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.
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.
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.
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