Ergonomics has become a hot issue for technology users in recent years. The majority of office workers spend many hours in front of their computer terminal every day. Unless their posture, sitting position and alignment to their machine are correct, developing niggling or more serious musculoskeletal injuries is a definite possibility. I know this because it says so on the underside of Microsoft’s new Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, which claims to promote “a more natural hand, wrist and forearm posture”.
The design of the keyboard is immediately attention grabbing. Imagine a curvy version of your standard keyboard with a hump a third the way along and you’ve got the idea. This hump is what makes it ergonomic because it splits the keyboard in half between the ‘T’ and ‘Y’ in Qwerty and pushes the two sides away from each other. In so doing it makes you stretch your fingers to find the keys, which presumably is what helps prevent conditions such as repetitive strain injury. This gap makes the keyboard difficult to get familiar with as your fingers struggle to find the right keys but within half an hour or so my brain had made the necessary adjustment and I was managing to find most of the keys most of the time, with the exception of the distant ‘P’ key at the extreme top right that was a stretch for my little finger. I knew I should have done those cello lessons.
Apart from the usual keys, there are, ranged along the top, a number of silver quick keys that allow to you activate at the touch of a button a number of special applications, including internet, email, search, sound and calculator. In addition there are five quick keys you can assign yourself, to instantly display particular webpages, graphics, documents and so on. Assigning these keys is a simple affair thanks to the Microsoft IntelliType Pro software that comes with the keyboard.
The feature I liked most, however, was the zoom button. Located in the middle gap, this allows you to zoom in and out of the page on which you’re working at the flick of your index finger. No more short cuts and particularly useful for the visually impaired I’d imagine.
At the bottom of the keyboard is an integrated wrist pad that follows the curve of the keyboard. Unlike my existing foam wrist pad, this one feels like padded leatherette and I have to admit I preferred it. There is also an optional ‘palm lift’ that clicks on to the front underside. Some users may find this further increases the comfort factor but I was happier to leave it off.
All said, this natty keyboard impressed me greatly and, if nothing else, it should be enough to convince keyboard design skeptics that not all keyboards are born equal.
By Brian Skelly