Touch works well in many cases, but when the time comes to type, a keyboard can’t be beaten. This is why many tablets and laptop/tablet convertibles fall flat, and the reason why cynical commenters often refer to them as “consumption devices.” Even if a tablet is shipped with a keyboard, as with the Microsoft Surface Pro and Acer Iconia W700, the keyboard may not be ideal. Others, like the iPad, have no official keyboard.
This has led to a slew of third-party keyboards that use Bluetooth as a means for connecting to tablets and even smartphones. Many of them are cheap, heavy, or overly expensive – but there are a few that are worth your time and money. Here’s what we think belong in the mobile keyboard hall-of-fame.
This off-brand keyboard is a shameless clone of Apple’s own wireless keyboard. It looks nearly identical, offers a similar feel, and can even be had in Cupertino’s trademark white-on-silver color. Yet, because this is not actually an Apple keyboard, you can have it shipped to your door for just over $25.
Now, as you might expect, the Anker Ultra Slim Mini Bluetooth Keyboard doesn’t entirely replicate the feel of the real thing. It doesn’t feel as weighty and substantial, the keys offer a less precise tactile experience, and you can have it un-stylish black. Yet the price redeems these flaws, not only because the Anker is $45 less than Apple’s model, but also because it’s the least expensive Bluetooth keyboard that’s not utterly useless.
The only obstacle is the lack of a stand, which is something most tablet keyboards bundle. If your tablet doesn’t have its own stand you’ll need to also buy the Arkon Portable Fold-Up Stand, or a similar product.
The Kensington KeyFolio Pro 2 is more than just a Bluetooth keyboard. It’s an all-in-one package designed to transform any 10-inch tablet into a faux-laptop. This is accomplished with a case that offers a built-in stand and removable keyboard.
Tablet users who often find themselves on the move will appreciate the compact versatility of the KeyFolio. And while there are others that work the same way, Kensington’s effort strikes a nice balance between function and price. Speaking of price, the KeyFolio has a list price of $100, but you can usually score it for less. Right now it’s $64.15 at Amazon.
Kensington makes a universal KeyFolio and one specifically designed for the iPad, so double-check your cart before buying.
Want the Cadillac of mobile keyboards? You’ve found it. Logitech’s K810 is a beautiful, enjoyable peripheral with a headline feature: Backlighting.
Though not uncommon in larger desktop keyboards, backlighting is rare on keyboards designed for use with a tablet or smartphone. The K810 is also among the thinnest Bluetooth keyboards on the market – a feat it accomplishes by using a built-in rechargeable battery instead of common AA/AAA replaceable batteries. As a result, this keyboard can fit in many cases that have extra room for a mobile keyboard.
You’ll need such a case because this product, in spite of its $100 price, doesn’t come with a stand. Though stands are inexpensive, not including one with a premium product such as the K810 seems like a mistake.
The less expensive Logitech Tablet Keyboard, which retails at just $70, comes with a useful keyboard carrying case that converts into a tablet stand when the keyboard is in use. This makes it a more convenient package than the more expensive K810.
While backlighting has been dropped from this model, along with the super-slim rechargeable battery, Logitech’s Tablet Keyboard is among the best mobile keyboards on the market. It offers a reasonably spacious layout and good key feel. There are also universal hotkeys – a bonus for Android owners.
Not bundling the tablet itself into a case with the keyboard makes this a less compact solution than Kensington’s KeyFolio, but Logitech’s alternative does offer flexibility. The keyboard and stand works well with tablets and smartphones of all shapes and sizes.
Microsoft’s Wedge keyboard, which retails for $80, but is available for about $50 at Amazon, is similar to the Logitech Tablet Keyboard. This too is thin, light, and shipped with a cover that converts into a stand to hold your tablet. The stand is even more elegant and stable than that provided by Logitech. However, the design doesn’t work with small tablets and smartphones.
Compared to the Logitech Tablet Keyboard, and most keyboards, the Wedge offers larger key-caps in a smaller space. It does this by almost completely eliminating the gaps between keys. Users with large hands will probably prefer this design because the large key feels more natural. That being said, touch-typing on the Wedge can take some practice.
Another minor plus for the Wedge comes from the batteries. It uses AAAs like the Logitech, but only two instead of four. This will reduce cost over time and makes the keyboard lighter.
Which of these contenders is best? It’s a tough call because, of course, needs will differ. Someone who uses a keyboard only on occasion may be fine with the cheap, capable Anker, while another user may want the more portable Logitech Tablet Keyboard. But, if forced, we’ll say that our recommendation among recommendations goes to Microsoft’s Wedge Mobile Keyboard.
The Wedge is the light, small, pleasing to use, and comes with a built-in stand. And in spite of these boons, it manages to be the second least expensive product on this list. Granted, you may have to spend more if you buy at full retail (the MSRP of the Wedge is actually $79.95), but plenty of online vendors currently sell this product for $60 or less.