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

Ergonomics

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

Takeaway

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!

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