I finally purchased the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, after some months of dawdling as I waited for it to go on sale (what can I say – I’m frugal).
I had already been using an ergonomic keyboard (an old PC Concepts SK-6000), so the transition for me was fairly easy, though the key locations were just enough different to throw me off. After a couple weeks of using the new keyboard, I’d largely adjusted, though still had to look down at the keys more than I’d like. After using it for a few months, the key layout has become second nature.
The impetus for the purchasing the new keyboard was two-fold. First, I wanted to try the reverse slope feature, in which the front of the keyboard is actually higher than the rear, which supposedly results in a more natural wrist position. Secondly, I wanted a second ergonomic keyboard to use with my laptop.
After my previous experience with a Microsoft keyboard (Microsoft Optical Desktop Pro), my expectations weren’t too high. But I was pleasantly surprised. The Optical Desktop Pro keyboard had a very mushy feel, but this one feels perfectly adequate.
The reverse slope feature works for me as well. I had expected some trouble adjusting to this, since it’s so different than the positive slope of most keyboards, but it didn’t take me long to acclimate.
The “extra” keys are functional, for the most part, if not particularly useful. The “Web/Home” key brings up a new browser (Firefox in my case). The “Search” key also brings up a new Firefox window, but doesn’t start a search. The “Mail” key launches (or switches to) my email program (Thunderbird). The “Mute” and volume +/- keys work as advertised. The “Calculator” key does indeed launch the Windows calculator app (lame as that is). And the five “My Favorites” keys, which can be configured to launch user-defined programs, work fine (although I wish the keyboard provided some way to label these). The “Back” and “Forward” keys also work, to move between pages in a web browser.
However, I haven’t been able to get the “play/pause” key to work with a anything except Windows Media Player. Tried it with WinAmp, tried it with Rhapsody, tried it with iTunes, but it didn’t work with any of them. Since I don’t use Media Player unless I have to, that makes this key worthless to me.
Likewise, functionality of the “Zoom” slider was hit-and-miss. It works in Internet Explorer and Opera web browsers, and in applications such as Word, Excel, and Paint Shop Pro, but doesn’t work at all in other applications, such as Thunderbird. In Firefox, it doesn’t zoom in and out, but acts more like a mouse scroll wheel. In other words, this key mostly doesn’t work for me.
All in all, I like this keyboard a lot. Ergonomically, it’s quite excellent. The reverse slope and “gull wing” split key layout does seem to help keep my hands in a good neutral typing position. I also like the integrated leather-like wrist cushion, and the overall look and feel of the keyboard is rather elegant. However, I’m disappointed that the zoom slider isn’t more functional, and that the extra keys are largely superfluous.
I recommend the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 for anyone looking for a solid and attractive ergonomic keyboard.
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