Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000I 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.

Other reviews for the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000:

Randy Rasa

Randy is an engineer/programmer/web designer who has suffered from repetitive strain injury off and on for over a decade.

13 Comments:

  1. Same problem here. The keyboards buttons seem locked to Windows Media Player. It almost makes me question returning the keyboard.

  2. Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 is by far the best computer keyboard that I would recommend to any serious “typist”. I programmed a lot and this keyboard really makes a difference.

  3. Just go into Tools>Options>File Types in WMP and make sure it isn’t set as the default audio player for CD Audio (I unchecked everything just to be safe). That will allow the play/pause button to work with whatever audio program you have open, and it will not launch WMP.

  4. I also use the 4000 and Thunderbird as my browser. The zoom slider doesn’t zoom but does scroll up and down like the mouse wheel which for me is probably more useful than the zoom feature. I still say this keyboard is one of the best I’ve used. If you hold down the CTRL key and roll your mouse wheel, your webpage will zoom in and out (just like the zoom slider does in Internet Explorer) so the missing zoom slider is not that big a deal.

  5. brad — thanks, I was just cursing the lack of apparent support for other players. Works like a charm! Now the only problem is the stupid installer that won’t let one install only the keyboard software but insists on istalling the mouse software also. Thankfully it can be uninstalled separately so that I get to use my Logitech Marble Mouse.

  6. One exception to my previous comment: play/pause still doesn’t work when iTunes is minimized… go figure.

  7. Hi–

    I just bought one of these keyboards myself, and while I like the ergonomic shape, I am a bit disappointed with the build of the keys. They do not feel much different from the ones on the generic keyboards. The issue is particularly acute with the space-bar, which requires “re-training” the thumbs to extend a bit further and hit right in the centre for the key-press to register.

    Other than this, the keyboard is great. For once, I am finding the extra keys to be useful — I have re-mapped one of the custom keys to open Windows Explorer and another to launch the command prompt.

    Regarding the zoom slider, you may already have figured out that it can be re-programmed by editing the configuration file manually, but just in case you have not, take a look in the “commands.xml” file.

    Good luck with your RSI!

    Eddy

  8. I have just bought this keyboard – how do I get it installed to use with a Logitech mouse?

  9. I like this keyboard, but on my first PC when I hit, say the search button, it would open Google in a new browser window whereas now it is overwriting my current browser window. I have tried using target=”_blank” in the shortcut properties but can’t get it to work for me – anybody know solution to this?

  10. Had a play and have come up with the following work around;

    use a macro editer program to create hotkey macro’s fo send [Ctrl+Enter] Forward [Ctrl+l] Reply [Ctrl+r] and Close [Ctrl+w]

    These are exported as playable macros which can then be assigned to the relevent mail key giving the keyboards email functionality to Thunderbird

    Macros can be created to do pretty much what ever you want and assigned to whichever special key you choose.

    Only down side is I hven’t found a totally free macro program, tested the theaory with a trial copy of Macro Express and it all works fine. at a one off purchase price of $39 I am personally going to splash out as I both want the functionality to work but also I have thought of a zillion extra uses for macros.

    sorry to repspond to a blog from last year but thought it may be useful.

  11. As someone who suffers major RSI, I love this keyboard; I’ve been using mine for nearly a year now.

    However, I have a new problem. The thing is sooo wide that I have to hold my arm unnaturally far to the right to use my mouse, and this has caused new chronic shoulder pain.

    Why oh why can’t they put that damned number pad on the LEFT side (or better yet, make it detachable so you can put it wherever you want)?

  12. I’ve found for repetitive strain injury there is exactly one keyboard that solves the real problem of excessive force required to operate individual keys:
    http://www.specialneedscomputers.ca/kb-100tkb.htm
    Zero force: touch the key and it registers. Costs more than an ordinary keyboard, but compared to a new pair of hands, it is as yet literally infinitely cheaper.

  13. It does feel a lot different. And it seems to slow down my typing. I wish the keys were easier to press down.

    L, http://www.uniquechicjewelry.com

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