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Ergonomic Gear For A Better Life

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

For a hunt-and-peck typist, a split in the keybed is torture. The alignment you’re used to vanishes and you find yourself both staring down at the keyboard (bad for the neck) and either supinating (twisting out) the wrist or lifting your hands off the keyboard to see what you’re doing, which is even worse. It sucks. You almost have to be a touch typist to use a split design. So if you want the ergonomic benefits of a superior keyboard, the time to learn how to touch type is now.

The Desktop 7000 represents Microsoft’s latest spin on the old Natural design, and it combines the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 with the new Wireless Laser Mouse 5000 (covered later in this article). Now 15 years old, Microsoft’s split design needs little additional introduction. However, the profile of the keybed viewed from its bottom edge resembles a shallow bell curve, with the split sitting at the curve’s peak. This serves to reduce forearm pronation. It also serves to inhibit hand crossover even more than a flat split design does, as found in the 5000, and can increase the time needed to adapt to the model.

“Regarding learning the Natural keyboard, for most people, [learning] happens quickly. A recent study found that people learning the Natural keyboard got their typing speed within 5% of their normal typing rate within five trials,” Dan Odell, Microsoft’s ergonomist, said. “Our internal studies have shown that it can take a little longer to get used to the feel, but this happens within two weeks for most people. We also find that people whose typing style crosses the center line of the keyboard have a harder time adapting.”

The 4000 keyboard uses a seven-degree reverse slope. This is a bit gentler than the eight to 10 degrees early studies found to be optimal and no doubt reflects some market study results Microsoft obtained. I prefer the softer padding of the 4000's wrist rest and the way it molds to curve the palm of your hands. It’s probably the most comfortable integrated wrist rest I’ve ever used. In addition to the usual flip-down lifters, there’s an included curved elevator bar that snaps onto the bottom of the keyboard to lift the wrist rest a couple of inches. This bar feels flimsy, but it’s perfectly functional. I dislike detachable pieces in general and probably would have preferred a multiple-size foot arrangement, as Logitech did, with one set in front and another in the back. But Microsoft’s answer is fine, as well.

At first, I was curious about Microsoft’s choice to put a zoom lever in the middle of the keyboard split as well as Back and Forward buttons in the center below the space bar and just out of thumb reach. I’m used to seeing these functions on my mice. But the reason was obvious once I thought about it. These are three of the most common function buttons. Why have a user move his or her hand a foot or more, using essentially the whole arm, when a slight twist of the wrist can access the same functions? Ergonomically, it makes total sense.

While there was no unanimous feeling among my touch-typing helpers, the 4000 keyboard emerged as the group favorite. It seemed to strike the most popular balance between low learning curve, best typing accuracy, and most comfort.

  • Luscious
    I'm quite surprised your focus is on ergonomics yet you haven't mentioned anything at all about trackballs. I've been using a Logitech Track Man Wheel for close to 4 years paired with my notebook. They have many advantages over mice, not the least being ergonomically superior.
    Reply
  • ryanegeiger
    I agree... what about trackballs?
    Reply
  • Supertrek32
    I've been using the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 for a few years now and must say that I love it. Very comfortable. I also reprogrammed the back/forward buttons to control media player (via Microsoft's intellitype software), which is incredibly hand for someone like me who has a large music collection and might not be in the mood for a certain genre one day.
    Reply
  • IzzyCraft
    ryanegeigerI agree... what about trackballs?trackballs are perfect for work only situations esp with limited desk space.
    Reply
  • ddrcoder
    I've used a Kinesis for years (I'm typing this with one right now), and I must say they're the best keyboards ever made. I've found that they relieved stress in my hands/wrists. I recommended them to a friend who couldn't touch type and as he got used to the keyboard, he quickly learned. He can now type at 60WPM, I can type at 100WPM.

    -Tom
    Reply
  • Trackballs, why have they been blackballed? Everyone I loan my spare, I have three new ones just in case they stop selling them, Logitech mouse man marble to they immediately buy one for themselves.
    My friend has CTS and cannot use a regular mouse with one hand because of the strain, trackball fixed him right up. Not only are they friendlier on the wrist the require vastly less desk space, they are easier to control and for precision work nothing beats a trackball.

    My Gaming (counterstrike: source, UT2004, UT3, half life, team fortress, day of defeat,etc) buddies all have crazy expensive uber dpi programmable gaming mice that have lasers, and my 20$ trackball whips 'em every time. Why? no wasted movement, my arm is completely stationary when mousing, my fingers can keep the ball fluid and moving in one direction without having to lift it up, move it ove,r set it down, and continue mousing, one quick flick of the finger and the ball goes spinning in the desired direction, all while my arm is relaxed and stationary.

    They are in fact perfect in play situations too.
    How about some trackball love?
    Reply
  • coconutboy
    I like these kinds of articles. Currently I own a logitech MX Revolution, it's my ~5th logi mouse (I also own a cordless logitech trackball), but really all these have just been because I couldn't find anything better including the gazillion specialized ergo mice on the market. I just wish someone would make an upright/joystick-like mouse that also includes-

    a trackball
    scroll wheel or similar device
    4 buttons minimum (5+ preferred) that users can define as forward/back/whatever.

    I've tried many mice including the 3M joystick, Zero Tension Mouse and Evoluent upright. Those were somewhat better in terms of comfort but sacrificed buttons/functionality. As a result my last 4 or so mice have all been Logitech with my current being the MX Revolution but that's because of the extra buttons and its awesome scroll wheel, NOT the comfort which is just average.

    William Van WinkleI was able to try out Logitech’s MK605 notebook kit ($100)... The keyboard and mouse are okay, and they are decently compact for travel, but I wish the stand were available separately.
    The stand can be purchased individually for $30. Linkage-

    http://www.logitech.com/index.cfm/notebook_products/stands/devices/5494&cl=us,en
    Reply
  • williamvw
    The stand can be purchased individually for $30. Linkage-http://www.logitech.com/index.cfm/ 4&cl=us,en
    Oh, bonus! Thanks for pointing that out, coconutboy. Again -- highly recommended.
    Reply
  • tapeglue
    Less known help for wrist pain can be a computer armrest. I have been using one called Restman 1 for a few months now and it indeed makes me forget about my wrist problem. I got it from http://restmans.myshopify.com/products/restman-1.
    Reply
  • trifler
    I find that mice with higher dpi allow me to turn up the speed without losing any of the control. This greatly reduces the amount of necessary wrist movement to use a mouse. Therefore, I actually choose the Logitech G500 (5700dpi) for ergonomic reasons rather than for gaming reasons.
    Reply