Sunday, January 1, 2017

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Review

Review: Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard L5V-00001

Some people love ergo keyboards while others loathe.  I am in the "willing to give them another try camp."  Microsoft's latest attempt is the "Sculpt" Ergonomic keyboard and mouse.  This is a great looking product with many thoughtful features and it is less bulky than others.  The keyboard is an artistic statement, worthy of being at your desk.  


The keyboard is sold with (or without) a mouse for around $100 ($85 mail order - mouse'd version).  Buy the mouse'd version for several reasons, but the mouse does have reservations, described below. 

 
The Good:
  • Beautifully designed.  Good ergonomics.
  • Good key travel for the main keys
  • Keys are firm, not mushy. Keys have resistance. Better than all laptops.  Better than most desktop keyboards.  Keys use a scissor spring and a rubber pad.
  • Large backspace and shift keys
  • Palm-rest; nice texture; firm 
  • Keyboard is weighted and heavy (dense); will not slide on desk
  • Separate numeric keypad is a brilliant idea
  • Wireless traffic is encrypted and uniquely tied to the USB dongle
     
The Bad:
  • PFKey and ESC keys are "chicklets," with a distinctly different feel
  • No function Fn key (to switch between PFkey/Hardware controls, see text below), but you can choose how the keys behave.
  • The palm rest is not replaceable and easily soils 
  • The mouse is less accurate than a wired or other wireless mice; you may not notice this.
     
The Interesting:
  • The mouse is yuuge but surprisingly comfortable.  I have grown to like it (but have later discovered it is less accurate than a wired mouse - unclear why)
  • The keyboard arch is subtle
  • Some keys are larger than others (T, G, 7, H, N, Del). This is a nice touch.
  • Home, End, and page keys follow new laptop standards (see text below)
  • No keyboard indicator for caps lock, num or scroll lock; but does display onscreen

Ergo Keyboards in General:

The keyboard should only be bought if you are a touch typist,
It will take several days of steady typing to learn the new layout. Nothing you won't be able to handle.

The right-hand "pinky" keys, such as the hyphen and backspace, seem to be in a different position from a standard keyboard.  Measuring will show they are exactly the same location and distance as always, but because of the arc of the keyboard it "feels different." This takes time to get used to.

Your fingers will miss landing on the home-row - your hands are spread more and will not arrive at the starting position without glancing at your fingers.  Practice solves this.

Four-month update:  Still struggling with the backspace and delete keys.  The Backspace literally in the same position as any other keyboard, but the feel seems different.  I have yet to train my right hand to accurately find the large delete key.  Finding the home row J-key still feels weird and I miss it often.  My problem is switching between a standard keyboard at the office and at home.


Key Changes:

The Page-up, Home/End keys and arrow keys are in a different position when compared to a  101-keyboard or with many laptops.

For example, compare Microsoft's Home/End layout compared to an older laptop:

Click for larger view


All laptop vendors have played around with key positions for years, with no agreed-upon standard.

I have noticed new Lenovo and other brands are using this new design.  But there are notable exceptions: Both Apple desktops and laptops are either lacking these keys or they are in the older positions (Apple never understood the need for dedicated keys - those poor Apple users).  HP and Dell's newest top-line laptops are also missing these keys.  (Dell lost my long-time and recent laptop business because of this.  See Keyliner Yoga 900 Review.)

Microsoft is clearly tying to make a desktop and laptop experience more consistent.  Moving between the two machine's keyboards should be easier, provided both have the same pattern.  But years with the old design makes for hard-to-break habits.  Gritting my teeth, I have decided this is for the best.


PF Keys:

The main keys on the keyboard and number pad feel good.  Good travel, not mushy, with tactile feedback, and quiet.  The keycaps have a slight downward sculpt or cup, helping your fingers to find the center of the key, but the keys are still relatively flat.  Compare this with most laptop's flat keycap profile.

The PF keys are a different beast.  They are "chicklet" keys -- hard keys with a mechanical click (thunk) when pressed. They feel cheaply made.  If Microsoft did this to give differing feedback, they succeeded.

By default, the PF-keys act as hardware keys, adjusting desktop settings, speaker volume, contrast, etc.  On the far-right is a mechanical slide switch, which changes them to standard PF keys - which I recommend.  Because there is no laptop-style "Fn" key, you can't easily flip between the functions.  Practically speaking, you will set the slide-switch once and will never touch it again. 


Mouse:

I was reluctant to buy this keyboard because the mouse was so large and ungainly and it gets tepid reviews, even on Microsoft's site.  But one reviewer's comments were right on:


A picture about the mouse is worth a thousand words.  Once I learned this, I understood the mouse:




In the end, I was surprised; this mouse is noticeably more comfortable than any other mouse or trackpad I have used.

If you have an existing wireless mouse, abandon it and use the new mouse. Two reasons: 
  • The mouse is comfortable.  You will be surprised.  
  • The USB transmitter/dongle handles the keyboard, number pad and mouse. No sense taking up another USB port for a second transmitter for a different mouse.
 
