Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Review

Sculpt Keyboard

I recently bought the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard and thought there might be a few points that other reviews left out that I could explain. I spend all day, every day at my day job hammering away on my keyboard, so I thought I’d be in a unique position to provide a review of the Sculpt from an office/heavy user perspective.

I bought this for $65 from an online camera retailer of all places. I went with the “for business” version that doesn’t include the mouse since my office-supplied mouse was working out fine. And also because some online reviews said the mouse really wasn’t worth it for them.

Sculpt Keyboard side view


First off, the Microsoft Sculpt keyboard is a very comfortable keyboard to type on. The whole reason I purchased it was because I was having some mild wrist pain from using my flat aluminum Apple keyboard with my wrists improperly resting on my desk. I tried using a wrist rest but just couldn’t dig how I felt like I had to hover my hands over it.

Sculpt Keyboard profile view

When you have the included optional (and quite nifty) magnetic “stand” in place under the edge that faces you, the Sculpt has a very gentle negative tilt that keeps wrists higher than fingertips. (Of if you choose not to use the stand it has a nicely positive tilt.) There’s also a slightly tented profile to the keys, so the split center keys (TGB, YHN) are highest, with a slope down to the outside edge keys. This positions the wrists quite well in my case. It’s worth noting I have hands that are well above average size, so this keyboard could be a great fit for someone similar with very large hands.

Sculpt Keyboard cutout detail

The oversized wrist rest itself is covered in a matte textured material with just a little bit of padding under it. The texture is kind of non-slip, like a cross between vinyl faux nubuck and a nylon duffel bag, but I’m not sure how well it will wear. Overall, though, the wrist rest does add a nice level of support.

Build Quality Notes

The Microsoft Sculpt keyboard is both strikingly upscale and cheap at the same time. The curvy, swooping, stingray-inspired shape with the center cutout definitely looks cool sitting on my desk, and the glossy matte key trim contrasts nicely with the matte faux nubuck of the wrist rest. Coworkers comment on it all the time.

Sculpt Keyboard upside down!
Sculpt Keyboard battery compartment

But looking closer reveals that the glossy surfaces are an absolute fingerprint and dirt magnet. (For me this is a non-issue since the rest of my work area is pretty haphazard and nobody is going to be judging me based on keyboard cleanliness.) The plasticky, rough texture of the back of the keyboard is also a little off-putting. It kind of feels like something you would find in a 1990s-era Toyota. Some online reviews suggested that Microsoft was building the Sculpt on par with Apple hardware – based on the observations above I don’t think I would agree. The Sculpt is functional, just not fabulous in the amazing way that Apple does their hardware (although I’ll admit it’s the comfort that counts here!)

Sculpt Keyboard keypad

At first, I had really mixed feelings about was the separate number pad. This separate pad means you can position it wherever you like on your desk. Initially I thought this seemed like an afterthought – as if Microsoft simply copied the Apple wireless keyboard and then realized that their users are nerdy, number-crunching types who use Excel and can’t live without their number pad. But the more I’ve used it the more it’s grown on me, I like that I can keep it off to the side when I’m not really using it. This also lets me position my mouse a little closer to the keyboard, which I suppose is more ergonomic. Granted the number pad feels a little cheap, like one step above a pocket calculator, but it does have nice rubber feet that have kept it securely planted on my desk surface (the main keyboard has these rubber feet too). It also has a convenient Calculator button and a backspace button so you can quickly crunch some digits and correct them if you screw it up.

The function keys across the top double as a row of quick access buttons, and you switch between regular function key mode and quick access button mode with a chintzy, wiggly toggle at the far right of the keyboard where you couldn’t possibly reach it from the typing position. That little toggle feels like it will be the first thing to break off. Also note the function keys don’t have the same travel and key feel as the regular keys – they are more like the buttons on the side of your iPhone that control the volume, for example, in that there’s hardly any key travel. This gives them a jarringly cheap feel that I still can’t get over. If you need to use the Esc key a lot for anything, you might even want to skip the Sculpt keyboard for that reason alone – you’ll miss the satisfying clunk of the longer-travel letter switches every time you need to use it.

