Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro

URL: http://www.microsoft.com/products/hardware/keyboard/natkeypro.htm

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Rating: Excellent!

Review:

So you think a keyboard is a keyboard, what else can you do with a keyboard than type on it, right? Wrong! Microsoft has taken the keyboard to a new level with its new Natural Keyboard Pro. 19 extra function keys and two USB ports are a few of the features that make this keyboard stand out.

Layout

First a few words about the layout. The “Natural” stands for its split-angle design with palm rest that lets you type at a natural and comfortable wrist angle while resting your palms which makes an amazing difference if you do a lot of typing. If you haven’t used a natural keyboard before, it will take you a few hours of getting used to it, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll love it. A natural keyboard allows you to rest your elbows on your arm rests of your office chair and to rest your palms on the palm rest at the front of your keyboard which means no more hunched shoulders and a lot less neck aches.

Another interesting thing about the design is the step back to the traditional keyboard layout. If you have seen the first Microsoft Natural keyboard and compared it to the Natural Keyboard Elite, you probably noticed that the Elite version was going for a more compact design which resulted in a different layout of the block of six keys Insert, Home, PageUp, Delete, End, and PageDown. In the original design these keys are laid out in two rows of 3, but on the Elite these buttons were smaller and arranged in two columns of 3 instead which was quite unusual and took some getting used to. Similar with its cursor keys that were smaller and arranged slightly differently. The Natural Keyboard Pro abandons the design of the Elite and reverts back to the traditional layout which makes it easier to switch between keyboards on different PCs that use the more common traditional arrangement of those keys.

Hot Keys

One of the main new features on the Pro are a row of 19 hot keys at the top of the keyboard above the regular functions keys. These new blue button shaped hot keys add a lot of extra functionality to your keyboard. The first 8 keys offer Internet functions such as back/forward, stop, refresh, search, favorites, home and mail. The next 8 keys offer multimedia functions such as mute, volume, play, stop, previous/next track, and starting a media application such as media player or CD player. These keys are predefined and cannot be changed. The next two keys are labeled My Computer and Calculator but can be reprogrammed (more about that in a minute). The last button is labeled Sleep and can put your PC in Sleep mode, or start a screensaver if Power Management is disabled or not working.

You could argue that you already have buttons and shortcuts for all these functions which is true. But these buttons save you the step of having to take a hand off of your keyboard to reach for the mouse and then aim for the button you want. If you use your keyboard for a lot of typing, you know how this can interrupt your work flow. Now you can reach for the button instead and keep both hands on your keyboard.

Customization

After installing the software IntelliType Pro software from the supplied CD, you can go to the Keyboard item in the Control Panel and will find three new tabs labeled Hot Keys, Options, and On-Screen Display. Under Hot Keys, you can define what search page you want to pull up with the Search button, what mail program you want to launch with the Mail button (the choices are – no big surprise here – Outlook Express, Hotmail, or None), and what application you want to launch with the My Computer button (the choices are the single-pane My Computer view, Windows Explorer, or an application of your choice, e.g. Solitaire) and with the Calculator button (either Calculator or an application of your choice, e.g. Minesweeper). The Sleep button can’t be customized, it simply informs you how it works. A shortcut to screensavers and Power Management would have been a nice touch here.

Under the Options tab you get some neat options such as disabling a certain key on your keyboard. For example: If you type only half as fast and furious as I do (thank god for spell checkers), you have more than once hit the Caps Lock key instead of the left shift key and know how annoying this can be. But now you can disable the Caps Lock key to avoid this.

Under the On-Screen Display tab you can choose if and how long your Hot Key choice will be displayed when you push a Hot Key. This can be useful on slower PCs to confirm that you indeed hit the key, or as a visual confirmation that you hit the right button.

Another little nicety is additional labeling on some keys. If you use your keyboard a lot, you’ve probably already incorporated a lot of keyboard shortcuts into your typing routine such as Ctrl-A for select all, Ctrl-S for save, Ctrl-Z for undo, Ctrl-B for bold, etc. For the beginner, these (and more) keys are labeled with their alternative function. The Control key has a star symbol on it and the keys with an alternative function have the star followed by the function, e.g. *Save to make it obvious. Something that could have been added to make this labeling scheme more complete would be a similar system for keyboard shortcuts using the Windows key, e.g. labeling the letter e with the Windows key symbol and the word Explorer.

USB Ports

Another good feature is the availability of two USB ports on the back of the keyboard. It essentially adds one extra USB port to your PC. You take up one in the back of your PC by connecting the keyboard’s USB plug, but you gain two on the keyboard itself. This is nice if you need one extra USB port, or if you frequently connect and disconnect USB devices like a external USB Zip drive because you don’t have to crawl underneath your desk each time and reacquaint your nose with the dust bunnies and your head with the underside of the desk work surface when connecting the device. Of course you have to keep in mind that these USB ports draw their power from the motherboard, so you should use them only for low-power devices such as a joystick or a mouse and revert to a powered USB hub for USB devices with a higher power consumption such as a USB printer. And if you don’t have a USB port on your PC at all, you can still use this keyboard and only connect its PS2 connector.

Conclusion

This keyboard is as nice as keyboards get these days with some great enhancements for better productivity. The feel, response and resistance of the keys is left to everybody’s own judgement since this is a personal preference, but the keys are soft, yet precise and very quiet. Even though it is pretty pricey for a keyboard, it is worth the money. PC911 rates this product Excellent!

Submitted by: Alex

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