July 22, 2010

adventures of the perfect keyboard...

I've been searching for the perfect keyboard for ages and ages (at least a couple of years!).  The problem is that most keyboards are much too wide-- who needs those stupid numbers keys way over to the right.  All that does is push your arm way out when handling the mouse; the result is a lot of pain in your shoulder.  This is especially true if you happen to be a petite woman.  So here is my conflicted affair with my keyboards...
My first foray into this landmine led me to perhaps my all-time favorite keyboard-- a Logitech Comfort Duo. 
image I hated the mouse, but the keyboard is truly one of the most comfortable keyboards I've ever used.  Any wrist problems I had quickly went away and typing was a breeze once I got the hang of the keyboard (and I am definitely NOT a good typist).  The only complaint I had was the numbers pad which meant I still had to stretch my arm to reach for the mouse. 
When the shoulder pain got to be too much, I started searching....and came upon this webpage: http://tlb.org/keyboardchop.html  What an idea!  I could continue to use my favorite keyboard and just get rid of the part I found useless.  I followed the directions on the website pretty faithfully and ended up with something like this:image
Unfortunately, I thought I could improve on this design and also cut off the arrows keys and the home/page up/page down keys-- thinking that I didn't really use them.  That silly decision was a great detriment to my sticking with this keyboard.  Trust me, you use those keys much more than you think!  In the end, without the arrow keys, I found myself using the mouse way too much.  With great sadness, I had to give up on my favorite keyboard-- notice that I say this in the present tense-- it is still my favorite and most comfortable keyboard and I still think about buying a new Logitech and doing this all over again but keeping the arrow keys.

My next foray into a better keyboard made me reach for a mini keypad like this one:
imageBelieving that one mini-keyboard was very much like another, I ordered mine from ebay for a paltry few dollars.  I now know that one mini-keyboard is NOT very much like another and in the pursuit of a good ergonomic keyboard, one should perhaps splurge a little. 

The one I ordered from ebay was just awful!  The keys were so ridiculously small that even my tiny fingers misfired way too often!  On top of that, the keys often got stuck, when they weren't stuck, they weren't responsive or at least very slow to respond.  It was actually work typing on this keyboard!  Needless to say, this new keyboard quickly went the way of the dinosaur and I was looking for a replacement after only a week.  But since I had ordered it from ebay and this was a basic plug it in and it works keyboard, we kept this around for emergencies-- besides, I wouldn't dream of hoisting this atrocity on another person!

This is when it gets really adventurous (and expensive).  I decided that what I needed was a full size keyboard minus that stupid numbers pad.  And lo and behold, it seemed like technology had finally caught up with my wishes.  I bought the Logitech DiNovo Cordless Media Bluetooth Desktop-- with (big breath) a separate numbers pad!
It's a beauty and by this time the most expensive keyboard I'd ever bought-- close to $150+ when I bought it once upon a time.  But shock of shocks, I really disliked working on it.  Even though the keyboard is only 15.5" across, the fact that those arrows keys are there and the extra boarder around it made it very uncomfortable to work on-- the alphabet keys actually seem to have been shifted to the left!  I realise that some of the extras are there to control entertainment-- music, etc...but since I rarely listen to music when I write, I often found myself looking at those (for me) entirely useless keys with utter malice.  The keys also felt a little strange to me.  And finally, I hated the wrist rest.  Next thing I knew, I was installing the thing on hubby's computer and he was grinning ear to ear about his new amazingly expensive keyboard.  Can't blame him, it really is a great keyboard, just not for me (he however seems to making good use of those media keys).
At this point, I decided I wasn't settling anymore.  If I wanted an ergonomic keyboard, I would get an actual ergonomic keyboard.  I ordered the granddaddy of all ergo keyboards-- the Kinesis Maxim:image

