Microsoft this month began shipping a new keyboard and mouse set called the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. As its name suggests, it includes an ergonomically friendly keyboard and mouse, but unlike some of the firm's past efforts, this one appears to actually conform to known-good ergonomic principles.
Microsoft offers a variety of pseudo-ergonomic products that you might safely ignore, like the Sculpt Comfort keyboard (and Desktop, which includes a mouse) and the Wireless Comfort keyboard 5000 (and Desktop, which likewise includes a mouse). These products are nothing more than slightly curved versions of flat keyboards and should be avoided. There's nothing ergonomic about them.
If you want reasonable ergonomic benefits, the needs are clear. For the keyboard, you're looking for a split design with an arch and an elevated wrist rest. The mouse needs to be as big as possible. And while results differ, in my own experience anything less results in ongoing pain on the tops of my hands.
Fortunately, Microsoft has long sold at least one excellent keyboard and mouse, and by switching to these devices, I've eliminated any hand pain and prolonged my ability to get work done. In recent years, the best and only Microsoft products that met these needs were the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 and the BlueTrack version of the Explorer Mouse, which is no longer available. I feel so strongly about these things that I've stockpiled extras. And in the case of the Explorer Mouse, they're hard to find now at reasonable prices: The Amazon pricing, $120, is twice the normal retail price and about three times the actual street price of that mouse.
So I've naturally (ahem) been a bit nervous about the future, from a keyboard and mouse perspective. Watching Microsoft pump out a bunch of tiny and un-ergonomic devices, plus a handful of ergonomic-in-name-only devices, over the past few years hasn't inspired much confidence.
And then the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop arrived. This package, which consists of a Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard (with separate number pad) and a Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse, gives me hope for the future, especially the keyboard bit.
While it looks odd at first blush, with a weird missing chunk taken out of the middle, in the keyboard split area, the keyboard actually follows the design of my beloved Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. In fact, if you lay the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard on top of the 4000, you'll see that they're basically the same.
(OK, not completely the same: Some keys, like the Home/End/Delete and related keys have been moved for space reasons, which is a bit tough on the muscle memory. I can adapt.)
The Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard uses "soft-touch keys," not the full-action-type keys on the 4000, but they're blessedly full-sized and work like a superior, ergonomic version of an island-style keyboard like you see on modern Ultrabooks. I was a bit worried looking at it, but the keyboard works very well. I can work on this thing.
I like, too, that the number pad is separate. Few people use that thing anyway, and while I can rock and roll thanks to a decade in banking, removing this from my keyboard tray saves valuable space. And now the mouse pad fits without hanging off the edge.
The Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse is more oddball and I'm not sure if its design will hold up for me in use. It's a weird baseball-shaped (and –sized) device that is taller but not as deep as the Explorer Mouse I'm so used to. I will keep trying, but here's something I can't explain: In just a few hours of use, I dumped this things on the ground three times, and almost did so several more times. I just keep swatting it by mistake. I've never done that to a mouse before and cannot explain this.
From a build perspective both of these things are rock-solid and not cheap. I like that there are no breakable latches anywhere and that all battery compartment doors and the keyboard lift are held on only by magnets. That system works well. I'm a bit nervous about relying on batteries for both the keyboard and mouse—the 4000 is a relic, wired device that I love—but the high quality here may help me make that transition.
So far, so good. I'll be using this as my daily driver going forward and will report back with a full review soon. In the meantime, here are some more photos.