2006
I recently purchased this keyboard after looking around for ages for something that would help with the RSI I suffer with in both hands/wrists. It is SOOOOO comfortable and definitely helps ease the aching I get using a normal keyboard. The reverse slope is fantastic and there are lots of short-cut keys therefore minimising use of the mouse, which is great for me. On top of all this, I think it is a really stylish keyboard.