Why the Surface Pro 4 keyboard needs built in Bluetooth

The Surface line is a growing family of solid devices from Microsoft. The Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3 were leaps forward for the family of what Microsoft bills as tablets that can replace your laptop. Each new generation of Surface devices has improvements over the last and they have yielded two gorgeous devices. The Surface Pro 3 brought the new 12 inch form factor and it and the Surface 3 are thin, sleek, and a sporting silver color. One specific piece of hardware attached to the Surface line (both literally and figuratively) that has continued to improve is the Type Cover. Whenever the Surface Pro 4 is announced, one feature that would bring a major boost to the Surface Pro 4 would be a Type Cover that can also connect via Bluetooth.

Surface covers in general have a surprisingly information laden history despite only being on the market for a few years. It took Microsoft a few tries to find the right form factor and feature set. In just three years since the introduction of the Surface line, we’ve seen a Type Cover (the standard now), a Touch Cover that was thin but awkward to type on for many, a Power Cover which addressed the short battery life issues by having a significantly thicker keyboard body, and even the DJ keyboard which didn’t seem to be used by many mix masters. Now it seems that Microsoft has refined their attachable keyboards for the Surface and decided to stick with the Type Cover.

Surface Pro 3 Keyboard connection

Each generation of Type Covers saw improvements. Jumping from the first to the second generation brought backlit keys, a must have for many typists. Between the second and third generation we saw new way for the keyboard to attach to the tablets. In addition to the strip across the bottom of the Surface connecting to the keyboard, the keyboard also folded up, introducing new design that placed the keyboard at an angle and changed the overall typing experience. These improvements have made the Surface a more viable laptop replacement, but one feature that Microsoft could bring would provide a functionality that would separate the Surface line from laptops even more, built in Bluetooth connectivity.

Surface Type Cover 3 closeup

First, to be clear, this would be an additional feature, not replace the current snap in to connect method. For many, the Type Cover stays permanently attached to their Surface, a protective cover that can also flip down to a keyboard or be hidden behind the device when used as a tablet. But for many the Surface is more of portable work station. Often being used on a desk, the freedom to have the keyboard detached allows users more options for their setup.

When I first got the Surface Pro 2, I was quick to defend its status as a laptop. I would point to its full version of Windows, ability to run programs, and its processor. I’ve now learned over years of use that if the literal definition a laptop is something that can be used on your lap, the Surface line doesn’t exactly qualify. Yes, it can be used on your lap and the new design of the Type Cover for the Surface Pro 3 and Surface 3 help, but at least for my personal use my Surface is more of a portable mini desktop that is also a tablet. I can easily bring it from desk to desk, but rarely find myself using it on my lap. The lack of a hard hinge connecting the keyboard and device and the bulk of the weight being in the Surface itself make using it on my lap awkward.

Surface Portable workstation

That doesn’t however mean I don’t like my Surface. To the contrary, it’s working so well that I can’t justify buying a new one. I just don’t use it as a traditional laptop. When I’m not using it as a tablet, I have my Surface set up with my Microsoft Arc mouse and Microsoft Foldable Keyboard competing my portable work station. I purchased the foldable keyboard as a gift for someone else and to do a review but the freedom it gave me has kept me from wanting to go back to the attached Type Cover (I’ve had to buy another to give as the gift since I loved mine so much).

Since the Surface is regularly used at desks, it’s common for it to be paired with an external monitor. If you’re using your Surface keyboard with this setup you have to face your much smaller screen on your Surface rather than your beautiful large external monitor. You could have a dedicated keyboard for your desk but that’s just another piece of equipment that with more options from Microsoft could be eliminated. Having a built in Bluetooth option would allow users to easily snap their keyboard off their Surface and place it wherever they’d like on their desk.

Surface Pro 3 Docking Station

The Surface Docking Station makes this scenario even more common. Microsoft promised enterprises that the form factor of the Surface Pro line was going to stay the same to entice them to invest in docking stations and to feel safe committing to the Surface Pro line. The goal is to have people connect all of their peripherals to the docking station and to just drop their Surface in and out as they come and go. This makes the Surface more the tablet that can replace your desktop than your laptop, at least in form factor since some users need more power. While the attached Surface Keyboard works while in the docking station, like the previously mentioned setup, users have to face their hands towards their smaller device rather than their other monitor or monitors.

To be fair, there is an adapter that you can attach to your Type Cover that allows it to connect over Bluetooth but that’s another device you have to buy which provides a function that could now be built in. It also proves that this is a feature that enough people want to justify Microsoft making such a device. Maybe at the time the adapter was released they couldn’t fit Bluetooth technology into thin Type Covers but that’s no longer the case. Microsoft has multiple universal Bluetooth keyboards that are as small or smaller than the Type Cover that work with Bluetooth. In fact, some of these keyboards even work with other devices such as phones and tablets.

The Type Cover is priced high for many people’s tastes. Microsoft has the keyboards priced separately from the Surfaces to keep the price of the tablets down but for real work you need a keyboard. If the Type Cover you purchased was essentially a universal Keyboard that could also attach to your Surface it would make purchasing it that much easier. The ability to work across your phone, other devices, and your Surface would make a $129.99 price tag a lot easier to swallow.

The Surface Pro 4 will garner oohs and ahhs from Microsoft fans due to its high end specs and the growing fan base, but it has even more potential if the keyboard had the option to also be detached. Once you go untethered for your peripherals it’s hard to lock yourself down to having to have them a few inches away.

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What features do you want to see in the next Surface Type Cover?