You may not know this, because I usually only rant about this on Twitter, but for the longest time I have been a Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic keyboard user. In particular, I have been using the US layout because, rare among the WordPress users, I have been using the US International layout for many, many years (including getting upset for when it was broken on Xorg, and building my own version of it for OS X when it was not bundled with the system) and particularly using it with an actual US physical layout (ever since I ordered the wrong keyboard from Apple and I fell in love with the horizontal enter key.
Unfortunately, a few weeks ago my daily driver keyboard failed: the number 6 stopped typing, and without a number it’s fairly difficult to keep working. When I went to order a new Sculpt keyboard, though, I found that Amazon.com didn’t have any stock available! The Microsoft Store did have them, but I can’t order from the US store, and the UK store only has the UK layout ones — so hopefully this means it’s not entirely out of production, and it’s just a temporary stock problem, but it did make me go a bit paranoid, as the other Sculpt I had at hand is also the same age, and I would be stumped if I didn’t have a good keyboard to work with. So after securing at least one from eBay (and eventually a second one from Amazon when they did get a bit more stock), I decided to look at what other alternatives are there for ergonomic keyboards with a negative wrist angle.
I was surprised to discover that there are not that many clones when it comes to 75% ergonomic keyboards. There are a few, identically-looking, but differently branded (likely AliExpress special) keyboard-and-trackball combos, but that’s where the selection ends. And even though I nearly got one of them, the fact that people complain that the keys themselves are smaller than the Sculpt dissuaded me from trying them.
Instead, I found a Kensington Pro Fit Ergo Wireless Keyboard, from a brand that was at least not unknown to me, and actually one that I remembered with a smidgen of fondness — they were the brand of the trackballs I got after Logitech stopped making their best one ever (the Optical TrackMan Cordless, which you can now buy from some absurd suppliers for over £400!) and before discovering the ELECOM trackballs. I ordered one (again, from Amazon.com with their Global Shipping option, due to the layout problems), and eventually it got here…
Now, we all have very low bar of expectation for Amazon packaging at this point. But a half-unsealed, manufacturer box with no padding is a new low for their “Global Shipping” — and it got here with Yodel, I’m surprised it even worked when I received it! Anyway, it seemed to at least be in one piece, so I actually used to type most of the first draft of this post…
The main visible difference between the Sculpt and the Kensington keyboard is that the latter is a full width keyboard, rather than the 75% the Sculpt is. This makes it more a clone of the Microsoft Surface Ergonomic Keyboard than the Sculpt. The Surface Ergonomic always felt like a clone of the Sculpt itself: despite them being both manufactured by Microsoft, the latter felt better thought out, while the former had a few too many style-over-substance compromises to my liking. Similar (but worse) compromises apply to the Kensington keyboard.
From the point of view of connectivity, the Kensington combines a 2.4GHz cordless receiver with a Bluetooth receiver. It does not say anything about pairing multiple devices, so effectively you can only connect two devices at a time with the keyboard, and switch between them with the physical three-way switch on the bottom of the device (the middle position is “off”). It works fine when paired with the Onyx Boox.
The overall construction of the keyboard feels cheap: a bad pleather-like wrist rest, very mushy keys, and thick but not particularly solid plastic. I’m no expert on keyboards to describe the type of switches (if they even are switches) that they would be using but it’s like one of those keyboards they bundle with Lenovo or Dell workstations: a minimum viable product that nobody would use unless forced.
The one feature that the Kensington has over the Surface is the negative angle on the wrist rest, which is the main selling point of the Sculpt — the Surface keyboard is lay flat and lacks the skirting that makes the Sculpt much nicer to type on for extended periods of time. On the Kensington, the negative angle is achievable, but it’s through three prop-up feet instead, which is not as solid as the skirting on the Sculpt. It’s also not as big an angle — the elevation on the wrist rest is about the same between the two, but since the Sculpt is very thin on the top, while the Kensington is thick-and-cheap, the end result is that you’re still nearly flat.
The keyboard, as I said, is a full width layout, including full cursor keys and numeric pad — the Sculpt is instead a 75% compact keyboard and comes with a separate numeric pad. As it turns out, I don’t use numeric pads anymore: between laptops and Sculpt, I got used to type the numbers with the number row, and it’s just as fast — the one exception, is when I’m doing heavy accounting, when I would still enjoy the presence of a good numeric pad. Unfortunately the Kensington keyboard followed the bad example of the Surface Ergonomic: to maintain the overall width of the device more or less in line with the average for a keyboard, they didn’t put any separation between the letter pad, the cursor keys, and the numeric pad.
This may not sound like a lot of a problem, since you can rest your fingers on the 5 through the raised tick on the key, but it is an actual issue for me when typing a lot of numbers, as too often I end up mispositioning a bit and hitting “Page down” rather than “7”. So I don’t think I’ll be using the Kensington for accounting, either.
Basically, the keyboard gives the impression of a cheap build, not something I would have expected from Kensington, and not for $60! I guess it might be designed to be a quickly sourced ergonomic keyboard for office workers, this would be literally the minimum effort necessary, and would possibly cut it, since it’s definitely better than a Lenovo or Dell keyboard that comes in the box of a workstation (I did manage to type most of this blog with it), but it’s not the kind of keyboard I would suggest for a home office where you are actually paying for your wellbeing.