Microsoft Natural Elite 4000 Keyboard Review

30 November -0001
Justin Klein Keane
November 16, 2006

Microsoft Natural Elite 4000I recently upgraded my keyboard to a new Microsoft Natural Elite 4000. Now, there was a time when Microsoft reigned supreme in the geek pantheon of respected companies. Times have changed, for me at least, and these days I’m hard pressed to say good things about Microsoft. I have to say, though, that I’m really impressed with this keyboard.

The Natural Elite 4000 has the best wrist wrest area I’ve ever used. You can’t really describe the material, it’s some mix between leather and gel, but it’s amazing. I’ve never felt so comfortable using a keyboard before. The height is perfect, and it includes legs in the back to raise the rear and a detachable platform in the front to raise the front area of the keyboard.

The keys themselves are pretty impressive. I actually own two Natural Elite 4000, and surprisingly the key resistance between the two varies enough that I notice. One of the keyboards has feather light keys that depress easily and spring back into position after each keystroke. The other sticks just enough to be noticeable and the keys seem to resist a lot more. The resistance isn’t enough to be anything but noticeable, and frankly, it’s my only gripe with the keyboard.

The keyboard also includes a lot of nifty extra buttons. By using a special ‘F Lock’ key, Microsoft has managed to include 12 new functions above each of the regular F keys. I have to say that this is a pretty clever addition. I never use the F keys anyway, so translating them for other uses actually increases the usage of my keyboard a lot. The functions are Help, Undo, Redo, New, Open, Close, Reply, Forward, Send, Spell, Save and Print. Although I suppose this may interfere with my development environment keyed to close documents on Alt+F4, that’s the only place I could see problems. The alternate functions all seem to work perfectly except for the ‘Send’ button. It’s supposed to send the e-mail in the current active window, but it doesn’t work with Thunderbird. Perhaps I’d have better luck with a Microsoft e-mail program.

On the top of the keyboard there is another array of buttons typical on those now out of vogue multimedia keyboards. There is a Web/Home button, a Search and Mail button on the top left. The nice things about these buttons is that they’re easily customizable using the software included with the keyboard. This meant that I could set up the Web key to link to Firefox, and change the default search and mail programs as well.

Running along the top center of the Microsoft Natural Elite 4000 keyboard are 5 silver keys. These each link to a ‘Favorite’ and can open a specific location on the web. I don’t find much use for these personally.

There are also volume controls on the keyboard and a play/pause button. I like having a volume control in easy reach since it means I don’t have to take my hands of the keyboard when some YouTube clip plays too loud.

The best addition to the keyboard, in my opinion, is a little silver calculator button in the upper right of the keyboard. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to sift through Start->Programs->Accessories for such a simple and useful utility. I use the calculator a surprising amount, and the only button that would be better would perhaps be a calendar button.

There is also a zoom toggle switch between the keyboard split. Personally I never use this, and it doesn’t seem to function with most programs. I’ve found that it adjusts the font size on your browser, but frankly this is pretty useless. A nifty nub for mouse control would have been cool, or even something to control scrolling. Frankly I find this feature useless.

The keyboard also includes the other typical keys, arrows, insert, delete, home, end, page up and down and a number pad. Above the number pad there are four extra keys for common functions - parens, an equal sign and an arrow key that works like a backspace key.

Overall I really enjoy my Microsoft Natural Elite 4000 keyboards. I find they’re tactile feel is amazing. They’re easy to type on, they look good, and their ergonomics are unparalleled. I used to suffer from chronic carpal tunnel until I got one of the Microsoft ergonomic line. They’re certainly a little pricey (around $50 USD) but they’re definitely worth it if you’re typing for long periods of time.