It’s pretty clear that tablet devices are a bit difficult when it comes to productivity. Trying to do anything that involves quite a bit of typing or data entry becomes a chore – I couldn’t imagine writing an entire blog post from a tablet (although, I suppose if it were a short one, I could). Aside from that, it’s a case of being annoyed at the lack of tactile response, the frequent typing errors and auto-correct hell.
I think Microsoft did get it right when they tried to push their touch and type covers as making a tablet more productive – it’s really the thing that sets tablets and laptops apart. The covers were nice and integral to the tablet, not taking up a significant amount of space, although I would imagine that the typing experience of the touch cover was a bit sub-par.
Anyway, luckily for “every other tablet” with Bluetooth, they could always just buy a Bluetooth wireless keyboard and pair it up. It might not be as sleek, but it would be just as, if not even more productive and ergonomic to use.
But there is a bit of a problem – most Bluetooth keyboards are fairly pricey, and/or they’re full sized desktop-style keyboards. Before even knowing whether I’d want to have a Bluetooth keyboard with me, I have to fork out about AU$100 for one? No way.
I decided to get a cheap one first, but many of the keyboards were more like thumb-boards which would not have enhanced the productivity factor. That is, until, I came across this –
Only an idiot would mistake this for an Apple Bluetooth keyboard. It’s not. For under AU$12 from eBay (and more than twice as much elsewhere), it can’t be. It’s advertised as a Mini Bluetooth Wireless keyboard. The first thing is that it’s “not really mini”, more like a nice netbook size. It runs off two AAA batteries, and it’s made of flimsy plastic. It’s fairly light, and I can toss it into my bag quite easily. It has keys laid out Apple style in the sense it has a “Command” key which is equivalent to the Windows key on PCs, and the F1-F12 keys require pushing fn+key to get them.
As part of being “mini”, it’s sacrificed the number pad and all the keys around it – including some fairly useful ones like Home, End, PrintScn, PgUp and PgDn.
I say it’s unbranded, but it does have a model number of BK3001BA. On the rear, there is a slide switch to turn the keyboard on and off, and a connect pushbutton that initiates the pairing operation. There’s a tabbed battery cover which completely removes (so try not to lose it), and four rubber feet.
Aside from that, there’s not much else to it.
The keyboard came inside a foamy wrap inside a colour cardboard box with no obvious branding, however, I don’t approve of the glee plug on the iPad. Anyway, the most useful specs on the front indicate it’s a Class 2 device, which you can expect up to 10m of range from its 4mW power transmissions. It also claims to use 4mA, which means that a set of 800mAh batteries should last about 200 hours (or about a week of continuous usage), although I can’t be too sure whether this figure is correct as the chipset has extensive sleep abilities.
The rear seems to be made for OEM-ing, with wide spaces for barcode, dealer information, etc. There seems to be several variations on the theme which are available, although I haven’t seen them as readily marketed. There is a one page leaflet which I threw out almost immediately, but it alluded to another model with an internal battery that can be recharged with a microUSB connector on the side. This model has no such ability.
To pair the keyboard, it’s as simple as turning it on, pushing the pairing button until the blue LED flashes. Then you scan for the device from your tablet/device, and select it and your device will provide you a pairing key. Enter this key using the number keys on the keyboard and press enter. Do not make a mistake! And if you have that done correctly, it will be paired and connections will automatically be established every time you turn the keyboard on. There are no default pass-keys on this device to my knowledge.
Being as flimsy as it is, it would be easy as pie to take it apart. And it was. The whole device is made from a screwless construction, so prying around the seams slowly allows you to part the two halves of the keyboard.
The top half of the keyboard is a metal plate backing which has the traces which form the keyboard, and the keys, like any other classical laptop keyboard. But there’s no obvious branding on it either, merely a QC label, the writing of the number 4 in permanent marking, and a pressing in the metal which says HDK09.
A closer look at the flexible flat cable reveals that one of the rows and one of the columns is not connected, so the keyboard may just be a 7 x 16 matrix.
The rear of the shell shows simplicity – there is a flexible flat cable connector on a PCB which forms the “heart” of the keyboard, and a battery shell which is screwed in (possibly so it can be replaced with a rechargeable battery in other models). The PCB itself has soldered connections to the battery terminals.
A closer look at the PCB (upside down in the image) reveals the soldering of just one connect button, a power switch, and the use of an Airoha AB1108 integrated SoC. Next to it is a EEPROM. The antenna is just to the corner of the PCB – making it on the top right-hand side of the keyboard. The datasheet reveals it to be a Bluetooth 3.0 compliant single-chip keyboard SoC with support for up to 8×18 matrix keyboards.
The underside of the PCB reveals the 26Mhz crystal timing reference, an electrolytic capacitor, and the markings for the flexible flat cable in terms of rows and columns.
In use, the keyboard performs as expected – you push the key, the letter comes up. Some of the cheapest nastiest keyboards seem to have key-bounce issues resulting in letters doubling themselves, or key-stuck issues where the input lags and freezes. So far, I haven’t experienced any of this on my Nexus 7 or Acer Iconia W3. It’s actually been quite useful as I’ve discovered many of the keyboard shortcuts we’d instinctively use on the PC are workable on the Android (Win+Tab/Alt+Tab, Crtl+C, Crtl+V just to name a few), and makes long IM chats quite comfortable compared to using the on-screen keyboard.
Unfortunately, it’s not all roses, as the keyboard itself feels fairly flimsy and works best on some solid support. Even without it, the keys require more pressure than normal to depress, and this can cause finger fatigue. A genuine Apple keyboard is a lot more expensive, but I’m sure it’s a lot more solid and easier to type on.
Which brings me to this rather difficult conclusion – it’s cheap, and you get your money’s worth. But if you pay more, you do get more and it could be worth it if you’re planning to use it a lot. I’d be happy to use this one on the rare occasions that I’d need it – so as a spare, back-up, or additional convenience, it’s great. But I’d definitely hesitate to use it as my only keyboard …