Microsoft Hardware (opens in new tab) revealed on Wednesday the Sculpt Comfort Keyboard, a Windows 8-focused ergonomic wireless peripheral featuring special shortcut keys and an enlarged split spacebar. It's the largest of Microsoft's latest batch of gadgets focused on the upcoming operating system that includes the Sculpt Mobile Keyboard and the Wedge Mobile Keyboard.
According to Microsoft Hardware, the spacebar was split in half as the result of internal research that showed 90-percent of typists use only their thumb to press the spacebar. That leaves a lot of unused real estate on the left side of the bar. Research also discovered that backspace is actually the third-most used key, following the spacebar and the letter "e". Thus, not only did Microsoft increase the spacebar's width, but it's now split down the middle, allowing users to assign the left side as a backspace key.
"In addition to increasing typing efficiency, the keyboard’s split spacebar also improves ergonomics by virtually eliminating the awkward 'pinky reach' to the standard backspace key, keeping wrists in a comfortable position," the company said. "The keyboard also sports Microsoft’s own Contour Curve design, which features a six-degree bend in the keyboard layout with a dome-shaped arc to help promote a comfortable, neutral wrist position while keeping keys within easy reach. Its removable palm rest can be used for added comfort or easily detached with the press of a button for a sleek, compact look."
In addition to the split spacebar, the keyboard also features Windows 8 keys that give users quick access to specific features on the upcoming OS including Search, Share, Device and Settings. These are parked along the top, sitting next to media keys that allows the user to adjust the volume and start/stop a video or audio file. There's also a Windows 8 key for loading up the Start screen – this pulls up the Start Menu in Windows 7, so it's still all good for users of the older OS.
We've had a chance to play with this keyboard for about a day, and so far the first impression is summed up into one word: big. Unlike the company's other two Windows 8 keyboards, it's full-sized and includes a number pad located off to the right side. A sticker was affixed to the left spacebar section when we pulled it out of the box, alerting to the new feature. Toggling the backspace feature isn't like flipping a switch (which is what you do when toggling the media/Windows 8 shortcut keys and the function keys). Instead users must hold both spacebar sections until an LED lights up at the far right corner, indicating that the left portion now performs as backspace.
For the uninitiated, Microsoft's curved ergonomic keyboards essentially force users to position their hands correctly on the keyboard – hunt and peck works, but not as well as it does on flat keyboards. The palm rest is padded, and can even be propped up by little legs attached on the bottom, causing the palms to sit higher (see above). This portion can be detached from the keyboard if it gets too annoying by simply switching the lock underneath.
Microsoft’s new keyboard also features another set of shortcuts seemingly focused on the Office environment. The left Control key is printed as "*Ctrl", and when pressed with one of fourteen other letters, users can perform quick functions like Save, Copy, Paste, Find and more. There's even a standalone calculator button located at the top right.
"With Microsoft’s new lineup of Windows 8 peripherals, we designed every piece of hardware to provide the best Windows experience possible on any device," said Brett Kelleran, general manager of Microsoft Hardware. "The Sculpt Comfort Keyboard brings the best of Microsoft to the desktop — advanced ergonomics, improved productivity, great design and features optimized for Windows."
Microsoft Hardware says the Sculpt Comfort Keyboard will be available "soon" at the online Microsoft Store and other participating retails for a surprising estimated cost of $59.99 USD. That means this Windows 8 keyboard could cost more or less when the gadget finally goes retail – honestly, we expected it to cost more than $60 -- it's that high-class.
Be sure to stayed tuned for our unboxing of this keyboard along with the Sculpt Mobile Keyboard, its smaller Bluetooth-based brother.