Microsoft Surface Ergonomic Keyboard Review

Posted on February 7, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Microsoft Surface with 26 Comments

Microsoft Surface Ergonomic Keyboard Review

Released alongside the Surface Studio in late 2016, Microsoft’s Surface Ergonomic Keyboard is a nice step up from traditional keyboards. But it doesn’t go far enough.

As you may know, I’ve used and recommended Microsoft’s ergonomic keyboards for years. But it’s important to know that the firm has vacillated between truly ergonomic designs and non-ergonomic curved designs that it incorrectly bills as ergonomic.

I’m not a fan of the fakes. But when Microsoft sets out to do the right thing, as it did with its Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 back in the day, or more recently with the even better Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard, the results are fantastic: An excellent and ergonomic typing position.

I am convinced, given the long hours I’ve spent repetitively typing in front of a screen for the past 20+ years, that truly ergonomic keyboards—and, as important, truly ergonomic mice—have spared me from the torture of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. So I take this topic very seriously.

Ergonomics are important, but of course the other issue facing anyone making a keyboard switch is familiarity. You may experience this regularly, as I do, when switching from a desktop PC to a portable PC. The keyboard layouts can be quite different, and of course if you’re moving between an ergonomic desktop setup and a non-ergonomic laptop keyboard, the differences can be even more painful.

Switching from a well-worn desktop keyboard—like the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard I’ve been using now for over three years—to any other keyboard on a permanent basis is, alas, even worse. But when I first saw the Microsoft Surface Ergonomic Keyboard, I had great hope: This new keyboard appeared to be very closely related to the keyboard I’ve been using. Perhaps the transition would be easy.

Sadly, that hasn’t been the case. Though to be clear, I am OK with such a transition, if there are improvements. When I moved from the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 to the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard back in 2013, for example, I required some time to get used to the new layout and the flatter, more modern keys.

This transition “went comically bad for the first week or ten days,” I wrote at the time. And so it has been with the Surface Ergonomic Keyboard. But there is a big difference between this transition and the last. This time, I am not willing to make the switch. This time, I have returned to my previous keyboard.

There are two reasons for this.

The first—and this one is the deal-breaker—is that while the Surface Ergonomic Keyboard mimics the layout and design of the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard, it lacks the keyboard riser offered on the latter device. This riser provides the ideal typing angle so that my lower arms are parallel with the top of the desk and floor. With the Surface version, the front of the keyboard is lower, much lower, and my arms have to slip down, and my hands have to tilt up at the wrist. The result is pressure and, over time … well, let’s just say that I’m not going to find out what happens over time.

With the riser added, the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard (left) offers a better typing angle.

I attempted to adjust for this change by raising the desk height. (I use an IKEA standing desk that is height adjustable.) This solves part of the problem, actually, but it also changes the angle of the keys. It just feels off. And remember that few people have this type of height adjustment available to them.

Without the riser added, the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard and Surface Ergonomic Keyboard offer similar typing experiences.

The second issue with the Surface Ergonomic Keyboard is that it includes a non-removable number pad. This adds about three inches of width to the device, which doesn’t sound like much, but it also then extends my reach to the mouse, which is now further off to the right. After three years of typing and mousing a certain way, I expect the mouse to be where it’s been. And it’s further away.

The giant consolidate keyboard also makes edge detection awkward, though I’d adjust with usage. For now, I’ve been hitting the “0” key on the numeric keypad when I intend to hit the right arrow key, which on the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard is the furthest key on the bottom right. The Surface keyboard also provides a “Fn” key that I hit by mistake regularly.

For all my complaints—and to be clear, my continuous typing needs are not the norm for most PC users—the Surface Ergonomic Keyboard is actually quite nice.

The generous wrist rest is covered in what Microsoft calls a two-tone gray mélange Alcantara, basically a soft gray surface that feels nice and seems durable. It’s not better or worse than the soft and more padded wrist rest on the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard. But it’s quite attractive and nice to the touch.

