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Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Desktop 7000

microsoft_natural_ergo_7000_logo.jpg

Date: August 23, 2007
Author(s): K. Samwell

Ergonomic keyboards are one of Microsoft’s specialties, so how does their latest 7000 desktop fare? Notable features include 2.4GHz wireless technology, zoom button, hot-keys, soft palm-rest and also a new mouse that promises 6-months of battery-life on a single charge.



Introduction

First off, let me tell you where I’m coming from. I am one of the few users of natural keyboards on staff, so I will have no problem transitioning to the 7000. That being said, I do remember the first time I tried an ergo keyboard and it confused me and seemed HUGE but I was a very quick convert. Now I am totally useless on a non ergo keyboard. So therefore my review of the 7000 will be coming from someone who is used to a natural keyboard, and not someone who is coming off a straight keyboard.

This is what I use now: And this is the 7000:

One immediate change that can be seen is in the shape of the mouse; the new 7000 has a slightly tilted mouse that hopefully allows for a slightly more comfortable and natural resting of my hand on the mouse itself. I’m also curious, as I have not opened the box yet, as to what the big button in the middle of the keyboard is, as well as the two small buttons in the silver area. Let’s open it up and find out!

Once I figured out the Chinese box puzzle on how to get the mouse out of the package, I had a mouse, a keyboard, a USB transceiver, a keyboard ‘prop’ for elevating the keyboard, batteries, a generic product guide, software including IntelliType Pro 6.1/6.2 for Mac and IntelliPoint 6.1/6.2 for Mac and visual instructions on how to tilt the keyboard as well as how to properly grip the mouse.

Now it’s time to reboot, and install this keyboard. The next words I type will be on the new keyboard!

Keyboard not found. Press F1 to continue.

Hmmm…

Ok that settled, (I forgot to plug in the USB transceiver duh!). My immediate first impressions are mixed. Lets look at the keyboard first.

The Support

The support allows you to configure the way the keyboard rests on your desk, and in turn the way your hands rest on the keyboard in four different ways. I started with the support off, and the back props flipped down, so this had the keyboard in its flattest position. This is what I’m used to with my other keyboard so that felt fine, but in all fairness, I wanted to try the other options.

First propping up the back, but without the front support, I felt my wrists were turned backwards a little too much for long term comfort. It didn’t take long for that to become uncomfortable, but then again, a lot of it has to do with the way my arms are supported as well as posture, height relative to the table etc. Next I tried the back supports down with the front supports up, so that the keyboard angled away from me, and it felt a little weird but I’m sure this is probably the most ergonomic way to type, if there really is such a thing.

Lastly I tried with the front support up and the back support up, which jacked the keyboard a good inch and a half up off the table. At first it felt a little strange, and if I could, I’d want to adjust my chair a little so that my elbows are supported on the arms of my chair, level with the keyboard, where now they are level with the table and I feel a little like my elbows are flailing about in the open air. That is currently how I’m using the keyboard, flailing elbows and all.

This is a good place to mention as well, that the black area where the heels of your palms rest, is slightly padded. While I like this, I question how well it will hold up long term.

Here are side views of the four options:

Next, we will take a look at the keyboard.



The Keys


Insert/Home/PgUp/Del/End/PgDn are right where they are supposed to be, finally. (the previous comparable version to this keyboard reconfigured these keys quite differently so after a couple of years of using the messed up ones it will take me a bit to get used to the regular setup again. Ack I have to look at the keyboard!)

The big mystery button in the middle is the Zoom button, which in Word Processing Apps, increases and decreases the size of the page itself, but not the size of the text. In web browsers it increases/decreases the text size. In image editing software, it zooms in/out on the image you have selected. In Windows browsers it appears to have no affect, for XP anyway.

