Finding the perfect keyboard can be tricky, especially if you prefer the split “ergo” design to the traditional style—as the options for the former have become increasingly limited in recent years. Fortunately, we’ve long been able to count on Microsoft’s Natural Keyboard Pro, finding its combination of split design, traditional key layout, and integrated USB 1.0 ports superior to all others. Now it seems Microsoft’s Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 could finally replace the aged Natural Pro as our split-keyboard of choice.
Instead of sporting the typical, and potentially uncomfortable, upward-tilting design, the Natural 4000 tilts down, away from you. The downward action puts your wrists above your fingers, which prevents you from contorting your wrists into an unhealthy position. And, indeed, our sensitive wrists remained free of irritation throughout our testing of the keyboard.
The “added features” are useful, but not revolutionary. There’s a series of custom macro buttons above the standard keys. We immediately configured ours to control our media player; alternatively, you could have them open specific applications or fire up certain keyboard shortcuts. A zoom toggle between the two halves of the keyboard is nice, but we’d rather use it to scroll up and down than to perform the default zoom/magnify function.
The 4000’s key action is soft and quiet, even compared with others of its ilk. We personally don’t mind a keyboard with more resistance and a healthy click, but we know some users will truly value the Natural 4000’s quietude. Also, the keys reside in comparatively shallow pockets, making the distance of travel for each key much shorter than that of a standard Keytronics keyboard, and even the Natural Keyboard Pro.
Like most boards we’ve tested recently, this keyboard sports the “enhanced” F-keys that “supplement” the default function of the F1-F12 keys. We’re not fans of this tack. What’s the point of adding hardwired keyboard shortcuts for functions like Print and Cut that already have perfectly serviceable keyboard shortcuts?
We miss the Natural Keyboard Pro’s integrated USB hub. But because we haven’t been able to use the unpowered hub for USB thumb drives above 512MB, its absence on the Natural 4000 isn’t devastating.
Month Reviewed: March 2006