The Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Keyboard ($59.99 list) retains the same distinctive curvy design featured in some of Microsoft's earlier contour keyboards, and comes with some new features like a detachable padded wrist rest and Windows 8-specific charm keys. The most striking change that's surely going to attract the most attention, though, is its dual-function spacebar, which is an otherwise ordinary spacebar (albeit considerably wider) that has been split into two separate keys, with the right half acting as a dedicated spacebar while the left side can be toggled between serving as a spacebar or a backspace key. Apart from these elements, though, there's not much to distinguish the Sculpt from other keyboards currently on the market.
Design and Features
The Sculpt is full-size keyboard with an all-black chassis constructed entirely out of plastic. The only departure from the Sculpt's plastic build is its detachable padded wrist rest, which can be removed by unlocking a latch on the underside of the keyboard. With the exception of a thin glossy strip running along the outer perimeter of the frame, the Sculpt sports a matte-finished look. Aside from giving the keyboard subdued, elegant look, the matte finish does a good job of resisting smudging after prolonged use, unlike the glossy-framed Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750 . The Sculpt doesn't sport a thin profile like the K750, as its frame has a gradual bulge that raises its profile around the crescent of the wavy contour. The rounded design continues on Sculpt's scalloped keys, which feature a slight curvature on the bottom.
A switch on the upper right hand of the Sculpt allows users to toggle the top row of keys between standard function keys and a mixture of Windows 8-optimized hotkeys and charm keys. I used the Sculpt on a system with Windows 8 Release Preview installed and was able to dig a little deeper into its interface. Accordingly, the Sculpt's F1 through F4 keys are standard media playback keys that, incidentally, are compatible with earlier versions of Windows. Meanwhile, the F5 through F8 keys are shortcuts to Windows 8's five so-called "charms," which are share, settings, search, a device toggle, and a desktop button; the desktop button is also a charm, but that particular key, which features the new Windows logo, is on the Sculpt's lower left side. Without a Sculpt, you can accesses the charms by swiping from the right edge of a touch-enabled display.
The F9 through F12 keys, meanwhile, act as Windows 8 hotkeys that pertain to apps; F9 rotates between open apps, F10 lists all open apps on the left side of the screen, F11 enables a split-screen mode between any two apps, and F12 lists all open apps on the bottom portion of the screen. While these Windows 8-optimized keys succeed in making Windows 8 a more mangeable interface, the Sculpt's directional arrows unfortunately don't scroll through the tiled interface of the Windows 8 desktop screen, and instead simply allows for moving between individual tiles. Ultimately, this means that even with a Sculpt keyboard and a non-touch-capable system, you'll still need to use a compatible mouse to fluidly navigating the tiles?the Sculpt alone, alas, won't get you there.
And now, the spacebar. Microsoft's stated rationale for its decision to split the spacebar in half is to eliminate so-called "pinky reach," or the purportedly unnatural movement that occurs when one's pinky strikes the backspace key. It's premised on the notion that one can type more efficiently while also reducing strain by backspacing with the left hand's thumb. Fortunately, Sculpt users have the option to toggle between the dual-functionality approach or a traditional setup wherein both halves act as a spacebar by simply holding both keys for several moments.
The Sculpt uses two AAA batteries (which are included). If you're the type who constantly worries about battery life, then you'd likely be better off with either the solar-powered K750 or the Logitech Wireless Illuminated Keyboard K800 , which can be recharged via USB connection. The Sculpt is compatible with Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows 7 and Vista, though the Windows 8 charm keys and most of the hotkeys (with the exception of the media playback keys) don't all work with earlier versions of the operation system, save for the volume control and application selector.
Unlike the Microsoft Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 6000 , the Sculpt connects wirelessly via an included USB dongle. If you plan on taking it on the go, be sure to remember where you place the dongle, as the Sculpt doesn't have any compartments on its underside for storing the dongle, unlike the Logitech
Typing on the Sculpt makes for an overall comfortable experience, especially when the wrist rest is attached. Moreover, the contoured shape curves in accordance with the natural posture of your hands. The response rate was on point; there was no lag time whatsoever. Throughout testing, the pitch of the keys felt just right, and they felt agreeably springy whenever bottoming out at the end of a keystroke.
While I've never considered "pinky reach" a particularly pernicious threat, I nonetheless was eager to try out the spacebar's dual-functionality feature. Overall, I had a difficult time adjusting to it, and found that it decreased my productivity. Of course, this is a very subjective call that ultimately boils down to taste, so you'd be better off trying it for yourself. Personally, I liked the Sculpt much more when the dual-functionality was turned off.
The Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Keyboard is a solid choice for anyone who wants a keyboard optimized for Windows 8 or who can envision a smoother typing experience when there's a backspace button next to the spacebar. Aside from these considerations, though, it's a fairly standard keyboard that lacks some of the more common features seen in other keyboards, like backlighting or a rechargeable battery. For these reasons, it doesn't have enough to dethrone our current Editors' Choice for keyboards, the Logitech Wireless Illuminated Keyboard K800.
More keyboard reviews:
??? Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Keyboard
??? Mad Catz S.T.R.I.K.E. 7 Gaming Keyboard
??? Razer BlackWidow Ultimate 2013 Elite
??? Rosewill Mechanical Keyboard RK-9000I
??? Logitech Washable Keyboard K310