09 April 2011

Few notes on ergonomic keyboards and mouse

I'm typing away at a lot of software programming and thesis writing, so having a good keyboard is a must. Here's two suggestions, both of which I've personally tried and has worked well for me. I wrote down a few notes for you to ponder.

Currently, I use a Microsoft Comfort Curve Keyboard 2000. It's an ergonomic keyboard with a soft curve laterally, and no vertical curve (it lays flat). It's a wicked keyboard if your shoulder width is not so wide, because it has only that slight curve, rather than the dramatic curve of other ergonomic keyboards.  It also has a light but distinctive touch, so it's easy to press the key down, but not so easy that you would accidentally "smoosh" a key down by accident.  The key's travel — how far it travels from the start of pressing a key to bottoming out — is also quite short, so there's less finger motion required to type.

If the Comfort Curve 2000 doesn't fit your body type, you might want to try the Microsoft Natural Ergonomics Keyboard 4000.  I've used that one before, and it's pretty good, but only if your shoulder width is wider than, well, mine is.  Unfortunately, it's keys have a longer travel length, and its spacebar is a tad heavy to press down due to its design. If you're not used to the keyboard, your fingers may become tired and sore the first few times of prolonged usage, but at least for me, I get used to it soon after.  I've used that for years before switching to the Comfort Curve 2000 model, and it was a good experience.

Unfortunately, both of those keyboards, at least when used on a Mac, optionally suggests that you install the Microsoft IntelliType software. The IntelliType software has been known to apparently cause a lot of kernel panics for on Mac OS X — on the order of once or twice a day even, when under heavy typing load. If you use Windows, then this is not an issue (I've used both of those keyboards under Windows XP and Windows 7, and they work well). If you use a Mac, you may find my previous post on the issue useful.

Now that you've got a keyboard, you'll probably want an ergonomic mouse too. I have a large hand, so small dinky mouse, even if ergonomically shaped, is no good for me in my experience. The perfectly sized mouse I've found is the Microsoft SideWinder X8.  It's not technically an ergonomic mouse, but it's size and shape makes holding it easy.  I've tried other ergonomic mouse before, but they were simply too small for my hand to grip comfortably.

The SideWinder X8 has 5 buttons (including the scrollwheel button).  The scrollwheel has tilt function to scroll horizontally.  It has three resolution settings for different speed of mouse cursor travel.  It's rechargeable using AA rechargeable batteries, but it has a "base station" that it can recharge from so the batteries stay in the mouse.  The connection with the base station is via a magnetically attached wire that can be unspooled so that the mouse can be used as though it's a wired mouse!  The base station plugs into a USB port to draw power and to relay mouse instructions, so the computer doesn't need special set up.  Having said that, you'll want Microsoft's IntelliPoint software installed or else all those buttons will be next to useless.

The X8 is the most comfortable pointing device I've used since the Kensington TurboBall Trackball I had long ago.  Unfortunately, trackballs are out of fashion nowadays, and so good ones are hard to find, especially given that I want one that fits my hand well.

One final note about ergonomic mouse and keyboards.  Try before you buy.  Always.  Reviews and descriptions, and even videos and 3D views, just doesn't tell you enough about how using those things with your hands feel.  You have to put your hands on them, type a bunch of words and sentences, move the mouse around, click some buttons, etc, before you really can know if it fits you or not.  Ergonomics is not a generic one-size-fits-all thing, but a personalized experiential thing.  Have fun finding a good keyboard/mouse combo.  Took me years.

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