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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.

William Van Winkle is a freelance editor and tech journalist who has been writing for more than 20 years. His work has appeared on Tom's Guide, Tom's Hardware, Tom's IT Pro, AMD, Seagate, Computer Shopper, and more. He is also an author, writing poetry, short stories, and science fiction and fantasy books.