This is not a cheap keyboard-- $140.00 or so-- slightly cheaper in some places.  And in many ways it's a brilliant keyboard.  It can be re-angled, the space between can be adjusted.  It's a really nice keyboard.  I have to admit that after receiving it, I loved it almost immediately and used it faithfully for a very long time.  I still have it carefully packed away and am likely to use it again some day. 
Alas, if you look carefully, you'll realise that it's a pretty good size keyboard (I have a sneaking suspicion that nothing is made for small people with small hands).  Unfortunately, when it's set up correctly and perfectly comfortable for your wrists, it's still pretty wide.  The end result is that I found that I was still reaching pretty far for the mouse.  Wrist pain was gone but shoulder pain once again increased.  Once more, I found myself scouring the Internet for a solution.  The result was this old friend:image

Again, it's not a cheap keyboard.  It's a full size keyboard made for lefties.  In theory, this should satisfy all my requirements: full size keys, no extraneous keys to play keep-away with the mouse, and with a primary keyboard on the left hand side, centering the typing keys would only mean that everything would be more extended to the left.
In general, I found it pretty comfortable and I've used this for about as long as I've used the Kinesis. 

So why did I stop?  Well, what doesn't come across in the picture is that the right border is actually still pretty wide (and now for no apparent reason).  The Kinesis had also reminded me how comfortable a curved keyboard was-- it really is more natural I think.  Now I found the straightforward keys of the DSI a little uncomfortable.  Moreover, one of the main drawbacks to both the Kinesis and this DSI left hand keyboard is that the technology doesn't seem to have kept pace.  Since few people probably buy these keyboards, I found that the keys just weren't as responsive as I had become accustomed to-- think the keyboards you used when you were a teenager-- not nearly as responsive as the ones we use now.  In the end, my hands would actually get tired just from typing.

Then one day, I was browsing one of my favorite stores-- Staples (says a lot about me doesn't it?)-- and I came across this little guy:
image It's a Microsoft Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 6000.  Notice that it's curved-- my hands lay naturally on the keyboard.  It's compact, but the keys are full size.  They also have a nice springy, responsive feel to them.  That damn numbers pad is separate-- doesn't even need to be connected at all times.  Arrow keys are well placed on the lower right (like the Apple keyboards) so they won't take up any extra space.  This is it!  This is the final retail product of my favorite sawed up keyboard with the arrow keys intact! 

The only thing that worried me was that it was Bluetooth and I had never used Bluetooth anything.  Reviews for this keyboard were mixed.  Some noted that they had problems with the Bluetooth connection...some noted that waking times could be a pain for the keyboard...I was worried.  I waited and waited to see if Microsoft would make a wireless or even wired version for us Luddites.  No such luck.  When it was back in stock at Staples for $49.95 (by far the cheapest anywhere), I ordered it. 

And of course, I couldn't make the damn thing work with my netbook-- an ASUS Eeepc 1000HE. It would connect and pair with my Bluetooth, but then it seemed like the connection got dropped or something and I couldn't type on it.  I worked on it for a couple of days.  I was about to give up and even bought an Apple keyboard to replace this one just in case I could never make it work.  Here it is:  image
The Apple keyboard really is beautiful and at $49.00 very affordable.  It also has many of the things I wanted-- no numeric pad, compact, but nice keys, etc...(an old litany by now).  It even has two USB ports on the side.  In short, the Apple keyboard also came pretty close to my idea of a perfect keyboard.

But I wasn't ready to give up on the Microsoft 6000.  So here's what I did (I include this description here in the hope that it might help someone else since I couldn't find much online): I updated my Bios to work with Windows 7 (I'm running XP Pro Service Pack 3).  I updated my Bluetooth drivers.  Made no difference.  Finally, I stopped my wireless connection and plugged in the Internet cable instead.  And suddenly the keyboard came to life.  I couldn't believe it, it was working!  And having typed this entire entry on my new keyboard, I have to say that I may well have found the keyboard of my dreams.  It's comfortable (ok, maybe not as comfortable as my original Logitech, but hey, here I don't have to saw off anything), the keys are straightforward and responsive.  My mouse is just a step from the keyboard-- no more reaching!  So far, I love it.  I just hope it works this well tomorrow morning!  I did try out the Apple keyboard and between the Microsoft 6000 and the Apple, I find the Microsoft 6000 more comfortable.  It's a little wider and the curve makes it more natural to type (at least for me). 

Thanks for reading, here's keeping my fingers crossed that I won't have to return my new favorite keyboard. :)  Now onto the perfect mouse...

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