One minor drawback to my favorite pointing device, the Contour RollerMouse Red, is that it tends to limit your choice of keyboards. A Goldtouch, for example, works poorly with a RollerMouse due to its shape. So does a Microsoft Sculpt, or pretty much anything else with an integrated palm rest. Even plain old straight keyboards can present problems of thickness or thinness, leading to Contour’s development of the adjustable keyboard lifters that come with every RollerMouse.
It was natural, then, that in 2016 Contour decided to introduce a keyboard matched perfectly to the dimensions, requirements, and even the look of the RollerMouse family. Contour’s Balance keyboard isn’t especially “ergonomic” in any conventional sense – it has no tenting or splay, for example – but for those who don’t care about such features and just want a good solid keyboard that won’t squabble with their RollerMouse, it’s hard to imagine a better solution.
Everything a Contour keyboard should be
Contour’s RollerMouse line – especially the Red – has always impresssed me with its build quality and well-thought-out features, so I’d have been disappointed if the Contour keyboard had proven to be some cheaply-made afterthought. Though there’s no metal showing on the outside of the Balance, its weight suggests a metal plate inside. (And no, I haven’t gotten curious enough to try and figure out how to get the thing open.)
Other than giving you the awesome feeling that this isn’t just some regular plastic keyboard, the weight of the Balance helps it stay in place on your desk without migrating. On the flip side, toting this thing for a portable work context will be that much more difficult. (But then again, toting the RollerMouse itself quite a challenge to start with.)
Before we leave the subject of build quality, I should mention that the sample keyboard I got now appears to be slightly warped up in the middle – when placed on a flat surface, the center rubber foot floats up a bit without touching.
This warpage, if indeed that’s what it is, might possibly have to do with the fact that my brother used the keyboard in a less-than-dry basement environment for a period of months before I got around to writing this review. (How many months, you ask? Wouldn’t you like to know. I take the Fifth.)
The Contour keyboard has one feature that I think should be a no-brainer for any wireless device, but that many perplexingly omit: a compartment for its receiver. Today’s tiny wireless receivers are incredibly easy to lose, so this is a lifesaver if you plan to take your Balance on the road.
The avid typist or hard-core gamer will want to know about the key action on the Balance. As with previous “thin” boards reviewed here, my advice is to expect a high-quality laptop typing experience. There are built-in limits to what thin keyboards can be made to do as far as typing action, so don’t expect magic just because the Balance has Contour’s name on it.
As a person who has spent far more lifetime keystrokes on the F1-F12 function keys than on, say, starting and stopping media, I was dismayed and annoyed to find that Contour has followed the example of some other keyboard manufacturers and made the F-keys into secondary functions on the top row. I get why media control keys are important, but I’ll never understand why in 2017 we need a dedicated key for “Pause Break” or “Open Email,” but not for F2, which is the Rename shortcut key on Windows, or for F1, which brings up the default help file. Developers, especially, are not going to like this.
Apart from the above, the Balance keyboard’s layout is fairly unremarkable. It has a dedicated numeric keypad, which is something RollerMouse owners can enjoy where users of conventional mice might find it in the way.
Negative and positive
The Balance has a slight built-in negative tilt – that is, the front of the keyboard is somewhat thicker than the back. Negative tilt is generally considered an ergonomic good, and this shape works well for comfortable typing in conjunction with the RollerMouse Red. For those who don’t care for negative tilt, the keyboard can be leveled – or even given a slight positive tilt – with a set of built-in dual-height feet.
Because I currently can’t use anything but my Kinesis Freestyle for very long without problems, I didn’t spend very long putting the Contour Balance through its real-world paces. From the time I did spend actually working on the keyboard, I can recommend its action as quite pleasant – a bit more of a “thump” than with an average laptop keyboard, which makes typing a more satisfactory experience. Were I the average, normal typist I used to be (oh wait, was I ever that?) this is a keyboard I could enjoy using.
Though I couldn’t resist putting the Balance in its aesthetic as-shown-on-the-box position for the photo shoot, in actual use I found it inconvenient to have the keyboard right up against my RollerMouse. My normal keyboard is a Kinesis Freestyle with an extra-wide split in the middle, which leaves a nice big empty space for my fingers to comfortably overhang the back end of the RollerMouse while I’m using it. As it turns out, this is pretty important to me; I could probably get used to having a keyboard right up against the RollerBar, but it would take awhile to readjust. Thankfully, the Balance does not lock onto the RollerMouse in any way, so you can position it however feels best to you.
Typing in Balance
If you’re looking for a keyboard that’s “ergonomic” in its own right – tent, tilt, splay, and all that other good stuff – keep looking. There’s nothing about the Balance keyboard itself that’s going to add to your setup’s ergonomic greatness, except perhaps its thin profile and slight degree of built-in negative tilt. The Balance does one thing well – it mates perfectly with the RollerMouse Red (or presumably any RollerMouse) to provide a keyboard seamlessly integrated with the RollerMouse experience.