Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite

After some deliberation, I decided to pick up a nicer keyboard to replace a very old Compaq piece of junk I was using as my external keyboard at work. That thing has been at the company longer than me, and likely changed hands several times before it became mine. It was time to retire it, so I picked up the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite.

Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite

Everyone keeps saying how awesome these things are so I decided to try one out. My first impression? Holy crap – this thing is really high. With the retractable legs up, the back of my keyboard lifts up about 2 inches from the surface of the table. That is really high for a keyboard. If you usually keep your keyboard under the desk on one of those retractable shelf things it might not fit! It really takes more space than a regular keyboard – especially since it has a big, built in palm rest that is not detachable. That said, once you get used to the height it’s actually quite comfortable.

Typing the first sentence on this keyboard was kinda odd, but by the third one I was going with my normal speed again. The split really doesn’t bother me at all now. What does bother me is the odd layout of the arrow keys and the block that holds Home, End, Delete and etc.. The arrow keys are arranged in a + sign formation instead of the normal inverted T. The keys are also smaller than regular ones which totally throws me off. I typically hit right arrow instead of down now. Why the hell would they do that:

Elite Keyboard Layout

The edit button block is also messed up. Instead of 3×2 formation they made it into 2×3 to save horizontal space. First column contains Home, End and Delete while the second one has Page Up, Page Down and Insert. It’s confusing since I’m very used to quickly hitting nearly all of these buttons (save for Insert). This will take some getting used to. In fact, these changes will be harder to get used to than the split.

Here is a tip for keyboard designers – do not change the relative position of any keys – even the purely functional ones. We know where they are supposed to be, and if you switch around the key order it messes us up.

The keyboard is PS/2 but it ships with a PS2 to USB converter. You don’t see many of those around these days. I keep seeing those little green USB to PS/2 plugs all over the place, but not the other way around. Despite not being native USB device Dapper flawlessly recognized it as soon as I plugged it into the USB hub.

All in all, it’s a good keyboard. Its big, and sturdy so I don’t see it breaking any time soon. And I don not have an urge to go back to the standard layout yet. I think I will stick with this one for a while. I mean, typing in the split layout is not some mind shattering experience or anything. Once you get used to the size and hight of this thing, it turns out to be very comfortable. Oh, and it looks cool on my desk. :) Too bad they decided to mess with the arrow keys and the home/delete block. If they left it alone, it would be almost perfect. Then again, this would actually make the already big and bulky keyboard one or two inches longer. I guess this design choice was somewhat justified but that doesn’t make it any less annoying or inconvenient.

[tags]keyboard, microsoft, natural keyboard, natural microsoft keyboard elite, elite, layout[/tags]

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11 Responses to Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite

  1. You should check out the MS Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, that addresses all the issues you have mentioned with this keyboard. I tried the natural elite keyboard at office, and bought the 4000 within 2 weeks for my home PC. I now cannot think of going back to the regular keyboards:).
    Latish

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  2. Nathan Baker UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Luke,

    I second what Latish says. The awkward navigation-key block will fuck you up big time–you’ll be mashing insert and cursing Microsoft while doing so. THe 4000 (http://www.microsoft.com/hardware/mouseandkeyboard/ProductDetails.asp x?pid=043) is definitely the way to go.

    Nathan

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  3. Craig Betts UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Solaris Terminalist says:

    Old habits die hard! I have been using a Sun type 5 for over ten years now. It would take a long time to adjust to a PC style keyboard now. I even use a Sun USB keyboard on my Mac mainly because of the location of the caps-lock. The control key is used so much by UNIX admins that moving it up higher reduces “pinky cramp”. I used to have a Microsoft Natural when it first came out. It had all the keys where you would expect them, even the inverted “t” for the cursor keys. Still might be able to find one of these around if you are stuck on the traditional layout.

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  4. Why is that “natural?” I can’t type with those kinds of keyboards – I type like I play piano.

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    @Craig – I had the opposite problem on the unix boxen. Since I learned to type with Ctrl in the bottom right corner I kept accidentally switching on caps lock on every 10 minutes or so. :)

    @Jenn – good question. Probably one for Microsoft marketing department. I think it had something to do with a “more natural” position for your hands, but who knows. Better name is probably “split keyboard”.

    Oh, and btw – it took me 2 minutes to adjust my typing style to this one. It looks like it will be weird, but all it takes is few minutes of typing, and your brain goes “ah, I get it” and it’s smooth sailing from there on. As I said – I have more trouble adjusting to the retarded positioning of the arrow keys than to the split keyboard.

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  6. hdw UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    For the best ergonomic positioning, you shouldn’t actually tip the back of the keyboard up, you should tip the front up. It puts your wrists and hands on a more natural position. I actually had a keyboard that did that, but I lost it in a move. I still miss it.

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  7. jaymz UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    the ergo 4000 is my fav of these 2 split keyboards. the height of it totally surprised me too when I first attached the front lifter but after you use it for a week you get really used to it. normal keyboards feel too flat now, when im coding for hours on end i do notice i feel a lot better at the end of the day… the elite one put me off with the re-arranging of the buttons, and the fact the ergo is black :)

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    @hdw – actually this can be easily done with the elite just closing the keyboard legs. The front is considerably higher than the back in its natural position. Additionally, the palm rest kinda bulges up in the middle so your hands are kinda arched down and to the sides – as if you were gripping the keyboard to prevent it from falling.

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  9. Adam UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I recommend keeping the legs on the elite retracted. That will keep the rest bar in a better position–closer to your typing position. It’s better for your wrists.

    I’ve gone through three elites, and I got used to the funny arrow keys and the home/end/etc but I’ve never preferred that layout. I’ve since replaced them all with 4000s.

    The 4000 with the front bar on actually raises the wrist rest even higher so it’s nearly the highest point of the keyboard. It’s very comfortable, and it keeps your wrists more straight.

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  10. Muhammad SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I tried this before, but I could never get used to the “split” keyboard idea. Plus, I prefer the normal layout. The only difference I do not mind in new keyboards is the shrinking of the “Enter” key and putting the “\” key on top while elongating the “Backspace” key.

    Other than that, the numpad HAS to be the same, the insert-home-pageup & delete-end-pagedown HAS to be in the correct 3×2 order and the arrow keys HAS to be in that way.

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  11. Adam Kahtava CANADA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    You have me sold, I’m ordering a MS Ergo Keyboard as I post, I’ve been eying those keyboards for a while now. Thanks!

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