Natural Keyboard Pro, by Microsoft
Posted: 15-June-2001

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Microsoft Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: HARDWARE

You've seen them at trade shows and on TV, and they're touted for being the ergonomically correct style a keyboard should be. They are those funny looking keyboards which look like someone melted a standard keyboard into an arc. They come in a variety of shapes and styles, and this review is on the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro.

The fact is, the arc shape definitely allows my hands to rest on the keyboard in a much more relaxing position. The "Natural" in the name rings true. The space bar is extra fat, as well as the ALT and CTRL keys. The rest of the keys are pretty much the same size as a standard keyboard, and in the same order, except for the break in the middle. At the summit of the arc is a break in the keys, between the "6" and "7", the "T" and "Y", the "G" and "H", and the "B" and "N". In the space between are the 3 LED lights which normally appear over the numeric keypad on a standard keyboard. The left and right sides slope down at a slight angle, and the wrist rest is also curved and rounded to fit your palms quite nicely (it's not really a wrist rest, but more of a palm rest). The keys themselves have a good feel to them, and the "F" and "J" keys are marked with a small raised line so that you know when your fingers are in the correct typing position.

The keyboard comes with USB and PS/2 support, and the keyboard itself has two USB ports added on. That is a nice feature.

Adjusting for typing on this keyboard is not easy. I found myself out of alignment quite a few times until I discovered the raised markings on the "F" and "J" keys. Even with the markings, however, I struggled. There are instances where I type a "B" with my right hand, or a "7" with my left, which is quite a maneuver on this keyboard. If you get this keyboard, you'll have to break yourself of habits such as that. As much as I did use it, physically it felt good, but I never did get quite a comfortable feel, mentally.

What I really liked about this keyboard were the hot keys at the top of the keyboard. Colored in an off-blue, they were easy to spot and good to the touch. The BACK and FORWARD browser keys were great for web browsing. Other browser keys included STOP, REFRESH, SEARCH, FAVORITES and HOME. There was also a convenient hot key for EMAIL at the top of the arc, making it the easiest key to get to. The multimedia keys were also quite cool, including MUTE, VOLUME UP, VOLUME DOWN, PLAY/PAUSE, STOP, PREV TRACK, NEXT TRACK and MEDIA. Finally, over to the right, above the numeric keypad, are keys for MY COMPUTER, CALCULATOR, and SLEEP. The MY COMPUTER and CALCULATOR buttons had options to be programmed for anything you wanted. The SLEEP key is useful for suspending activity on the PC (rather than shutting down and later rebooting). The software for programming the keys and setting other options, Intellitype, was also easy to install and to use.

There are a couple of gotcha's if you plan on using this keyboard. The first one is that, unless you switch all of your keyboards to this design, you may find yourself in a world of confusion. If this is the only keyboard you plan on using, then you're okay. I use 7 different computers on 3 different platforms, however, and the option to switch all of them out to "Natural" keyboards is not practical, nor, with these particular platforms, is it even possible. I'm on a computer 12 hours a day, so switching back and forth between the arc-shaped keyboard and a standard keyboard wreaks havoc on my brain. In short, for guys like me, this isn't a practical option.

For those of you who use terminal emulators, or any other software package which generally comes with a keyboard template, good luck trying to fit any standard template on this keyboard. It isn't going to fit.

The last minor gotcha is that the keyboard is bulkier than a standard keyboard, a little bit longer from side to side, and a lot wider from front to back. In fact, if you currently enjoy a gel wrist rest, you'll have to give that up to use this keyboard. The wrist rest is built into the keyboard, rounded and curved, but hard and plastic, and there is no option to remove it.

All in all, though, this keyboard is a nicely designed keyboard. The architecture does provide more physical comfort to your hands than a standard keyboard, although that comfort may be offset by mental struggling, especially if you continue to use standard keyboards on other computers. The feel of the keys are great, and the layout is well designed, especially the internet and multimedia hot keys provided at the top of the keyboard. The keyboard is designed only with the Windows layout, so even though you can plug it into and operate it on a Macintosh, Mac users will not get much use out of it.

Pros

  • Keyboard arc and slope is more relaxing for the hands
  • Hot keys are a great asset
  • The feel and layout of the keys are great
  • 2 USB ports
  • Easy to use, functional software


Cons

  • Learning curve to adjust to keyboard style
  • Does not mix well in a multi-keyboard environment which includes standard layout
  • No option to replace hard wrist rest with felt or gel
  • Old templates will not fit this keyboard
  • No version with a Macintosh layout


Overall Rating

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice