Hands-on reviews: UltraBoard 950 wireless keyboard, Evoluent 4 mouse, Work & Move productivity app
Image credit: BakkerElkhuizen
Many of us will spend what amounts to years of our lives sitting at a desk in front of a computer. Here are three tools to better assist us in our daily endevaours.
It's often the little things that can make all the difference. Using an outdated tool that doesn't quite function at its best can be mildly frustrating when used for a few days, but will probably become murderously aggravating if you had to use it every single day for 10 years.
The clunky keyboard that makes a noise when typing like cheap plastic castanets falling down a corrugated iron mineshaft. The mouse that doesn't track properly, sending the cursor flying on a magical mystery tour around the screen before abruptly refusing to budge even another millimetre towards where you actually need it to go. This sort of thing may well sound familiar to a lot of people.
Forward-thinking employers have already gleaned that contented employees make more productive workers, which is ultimtely a win-win for all concerned. Give us the right tools to do a better job.
In this review, we're taking a look at three products purposely designed to bring joy and relief, in equal measure, to desk jockeys everywhere: the UltraBoard 950 wireless keyboard; the Evoluent 4 wireless ergonomic mouse, and the 'Work & Move' desk health productivity app, all from office productivity specialists Bakker Elkhuizen.
UltraBoard 950 wireless keyboard
Who knew, even 20 years ago, that the old-style larger computer keyboards were bad for our wrists long-term, as they require users to bend and angle their wrists into unnatural positions in order to reach all the keys? The largest keyboards - with the full complement of number keys at the right-hand side - were long considered the 'Pro' keyboard, the ultimate 'board to surf on. Size was everything.
Thinking has now swung back the other way and smaller, compact keyboards are where it's at. Your hands are closer together, typically held at a more natural angle, and you don't have to reach and stretch for any faraway keys. Secondary functions are often nested behind primary keys, to be accessed via Ctrl or Fn modifier keys.
A compact keyboard without the numeric keypad - which, apparently, 90 per cent of users never used much anyway - means that you should work more comfortably, partly because of the more natural typing position but also because the reaching distance to the mouse - being closer - is shorter. This lightens the load on the forearms and shoulder.
The UltraBoard 950 Wireless is the newest compact keyboard from BakkerElkhuizen. Rechargeable, via the internal batteries and USB cable included, it connects to your device using Bluetooth and works with Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. The Ultraboard 950 is also thinner, shallower and narrower than its predecessor, the 940. An attractively svelte profile all round, in fact.
The Ultraboard 950 is certainly small and light, being predominantly (possibly entirely) made of plastic. It has two short legs on the underside, so you can alter the angle of the keyboard, which is a nice touch even if the difference between the two elevations is not huge.
Given its compact nature and light weight, the Ultraboard 950 makes a great travel companion. We've been using it regularly with a laptop while shuttling between offices and conference rooms. No more neck strain for us, constantly staring at a downward angle at the laptop screen and keyboard. Instead, we could put the laptop up at eye level - on a monitor riser, say, or on top of a cardboard box in a pinch - and then use the Ultraboard placed on the desktop.
We also used the keyboard with an iPad, which allowed us to prop the tablet up wherever it suited us and then find the most comfortable place and position for typing.
Typing on the Ultraboard 950 was nice and responsive. The size of the keyboard was never a problem, the only learning curve being to remember which modifier key modified what when switching between various OS' and devices. There is a little of that plastic 'clack' to the keys when typing at speed and with vigour - more so than our benchmark keyboard, the Penclic KB3 - but then the Penclic is an admirably quiet keyboard for typing. While the Ultraboard is noisier, it's only a little more so.
The dark lettering on the keys of the grey and silver Ultraboard also make 'at a glance' key finding easy and the whole fit and finish speaks of a professional product. This is a classy 'board that will complement any computer hardware.
£85 inc VAT
Evoluent 4 ergonomic mouse
Given that the mouse as a human-computer interface device is only around 40 years old, it's hardly surprising that research into the optimum performance of these devices is ongoing.
Aside from the inevitable technology shift from tethered mouse to wireless via Bluetooth - each successive wave proliferating with additional buttons, trackballs and scroll wheels - the standard desktop position for office mice has pretty much remained constant. Flat is where it's at.
However, the new wisdom has it that the 'handshake' position - with the palm held vertical rather than turned to the horizontal - is a more natural grip when using a mouse. The wrist and lower arm don't have to bend and rotate as much, reducing the potential for discomfort in the shoulders, arms and hands.
The physiology of it is that turning your palm flat to push a mouse around causes tension on your forearm as you twist the tendons inside. Try it for yourself: place your right arm on the desk, with your fingers pointing straight ahead, thumb up to the ceiling and your palm vertical, facing to the left. Now if you turn your arm anti-clockwise 45 degrees in order to lay your palm flat on the desk, if you pay attention to your body, you should feel a slight strain going up your arm. It's not painful, but multiply that strain by even 1,000 days in the office (approximately three years) and you can see how the long-term effects might stack up.
Enter the ergonomic mouse: your forearm's friend. Evoluent has been turning out fine examples of vertical 'handshake' ergonomic mice for a while: we reviewed an earlier version of the Evoluent C ergonomic mouse last year and we liked it a lot.