The keyboard itself seems to mimic the key design on Surface Book, though the plastic material on the keys seems cheaper to me. But they, too, are no better or worse than the keys on the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard, and the keystroke seems about perfect. As noted, it includes an Fn key that gets in the way—on the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard, this is a hard-to-reach switch, which I prefer—and this key, plus a few others—Caps Lock, Num Lock, Scroll Lock—have pinpoint lights to indicate when they’re enabled.

What’s missing, of course, is backlighting, and while power drain is the likely culprit here, I’d love to see that as an option. It seems like the type of thing a customer might expect of such a premium accessory. (The Surface Ergonomic Keyboard costs $130, which is rather incredible.)

The Surface Ergonomic Keyboard connects via Bluetooth, which is so much nicer than the huge USB dongle required by my Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard. Performance was never an issue during my testing, suggesting that Bluetooth has improved nicely over the years.

Anyway, I’ll be sticking to the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard, or, I should say, the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop, which includes both the keyboard and an excellent Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse. (In fact, I just bought another one.) This tandem costs just over $100 at Amazon right now and provides superior ergonomics, especially when you factor in the mouse. (Microsoft doesn’t yet make an ergonomic Surface mouse, by the way.)

But for those considering a more premium desktop keyboard to accompany their Surface Studio—-which ships with a woefully non-ergonomic Surface Keyboard—or any other PC for that matter, the Surface Ergonomic Keyboard is a big step up in both ergonomics and comfort. But it’s an expensive option, and as noted, Microsoft already makes a superior—and less expensive—keyboard too.

The Surface Ergonomic Keyboard is recommended for Surface Studio owners who want a better typing experience that matches the premium nature of their new PC.

Tagged with

Join the discussion!

BECOME A THURROTT MEMBER:

Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Register
Comments (26)

26 responses to “Microsoft Surface Ergonomic Keyboard Review”

  1. Avatar

    442

    I used ergonomic keyboards for years, that is up until I got carpal tunnel issues.  The doc I saw for that said not all folks benefit from these keyboards, and some even become worse.  It all depends on the individual.

    For me, the fix was short key throw.  The old mechanical Keytronics keyboards I was using, even though ergonomic, were the worst.  This new keyboard in the review has that at least.  But the angle thing in my case wouldn't help, and may do harm.

    What's troubling is finding a good "gaming" keyboard with these types of keys.  There are a few close ones, but nothing with near as good of keys as what MS or Logitech (or even Apple) can produce.  I use gaming keyboards more for macro keys than anything.  Even a lot in the work I do.  Macro programs for normal keyboards tend to cause issues, so those don't work as well for me on that desire.

    Again, each person is different, so if concerned, consult a doc. :)

  2. Avatar

    214

    Hey Paul, I don't strongly disagree with you very often - but what works for you ergonomically could be a carpal-tunnel disaster for someone else.

    Like me, for example. I can't use the split-keyboard "ergonomic" style at all. I loathe that design. I'll take a straight keyboard every time. And I too spend all-day every day in front of a keyboard - and have been doing so for 40+ years.

    If you'd add a simple "YMMV" to the end of every strong assertion about what constitutes proper ergonomics, I'd withdraw my objection. Good ergonomics is about having sufficient options to accommodate personal variation, not about one particular design.

    Oh, but I do wish more keyboards would lose the 10-key. I never use the *[email protected]# things. YMMV :-)

  3. Avatar

    5664

    I need to snag a Sculpt. I was an Egronomic 4000 user for a number of years, but in the last few years switched to a Das Keyboard, but with the prospect of writing in my future, I need to switch back to a good ergonomic board. The Sculpt seems perfect.

  4. Avatar

    5538

    The Surface Ergonomic Keyboard connects via Bluetooth, which is so much nicer than the huge USB dongle required by my Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard.

    The dongle for the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard is pretty darn small compared to other dongles Microsoft (especially compared to the Sculpt Comfort Keyboard), so I wouldn't call it "huge," but it's fairly mobile still IMO, but bluetooth is always nicer since it frees up a USB port. 

    I just got the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard, and I really love the thing, it's a little louder than I thought, but quieter than the Comfort Keyboard. I enjoy the lighter key travel as well compared to the Comfort Keyboard as well. Another thing I love is how it looks, that split in the middle makes it look very modern I think, and people have to take a second look at it and go "you type on that?" So when the Surface Ergonomic Keyboard came out, I was like oh that's cool, but it's missing the split, it has the numpad attached (thus making it wider), I still stuck with the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard as my choice.

