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Ergonomic Gear For A Better Life

Microsoft Wireless Comfort Keyboard 5000

Our article from earlier this week about the causes of technology-related pain should've convinced most of us that no solution is a perfect one for our bodies. We thus have to find the best compromises among different solutions. On that note, let’s turn to products from the ergonomic keyboard leader, Microsoft.

Ever since high school, I’ve been a 35 word-per-minute, hunt-and-peck typist. This regrettable fact led me to enlist the help of several other people, all of whom are faster touch typists, in assessing the following keyboard products.

Microsoft sent two keyboard/mouse combinations for review: the forthcoming Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000 ($80) and the Natural Ergonomic Desktop 7000 ($120). The 5000 keyboard uses (to borrow Logitech’s term) a “wave” keybed design, with the main keyboard arranged along a gentle, smile-like curve. Officially, Microsoft calls this the Comfort Curve. Because of the curve, the keys near the center of the bed (G, H, B, and N most of all) are longer than keys near the left and right edges. In effect, the purpose of the design is to prevent ulnar deviation, just as a split design does, only the wave avoids having a split. Again, this is a compromise. A true split allows for even less ulnar deviation, but when it comes to ergonomics, every degree counts, while “hunt” typists like me can adapt to a wave design much more easily than a true split.

I’m not terribly interested in all of the 5000's macro and function keys, although the low-battery indicator is cool. I’m more interested in the unit’s rubber, textured wrist rest. I generally prefer soft wrist rests, and the 5000's is very firm, almost as hard as plastic. But the texture helps to keep your hands from sliding across the rest surface, so you stay centered and don’t have to expend shoulder or upper arm effort in repositioning all the time. I also found the steep taper of the rest to be more comfortable than I expected.

The 5000 also integrates a great feature for preventing wrist extension. You’re familiar with how nearly all keyboards feature feet near the top of the underside. If you flip the feet down, the top of the keyboard stands taller than the bottom. But not every user/desk configuration benefits from this orientation. Microsoft designed the rubberized feet in the 5000 to twist and snap out, then snap back into matching holes near the bottom of the underside, thus elevating the area under your palms. If you have a relatively low desk or a high chair, or (as my mother-in-law does), if you’re particularly susceptible to pain from wrist extension, then this bottom elevation can help keep you neutral and reduce strain.

Overall, there’s some ergonomic benefit to the 5000 keyboard. You may have to endure an adjustment period to train your fingers on the variable-sized keys, but the advantages over a standard straight keyboard will be worth a few hours of conditioning.