On September 16th, Microsoft introduced us to a cross-platform Universal Mobile Keyboard, which works with major mobile operating systems available in the market today, including iOS, Android, and Windows. It's not just tablets, the new accessory gives users the ability to even use smartphones with the keyboard and boost their productivity.
This keyboard connects to devices via Bluetooth, and works on devices with an operating system older than Windows 8, Windows RT, Apple iOS 6, and Android 4. Unfortunately, at this time, Windows Phone is not supported. This is because Windows Phone itself has yet to support Bluetooth HID.
"With this wireless Bluetooth keyboard, getting stuff done on the go has never been easier. It works with your iPad, iPhone, Android devices, or Windows tablet, and you can pair up to three devices with different operating systems at the same time. Plus, the detachable cover doubles as a smartphone or tablet stand. And its rechargeable battery works up to six months on a single charge," Microsoft explains. Well lets judge for ourselves, shall we?
A few things are immediately noticeable about the Universal Mobile Keyboard (download the official product guide here in PDF format). First, it is small and not lightweight. It reminds me of my Surface RT tablet, but not as heavy. Second, it features a protective cover that can easily get dusty. As you can clearly see in the photos we have embedded in this article, the keyboard can get quite dusty in no time.
The keyboard is super small. In fact, it is close to half the size of a standard desktop keyboard. All you have to do is lift open the protective cover and select which operating system you are running, whether it be Windows, Android, or iPad/iPhone.
In my opinion, it seems like this keyboard is targeted towards small screen Android tablet or iPad users. I don't see myself using this keyboard with my Surface RT, since the Touch Cover is larger and a bit more spacious and comfortable to use.
Getting it up and running
In order to get the Universal Mobile Keyboard up and running, you first need to enable Bluetooth on your smartphone or tablet. In this example, I linked a Nexus 5 Android-powered device with the Universal Mobile Keyboard.
Once you enable Bluetooth on your smartphone or tablet, the Universal Mobile Keyboard will automatically be recognized as long as you turn the slider on the keyboard to "Android mode." If you are not familiar, the Universal Mobile Keyboard features three modes -- Windows, Android, and iPad/iPhone (see image below).
You will then be prompted on your smartphone or tablet to type some numbers on the universal keyboard in order to pair it. Once you do this, the keyboard and mobile device will become paired. You can now launch an app or browser on your device and immediately begin using the universal keyboard to type. Very simple and painless process!
This keyboard is built well, although I don't like how it gets dusty really quick. If you store the keyboard on your desk, expect to see dust. And the dust doesn't remove easily. But I digress. The keyboard itself is built well and features all the important keys you would want. Aside from the standard QWERTY keyboard, you get quick access to the volume, play/pause, fast forward and rewind buttons, and a search button.
My biggest gripe about the keyboard is that it seems pointless to use. I understand the intention of the keyboard is to be a universal accessory for mobile devices, especially Android tablets, Android smartphones, and iOS devices, but it just seems more of a pain to use. Let me explain.
You open up the Universal Mobile Keyboard by lifting the cover and you are given the option to place your mobile device into a slot at the middle of the keyboard to prop up your mobile device. In other words, you can use both the keyboard and your mobile device in a laptop-esque fashion. However, this is a flimsy method and nine times out of ten, the tablet or smartphone falls over. The slot that is supposed to prop up your device is just too small and not flexible enough.
For arguments sake, lets say the slot worked as intended and you were able to prop up your tablet or smartphone. Unless you have the keyboard set in a stationary place, like your desk, don't expect to be able to move the keyboard around without the tablet or smartphone falling over. In other words, don't expect to be sitting on the couch with the keyboard on your lap and getting up without your tablet falling out of the keyboard slot.
You can, however, remove the cover that is attached to the keyboard. This also removes the ability to prop up a tablet or smartphone. I felt that the keyboard is too small on its own. I would rather just use the on-screen keyboard on a tablet or smartphone. It's just not comfortable enough to use such a small keyboard on your lap or on your desk.