The keys seem smaller, most noticeable the Enter button is definitely smaller – the keys to the outside such as tab, caps lock, shift, ctrl, backspace, and backslash are smaller, while the central keys, T, H, G and N are much larger. Perhaps people had issues with improper finger to key relationships and felt a need to be able to hit the H with their left hand. This setup does keep your hands a little further apart, and I’m still finding I’m hitting the wrong buttons for quotations, I have to move just a little further than usual and I keep getting colons instead. That also goes for the smaller Enter key, I would have preferred it to be a little larger.

The small buttons in the silver field are back and forward, as are the two thumb buttons on the mouse. Because I’m a girl and I have relatively small hands, I would most likely use the ones on the mouse as the ones on the keyboard are a bit of a stretch for me. Across the top is a plethora of silver buttons including Media buttons with My Favourites front and centre between F5 and F6.

The first grouping of three consists of Web/Home, Search and Mail. There are then 5 programmable buttons, a Mute button followed by Volume up and Down, and a Play/Pause button. Over the Print Screen/Scroll Lock/Pause Break buttons is a quick key to the calculator. Mysteriously, above the numpad are additional buttons that are = ( ) and left arrow. The five programmable buttons are very easy to program, the first time you press one, a dialog pops up that allows you to assign that button to a file or program.

But wait, there’s more! The My Favorites button I mentioned above, is not what you would immediately think. My assumption was that it would open a browser with the Favourites bar expanded, but I was wrong. THIS My Favourites button opens the dialog that lets you quickly program the five silver buttons above it. Now why this was included I honestly have no idea, I mean seriously how many times are you going to program those buttons and how hard is it to do so through the software menu? It’s a redundancy that simply takes up space and confuses on first use.

AAAAHHHH nnooooooooo there’s an F-Lock key. Run away! Oh the headaches I have had with the F-Lock key in the past. Let me explain. Most people are used to the F1 thru F12 keys across the top of their machine. Gamers use these almost religiously in pretty much every game out there. Keyboards with the F-Lock key however, have Help, Undo, Redo, New, Open, Close, Reply, Fwd, Send, Spell, Save and Print as the MAIN function of those keys, not the usual F Function keys (for example, F5 is almost always Refresh, however if you press F5 with the F-Lock enabled, you’re going to send the command to Open a File).

In the past, there was no way to configure the F-Lock key to default to the Function commands – however I’ll let you know later on if this IntelliType software included has been updated to address this issue. If not, I’ll be visiting the F-Lock Key Eliminator site yet again.

*beware F-Lock key defaults to the alternate F-keys, not their F1 through F12 labels, which doesn’t surprise me as the alternates are displayed on the tops of the keys, whereas the F# keys are displayed on the front face of the keys themselves, indicating they see these as the secondary functions.

The keys are quiet with the exception of the space bar, which does not seem sound-padded at all, and is getting a little annoying. (ok, by the end of this review it was A LOT annoying). It’s one of the most pressed keys and it should be the quietest. I did find a bit of a dampening of the CLACK sound when the keyboard was raised in the front, but not an appreciable difference.

It quite honestly makes me want to open the back up and find a way to pad the space bar myself. I know it probably sounds trivial, but someone on the next room can’t hear any of my keystrokes except the space, and just look how many times that’s been hit in just this paragraph!

There’s something missing from this keyboard I just noticed. Lights. And I don’t just mean the backlighting of the keys that can be helpful, I mean notification lights with regards to the status of your Caps-Lock, Num-Lock, and in this case F-Lock. Not crucial because it is something that you can view on your desktop screen once toggled, but I find it an odd omission. The only LED indicator I see is the battery status, which I’m very happy to see. Previous versions simply stopped accepting the letter T then promptly died without warning after that.

Actually there’s something else missing, My Music. That and Calculator were the only buttons I used on the previous version. There are controls for the music itself, mute, volume, play/pause (missing skip to next track tho sadly) and while I know I can probably program one of the five blank buttons across the top, it just seems like another odd omission for a media keyboard, to leave off a quick link to, well, media.