Luckily the rest of the keys have a reasonably light action with satisfying travel, a nice balance between a chiclet keyboard and those huge old dinosaur keyboards with massive key travel. Although some reviewers said this keyboard was quiet, I do not find it to be that quiet. Each key press does result in a definite click, so in my morgue-quiet office I’m sure my co-workers can hear it across the hall in their offices too. My old aluminum Apple flat keyboard was quieter, but I guess I’m willing to trade that for the improved typing position.
Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard


The bottom line is I love the typing position and the at-a-glance style is nice, but I wish some of the small details were nicer. The toggle switch for the Fn keys, the cheapo feel of those same F-keys and the finish of the unit leave a little to be desired.

Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard USB dongle

Update - Saved My USB Dongle That Was Stuck in Port!

The most ridiculous thing occurred today at my office. The little USB dongle for the Sculpt keyboard got jammed into a USB port on my PC and I couldn’t get it to come back out! It seemed like there were little metal tabs inside the port that just clicked in place, and then the nano-dongle was just so small that it felt like it was going to break off if I yanked too hard. Little pieces of the black plastic started flaking off when I tried to grab it with a binder clip that I happened to have handy. Not exactly confidence-inspiring.

After about ten panicked minutes and some frantic and increasingly furious Google searching that revealed that there is absolutely no way to buy the USB dongle separately, I managed to pry the little tabs out of the way with a thin plastic sheet and retrieve the tiny dongle. From now on, I will only be inserting it into the USB ports just far enough to contact the connectors, not so far that those little tabs catch it!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Buying A New Vs. Used Car To Save Money

Choosing to buy a new or used car ultimately depends on balancing your lifestyle with your transportation needs. But if you’re looking strictly at the money angle, here’s my take on it.

Buying Used Makes Cents

Let’s look at a real-world example, with a Ford F150.
New 2015 F-150 XLT Super Crew Short Bed price: $37,500
State sales tax (national average of 6%): $2250
Total: 39750
48 month loan at 2.5% interest: total $41814
Full coverage insurance to cover the lender: $1400 per year
Driving 12,000 miles at 20 mpg (V6 ecoBoost), $2.75 gas price: $1650 per year
Cost to own the truck for 48 months: $54014

Used 2013 F-150 XLT Crew Short Bed, 32,696 miles: $28,500
Sales tax (6%): $1710
Total: 30210
48 month loan at 2.5% interest: total $31778
Full coverage insurance: $1400 per year
Driving same amount of miles as above, except V8 only gets 16 mpg: $2062 per year
Cost to own the truck for 48 months: $35240

We have not considered maintenance costs, it’s possible the used truck will require more repairs and scheduled maintenance than the new one. Still, there is nearly $19,000 difference between buying the new truck and the used truck. That can buy a lot of mechanic time, tires, etc.

You do also miss out on the latest electronics and safety features. But since when is an aluminum body and more buttons on the steering wheel worth $19k? Better still, you can choose an even older truck and increase your long term savings...

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Aldi Millville Toaster Tarts vs. Kellogg's Pop Tarts: Toaster Pastry Comparison

Aldi Millville Toaster Tarts vs. Kellogg's Pop Tarts
I've found that Aldi's Millville brand toaster tarts are a cheap and tasty alternative to Kellogg's pop tarts and wanted to share my impressions of how they are different for anyone who wanted to try the off-brand. I'm not associated with Aldi in any way, just an ordinary guy trying to help out curious consumers. The Millville ones may not quite be as "crazy good" as the real pop tarts, but they are't far from it either, and they're much cheaper.