  5. Avatar

    Rennie Bidgood

    Have they fixed issues:


    1. Excessive use of AA batteries; no OFF switch.


    2. No CAPS LOCK indicator.


    3. Number pad dies with no ability for resurrection.

  6. Avatar

    Z00macher

    Hi Paul,


    That keyboard/mouse setup appears to be $87 at BestBuy. I'll have to check it out. Thank you for the in-depth review.

  7. Avatar

    5273

    It's also difficult (impossible) to remap keys if you're using this keyboard on a multi-OS system that's running Mac OS.

  8. Avatar

    114

    This'll replace my black one the day they make one without the number pad.

  9. Avatar

    1581

    Hey Paul, quick question: I also use and love the Sculpt desktop set. So much that I bought one for home and one for work. But after about a year the thumb button on both mice failed, staying stuck pressed, within weeks of each other.

    Microsoft has replaced them under warranty, I'm just wondering if this happened to you or any readers, or if I was just really unlucky?

  10. Avatar

    2252

    There is one thing I see missing from the keyboard.  Its a Surface Keyboard but there isn't a fingerprint reader on it.  How could have they missed that?

  11. Avatar

    349

    I've been waiting for this keyboard to be available in Canada, and it was this week. I love it. I was using the Sculpt Ergo like Paul, but the breaker for me with that keyboard was the low quality function keys. I'm a developer and the F5 key, which I use A LOT, started to stick.  Huge pain in the butt! The Surface Ergo has much better function keys.

    I never used the riser, so I am thinking I was able to adjust easier than Paul.

  12. Avatar

    5294

    I dislike the Delete/Insert layout on the Sculpt ergonomic keyboard. I think I'd like the Surface one better. I don't have an issue with the height and take the riser off anyway. Backlit would be great and separating the number pad would also be nice. Having a complete desktop set with an ergo mouse would make it a quick purchase on my part.

  13. Avatar

    2330

    I've been waiting on this review for a while, as I too am a full time user and stick to ergonomic everything (the Logitech MX Master is my current mouse, but have the comfort 5000 keyboard, as well as the Sculpt Ergonomic.

    After not seeing anything from Microsoft in the periphal hardware division for us for a while, it would have been AMAZING to get a keyboard that matches the Surface book in feel, but ergonomic.

  14. Avatar

    9522

    The thing about reaching to the mouse past the number pad is one of the very rare advantages of being left handed. 

    Mouse on the left,  main keyboard dead centre,  num pad on right -  It's superb for spreadsheet work in particular. 

    Of course being left handed also means that the mouse I got with the sculpt ergonomic desktop is still in the box,  and many premium or ergonomic mice are non starters. 

    I've never found the front riser comfortable,  so Paul's 2 problems with the Surface Ergonomic don't apply for me at all. 

    The thing I see as a big draw card is the return to an almost standard Home/End/PgUp/PgDn etc. 3 years of using the Sculpt and I still need to look down for those. 

     

     

  15. Avatar

    1513

    I've been hooked on my 5000 unit, been using them for years and years. I'm not a true touch typist, so the real ergonomic keyboards are very difficult for me to use.

  16. Avatar

    5361

    I would love to see Microsoft make a truly premium keyboard.  A truly ergonomic KBD with great mechanical keys.  Like Paul as an old guy I want to avoid Carpal Tunnel.   I would pay 150 bucks for a tool that I use all day.   My kids are paying like 150 for a good mechanical gaming keyboard.  How about one of those in a Sculpt Form Factor.   

  17. Avatar

    1292

    Using the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop myself, and typing on it now. Great set, has helped with whiplash IMHO.

  18. Avatar

    8578

    I never realized that MS made an ergonomic keyboard with a removable number pad. Years ago I had one of MS's ergonomic keyboards and the problem I had with it is exactly what you stated - the mouse has to be positioned too far away. So you trade wrist problems for shoulder problems. Thanks, Paul, for pointing this out.

Leave a Reply