Two days with an ergonomic keyboard

Shortly before pressing the send button to submit my comprehensive exam I started to feel my wrists start to twinge. Figuring that this was related to typing 41 pages of text (+ blog posts!) in a little less than a month, I trotted off to see my nurse practitioner who advised me to re-think my ergonomic setup for typing.

After browsing through some keyboard and mouse options at Staples, I decided to give the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop set a try. It was a decent price and it was available in store – I wanted something I could use for my writing this weekend.  The set from Microsoft includes a keyboard, a mouse, and, to my delight, a number pad.

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I have been using it at home for about two days now and I have to admit being pleasantly surprised by the keyboard. They didn’t have a demo version of the keyboard in store, so when I pulled the keyboard out of box my first thought was “How do you type on that?!” The keyboard is both split and curved to put your hands in a more comfortable position for reaching the keys. I have found that this layout definitely prevents me from stretching my hand way across the keyboard to reach a key on the opposite side.

The second strange thing about the keyboard is that the keys at the middle of the board are all different sizes. N is the largest at about twice the size of a normal keyboard key. T and H are similar sizes and slightly smaller than N. Y is still bigger than on a normal keyboard, while B is a normal sized key. I can’t begin to fathom what system they used to work out the sizes. Other keys that are plus sized include: Control, Windows, Shift, Delete and the Space Bar, which is also divided in half. Despite all the over sized keys, the learning curve was smaller than I imagined – it only took be two or three tries before I was able to type passwords as quickly as normal, though I’m still not typing with my usual accuracy.

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What’s up with these key sizes?

The last strange part of the keyboard is that it comes with a stand that raises the side of the keyboard closest to you, putting your hands at a slight downward angle. From what I have read, this is good practice for keeping your wrists straighter, and I admit that I am finding it quite comfortable. The stand is quite tall, more than a couple of centimeters, but it also detaches if you can’t get used to having you hands up in the air.

So far there are two things I have found really annoying about the keyboard. First, the sloping arrangement of the keyboard means that I often unintentionally hit the Caps Lock key. Second, there is no indicator light on the keyboard to show that Caps Lock is turned on. More than once in the last two days I have found myself talking to the computer (“Yes, I AM sure that is my password”) only to eventually realize that Caps Lock has been turned on.

I would note, the keyboard is really best suited for someone who types well. If you are someone who hunts for keys or types with two fingers, I doubt the keyboard would keep your hands in the correct position. Then again, perhaps people who use the two finger typing approach don’t have twinges in their wrists!

The number pad is my favourite part, since I work with quite a lot of data. There isn’t really anything special about it (no weird angles or abnormally sized keys), I just appreciate that it was included. By making it separate from the rest of the keyboard Microsoft made it possible to set the number pad aside and out of the way until I needed it. My old keyboard had the number pad attached and I always felt like I was a bit off center, or else fighting for desk real estate with my mouse.

The mouse is by far the weirdest part of this keyboard set – it feels enormous. You can see my HIV Giant Microbe and my old Logitech mouse for scale. I think Microsoft’s idea was to make the mouse so big that it would be difficult to rest your whole wrist on the desk while you moved it around. I do find that my wrist position is better when I am actively thinking about it, but, only two days in I am still forgetting and getting my wrist into strange positions. From watching videos online I gather that the side of my hand should rest on the desk so that my wrist stays in line – this is a very different position than I am used to.

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The Sculpt Mouse is in the middle. Its substantially rounder than my old Logitech mouse on the left.

The handy features on the mouse are a back button, and start menu button. Still I think that using the mouse will be the biggest hurdle – it still feels very awkward in my hand and awkward to move around the desk.

I haven’t tried one of the more expensive ergonomic keyboards so I can’t really compare to anything but a regular wireless keyboard. I do love that everything is wireless and connects to a single USB dongle. Now I have an extra USB port to play with!  I can’t really speak to whether my wrists feel better yet, but I am willing to give the whole set up a longer try.

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