Microsoft’s New Ergonomic Keyboard Feels Good, Looks Good

A product that's been around since 1994 fast-forwards to 2013.

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I’m not exactly the ideal target customer for Microsoft’s new Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop, a wireless keyboard/mouse combo. It’s been about five years since I last used any desktop keyboard regularly, and I prefer touchpads to mice. And even if I did like mice, I couldn’t use the one that comes with the Sculpt Ergonomic: Microsoft says that it’s shaped with wrist comfort in mind, but doesn’t mention that it’s a right-handed mouse and therefore unusable by southpaws such as me who mouse with our left hands.

(Side note: Microsoft announced this product, which assumes everyone’s a righty, on International Left Handers Day. You’re cruel people, northpaws.)

Despite all this, I like the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop — or at least the keyboard part. (It ships this month for $130; the mouse is available separately for $60.) It’s the successor to Microsoft’s Natural Ergonomic Keyboard,¬†a product which has been around, in one form or another, since 1994, and hasn’t changed all that much in that time. Like its predecessors, the Sculpt aims for typing comfort by putting the keys on a graceful wave-shaped surface and divvying them into a left side and a right side, with a gap in the middle.

But the Sculpt Ergonomic is less of a refresh to the previous version and more of a slick 2013 take on the same concept. Unlike its ancestors, it isn’t a space hog: It’s about as compact as it can be, and even breaks the numeric keypad off into a separate wireless doohickey, which you can nudge out of the way when you’re not using it. (Me, I’d just toss it into a drawer.) There’s a row of keys for common Windows 8 tasks — they double as the Function keys — and a two-piece spacebar that lets you choose to use one side as an easy-to-reach backspace.

The Sculpt is also gorgeous, with a thin, swoopy, streamlined design and the same sort of tile keys that nearly all notebooks now sport. The previous versions looked more like something you’d use out of duty, not because you liked having them on your desk.

Keyboards are an intensely personal matter, but I found this one super-comfy, thanks in part to the angle of the keys but also to the soft wrist-rest. It also comes with a magnetic riser that you can optionally snap to the bottom to angle all the keys on a slope, which you might find more pleasing.

As for the mouse, I can’t judge it. For the record, it’s smaller than the previous version (but taller than your average mouse) and includes features to simplify swiping around in Windows 8.

The keyboard, though, is so nice that it reminds me that the keyboards on laptops — let alone iPad keyboard cases — aren’t as pleasing to the fingers and wrists as the best desktop models. In conjunction with the Sculpt Ergonomic’s release, Microsoft conducted a survey of workers about “healthy computing” issues; you probably won’t be surprised to hear that it concludes that people who sit hunched over a portable computer¬†would be better off attaching it to an external display and keyboard and sitting up straight.

Unlike 85 percent of the people who responded to Microsoft’s survey, I don’t feel aches and pains related to my work. But I am tempted to try the Sculpt Ergonomic keyboard, along with a lefty mouse (or an ambidextrous input device) and a big display. Though if I did, I’d have to deal with the fact that my work computer is a MacBook Pro and the Sculpt Ergonomic is meant for Windows users. (Microsoft can’t quite decide if it’s a Mac-friendly product — the box says you need a Windows 7 or Windows 8 PC, but the website mentions Macs along with a disclaimer about reduced functionality.)

Microsoft’s study, incidentally, says that 70 percent of U.S. workers use desktop computers, and another 19 percent use a notebook with an external keyboard and mouse. If we assume that 90 percent of all those people are righties, there are an awful lot of folks who’d probably like the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop.