Friday, 23 November 2012

Blackberry Playbook Mini Keyboard

Black Friday is upon us and there are some amazing deals to be had! Unfortunately, most items are in limited stock and only a few early birds enjoy the benefits. One such item is the Blackberry Playbook Mini Keyboard which I am using right now to write this blog. I wanted to share a quick review in case you are contemplating a purchase this holiday season.

The keyboard is priced at $69 at some retailers right now, and while not available online they may have a few sitting in stores. It is well built and boasts a 30 day battery life after full charge. The keyboard comes with a rugged leather case which is normally sold separately for about $40-50 alone, so having it available with a keyboard now is a good deal. There are sales at the moment for the rugged rubber/leather case for about $15 so if you are only looking for that, it is well worth it. Not to mention the rapid charging stand can also be had for $15 if you can find it.

Back to the mini keyboard. It is easy to set up and will link not only to a Playbook but your phone, computer, set-top box, game console or any Bluetooth HID enabled device. The keyboard comes with a touchpad which lets you right-click with two-finger tapping and also has scroll features. In this respect, it becomes quite versatile.

I found a few disadvantages however, although easy to overlook once you get the hang of using it. First, the keys on the rows are arranged in a straight grid, unlike a traditional keyboard where alternating rows of keys are slightly offset. This makes it a bit awkward to type on at first, but after a few minutes your fingers learn where the keys are and it gets a bit easier. The keys are truly small so it can be a bit of a task for thick-fingered people, but certainly lets you type much faster than using the on-screen keyboard. It is also easier on the fingers than using the keyboard on your phone if you are familiar with Blackberry Bridge.

The keyboard does not come with a charger, but relies on you to use your Playbook charger or any other USB 5V accessory plug. I am not sure if it needs 1 amp rated charger or if your older phone chargers will work to charge it (although perhaps slower) but it took me about 2 hours to get it completely charged from out of the box.

Finally, the case itself lets you strap in the keyboard with elastic holders at the corners. The problem is that the lower left corner elastic covers the on/off switch for the keyboard, so if you are planning to turn it on and off each time, it can be a pain. I usually just leave it on and it goes into power save mode after a few minutes of inactivity. As well, if you want to activate things again once your Playbook has fallen asleep, simply hit RETURN on your keyboard a few times and it will wake up the keyboard and your Playbook at the same time.

You can select text by double-finger tapping a word, but then to expand your selection you either have to use fingers on the screen to pull the tags at the end of your selected text, or if you prefer using the keyboard you can hold down SHIFT and use the left/right arrow to move your cursor.

The one other drawback is the small stand on the back of the case that you pull out to stand your Playbook vertically. It can sometimes be hard to grab it and pull it out, and it is short and so your Playbook reclines at almost a 30-40 degree angle to the table. I prefer it to be higher, perhaps 70-80 range, so I have to proper the stand leg up on something. It would have been nice to allow several options for angle, but this is a minor issue. A small piece of cardboard can be tucked under the leg to achieve the same thing, so you may have to just carry that along with you if needed.

Overall the keyboard is a nice addition to the Playbook power user. At $69 it becomes a reasonable purchase when you compare to a Playbook that costs about $120 on sale these days, and that many other similar keyboard/trackpad combinations are in the $40-60 range. However, any more than that price and it really has to be a killer product for me. As you can see by the length of my blog entry, the keyboard certainly speeds up the ability to type on the go and makes your Playbook look like a little mini laptop. It is nice and functional and looks good, can be used with other devices. I would pick up another one if they were available, but unfortunately they are out of stock. Let us hope for some more deals coming up in the next few months, because the regular price for the keyboard at $119 just doesn't justify the purchase, in my opinion, unless you are a hardcore Playbook user who must have a keyboard.

A few more things I forgot to mention. Using the keyboard clears up a lot of room on your screen which gives you much improved web functionality, especially if you are typing into web-based applications, forums or emailing/blogging online. Often when the Playbook on-screen keyboard pops up it will take up a good 30-40% of your screen space and you can barely see the website. The fact that a little mouse cursor also pops up gives you much better control over on-screen elements as well, in case you have trouble using your fat fingers normally on the screen. These features also add to improving the experience of using the Playbook and therefore the mini keyboard is a fun accessory to have! By the way, my typing has improved even further in the past few minutes and the fact that the keys are not offset on alternating rows no longer bothers me. You easily can learn to use it and be typing extremely quickly and without any finger fatigue!

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