No-one could accuse Microsoft's hardware department of failing to support Windows 8. As well as the much-vaunted Microsoft Surface Windows 8 tablet, Microsoft has launched a plethora of peripherals dedicated to the new OS. We've already reviews the Wedge Touch Mouse and Wedge Mobile Keyboard, as well as Microsoft's Touch Mouse. And now along comes the Sculpt Comfort Keyboard, and its partner the Sculpt Touch Mouse.
The Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Keyboard costs £59, which makes it cheaper than the Wedge Mobile Keyboard, but it is not a mobile device, being designed principally for desktop PCs. It is compatible with Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.
Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Keyboard: build quality and design
The Sculpt Comfort Keyboard is noticeably different from your run-of-the-mill PC keyboard. Gone are the straight lines of the average, rectangular keyboard, replaced by sweeping curves that give the front of the Sculpt Comfort the look of a shallow S-bend. Meanwhile the middle of the Sculpt Comfort rises up to meet your fingers, and your wrists sit on a padded rest that can be raised and lowered at will.
We are in the realm of ergonomics, then, and the Sculpt Comfort is indisputably comfortable to use. The keys are responsive but have a bit of pushback in them - there's none of the clicking and clacking you get with some plastic keyboards. The keys are very close together, a factor that is somewhat magnified by the curvaceous nature of the keyboard, but we found we quickly got on with the layout, and typing this review any mistakes we made were down to brain rather than keyboard issues.
You can also adjust the height of the front of the keyboard, so there is no excuse for not having straight wrists and a healthy back and eyeline. (Now sit up straight.)
The padded palm rest definitely adds to the comfort factor, but it is also detachable should you wish to let your wrists run free. This does add to the Sculpt Comfort's style - without the palm rest it is a much slicker and less bulky beast.
We don't know if anyone truly cares about the way their desktop keyboard looks, but I'm sure there are som Apple users who do, at least. Such people will probably turn up their perfectly tanned noses at the Sculpt Keyboard. It is uniform black, with matt black keys that feel plasticky to the touch, and a shiny thin black bezel. The palm rest is topped with a leathery black foam-filled cushion (one that is almost certainly not leather).
Let me be clear: Microsoft knows how to put together a solid keyboard and mouse, and the Sculpt Comfort Keyboard feels well built. It should last you a good while. But it isn't anything clever to look at. There is, for instance, no backlighting. Keys are marked with simple white or blue letter and symbols.
Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Keyboard: Windows 8 and special features
So what makes the Sculpt Comfort Keyboard a 'Windows 8' keyboard? For one thing it has Windows 8 Hot Keys, letting you quickly seach, access device settings, and share pages with a single click. You have to flick a switch on the top righthand of the keyboard, but once enabled your function keys become Windows 8 hotkeys.
In essence, these replicate the Charms that are always available to the right of any screen within Windows 8, as well as adding in more typical functions such as volume controls and print screen. Being able to search or access settings with a single keystroke is a bonus for anyone running Windows 8 without a touchscreen. Although Windows 8 is perfectly functional with any normal keyboard - certainly as easy to navigate as Windows 7 - these hotkeys do add a certain zip to your actions.
There's also a split space bar. If you hold down both sides for 3 seconds the functions change, and the lefthand spacebar becomes backspace. This is, according to Microsoft, to stop people having to reach to hit backspace. It's possible that this is because I am a lefthander, but I couldn't get on board with this at all, and soon toggled back to using both space bars to, well, add spaces. You may have a different experience, of course.
One thing that seems to be missing is the ability to scroll through Windows 8 tiles using the direction arrow keys. When in the Modern UI on the Start screen, the arrow keys simply jump from tile to tile - this seems a little bit of a shame in a keyboard built for Windows 8.
Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Keyboard: getting started
The Sculpt Comfort Keyboard comes with a USB dongle. Pairing it couldn't be simpler, you simply pop in the dongle, ensure the keyboard is fitted with batteries, and away you go. The Sculpt comes with two AAA batteries in the box, but unfortunately they are not rechargeable. When the battery light comes on you'll have to shell out for some new cells.