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Microsoft Mobile Keyboard 5000 hands-on: Do ergonomics matter?

The Microsoft Mobile Keyboard 5000 aims to be a more ergonomic keyboard for tablet typers. We give it a whirl with an iPad 2.

How much do ergonomics matter when you're using a tablet as your primary mobile computer? Microsoft is betting that the answer might be "very," if the newly released Microsoft Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 5000, available today, is any indication.

The Microsoft Mobile Keyboard 5000 with an iPad 2: Larger than I'd prefer. Sarah Tew/CNET

The $50 keyboard is "ergonomist approved" with a curved design that claims to be better for wellness. Does that matter for a wireless keyboard you'll be using with your iPad, Android tablet, or other Bluetooth device? I decided to give it a quick try to find out.

The "comfort curve" employed in this keyboard causes a bulge that's reminiscent of ergonomic keyboards I remember seeing from my office days in the '90s. The tapered keys get rather large in the middle, particularly around the G/H/B/N keys. However, the plastic keyboard, which uses two triple-A batteries, is otherwise solidly designed.

I personally prefer a straight-up island-style chiclet keyboard, the sort you can get with the Apple Wireless keyboard or the Logitech Tablet Keyboard. Both are technically more expensive in terms of MSRP ($70), but they can be found for less online. They're also thinner and have a smaller footprint. The curvature and extra "keyboard bezel" on the Mobile Keyboard 5000 may make it a tighter fit in a narrow messenger bag.

The Microsoft keyboard (below) next to the Logitech Tablet Keyboard. Sarah Tew/CNET

Dr. Dan Odell, Microsoft's "certified professional ergonomist and resident comfort expert," has his signature on the keyboard's box. Ergonomics is hardly a field with professional benchmarks, so this is all according to Microsoft, as far as official opinion goes. I found that the keyboard interfered with my normal typing flow, because as a hybrid typer/hunt-and-pecker, the keys weren't always where I expected.

Pairing with my iPad 2 was the same as with all Bluetooth keyboards, and the keyboard looks fine below an iPad, as you can see from the photo. The keyboard lacks the set of iPad-specific keyboard shortcuts included on the Apple and Logitech keyboards; volume control and pause/track skip, in particular, are nice for writing while listening to music.

If you can find it on sale (or can't find a Logitech keyboard on sale), or you sincerely care for or believe in keyboard ergonomics as far a curved keyboard design, the Microsoft Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 5000 might be worth some consideration. Otherwise, I'd heartily recommend the Logitech Tablet Keyboard, which has a case that also doubles as an iPad stand. I've never gotten hand cramping from it.