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 $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.
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.