Ok that rant over, lets look at the mouse.



The Mouse, The Software, Final Thoughts

The mouse does feel rather natural in my hand, if not a little big. The thumb buttons are not exactly at your thumb position, but upwards a fair distance and I cannot actually reach the further one (forward button) without repositioning my hand on the mouse. The other buttons and the scroll itself feel like a comfortable pair of jeans, known and loved. However, this is not a mouse that anyone with smaller hands than mine could use easily, I’m pushing the envelope as it is.

The scroll wheel is preset to be a page-ing scroll, in that I mean one that is not smooth, but leaps in increments down a page. Once the software is installed, I’ll let you know if that’s adjustable. I personally prefer a smooth scroll, over a page-ing one.

It’s hyper accurate, I’m not adjusting the sensitivity yet, I want to see if I can get used to it, but this thing is very responsive. Again, the mouse itself does not have any LED indicators besides the battery life indicator, which is a nice improvement over previous models that just die without warning.

While I was sceptical at first on how the tilted position would feel long term, it was pretty obvious when I used a different mouse that was more horizontal that I could never go back. The old mouse made my wrist feel twisted and while this is a large mouse, I’m convinced it’s a superior grip position. It takes some getting used to on how to grip it, you don’t just slap your palm onto the mouse, but rather rest your hand beside it and roll your hand onto it.

The Software

Even though I already had the current versions of IntelliType & IntelliPoint installed for my last keyboard and mouse, I uninstalled them and reinstalled using the software provided.

IntelliPoint: As usual the first thing you see is the License Terms Agreement, no surprises there.

Then it asks you to choose from a long list of types of mice, in this case, Microsoft Natural Wireless Laser Mouse 7000. After a surprisingly long time to install the files, an icon appeared on my desktop (would have preferred to be able to specify that addition or not…) and that was apparently it. Ok, I’ll play along, lets click the shortcut. Now I’m looking at a nice little app for assigning functions to the various buttons on the mouse, and was surprised to see that the default for the small thumb button is ‘magnify’ not ‘forward’ as I had experienced it in use.

Here are all the screens, a picture is worth a thousand words and when you’re typing with this spacebar clacking in your ears, pictures are golden.

Now one feature I see that is nice, is the ability to Specify mouse settings depending on the program you are using. For instance, you could add Photoshop as one program and change the buttons based on the actions you use the most, such as ‘Selection Tool’, ‘Zoom’, ‘Undo’ (yeah that one I use a lot) etc.

As you can see there are lots of theme options!

And there’s nothing unfamiliar here, but either I’m just not seeing it, or there is no option to toggle between smooth scroll and page-ing scroll. It may require more extensive investigation including some online research.

IntelliType: Again, this was something I already had installed, but reinstalled for the purpose of this review.

Just like the mouse software, it was a straightforward EULA and go, choosing Natural Wireless Ergonomic Keyboard 7000 from the list. Pretty straightforward, though like with the mouse, an icon appeared on my desktop and I did not have the opportunity to decide where this software was to be installed.

This is where you would go to reconfigure any of the configurable buttons on your keyboard.

Let’s have a look.

Now you’ll notice that the 5 silver keys are labelled as My Favourites 1 through 5, and the first one is assigned to “Start august”, which is, in my case, the name of this months m3u file for WinAmp. The rest is pretty straightforward.

So, let’s do a roundup.

In short, if you’re gamer like the vast majority of home computer users these days, this keyboard is not for you. If you spend your time on the computer checking your email, listening to music, surfing the web, editing documents and doing math, yeah ok, this keyboard has some functions you will appreciate. However, I’m not putting my gaming keyboard far from reach. I tried my usual games with this keyboard, and the F Lock key interfered with its ambiguous status and the smaller enter key meant a few un-typed messages. The mouse is this sets only saviour, its accuracy and comfort are outstanding, and if you can reach all the buttons, that’s even better!

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