I recently decided that it was time to retire my good old Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. After all, I have been using that keyboard since 2005. While there is nothing wrong with my trusty old keyboard, I just figured it was time for a change. And I’ve wanted to get my hands on the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop keyboard and mouse combo ever since I first saw Justin Yu’s video review back 2013. So I recently picked one up at a local Best Buy, where it was on sale for $84.
The keyboard and mouse combo was first introduced in the Windows 8 timeframe, but it has been updated and optimized for Windows 10. And the most current version of the Mouse And Keyboard Center allows you to customize the heck out of the keyboard. Let’s take a closer look at the keyboard and the benefits it brings to Windows 10.
A little keyboard history
Before I get into the Sculpt, let me take a little trip down keyboard lane. I’ve been using one of the versions of Microsoft’s Ergonomic keyboards since they first came out in 1994. At that time I was beta testing Windows 95 and Microsoft sent me a Microsoft Natural Keyboard and asked me to try it out.
This first Microsoft Natural Keyboard, shown in Figure A, was a hulk–it was heavy and took up a good chunk of my desk, and its odd shape made it look a little gimmicky.
The first Microsoft Natural Keyboard came out in 1994 and it was a hulk.
Besides the shape, the other notable thing about this keyboard was that it was the first keyboard to sport a Windows key, which of course opened Windows 95’s start menu. Providing direct access to the UI’s newest feature made this first keyboard quite revolutionary. (There were, in fact, two Windows keys–one on the left and one on the right.)
Excited about the potential of the Windows key, along with the fact that I’d been feeling a bit of the carpel tunnel syndrome pains in my wrists, I thought I’d give the ergonomic design a try to see if it was all that Microsoft had made it out to be. It took a little while to get used to, but after a month or so, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the split and tilted keyboard really did ease the stress on my wrists.
SEE: Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop review: A keyboard and mouse for a new generation
During the Windows 98 timeframe, Microsoft came out with a new version called the Natural Keyboard Elite, shown in Figure B. By this time I was hooked and felt cramped and out of sorts if I had to type on a standard keyboard. After obtaining an Elite, I discovered it was a bit smaller and lighter in weight.
The Elite was a bit smaller and lighter in weight than the original.
When Windows ME hit the stores in 2000, I moved up to the Natural Keyboard Pro, shown in Figure C. This version was slightly larger than the Elite but utilized the extra space for a set of additional multimedia buttons across the top of the keyboard.
The Pro featured a comprehensive set of multimedia buttons along the top.
Even though Microsoft introduced the Natural Multimedia Keyboard, it really didn’t offer any new features, so I continued to use Natural Keyboard Pro and the Natural Keyboard Elite until 2005, when I purchased the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, shown in Figure D. This version came only in black and featured a leatherette wrist rest. The multimedia buttons along the top were more streamlined and other nice features were added, such as the Zoom control in the center and the Back and Forward buttons between the wrist rest panels.
The 4000 was black and featured a leatherette wrist rest.
The Sculpt Ergonomic keyboard
As I mentioned, the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop system isn’t new and has been around since 2013. However, it has been updated with Windows 10 features, which is primarily what I’ll be focusing on in this article.
Even so, I have to begin by saying that the keyboard piece of the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop set is the smallest of Microsoft’s ergonomic keyboards I’ve ever used. It took me a few days to get used to it. However, I soon felt very comfortable typing on this keyboard’s small form. Figure E shows the Sculpt Ergonomic next to the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 for comparison.
The Sculpt Ergonomic is really small when compared to the 4000.
It may be a little hard to see a dramatic size difference here, but the real difference is in how thin the Sculpt Ergonomic is when compared to the 4000. The dimensions of the 4000 are 19.8″W x 10.3″D and the dimensions of the Sculpt Ergonomic are 15.4″W x 8.96″D.
The keyboard is not only smaller, but it is much slimmer than previous versions–yet Microsoft reorganized the layout of this keyboard to include all the familiar standard keys plus a few of the more useful extras.
Of course Microsoft designed this keyboard with its Healthy Computing initiative in mind. In its literature, it describes the Sculpt Ergonomic as follows:
“With advances like the split keyboard–which includes a padded palm rest, palm lift, curved key bed, and a natural arc design–Microsoft offers products that work seamlessly with your body’s natural posture and functions.”
I’ll talk about the mouse and keypad in a moment. For now, let’s examine the Windows function keys that make this keyboard a real extension of Windows 10.
SEE: 10 mechanical keyboards to help make you more productive at work
Windows function keys
Whereas the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 and the Natural Multimedia Keyboard before it provided a separate row of multimedia and specialty buttons across the top of the keyboard, the Sculpt Ergonomic doubles up the function keys, just like a lot of laptop keyboards. The Windows function keys are shown with blue icons while the standard function keys are titled in white. To toggle between the standard function keys and the Windows function keys, the Sculpt Ergonomic provides a slide switch in the top right of the keyboard, as shown in Figure F. Slide it to blue for the Windows function keys and to white for the standard functions keys.