I also tested the keyboard with a Surface RT tablet device. Again, the process of pairing the two devices was easy thanks to Bluetooth connectivity, so I had no issues there. Once the keyboard and tablet were paired, I was easily able to use the keyboard on the Surface RT.
However, as you can see from the image above, the Universal Mobile Keyboard just feels weird when using it with the Surface RT. I placed the Surface RT into the keyboard slot and as you can see, the keyboard is small compared to the device. Not a big deal, but now you have an idea of how small the keyboard is.
In my opinion, I found the Universal Mobile Keyboard to be pointless to use over the Touch Cover (or Type Cover). As you can see from the image below, the universal keyboard is half the size of the Touch Cover. If you prefer a smaller keyboard then you should be fine, but I personally prefer the Touch Cover.
The Universal Mobile Keyboard was intended to be a universal accessory for any mobile device in the market that supports Bluetooth. This is Microsoft's first attempt at creating a device that is cross-platform and im sure we can expect more cross-platform devices in the future.
With that being said, the universal keyboard is a decent accessory that some of you might enjoy using. In my opinion, the universal keyboard isn't worth purchasing. Let me explain why.
Why would you want to pair a keyboard with your smartphone?
The keyboard is too small and the keyboard cover gets in the way. Sure you can easily remove the keyboard cover, but then you also remove the slot that allows you to "insert" a tablet or smartphone so you can have a laptop-esque setup.
However, the slot itself isn't that reliable since it is too small and not flexible enough. Plus, you can't freely adjust the angle of the tablet -- you are stuck with just two angles. The slot also features a groove allowing you to position your tablet in the secondary angle (you can see this angle in the promo video at the end of this review) offering a more angled view for your tablet and keyboard setup, however, it's flimsy causing your tablet to topple over (at least this was an issue for me).
Why would you want to pair a keyboard with your smartphone? Seems weird to me. Do you hold your smartphone in one hand and use the keyboard in another hand? Do you prop up your smartphone and use the physical keyboard on your lap? Seems pointless to use this universal keyboard with a smartphone. Again, this is my opinion.
Also, how can you call this accessory a 'universal' keyboard when it doesn't work with Windows Phone? Not necessarily a big deal, but it defeats the purpose of being called a 'universal' keyboard.
On the other hand, I can understand using this keyboard with tablet devices like an Android tablet or the Surface. However, the Surface already comes with a better keyboard option (Touch or Type Cover). So it comes down to the iPad and Android tablets. If you own an iPad or an Android tablet, then this universal keyboard might be an accessory you can use. As you can see from the image above, this universal keyboard fits perfectly with the iPad. But as I've mentioned already, the keyboard isn't flexible enough to handle different sizes of tablet devices.
You can try propping up your Android or iPad tablet with the Universal Mobile Keyboard, but you will need to be on a desk or kitchen table. Don't expect to use it on your lap or on the go, as your tablet will easily fall out of the keyboard slot. There just isn't anything to secure your tablet to the keyboard -- unless you want to super glue your tablet to the keyboard slot.
I really like the idea of having a universal cross-platform hardware accessory. The universal keyboard does have potential as long as Microsoft can improve the slot to secure a tablet or smartphone, as well as improve the flexibility of the slot so we can adjust the angle of the tablet. Otherwise, the feature just seems flimsy and restricted to a desk/table with minimal mobility or 'lapability.'
Should you buy?
That is totally up to you. In my opinion, this accessory isn't worth it, unless you absolutely want a Microsoft keyboard for your iPad. However, my personal preferences are just that -- personal. I highly suggest heading over to your local Microsoft Store or Best Buy and actually take a look at the Universal Mobile Keyboard so you can judge for yourself. Keep my opinions in mind when you make your decision.
The Universal Mobile Keyboard runs for $79.95 at the online Microsoft Store, and is currently out of stock at the time of this post. It comes in black, or a white iPad-esque color to match your iOS device.