Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Keyboard review: Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Keyboard

Microsoft's rationale for the large, bisected spacebar comes from its own research. It explains as follows:

This design choice is the result of internal research that showed 90 percent of typists use only their right thumb to press the spacebar, leaving a lot of unused real estate on the left side of the bar. Research also showed the backspace key is the third most pressed key on the keyboard -- behind the spacebar itself and the letter "e" -- but constantly striking backspace breaks a person's typing stride because of its location on the top right-hand corner of the keyboard.

Simply hold down both the left and right spacebar keys to toggle the left-side assignment between "space" and Backspace. And while I can't necessarily disagree with Microsoft's research findings, as a lifelong touch typist I also can't say "the Backspace problem" has ever really bothered me. Microsoft wisely allows you to adjust the function of the left-side spacebar on the fly. I had it set to Backspace mode throughout the writing of this review, and as much as I tried to remember to use it, I never felt the need. It might pay off in a few extra words per minute if you thoroughly retrain yourself -- stenographers, take note -- but overall the reimagined spacebar is more experimental novelty than compelling innovation.

This switch lets you lock the top row of keys into function or hot-key mode.
This switch lets you lock the top row of keys into function or hot-key mode. Sarah Tew/CNET

Along with the tweaked design, the Sculpt Comfort Keyboard comes with some useful features for Windows 8 users. As we saw on the Wedge Mobile Keyboard, Microsoft has superimposed four Windows 8-specific hot keys -- Search, Share, Devices, and Settings -- over a set of the top-row function keys. If you'd rather just have traditional "F" keys, a useful switch lets you lock the top buttons into either hot-key or function-key mode. The new Windows key, bearing Microsoft's redesigned Windows logo, lets Windows 8 users swap between the new Windows 8 tile interface and the current active window. In older versions of Windows, the new Windows key opens the Start menu.

Otherwise the Sculpt Comfort Keyboard is a straightforward typing device. It is wireless, which means batteries and a wireless receiver. The 2.4GHz receiver is a larger dongle-style USB device, as opposed to Microsoft's and Logitech's tiny microreceiver designs. The good news is that the pairing process is practically instant. Simply plug the receiver in and start typing; there's no messing with connect buttons or other hoops to jump through. For batteries, Microsoft includes a pair of standard AAAs.

The Sculpt Comfort Keyboard has some useful touches in its removable wrist rest, the front-side support feet, and its Windows 8-specific hot keys, but overall the keyboard has an overstuffed quality to it. From the too-soft key response, to the thick wrist rest and giant spacebar, the Sculpt comes across as cumbersome. And although it might be interesting to reexamine your relationship with the spacebar, the keyboard itself gets in the way of any fun you might have experimenting with it. Input device preferences are highly personal, of course, so you may find what Microsoft has done here is just right. Just be sure to get some hands-on time with the Sculpt Comfort Keyboard before you make a purchase. Those used to crisp-feeling typing hardware will likely want to keep looking.

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