Microsoft has long made my keyboard of choice, the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. It’s not the greatest keyboard ever by any stretch of the imagination, it’s large, clunky, has a lot of useless keys and the keys themselves are not particular enjoyable to press compared to a Cherry based key. Now, I type a lot, as a developer with projects at work and at home I am constantly interacting with this keyboard (I have the same one on both systems) and I can type for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week on these keyboards without fatigue in my fingers, hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders.
These keyboard though, are becoming increasingly harder to find. Usually when I spot one in the store, like BestBuy I buy multiple, usually buying them out, to ensure I have stock on hand when they wear out. For me, these keyboards last about a year, and I have 2 of them in use for extended periods so I need to have 2 new keyboards a year.
So why can’t I find the keyboards? Well the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 came out in 2005 and has never been updated in any meaningful way, that’s 15 years! I don’t think Microsoft has much production on them now a days and retailers want more universal and common keyboards, meaning it’s rare to find them stocked. So I was excited when Microsoft announced in 2019 that there was a new version, the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard! There was much rejoicing and a pre-order on my part.
Unfortunately right out of the box, I I knew this keyboard wouldn’t work for me. The issues are structural and pretty substantial that would make the switch over from the Natural keyboard difficult. But before we get into that let me call out what I like about the new keyboard.
- The reduced size and weight is nice. It’s easier to fit onto a desk and maneuver around.
- Removal of the buttons and indicators in the middle of the palm rest, removal of the scroll/zoom up and down in the middle of the keyboard, removal of the favorites button. This are all addition by subtraction and the only time I’ve ever interacted with those buttons is by accident.
- Key are quieter and easer to press then the 4000, the spacebar especially is much easier and quieter to interact with.
- The increase key width of the bottom row in line with the keyboard, when I press those buttons it’s usually with my thumb or pinky finger and that makes it easer to hit.
- Overall build quality, the keyboard is well built, and doesn’t jitter when moving it around and placing on the desk is firm.
Now on to the things I dislike about the keyboard and why it won’t be replacing my venerable Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000.
- There is no space, or offset between the number keys at the top of the keyboard and the function keys, the space between the number row and the function key row is the same as between the “Q” key row and “A” key row. This causes me frequently to overreach the number keys and press the function keys instead.
- The special buttons, like the “Menu\Options” button next to the Left Ctrl key are compressing the size of both Alt and the left Ctrl key. This means your are much more likely to press that Menu\Context key instead of Left Ctrl (which is smaller) as a result.
- The left side Caps Lock and Shift key size and placement is smaller and uniform, whereas on the 4000 keyboard the Caps Lock key has an indent on the right most side allowing for tactile identification of the key.
- There are no feet on the back of the keyboard to raise it up. This prevents a level of customizability for comfort that exists on the 4000. For me, I always have it raised as shortens the gap between the top of the keyboard and my wrists resulting in a more natural feeling typing position. I found that with the new keyboard I was much more likely to raise my palms off of the pad.
I really hope Microsoft keeps working and updating the design of the new keyboards, otherwise it’ll be another 5 years before the patent is expired for people like myself to get some decent, modern keyboards of this design. In the mean time, I’ll be looking at testing out other ergonomic keyboards as well, unfortunately the price point is the killer here, a Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 is at most $50 and I usually find them for around $29 in stores (when they are in stock). That is a really nice price to pay for a ergonomic keyboard. Other options out there are well into the hundreds of dollars.