Switching to a vertical mouse after years of horizontal mice requires a short period of readjustment, but not too long given that the vertical is the more natural arm position. It soon becomes second (or should that be first?) nature.
This new iteration of the Evoluent mouse is not a dramatic leap forward, more a subtle refinement of mice gone by. Evoluent nailed the ergonomic mouse concept early, so it has already done the heavy lifting, design-wise. Now most improvements are more about the fine details.
This latest mouse, the Evoluent 4 Wireless, is a sleeker-looking affair, coming as it does in either a blue/black/grey model or a particularly striking copper/brown colourway. S'nice.
The mouse itself has an optical resolution sensor that moves the pointer quickly and precisely to reduce unnecessary hand movements or over-compensation. The grip of the Evoluent 4 has also been improved, making it more comfortable for your thumb and little finger. The previous Evoluent was perhaps a little too bulky in the midriff (aren't we all?) for a truly effortless experience.
The mouse feels great in the hand, with all the responsive buttons directly beneath your fingers. The movement speed of the cursor and scrolling can easily be controlled with the tactile side-wheel and the multi-function nature of those buttons can help eliminate many routine keyboard commands. You might find that your arm barely moves for much of the working day - which is entirely the point.
Compatible with all the usual operating systems (Windows Vista 10 and Mac OS 10.5 and up), this six-button mouse will cover all your clicking and pointing needs with aplomb.
£125 inc VAT
Work & Move desk health productivity app
All this ergonomic mouse handling and compact keyboard stroking can only improve your office health so much. One of the biggest threats known to 21st-century humans, or so we're told, is sitting. Too much of it, to be precise.
Sitting down all day is not good for us. It is not a natural position for which the human body has evolved. Moving about, hunting and gathering, is how we came to be the dominant lifeform on this planet. How we ever reached this point in humankind's history where most of us spend all day, five days a week, sitting on wool-covered swivel chairs on wheels boggles the imagination and mocks our evolution.
In all seriousness, medical evidence points to an increased risk of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, stemming from excessive sedentary posture. Alternating between sitting and standing, and occasionally perambulating, is an easy option for tackling this problem in the office, as well as bringing other health benefits such as burning more calories and increasing energy levels.
Most humans are terrifically lazy. Once we've sat down, it takes a lot to get us back up on our feet again. This is why it is criminally easy for several hours at a time to go past before we stand up from our wool-covered chairs - typically precipitated by calls of nature or the causative call for more tea or coffee. What we all need is a personal health-desk coach: someone who is going to bark orders at us to 'get up and move about more, lard-arse'.
Smartwatches and fitness bands can go some way to urging their wearer to get up, stand up, with hourly reminders to stand and virtual rewards for being sufficently obedient, the dopamine drip-feed of little colourful badges, banners and achievements. It's silly, but it works. Take it from this writer: three years of wearing an Apple Watch and I now stand up more than I ever did. In fact, so conditioned have I become that I now feel positively indolent if I fail to complete my Stand goal seven days a week (yes, even at weekends).
The Work & Move desk health productivity app from BakkerElkhuizen takes a similar approach, but it lives on your PC, not your wrist, and goes a lot further than just reminders to stand more often. The software advises the optimal work-to-exercise ratio based on your personal needs. Personal profile advice, based on work intensity and habits; expanded tips (mental health, physical fitness, shortcut keys, amongst others); a dashboard where you can view your computer habits and sit-stand behaviour, and the obligatory trophies that reward improvements in your health and performance.
In tandem with the system's encouragement, the insights into one's own behaviour charted by the activity log show the progress being made. With the empirical data before you, it's much easier to take on board any changes that need to be made regarding personal work behaviour and habits, as well as taking inspiration to do more.
Work & Move can track mouse usage, computer duration, typing skills, use of keyboard shortcuts and encourage greater mental and physical revitalisation, with the ability to set reminders for daily 'train your brain' rituals such as going for lunchtime walks, taking the stairs, drinking water, eating fruit and doing exercises. These 'PitStop' suggestions encourage re-energising breaks from sedentary work. The latest version of Work & Move is also compatible with Linak and LogicData’s sit-stand controls, if you happen to have such a desk.
For the millions of us that sit and stare at a computer screen all day, Work & Move can be your personal coach monitoring your activity and refining the optimum work-move-rest rhythm, based on your personal needs. The crucial aspect here is the next level: how the Work & Move app helps you adapt to a new, more physically and mentally beneficial rhythm.
The more you engage with Work & Move, the more you'll get out of it. If you choose to ignore it, well, your office life, mental and physical health will stay much the same - probably not at their optimum levels. Some people are naturally resistant to having a machine tell them how to live, but Work & Move doesn't even attempt to boss you around all that much - you can control how much gentle nagging you receive. Personal ‘profile settings’ let you choose how the software engages with you. There's also a 'Workspace passport', so that you can save and transfer your personal workstation settings and preferences.
As we said earlier in this triptych review, it's the little things that make all the difference. Work & Move is about helping you to stay productive throughout the day, avoiding that post-lunch slump or similar daily troughs, simply by identifying the negative patterns you've slipped into and suggesting an alternative approach, whilst simultaneously encouraging - and recording - your positive change and achievements.
A free trial is available online.
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