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Jul 01 2011

Verbatim Bluetooth Keyboard Review

I have had a love/hate relationship with folding keyboards since Stowaway wooed me with one that I purchased for my Palm Pilot about a million years ago. Text entry via stylus has always seemed to me like something that should be outlawed by the Geneva convention!

The engineering of the folding mechanics fascinated me and it was the one piece of gear I had that I was always seriously tempted to disassemble to view its inner workings.

Flash forward a couple of years and I am back to entering a lot of text on tablet computers and I found myself wanting something similar. There are several out there but to have a hope of working it needed to be a HID type keyboard not the SPP type that were prevalent for Winmo and Crackberry.

I ordered one of the Verbatim 97537 Wireless Bluetooth Keyboards to use with a smaller Android Tablet as I was looking for a very slimmed down rig for use at trade shows and times when I did not want to pull out the whole laptop.

Open for business!

The keyboard listed support for iPad and iPhone and Android tablets running 3.0 (Honeycomb) software. My tablet did not qualify but I had done some research online and found Teksoft’s Blueinput software for extending Android’s BT stack capabilities and I thought it was worth a try.

Amazon did their normal job of dropping a plain brown box with a smile on my doorstep in short order and I opened up the package with relish.

The keyboard was about 4 x 6 inches folded and although plastic it felt comfortingly solid in my hands. It came with a pleather case with a magnetic closure that I set aside immediately. For me, it added unnecessary bulk and the keyboard folded did not seem to need a lot of extra protection.

Closed comparison with an HTC Evo

When you open it up you are greeted with a fairly traditional 5 row keyboard with some surprises, both good and bad.

The left hand side of the keyboard has the battery compartment for a single AAA battery, a recessed BT pairing button, a power switch and indicators for BT transmission and low battery.
Just to the right of that are a row of buttons for volume up and down, play/pause and song skip forward and back, as well as a “home” button.

The action of the keyboard is pretty good with a little bit of click and enough throw in the keys that you can dig into the keyboard a bit when touch typing. The strangest thing about the keyboard is that the keys are not a consistent size. The top row (numbers and symbols) and the bottom row with the space and modifier keys are small squares that are a little bigger than a quarter of the size of the letter keys. Given the fact that these are the keys that get the least use I can deal with this compromise. Stranger though are the letter keys that are oddly sized with the B and G keys being the most obvious offenders.

Some oddities

In practice, this took me a little bit of motor retraining but was not too bad. There is a lock switch on the top of the keyboard that keeps it from folding back up and actually makes it possible to use in your lap.

The keyboard is a little bit compressed compared to a traditional keyboard but it still gives you far more liebenstraum than you would be dealing with in any onscreen keyboard.

Next to a Macbook Pro keyboard

My favorite feature is an @ symbol on the top layer of the keyboard just to the left of the arrow keys to allow you to enter most email addresses without using the shift keys.

The keyboard paired and worked flawlessly with the iPad and IPod Touch. Pairing was quick and efficient but I did have to repair the keyboard each time I changed the target device. The volume controls and iPod play controls worked perfectly as did the home button. There is also a keyboard button that would call up the onscreen keyboard if you did want to access something that you could not find on the hardware keyboard. As far as I could determine the Menu buttons on the bottom row did nothing at all.

Using the keyboard with Android devices was a bit more of mixed bag. I
initially paired it up with a Galaxy Tab 7 inch. While I could get it to pair,I could not get it to function even with the use of Blueinput. The EVO 4G was even worse as I could not complete the pairing procedure.

I fired up the HTC View with a heavy heart and little optimism. My half empty attitude was, for once, rewarded! The View paired perfectly with the keyboard and let me enter text without any additional software!

The additional keys were a bit of a mixed bag. The volume controls did work but the play/skip controls did not. The menu and home keys did nothing but the function modifier keys do a couple of things. Function 1 pops the menu up, Function 4 would call up the phone up (if the View suported that) and Function 5 puts the tablet to sleep.

The keyboard also has built in stand that can slide out and support a device for a better viewing angle while you are typing info into it. The mechanics are clever but it is not the most robust piece of equipment ever. It is best served by a phone in landscape mode as both smartphones I tried on it were a little unstable in portrait mode. Don’t even fantasize about putting a tablet on this stand!

Conclusions

The Verbatim Keyboard is well integrated with iDevices. It connects quickly and works well with additional functions on those devices. It is not as good as a traditional keyboard but folds into a much smaller space and is WAY better than typing on glass.

The Android end of things is more of a mixed bag. It worked with one out of three devices that I tried it with, even with add on software and not all of the buttons did something.

However, if you have an HTC View or Flyer the Verbatim makes for a nice compact and very powerful package. For the blogger on the go this is a great combination of size and capability.

When you consider that all of it fits in my Waterfield Tablet Travel Case you may understand why I am so excited to find this combination!

Tucked away in my Waterfield case

At the end of the day it is a capable,well made product that adds a lot of functionality in a very small package!

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