Lauren Goode

Microsoft’s Sculpt Keyboard Makes Ergonomic Desktops Cool

Our keyboards are killing us.

Okay, not really. But if you sit and type at a desk for hours, you might very well feel aches and pains at the end of a long workday.

A recent survey conducted by Microsoft showed that more than 85 percent of workers complain of discomfort at work. The top three reasons cited for this discomfort? Sitting at a desk all day, staring at a computer screen and typing. Over time, these unhealthy repetitive motions can lead to more serious issues.

With this in mind, Microsoft has just released its newest ergonomic keyboard and mouse set, called the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. Microsoft has been making a line of ergonomic products for nearly 20 years; its “Natural” keyboard is considered by many to be the leading ergonomic keyboard.

At $130, the Sculpt keyboard and mouse bundle is slightly pricier than the previous set, the Natural Ergonomic Desktop 7000, but the Sculpt has a brand-new look that might make it worth the upgrade for ergonomics fans.

Separately, the Sculpt keyboard will sell for $80, and the mouse will sell for $60. The keyboard uses two AAA batteries, while the mouse takes two AAs. They connect wirelessly to your computer or laptop via a tiny transceiver plugged into the USB port of your computer.

The Sculpt's project code name was "manta ray," due to its likeness to the flattened fish

The Sculpt’s project code name was “manta ray,” due to its likeness to the flattened fish

The set is optimized for PCs running Windows, but also works with Mac computers. I’ve been using the plastic Sculpt keyboard and mouse for the past week and a half, connecting both devices to my 15-inch Mac laptop.

It should be noted that my current desk area at home is, quite possibly, the least ergonomic setup ever. Most days I’m hunched over a laptop on a small desk while seated in a sagging, fold-up director’s chair. (“Oh no, not one of those!” an ergonomics expert said when I consulted him for this column.)

Such is life in a small New York City apartment.

In researching other ergonomic keyboards, I found surprisingly few keyboards that, like the Sculpt, can claim to be both ergonomic and stylish while not breaking the bank. Logitech has offered some popular ergonomic keyboards in the past, but hasn’t introduced a new one in a while. A company called Truly Ergonomic makes a keyboard of the same name — but it costs almost $250 dollars. The Kinesis Advantage keyboard costs $299.

The Sculpt has flat, Chiclet-style keys.

The Sculpt has flat, Chiclet-style keys.

Kinesis does have a new ergonomic keyboard called the Freestyle2 that comes close to the same price point as the Sculpt — $109 for the basic model and $129 for a slightly different configuration — and comes in both Mac and PC models.

Like the Sculpt, it has a split design (split keyboards like this are supposed to help keep your hands aligned with your shoulders and elbows, for a more natural typing position). The bulkier Kinesis keyboard actually has two separate “wings,” one for each hand, whereas the Sculpt has a split down the middle but it’s still all one piece.

The split in the Sculpt comes down to the space bar. Below that, there’s a soft cushion that acts as a palm rest. It’s wider than most standard keyboards, but not as clunky or utilitarian-feeling as some other specialty keyboards.

ErgoSidebar

Instead, it’s thin and light, with chiclet-style keys and a nice, mellow curve to it, rising up toward the split in the middle and allowing for a more natural position of the hands. Microsoft’s pre-release, internal name for this new keyboard was manta ray, and in looking at it, you can easily see why.

If the keyboard was code-named “manta ray,” the round, bulbous, right-handed Sculpt mouse might have very well been nicknamed “fat hamster,” because that’s what it looks like. A round mouse, Microsoft says, is more comfortable because your hand can rest gently on top of it, taking the strain off your wrist. (If your palm is resting behind the mouse, with your wrist bent back and your fingers curling over the top of the mouse, you’re doing it wrong, experts say.)

As fat as the mouse seemed to me at first, I liked using it. My hands and wrists felt a heck of a lot better than they normally do fighting for space on my laptop keyboard and trackpad. The mouse also has a button that takes you to the Windows 8 Start menu with one tap, provided you’re using a machine that’s running that operating system.

The Sculpt mouse has a designated Windows 8 button, for quick access to the OS's start menu.

The Sculpt mouse has a designated Windows 8 button, for quick access to the OS’s start menu.


And the keyboard comes with a separate, unattached number pad to give the other keys the full real estate of the keyboard (there’s also a number row at the top of the keyboard, per usual). I barely used the pad, but having a separate num-pad leaves more space for the rest of the keys. It can also be a handy tool for business users, accountants and other people who regularly crunch numbers.

My one gripe about the Sculpt is that there are no lights — anywhere. The keys aren’t backlit, and there are no indicator lights, such as a caps-lock light, a wireless-connectivity signal, or a battery gauge. In keeping with my trend of working in a less-than-comfortable environment, I often write late at night, in a dimly lit space, and have come to rather like backlit keys. (For what it’s worth, the new Kinesis model has indicator lights, as well as a couple additional USB ports thrown into the keyboard.)

The Sculpt keyboard comes with a separate number pad.

The Sculpt keyboard comes with a separate number pad.

Still, by the end of the week I was wondering where the Microsoft Sculpt keyboard had been all my computing life. Not only did I feel slightly less strained in my wrist and shoulders, but the keyboard, frankly, wasn’t ugly. It’s not the kind of keyboard you’d be ashamed to pair up with your new Ultrabook, your sleek MacBook Air or your high-tech, multiscreen desktop computer system.

So, if you’re in the market for a new ergonomic keyboard, I can recommend the Sculpt as a solid option.

Now, I just need to address that back-destroying director’s chair.


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