Microsoft has been making keyboards for more than 20 years so when they release a new design, it’s worth taking a look. From a company that makes it’s own software, it’s unique to consider they’d make a hardware device that would support not one, but two competitor’s operating systems.
This universal name of the keyboard comes from its support for Windows, Android and iOS devices. Connecting via Bluetooth 4.0, the keyboard offers a decent sized, 76-key keyboard to type on, but being thin and foldable allows portability not otherwise afforded from a keyboard of this size. Thanks to the constrained real estate and compatibility, it was necessary switch some of the regular keys you’d expect. Instead of a Windows key, there’s a Home key.
Switching between the devices is easy, with the ability to switch between devices as easy as tapping the dedicated device 1 or device 2 buttons at the top. One downside of the device is certainly a lack of backlighting on the keys, but to achieve decent battery life in this form factor, that was probably a necessary and good decision.
In terms of performance and reliability, Microsoft says the keys are good for 5 million actuations, and support up to 1,000 characters per minute. If you think you need more, let us know in the comments.
If you’ve ever used the type cover on a Surface Pro device, this keyboard feels very familiar. The big difference is the gap in the middle of the keys which certainly takes a little getting used to, but after a couple of days, it became second nature. As a touch typist, I did find it strange to find different sized keys for N, T and G, I’m sure there’s science in this, but it looks and feels weird. This adjustment to the key sizes is an effort to have a straight line down the fold in the middle. I’m not entirely sure this was necessary.
The keyboard will work up to 10 meters from the device and given you’re often controlling a mobile device, that should be plenty. Even if you want to use this as your couch keyboard, connected to a device powering your TV, you’re still likely 4-5 meters away at most.
As with most things that are shrunk to a smaller package, the keyboard doesn’t come cheap. The Universal Foldable Keyboard from Microsoft retails for A129.95. With a price point this high, it will severely limit the potential market for the product. This is a power user product, for those people who need to type a lot of content while remaining mobile. Much like an ultrabook, you’ll have to open your wallet wide to finance that lifestyle.
As someone who write thousands of words per week, I completely understand the need for this product to exist. As someone who has far too many mobile devices in their life, I really appreciate the cross-platform support and the ability to be connected to 2 at once is great.
Packed inside the keyboard is a rechargeable 3.7V 165mAh lithium battery which is good for around 3 months. To recharge, you can use the included USB cable. Given the keyboard is just 5.3mm high and 180 grams, Microsoft engineers have done a great job of hitting the right size for usability and the right weight for portability.
While triple OS support is the promoted feature, there is some fine print to pay attention to, particularly if you don’t always update your devices. Your device will need to running the following OS versions and the device must have Human Interface Device (HID) keyboard support for things to go smoothly.
- Microsoft Windows 10 / 8.1 / 8
- Windows Phone 10 / 8.1 Update 2
- Apple iOS v7-8.1
- Android 4.4.2-5.0
Finally the keyboard could do with some improvements to it’s lapability. Due to the soft fabric center in the center, it’s not very practical as a keyboard on your knees, you’ll have to find a hard surface to get work done, a Starbucks counter for example.
While this won’t be for everyone, it is a portable keyboard that is perfect for a mobile warrior. If you carry multiple devices and want some screen real estate, carry this in your pocket or bag and whip it out when you need it, smash out a thousand words and ditch the on-screen keyboard.