You use this slide switch to toggle between standard function keys and the Windows function keys.
On the Sculpt Ergonomic, the majority of the Windows function keys provide access to Windows 10 features, while the others perform operations we are all familiar with, such as mute and volume controls. Let’s look at only those keys that pertain specifically to Windows 10.
On the left-hand side of the Sculpt Ergonomic keyboard, as shown in Figure G, there are five Windows function keys that pertain to Windows 10.
The left-hand side of the Sculpt Ergonomic features five Windows function keys that pertain to Windows 10.
The Task View key
The Task View key, which shares space with the F2 function key, brings up Windows 10’s Task View screen. Press the key again to close the Task View screen.
Being able to bring up Task View using a Windows function key, rather than clicking an icon on the taskbar, can be more efficient way to switch between tasks, as you can coordinate your efforts–you press the Task View key with your left hand while you quickly target the window you want with the mouse in your right hand.
As an additional benefit, you can remove the Task View icon from the taskbar to make room for other applications you may want to pin to the taskbar.
The Desktop Left & Desktop Right keys
The Desktop Left key, which shares space with the F3 function key, allows you switch to the left desktop when running virtual desktops in Windows 10. The Desktop Right key, which shares space with the F4 function key, allows you switch to the right desktop when running virtual desktops in Windows 10.
When you are using Windows 10’s virtual desktop and have multiple desktops running at the same time, being able to instantly move from one to the next by pressing a Windows function key, rather than the two step operation of brining up Task View and then selecting a desktop thumbnail, is definitely more efficient.
Using these Windows function keys is also much easier than using the Windows key shortcuts: [Windows]+[Ctrl]+[Left/Right Arrow].
The Cortana/Search key
The Cortana/Search key, which shares space with the F5 function key, brings up the Cortana/Search panel.
The benefit of being able to bring up the Cortana/Search panel via a Windows function key is that you can keep your hands on the keyboard and immediately begin typing your search keywords.
As an additional benefit, you can remove the Cortana icon from the taskbar to make room for other applications that you may want to pin to the taskbar.
Of course, if you are using voice recognition via the “Hey Cortana” feature, there really is no need for a Windows function key or an icon on the taskbar for that matter.
The Share key
The Share key, which shares space with the F6 function key, brings up the Share panel.
The benefit of having a Windows function key to bring up this panel is that Share is virtually a hidden feature in most applications. While in the majority of applications the Share feature simply takes a screen shot and allows you to attach it to an email or pass it to OneNote, it can really come in handy.
On the right-hand side of the keyboard, as shown in Figure H, there are two Windows function keys that pertain specifically to Windows 10.
The right-hand side of the Sculpt Ergonomic features two Windows function keys that pertain to Windows 10.
The Connect key
The Connect key, which shares space with the F7 function key, brings up the Connect panel, which is used for the Projecting To This PC feature.
If you are using that feature (which I covered in the article How to use Windows 10’s Projecting To This PC feature to create a wireless multiple-monitor configuration), you’ll find this key to be quite handy, because access to the Connect panel is buried in the Action Center.
The Windows Settings key
The Windows Settings key, which shares space with the F8 function key, brings up the Windows Settings window. This is where you’ll find many, but not all, of Windows 10’s configuration options. (I still would prefer that Microsoft move all the configuration options out of the Control Panel and put them in Windows Settings.)
If you are like most Windows 10 users, you are frequently accessing Windows Settings to change configuration options. And being able to open Windows settings at the press of a single key sure beats accessing the Start menu to click an icon or the pressing the [Windows]+I keystroke.
SEE: Microsoft Ink improvements foreshadow the end of the keyboard and mouse
The Sculpt Ergonomic mouse
The Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse, shown in Figure I, also took a bit of getting used to. Rather than having the oval-like shape of most mice, the Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse has more of a round shape and feels almost like a ball in your hand.
The Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse is rounder than a traditional mouse.
Of course, there is an ergonomic factor involved in this design. According to an illustration in the Quick Start Guide, shown in Figure J, the shape is designed to force you to hold the mouse differently. Rather than covering the mouse with your palm, you are supposed to keep your hand sideways, almost like in a handshake position.
The shape of the Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse is designed to make you hold the mouse differently.
As you can see, the mouse has a Windows button, which seems kind of hokey at first, but I’ve found it to be useful at times. If you prefer not to use it to access the Start menu/screen, you can disable it or configure it for other functions using the Mouse And Keyboard Center.
The Sculpt Ergonomic keypad
Having a separate numeric keypad is really a cool feature. Since you don’t always need the numeric keys, being able to move the keypad off to the side and move the mouse closer to the keyboard is really a nice benefit.
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What’s your take?
Do you use a Microsoft ergonomic keyboard? Are you likely to move up to the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop? Share your experiences with fellow TechRepublic members.