Our culture may have traded in the plow and scythe to tend the Internet's digital fields, but work-related injuries still happen, even in high-tech jobs. It’s not exactly manual labor, but aching joints and strains in our hands, neck and shoulders from spending long days at the keyboard can bog down performance -- both yours and your employees’.
Ergonomic peripherals aimed at solving these stress and strains, used to be the domain of pricey specialty vendors. Even a basic ergonomic keyboard could run several hundred dollars. But, increasingly more mainstream computer tool makers have been putting a premium on comfort in the workplace.
Microsoft and Logitech now emphasize functionality when it comes to their keyboards and PC add-ons. What's more, this new generation of devices won’t break the bank, with many of them retailing for less than $100.
I ordered up three demo devices to try out here in my digital content company.
Microsoft Comfort Curve Keyboard 3000 ($25)
What it is: Microsoft is not known as a PC peripheral maker. But the company has several new computer add-ons on the market. One of them, the Comfort Curve, is the company’s attempt to bring ergonomics to entry-level keyboards.
Why you might like it: Microsoft has clearly bet heavily on posture testing and research with this model. The keys are subtly angled and raised just enough to reduce strain, at least in the month or so we tested the product. The keyboard was spacious, and the numeric keypad was especially impressive. When set at the proper height -- that is, just above our laps -- the unit was comfortable and easy to use throughout the day.
Why you might not like it: Those with severe repetitive stress injuries will probably not find much relief. The keyboard is simply too flat for that. And the actual key action -- that is, what it feels like to push the key down and type -- is nowhere near the top of line. Plus it is wired, adding to the cable fettuccini on our desks. This is clearly a low-cost peripheral.
What to do: The Comfort Curve is no Cadillac of Keyboards, but for a low-cost upgrade from that aging keyboard in your office, it’s worth a look.
3M Ergonomic Mouse ($57)
What it is: Maplewood, Minn.-based 3M may bring to mind Post-it notes, but the company has a solid line of ergonomic office products, including such items as low-tech adjustable footrests and monitor stands. The 3M Ergonomic Mouse features a nontraditional design resembling something like a joystick. It comes in two sizes, small and large, and offers both wired and wireless versions. The funky, video-game design cuts down on wrist strain by keeping the hand and wrist at a neutral angle.
What you might like it: The vertical grip cuts out the troublesome palms-down rotation of the arm and inadvertent twisting of the wrist caused by traditional mice, both of which contribute to repetitive stress injuries. Once you get used to the unorthodox design, the mouse grip is light and comfortable. The mouse has a nice concave base that the hand rests in nicely, which helps keep the forearm above and parallel to the desk instead of dragging along.
What you might not like: The design definitely takes some getting used to, especially the scroll function, which is located along the shaft of the joystick. The thumb is also used to make right or left clicks. You’re likely going to be spending some time right clicking when you mean to left click, and vice versa. And it is a major desktop space hog.
What to do: The 3M mouse is a significant step in mouse technology. Those with mouse-related strain should see a gain, but for the average user, it may be too much of a bother, particularly in a business.
Logitech Wireless Illuminated Keyboard K800 ($89)
What it is: Founded in 1981, Switzerland-based Logitech has been around the block when it comes to peripherals. And though the company offers a curved model called Logitech Wireless Wave ($72), we took a look at a more traditional keyboard to see if a well-made, more typical unit could be comfy enough for an eight-hour workday.
What you might like: Billed as a "sleek, comfortable keyboard," the device delivers on both counts. It has a gentle, upward-sloping design that keeps your fingers in the right position, without the dramatic curves found in other boards. The keystrokes are smooth and quiet, and the shallow keys require hardly any pressure to compress so your fingers can keep flying. The concave, soft keys also make the fingers feel supported, not rattled. As an added bonus, the keyboard lights up in the dark, making this a good option for dim working environments.
What you might not like: This keyboard is surprisingly comfortable, it isn't specifically built with hand damage in mind. So you will have to be inventive to get relief for specific strain. We found add-on hand rests and supports worked well, for example.
What to do: This Logitech was the sleeper in the comfort category. While not targeted for ergonomics, it can help tired tendons. Factor in the good looks and excellent key action, and, if you can spring for the cost, this unit is a smart upgrade over most work keyboards.