The mouse is a basic two-button mouse with a four-directional scroll wheel (scrolling up and down -- and leaning left and right; a feature people seldom use). 



But there are two hidden buttons.  The blue windows logo is a "Start Menu" button, and hidden on the thumb-side, is a fourth button that defaults to a "browser back" key.  I didn't even know this fourth button existed until I downloaded the drivers and looked in the Mouse control panel.

Mercifully, the extra buttons are out of the way and won't be accidentally pressed.  For those who remember the "magnifier" bug with earlier 3 and 4 button mice, you won't have that problem here.

I have found this particular wireless mouse is less accurate than wired mice. 

I find I am subtly overshooting or undershooting the intended target, and often have to orbit pixels.  Definitely not a problem with a wired mouse.   It turns out this problem is well-known in gaming circles. 

Not all wireless mice have this problem.  Because this mouse is encrypted, I suspect it takes it longer to calculate the position. The effect is barely detectable, but it noticeable if you are skilled; especially in drawing programs.  The encryption cannot be disabled so there is no way to test this hypothesis.

I have abandoned the mouse, but kept the reviewed keyboard.


External Number Pad:

Having a separate number pad has been a revelation.  It can move to any comfortable location.  If you have a lot of numbers to type, move it closer to the keyboard; if not, move it out of the way, bringing the mouse closer.  This speeds up typing, with less hand movement.  All number pads should be like this.


The only thing wrong with the number pad is it is missing a tab-key.  Of course, no number pads have them -- but I can dream.


USB Dongle:

As of this writing, the USB transmitter (the "dongle") is larger than normal, making useful for desktops only - which is more-or-less assumed because the large mouse would never travel with a laptop (See this laptop mouse review:  Logitech Ultrathin).  Microsoft often changes the dongle's size in later models and this dongle is smaller than the first iteration.


The dongle, which can be stored in the mouse's battery compartment, is not replaceable.  If lost, the keyboard, mouse and number pad are worthless.  This is no different than any other USB wireless mouse.

The dongle is 128-bit encrypted; this means your keyboard traffic cannot be intercepted.  Each dongle is uniquely paired to its keyboard.  This is another reason Microsoft cannot, and will not, replace lost dongles.

My desktop is abnormal because it is about 5 feet away, hiding underneath another desk.  Because of this, the transmitter would occasionally hesitate or sputter.  I fixed this with a USB extension cable and the transmitter now rests behind the monitors.  I doubt you will have this problem, but I mention this idea in case it helps you.

Batteries:

With good reasons and different needs, the keyboard, external number pad, and mouse all use different batteries.

Keyboard uses 2 AAA
Mouse uses 2 AA  (a larger battery; larger power needs)
Numeric Pad uses a CR button battery

Of the three components, only the mouse has a on/off power switch and I never turn it off.  If my experience is similar to other Microsoft mice, this two-battery-mouse should last for six months to a year.  The keyboard and number pad draw no real power when idled and I expect longer life. 

I will return to this article and update the battery life observations.


Palm Rest:

The palm rest is comfortable and is made with a rubberized and slightly textured material.  After just a few day's use, it already shows wear.  Time will tell how durable this is.  Periodic cleaning is a must.  The pad is not removable nor is it replaceable.  I do not have high hopes for this.


Software Installation:

With Windows 10, insert the USB dongle, turn on the mouse's power switch and you are ready to go.  No software to install, nothing to setup.  Even the hardware PFKeys (speaker volume, etc.), all work as hoped.  This may be because I had previously used a wireless Microsoft mouse.

I recommend downloading the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center software (the driver), which changes how the mouse keyboard control panels behave.  I ran without these drivers for a week with no ill-effect before I realized a driver was available.

Driver Download:  https://www.microsoft.com/accessories/en-ca/d/sculpt-ergonomic-desktop


Design Wishes for Microsoft:

- I wish the keyboard held 4 AAA batteries - one less thing to worry about.
- Replaceable palm rest.  Would like to order a new one when too dirty to clean.
- A tab-key on the number pad! 
- Softer touch on the PF-Keys.  (Dear Microsoft, I use these keys every day)
- An all white keyboard would be awesome


I am not a fan of ergonomic keyboards, having tried and abandoned them in the past.  But I was in need of a new keyboard, and wanted to get rid of some wires.  Prior to this, I was entertaining a new mechanical keyboard, one with cherry-switches.  I still miss mechanical keyboards, but this keyboard has a reasonable feel - better than most, and it is attractive.   

I have been pleased with this new keyboard and would like a second one for the office. 

Related articles:
Logitech Ultra Thin Mouse
Keyliner Yoga 900 Review.

Related Links:
Unicomp Buckling Spring Keyboards - a favorite

1 comment:

  1. Have you ever encountered any issued with the button under the windows button on the mouse, because for me all of a sudden it decided not to work

    ReplyDelete

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