Millville toaster tarts are only available in a box of 12 for a whopping $1.99 per box at my local Aldi store, although they never go on sale (16.6 cents per tart). Kellogg's pop tarts usually are $2.89 per box of 8 (36.1 cents per tart), but sometimes they do go on sale. That's a substantial price difference (less than half the cost!) and is the main reason why I buy the Aldi brand ones. I'm not even sure if you could make homemade pop tarts as cheap as you can buy the Aldi ones once you factor in your time, cost of electricity for baking, ingredients, cleanup, etc.

Aldi Millville Toaster Tarts vs. Kellogg's Pop Tarts Size
Anyway you can see the main difference right away - the Aldi Millville toaster tarts are a little bigger lengthwise than the Kellogg's pop tarts. They are the same width, but the Aldi tart is longer. (However the frosting is more uniform on the Kellogg's brand one so there may actually be more frosting on the brand name pop tarts.)

Aldi Millville Toaster Tarts vs. Kellogg's Pop Tarts Thickness
And if you were thinking maybe the Aldi Millville tarts were thinner to account for the difference in size, I found the Millville tarts are actually slightly thicker, due to a more robust pastry and slightly thicker filling. (They aren't quite as thick as they appear in this image, because they were cupped slightly, creating an arch shape that makes them look thicker than they really are.)

Aldi Millville Toaster Tarts vs. Kellogg's Pop Tarts Insides
Here's a look at both of them cut in half. The Aldi toaster tarts are on the left, Kellogg's are on the right. You can see the thicker crust on the Aldi brand toaster tart.

Aldi Millville Toaster Tarts vs. Kellogg's Pop Tarts Nutrition Facts
A quick glance at the nutrition facts confirms that the Aldi toaster tarts are 2 grams larger than the Kellogg's version (see the serving size). You can also compare the ingredients and see they're mostly the same, except Aldi's tarts list corn syrup first and Kellogg's tarts list sugar first. The Aldi brand tarts also list a couple more nutrients and have a little less fat than the Kellogg's brand... they might be healthier for you? The nutrition facts also say that the Aldi brand contains more allergens, if that's an issue.

Aldi Millville Toaster Tarts Cut In Half
Here's a close-up of the Aldi brand toaster tarts. I found them to have a crisper crust or pastry that can best be described as "robust". It is thicker than the Kellogg's crust and seems to resist breaking or crumbling in my lunch box. I'm not sure if the Aldi food scientists were aware of this, but the thicker crust also saves the day when the Aldi checkers are literally throwing the boxes into your cart. Even though I buy these all the time and the checkout people slam them back into the cart, I've never had a broken one. The filling is sweeter than the Kellogg's brand and has more brown sugar flavor, and not very much cinnamon flavor.

Kellogg's Pop Tarts Cut In Half
And here's the Kellogg's pop tart up close. The pastry or crust is softer and more tender, which makes them prone to crumbling in the package if they get bumped around, but might be preferable to some palates. The crust also has a buttery flavor that the Aldi brand tarts don't have, and the filling is less liquid-like and more sugar-like. Kellogg's filling also packs a pleasant cinnamon zing that is missing from the Aldi brand.

Aldi Millville Toaster Tarts vs. Kellogg's Pop Tarts Side By Side
The bottom line is I find Aldi's Millville toaster tarts to be a wholly acceptable substitute for Kellogg's pop tarts. They compete well on size, taste and price. Hopefully this post was helpful if you've been thinking about trying the Aldi brand tarts but wanted to know what they were like first. As always, let me know if you agree or disagree with my thoughts in the comments section!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Aldi Lullabies Baby Wipes vs Pampers Sensitive Baby Wipes

Aldi Lullabies Baby WIpes

Thinking about trying Aldi's Lullabies Baby Wipes, but want a little more info before testing them out? This review will attempt to compare the Aldi Lullabies wipes to name-brand premium wipes, specifically Pampers Sensitive Baby Wipes.

