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Tech Writer’s Delight: the Arc keyboard is the slickest portable ergo design yet

September 22, 2010

Different views of the Arc keyboard, produced by Microsoft

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I planned on a quick stop to Fry’s Electronics in Renton, WA yesterday to get an updated version of my SIIG device (discussed in a prior entry) to accommodate Windows 7 and my second monitor…but, as always seems to be the case with yours truly and electronics, I became a bit distracted upon arrival.

After all, we are talking about entering Fry’s, one of the “electronics lairs” for tech heads like myself.

While it wasn’t the first thing on my mind yesterday, an ongoing issue forced its way to the surface; in that I’ve been desperately in need of a more portable keyboard to go along with the laptop.  I like to haul my equipment around town in a nice Targus backpack, which doesn’t make it obvious that I’m carrying a laptop (being discreet about hauling around your business equipment — a.k.a. life — can’t hurt).  It’s really tough and rugged, with multiple compartments to fit computer, books, and accessories.

However the backpack is unable to fit my portable keyboard…just ever so slightly annoying and inconvenient.

Here’s the issue.  I CAN’T STAND working off laptop keyboards.  Period.  My hands and wrists need more of an ergonomic design to work from.  However the simple ergo keyboard I use at home is too large to fit in the backpack if I’m planning on working outside of the house, partly due to the attached keypad on the right side.  In addition, I’m a bit shy of wireless equipment (other than my laptop) that run on batteries, based partly on prior unsuccessful experience with a keyboard that didn’t want to type…so all the extra gadgets I use are wired.  So needless to say, in a world where most computer accessories have gone wireless, that limits options severely — even in a place like Fry’s.  To add more to the wireless issue, I don’t like going through batteries…and since I’m a power user, there will be constant rotation.

So my simple, wired, clunky, and trusty workhorse of an ergonomic keyboard is too long for my backpack…but I insist on using it 75% of the time, so I’ve actually been hauling it along in a second bag, along with my laptop.  I’m sure if you’ve seen me doing this out and about you’ve chuckled to yourself.  I would too!  Put everything together, and it’s a large set of equipment to haul around, and looks like total overkill…because it, uh, is.

But!!!  I found my solution yesterday.  I picked up the Arc, a keyboard made by Microsoft for $46 at Fry’s…it’s a slick little fella that slides right into one of the smaller compartments in the main chamber of my backpack.  Amen!

It’s small, black, and “arced” in its design so that it positions your hands similar to that of the separated ergo keyboards — at least I couldn’t tell any noticeable difference. It comes in a nice, tight, black mesh sleeve to protect it when you’re hauling it around.

Interestingly enough, no driver disc needs to be installed…it uses a tiny USB device (magnetically stored underneath the keyboard in a small cavity, ready for removal and insertion into a USB port), which means it can be used in a pinch with essentially any computer, PC or Apple.  It appears that someone at Microsoft finally decided to make a product that accommodates usability.  Huh.  Imagine that…can you guys improve Track Changes now, please?

Not only does the design work for hands that prefer ergonomics, but the buttons are also soft and quiet, which my fingers like.  I’m not much of a fan when it comes to making keyboard noise, especially when I’m at something like a conference taking notes on the laptop.

It does use two AAA batteries to power it’s remote sensing element…however I believe I have a solution for that.  I just uncovered my old multi-battery charger, along with three rechargeable AAA batteries (missing the fourth, but it should show up soon), so ahh…nothing as pleasant as a green solution to your computer keyboard needs.  It will be interesting to see how long the AAAs can operate on a single charge.

Oh, and for the record, Fry’s Electronics rocks with more electronics options than almost any other place I’ve been in.  If you’re looking to build your own computer, I believe they even give TigerDirect.com a run for their money in terms of cost, but it’s worth comparing prices.  There’s also something to be said about “being there” to purchase your components…and with the tri-monitor setup I’m looking to put together for my new desktop (imminent, shall report when it happens), I believe they have what I’m looking for — and knowledgeable staff — which an online source can’t accommodate quite as effectively.

So that’s it!  I’m off to the coffee joint to get some work done with my new Arc…and I’m very pleased to only be hauling ONE bag with me this time.  Unfortunately I will miss the pointing and laughing, as I morph into the wallflower tendencies of being just another single bag-carrying techie at the coffee shop.

Refill, please?

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