Now You Key It

Ergonomic keyboards
Magazine Contributor
5 min read

This story appears in the October 1999 issue of . Subscribe »

The way to a computer's heart is through its keyboard. The beige plastic rectangle that came with your machine is probably adequate, but in the hierarchy of keyboards, it's on the same level as plankton. Let's face it: It's a keyboard-eat-keyboard world. So we're going on safari to look at six replacement keyboards with all species of functions to choose from.

You might be wondering why you would want a new keyboard. It won't increase your social status or improve your complexion. It's all in the little extras. If you suffer from twinges in the wrists (possible warning signs of carpal tunnel syndrome), a new, ergonomically designed keyboard is a lot cheaper and a lot less painful than endless visits to the doc's office. Ergonomic keyboards for your employees might just head off unpleasant workers' compensation lawsuits, too.

Keyboards don't have to be lifeless chunks you tap away on day in and day out. They can have real personality--not to mention important functionality. Quick-keys, also known as "macro" or "hot" keys, are great time-savers. You can designate a specific operation you want that key to perform with just a single tap. It's like teaching a puppy tricks, only faster. Set a key to hop between windows, or control your computer's audio and video functions without having to dig around in the hard drive. Some of the keyboards we looked at have extra dedicated keys to handle tasks like online navigation and opening applications.

When you're ready to hit the stores, pause a moment first. Consider your needs. Is typing comfort tops? Look for a split-key or contoured design. How about being able to type even at a distance from your computer? Go wireless. Or if you're ready to really get into special function keys, look into an extended keyboard (which has a number pad on the side and often more keys than just the standard letters and numbers you need to type).

Manufacturer: Acer Peripherals

Model: Wireless Keyboard WIL-172u

Street Price: $35.95

Phone: (888) 723-2238

Web Site:

Stand back! Stand way back! Actually, stand up to 30 feet back--and take your keyboard with you. Infrared wireless technology allows you to communicate with your PC without a cord. A built-in mouse with two click buttons means you can take it all with you. Windows 95 and a serial or PS/2 mouse port are required, but otherwise it's plug-and-play, no drivers necessary. At 84 keys, the Wireless Keyboard WIL-172u is compact enough to fit on your lap. Built-in Windows 95 keys keep you in touch with your OS. The Wireless Keyboard WIL-172u runs on two AA batteries with an average life expectancy of three months.

Manufacturer: Memorex

Model: MX1998

Street Price: $15.99

Phone: (800) 636-8352

Web Site:

Windows 95/98 compatible, the MX1998 comes with three Windows 98 keys for power on/off, suspend mode and restart. Twelve programmed keys good for Web browsing are placed in easy reach from a normal typing position. Eighteen keys can be customized for any function, while 20 keys are set for one-touch control of multimedia such as CD-ROMs or DVDs. An integrated wrist rest offers hand support; a one-year warranty covers product support.

Manufacturer: Key Tronic

Model: Propeller Voyager

Street Price: $39.99

Phone: (800) 262-6006

Web Site:

With a name like Voyager, you'd expect this to come standard with phasers, but what it has is 19 quick-keys out of its 110-key total. You can program the shortcut keys with the help of the included drivers and tutorial on CD-ROM. A detachable wrist rest; multimedia keys that control volume, mute, stop and record; and a built-in microphone truly qualify the Propeller Voyager as a multifunction keyboard. A nice-sized, L-shaped "Enter" key helps to improve your accuracy. It's compatible with Windows 95/98; a two-year limited warranty rounds out the package.

Manufacturer: Unicomp

Model: On-The-Stick

Street Price: $99

Phone: (800) 777-4886.

Web Site:

If you've ever used an IBM Thinkpad, you know what this keyboard is all about. The pointing stick, adopted from the same technology used in IBM's popular laptop line, is transplanted into the center of a desktop keyboard for your navigation enjoyment. Compatible with Windows 95/98, On-The-Stick allows you to ditch your mouse pad and keep your hands on the keys. An optional mouse of your choice can be added to the keyboard and used interchangeably with the stick. Lovers of the Thinkpad stick will like getting that on-the-road feeling at the office.

Manufacturer: Logitech

Model: Internet Keyboard

Street Price: $39.95

Phone: (800) 231-7717

Web Site:

We'll start at the bottom of this keyboard and move up. A detachable wrist rest gets you typing in style on a board that includes three Windows hot keys. The keys themselves are designed with new technology for a quiet touch, an important feature if you're in a room full of click-clacking computer users. What makes this an Internet keyboard are the 17 dedicated Web navigation buttons that handle functions such as back, forward and instant access to your favorite sites for quicker and easier surfing.

Manufacturer: Cramer

Model: Interfaces Desktop

Street Price: $299

Phone: (888) 881-7592

Web Site:

$299?! What's so special about this keyboard? Remember that spiel about the doctor's bills? This keyboard is included not just because it looks neat, but also because it's a practical piece of ergonomic design. If your fingers make your business go round, you'll appreciate how its split-board design and integrated wrist rests allow your hands to settle in a more natural position, easing the strain associated with traditional keyboard design. Even with all the changes, the Interfaces Desktop fits in your usual keyboard tray.

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