A Review of The Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

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Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 (review)

Xah Lee, 2006-06, …, 2010-08-24, 2011-06-04

In 2005, Microsoft produced a new keyboard called the “Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000”. This keyboard is a relative major change from their previous ergonomic keyboard.

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

“Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000”. amazon

ms n4000 keyboard2

“Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000”. amazon

ms n4000 keyboard3

“Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000”. amazon

Summary: in the 20 or so keyboards i've used since 1990, i found this to be the best.

Major Features

Front tilt

NEK4 slope

Front tilt.

The keyboard features a front-tilt, and large palm rest. e.g. The middle of space bar is about 2 cm higher than the F5 key. This is GOOD.

Usually, people like to prop up the back legs of their keyboard so that they actually have to bend their wrists upward to type. That this bad.

Rest your forearm on a table and let your hand relax, you'll notice that your wrist bends upward about 30°. Now, tab your finger tips on the table as if making a impatient gesture. You will feel discomfort after some 20 minutes. Now, place book under your wrist. You'll notice it's more comfortable. Because, wrist don't bend upwards. This is what the MS 4000 front-tilt does.

Contoured Keyboard

NEK4 split NEK gable

Various curves.

The physical shape of the keys are now curved in several ways. For example, in previous Microsoft ergonomic keyboards, the Caps-Lock and ASDFG keys all are on a straight line. But with 4000, this is no longer so.

The keys are curves for good reasons, for example, pinkies are shorter. So, the A key is curved towards you. Also, the J key is ~1 cm higher than ;, and similarly F is higher than A. This is good because when you don't have to rotate your wrist when you type.

When i have to press Shift or Ctrl keys on the 4000, i have to bend my wrist to the side, much more with this curved layout than previous MS ergonomic keyboard. So, the curves are not necessarily peaches and creams to everyone.

Traditional Arrangement of Home Key Group

There are 2 type of arrangement for the key cluster: Insert, Delete, Home, End, PageUp, PageDown. Traditionally, they are arranged in 2 rows, 3 columns. Since about 2000, some arrange it in 3 rows, 2 columns.

nek 4000 2 wnm keyboard home cluster2

Left: Traditional arrangement of Home/End, keys. Right: Vertical arrangement.

If you read a lot keyboard comments, you'll find there's no universal agreement on which is better. Personally, i hated the new arrangement, but after using it for about 2 years, i got used to it. Then, when i first started using this 4000, i find the traditional arrangement annoying, till a month of adjustment.

For more detailed analysis, see: Computer Keyboard: Home/End Key Cluster Arrangement.

Special Keys and Knobs

ms n4000 keyboard zoom slider

The Zoom Slider. Very convenient! image source

• There is a “zoom” slider. You can use it to zoom-in or zoom-out in web browser. I find this very useful. It works in all applications that zoom makes sense that i've tried. All Microsoft apps, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari, Opera, Gimp, Inkscape, Blender. In desktop folder (Explorer), you can use this to increase/decrease the photo's preview size. It's also very convient when viewing photos. In most apps, you can zoom by holding Ctrl key and use the mouse scroll wheel, or press 【Ctrl++】 and 【Ctrl+-】. But a dedicated zoom slider is slightly more convenient.

The only problem i found is that the zoom does not work in Firefox by default. (it scrolls instead) If it doesn't zoom in some app, you can use the bundled software IntelliType to make it zoom, or scroll, or any other, but it requires some programing background. (see: Microsoft IntelliType Hacks.)

• There are Back and Forward keys below the Spacebar. This is convenient for browsing the web. These keys can also be reset with IntelliType to other purposes, such as switching to previous or next application, windows, or tabs.

• There are 4 new keys: = ( ) on top of the number keypad. This is convenient for those who uses the calculator application. These keys behave the same as the ones on the main section of the keyboard. Too bad that they can't re-programed.

• The PrtScn, Break, ScrLk are each a physical key. (some keyboards don't even have them, or jam them into 2 physical keys with modifier for meaning.)

ms n4000 keyboard LED

The LEDs for Num Lock, Cap Lock, Scroll Lock, F Lock. image source

• The led indicators for Num Lock, Caps Lock, ScrLk, F Lock are right in front of the keyboard, below the space bar. This makes them easy to see. (This is a improvement from the Microsoft Wireless Optical Desktop Pro. There, the leds are on the usb transceiver that is often placed away or under your desk.)

(See also: How to Disable the F-Lock Key.)

Flaws

• There are many complaints about the space bar being stiff. Some comment on amazon mentions that they didn't have that problem. I also find the spacebar too stiff. Almost all lowest ratings user reviews on amazon are about the Spacebar. Some hope that it'll soften overtime, but i can tell you it won't. I've been using this keyboard for 3 years now. Either you get used to it, or the spacebar spoiled the whole thing for you.

• The Spacebar is extremely loud, and it makes one big sloppy THUD sound. I really hate it.

• In the Natural Multimedia Keyboard keyboard, there are skip-to-next-song and skip-to-previous-song buttons. This is not present in the 4000. So, now you have to switch to your music player first in order to skip to the next song. This is a terrible oversight. As a work around, you can make those special Back and Forward buttons to do the same. Overall, both keyboards have the same number of special keys, so it's a trade off. I set the Forward/Backward buttons to switch tabs in browser.

• The Control keys have become smaller and less protruded. For emacs users, this is bad news. On the WNM keyboard, you can flatten the palm and press control that way very comfortably. But with the 4000, it's difficult to use palm to press the Ctrl key. Instead, you curve your hand into a semi-fist to sit on the Ctrl. (Never use your pinky to press Ctrl.)

Alternatives

As a alternative to this keyboard, i recommend:

Others

Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite

Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite

“Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite”. amazon

The Classic: Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite. No extraneous buttons, but the arrow keys got screwed. (imagine playing Pacman with it) According to Amazon reviewers, LOUD spacebar. That's a immediate NO for me.

2009-11-19

Addendem.

One problem i found in this keyboard is that the right Alt key needs to have pressure on it for it to register. Note, it's just the right Alt. The left Alt works perfectly. The right Alt, needs a pressure when you hold it down. When i use right Alt to do key combinations, often it results in just typing without having Alt down. This is very annoying. I don't know if this is just particular to the one i bought, or is a general problem of this keyboard. According to a blog by Greg Smith at Source notemagnet.blogspot.com , he seems also seeing this problem. However, even with this problem, i still consider this keyboard a good one. Most of my Alt usage is done with the left Alt, and now i habitually apply more pressure when using right Alt.

2011-06-05

Many reviewer have mentioned, that the labels on the key comes off relatively easily. I've been using this keyboard for about 3 years, for more than 10 hours per day. About 4 key's labels are completely gone.

Overall, this keyboard is of quality design, but cheap construction, intended for mass market.

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