You're probably familiar with German-based discount supermarket chain Aldi for their penny-pinching prices on off-brand groceries, but they also sell a small selection of health, baby and personal care supplies. Aldi markets "Lullabies" brand wipes in a yellow and blue package of 56 wipes for a whopping 85 cents - yes, $0.85! It was this attractive price that initially inspired me to try out the Aldi wipes. I was curious how Aldi's Lullabies baby wipes stacked up against nationally recognized name brand wipes, specifically Pampers Sensitive Wipes.

Aldi Lullabies vs Pampers Sensitive

Aldi Lullabies Baby Wipes: The Details

It's a little hard to read in the above photo, but Aldi Lullabies wipes measure 7.0"x7.5" and state that they are hypoallergenic, fragrance free, and contain aloe and Vitamin E. At my local Aldi store, the Lullabies wipes only come in this 56-count size, in a crinkly plastic wrapper with a hard plastic pop top. It's noteworthy that the package holds just 8 fewer wipes than a full-size 64-count tub of name-brand wipes in a lot smaller size - if you're looking for a diaper-bag friendly package, Aldi has managed to cram a lot of wipes into a compact size.

The Pampers Sensitive wipes in the travel size pack that I had handy are actually a little smaller at 7.0"x7.0". The only callout similar to Aldi's claims is a statement that they're fragrance free. Interestingly we also have a jumbo 9-refill pack (576 wipes) of Pampers Sensitive wipes and the size is even smaller still - 7.0"x6.8", and that box says perfume free, not fragrance free. (Wipes definitely have a unique smell to them, I suppose some consumers protested that the wipes actually do have a fragrance.)

Aldi Lullabies Baby Wipe Ingredients
The ingredients in Aldi Lullabies Baby Wipes list off several long chemicals, plus aloe and chamomile extracts.

Pampers Sensitive Baby Wipe Ingredients
Pampers Sensitive Baby Wipes ingredients contain a slightly different list of long-named chemicals and some of the same ingredients, including aloe and chamomile.

Frankly, if you're on daddy duty, the difference in size and ingredients is moot. You only grab one wipe at a time anyway, and the extra half-inch of material isn't going to make or break a clean-up job. As far as ingredients go, I really didn't care what was in there as long as it didn't cause diaper rash and could stand up to big messes.

Aldi Lullabies Wipes Comparison

Aldi Lullabies Baby Wipes: Test Results

In informal testing, both wipes performed just fine at cleaning big-time messes from our baby's bottom. Not surprisingly, I found our baby didn't seem to care for one brand over the other. The Pampers wipes had a slightly softer, stretchy feel that made me think they were a bit gentler than the Aldi wipes. But the Aldi wipes seemed a little tougher and had textured ridges that really did a nice job at cleaning seedy green poop off our peanut's behind.

Aldi Lullabies Baby Wipes Review
The Pampers wipes are on the left, while the Aldi wipes are on the right. As far as thickness goes, I didn't notice a significant difference between them, although the Pampers wipes in the jumbo box say 20% thicker than their Natural Clean version in large print. Dampness levels were also similar right out of the package, and of course you could always sprinkle a little water over them if you prefer a moister wipe.

When you consider costs, the Aldi Lullabies wipes are $0.85 for 56 wipes, or 0.01517 cents per wipe. Pampers Sensitive prices vary depending on where you buy them and how many you buy at a time. Online pricing from shows 10.99 for 448 wipes, or 0.02453 cents per wipe.

To be fair, Pampers Sensitive Baby Wipes are a premium wipe, while I would consider Aldi Lullabies wipes to be an off-brand budget wipe. If you're thinking about cost in the first place you're more likely to be considering wipes that aren't necessarily "natural", "sensitive" or "unscented", but the point of this review is that if Aldi Lullabies wipes compare reasonably well to a more expensive wipe like the Pampers Sensitive wipes, odds are good they'll compare favorably with other less expensive wipes too.

The bottom line is that for $0.85 it can't hurt to try Aldi's Lullabies Baby Wipes... they might not be your favorite, but they're definitely not too bad. Have you had a positive or negative experience with Aldi's wipes? Leave your feedback in the comments section below!