Sunday, 18 October 2015 16:12

Microsoft Universal Foldable Bluetooth keyboard (review)

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Microsoft’s new Universal foldable keyboard is the answer to a question not yet asked – do we need ultra-portability and the trade-offs that creates.

The answer of course is yes. From the moment I saw this svelte little device I wanted one. Why and what are those trade-offs?

Let me go back to 2004 – yes 11 years ago when I was using an early smartphone called an XDA IIs. It was capable of early Bluetooth although these type of devices were very scarce.

When travelling overseas I bought a folding keyboard (pictured) and when I travelled, it was with my smartphone and the keyboard – that is all. I remember attending an IT Journalists conference and the awe/envy as I typed up my articles straight to the Windows Mobile 2003 SE PocketPC device. Then by 802.11.b Wi-Fi, I emailed my articles to the publisher.

That is why I want a Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard. It works with any Bluetooth 4.0, HID enabled device – iPhone/iPad, Android smartphone/tablet, Windows PC/notebook/tablet and Mac/notebook.

The greatest feature is its size – at 125.3 x 147.6 x 11.5 mm you can just slip it into a pants pocket (#bendgate may be an issue) or a woman’s purse. It is not much bigger than a wallet or CD case.

The next greatest feature is that it can be concurrently paired with two devices – there is an indicator light showing icons for Windows, Android or iOS. It is easy to clear a pairing.

It is easy to use – simply open it up to power on, press number 1 (or 2) for three seconds to start Bluetooth pairing, select a device type and that is it. There is no manual - the four steps are graphically represented in the pack.

The rechargeable battery lasts for up to three months. Its 120mAh battery will work with any USB charger. To make up for a lack of trackpad there are many small Bluetooth mice available.

Using it

Herein lies the trade-off. As a touch typist, I like my big, thumping, SteelSeries 6GV2 mechanical keyboard. It has long throw keys reminiscent of the old IBM PC or Honeywell keyboards.

This has slightly smaller keys than the larger Surface Pro 3 Type Cover keys. That is not bad – I use a Surface Pro 3 when travelling.

This does not have Function Keys (yes, people still use them). It does have a dedicated Home key and Alt/Option (for iOS) and Fn/Cmd (Windows) but I may miss dedicated End, Page Up, and Page Down keys. Well I may be able to map the multimedia keys to these – time will tell.

It folds out to about the same width as the Surface Type cover – Microsoft calls it full-sized but it is really a compact. It also slows typing speed and can increase inaccuracy – at least until you get used to it.

The keyboard is encased is similar material to the Surface Type keyboard – a rubberised ‘canvas’ texture and its spill resistant. It has a 3-year warranty so do not worry about durability.

I had some issues with losing pairing after sleep mode with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 and iPhone 6s Plus – all pair again easily. I had no such issues with the Surface 3. This is nothing to do with the keyboard – more about how Samsung and Apple implement Bluetooth LE – I am sure these companies will fix this in a future patch.

Australian pricing is A$129. At that price, it is expensive yet justifiable for the traveller. I for one will leave the Surface Type Cover at home now and take this.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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