Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop full review
A wireless mouse and keyboard combo, the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop will certainly elicit comments, once you place it on your desk. It is striking to look at – and not a little different to use. But there's peripheral gold in these hills. As well might there be, given the price. See all mice and keyboard reviews.
In reviewing these devices I've tried to recognise where my personal reaction relates to getting used to something radically different and new, and where there are genuine issues good and bad. To utilise all features of the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop keyboard and mouse requires a PC running Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows RT or Windows 7.
You need a spare USB port and two AAA alkaline batteries (the latter are included in the box).
Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop review: design and build
There are, in fact, three pieces to this particular puzzle. You get the main keyboard, the mouse, and a secondary numerical keypad (the latter genuinely excited the guy from accounts). If you want a fourth device there is of course the USB-connected transceiver, aka the wireless dongle.
Build is Microsoft's usual solid peripheral quality, and the materials are once again mostly plastic. Design is of the slick black flavour. Shiny black plastic combined with matt black plastic in fact, to make a stylish if understated melange of blackness. Detailing is mostly white with the occasional patch of Windows 8 blue.
The main keyboard is a sight to behold. As with many ergonomic keyboards it is in essence a game of two halves. 'Qwert' lives on one side of an hour-glass shaped divide, 'yuiop' on the other. The spacebar bridges this gap, but is broken over the two sides.
The overall effect is of the keyboard rising up in the middle. It's as if a standard keyboard was melted down and draped across a towel rail. Microsoft refers to it as a 'domed' design.
A magnetic stand fixes to the underside of the keyboard, raising it up toward the typist, as if you were typing on the raised rear bumper of a sports car. It connects magnetically, making using the keyboard stable and unfussy. This stand supports the cushioned wrist rest, a generously proportioned area covered in smooth black foam. On the underside is also a flip-out door that hosts the batteries – two AAAs.
The keys themselves are of the scrabble-tile variety. They are matt black, set into a shiny black fascia. Letters and symbols are white out of black. It's not a small nor a light keyboard at 392 x 228 x 59 mm and 836 g. But neither is it intended to be portable, so it's not important unless desk space is at a premium.
The separate numeric keypad is very much the upstart little brother. A small square of keyboard in a similar style to the main keyboard, it is however flat and traditionally oblong. It measures 928 x 132 x 117 mm and weighs 100g.
And then there is the mouse, back on the non-traditional side of the fence. This is a squat circular beast. It reminds me of nothing so much as a block of mozzarella. You may have a less obviously middle-class reaction, and should feel free to make your own mouse/cheese joke here: … .
The bottom and sides are matt black, the left- and right-click buttons up top are shiny black. A scroll wheel is set into the middle of those and a bright blue Windows button sits where your thumb rests – if you are a right-handed mouser.
Again the mouse is a good size. We'll talk about the ergonomics in the next section, but suffice to say that at 749 x 982 x 567 mm and 155 g it's a big old chunk of rodent.
Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop review: in use
Everyone hates change (by 'everyone', I of course mean 'I'). I've been using flat keyboards for a couple of decades of work, perfectly happily. There is no point in even pretending that a move from standard to ergonomic is a simple matter.
My early attempts at typing looked like this: myear artsmpts and tyeping. But even one so ham-fisted as I could get to grips with things fairly quickly (I typed this review on the Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard).
And the benefits are plain – and probably best explained by someone with a greater scientific understanding than me.
A physiotherapist friend of mine described it thus: 'An ergonomically designed keyboard should keep your hands and arms in a relaxed position as you type.' The domed keyboard shape should, I'm told, reduce what experts refer to as 'pronation' – unnatural twisting of your wrists so that they face directly downwards for lengthy periods. This in turn can cause long-term problems such as carpal-tunnel syndrome.
It's worth pointing out that an ergonomic keyboard truly helps only as part of an ergonomic setup. In my case the weirdness of the keyboard forced me out of my normal hunched up position, making me address my keyboard straight on. Within this – admittedly anecdotal – scenario I found it comfortable to use, and I found I didn't get the upper back pain I often experience at the end of a long day at the editorial coalface.
There's lots to like about the typing experience. Keys are different shapes and sizes, in order to make them as easy to find as possible. It works. After a relatively short period we found typing without looking was virtually error free. The keys themselves have a satisfying level of travel, and they spring back against your digits. You are never in doubt as to whether a key stroke has registered.
Setup is simple. Pop in the dongle and away you go. Alas, this wasn't the case with the mouse. But let's first concentrate on the positives.
The big round shape of the Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse also takes some time to feel natural. It fits right into the palm of your hand, unlike a typical computer mouse with which you would rest your wrist flat to the desk. As such is good for you... ergonomically. The position of the buttons and the scroll wheel felt natural pretty much straight away, and when using Windows 8 in particular the addition of a Windows button (against which your thumb naturally sits) is a good one.
We did have some problems with the Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse however. Initial setup was fraught - the mouse wasn't recognised at all until we removed everything else from our desktop PC's USB ports, and restarted our Windows PC. Even then we found the mouse's tracking to be extremely sensitive, and not a little inconsistent.
We have experienced something similar with other wireless rodents in the past. I'm willing to bet that there may be a level of interference from one or some of the many Bluetooth devices in use within a short space of my desk.
Of course I tried it on other computers in the room, with similar results.
Using Windows' built-in settings I was able to get the Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse to a workable level, but unlike the keyboard I will be putting it back in its box once this test is over. Which is a shame because it is a well-built device that feels comfortable in use.
Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop review: value
The typical response when faced with the price of branded wireless peripherals is 'how much?' Wireless mice and keyboards – the good ones anyway – are not cheap. Nor should they be, the part of the PC with which you interact is important and, like the display, this is an area in which it is well worth paying for quality.
Microsoft's own price for this mouse and keyboard bundle is £99. When you consider the design, build and feature set that is actually pretty reasonable. Not cheap, but you get what you pay for.
And you could certainly pay less. Indeed, a quick online search reveals that the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop can be purchased for just £54. That's a bargain.
If you need ergonomic you are unlikely to get much that is useful for any less. Step outside those confines, however, and a combination such as the Cherry DW 8000 Wireless Keyboard and Mouse will cost just over half what you must lay out for the Microsoft. So work out what you need, and shop around.
Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop: Specs
- Wireless qwerty UK-English keyboard, numeric keypad, optical mouse
- ergonomic design
- USB Bluetooth dongle
- soft-touch keys
- 392 x 228 x 59 mm and 836 g (keyboard)
- 928 x 132 x 117 mm
- 100 g (mouse)
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