BlackBerry Mini Keyboard with Convertible Case review:

BlackBerry Mini Keyboard with Convertible Case

The BlackBerry Mini Keyboard sports five rows of keys that feel sturdy and click pleasantly when pressed. Its touch pad also mimics mouse button functions.

The touch pad also helps you navigate the PlayBook's odd interface, at least I've always found it odd compared with Android and iOS. For example, swiping up from the bottom of the PlayBook's screen opens the application tray -- a sensible move since it scrolls up from the foot of the screen. The same gesture tells the tray to collapse back down, a move that's counterintuitive in my book. Moving the pointer to the bottom of the display with the touch pad and tapping once accomplishes the same task. That's an interaction I comprehend better, especially since the cursor changes its icon to alert you when this function is possible.

Similarly, positioning the cursor to the left or right edge of the PlayBook's screen and right-clicking the touch pad enables quick switching between any open applications. The same procedure at the top of the display opens the PlayBook's settings menu. Scrolling to the bottom left then tapping with two fingers fires up the virtual keyboard if you prefer it. Likewise, performing a right-click at the upper-left screen corner launches the Status bar for system notifications.

The PlayBook Mini Keyboard is helpful for document editing, as well. For instance, within a Word document you can copy text by positioning the cursor where you'd like, tapping the touch pad once, then pressing the Shift and arrow keys to highlight text. Just as with desktop software, hitting Ctrl+C copies text and pressing Crtl+V will paste what you've copied.

One big feature RIM has been keen on promoting is the Mini Keyboard and PlayBook's compatibility with Citrix Receiver enterprise software. Essentially this Citrix software is designed to duplicate the Windows desktop in real time (keyboard, mouse clicks, and all) for use on PlayBook devices. I've personally worn out many laptop bags simply trucking an over-7-pound notebook to and from the office. For me, and I imagine many others, the prospect of converting a lightweight tablet into a secure corporate workhorse is a very alluring one. Unfortunately Citrix Receiver is strictly an enterprise product and must be purchased and set up by IT managers rather than the average user.

Judged solely as an input device, the Mini Keyboard performed quite well. Setup and Bluetooth pairing with my test PlayBook tablet was a snap. If you don't count the 5 minutes I spent shoehorning the slate into its hard plastic protective shell, I was up and running in under 30 seconds. The keyboard's keys offer deep travel for such a thin piece of hardware and they engage with a satisfying click when pressed. The spacebar is nice and wide, too, so my thumbs had no trouble hitting it. Of course, the device's layout is cramped and those coming straight from a large laptop keyboard will definitely notice the size reduction.

Typing on the BlackBerry Mini Keyboard is a comfortable experience compared with using a virtual software keyboard. Those migrating from full laptops will find its layout cramped, though.

My experience using the touch pad was more of a mixed bag. I moved the pointer around the PlayBook's menus and navigated through the tablet's various windows and apps quite easily. I also appreciated the greater control the touch pad lent to manipulating the PlayBook's software interface. My two-finger scrolls within Web pages and word documents was jumpy and not as smooth as I would have liked, however. A few times I also had to hit the touch pad more than once for a tap to register.

The Mini Keyboard's strong suit is longevity. RIM rates the device's battery as providing a full 30 days of operation between charges, and I didn't need to recharge once in my two-week test period. One annoyance was that the keyboard had a tendency to lose its Bluetooth connection if the PlayBook was inactive for long stretches.

Our take
After using the $119 BlackBerry Mini Keyboard with Convertible Case for a few weeks, I can understand its appeal, at least theoretically. The device and case make a handsome accompaniment to RIM's beleaguered tablet. The real question is what PlayBook owners will actually use the accessory for. I can understand the desire to lighten your load by toting this device combination instead of a back-straining laptop. And at hundreds less than a comparable Windows ultrabook or MacBook Air, the Mini Keyboard with Convertible Case could be an attractive option for highly mobile corporate workers -- if they can convince their IT departments. As for mobile e-mail, you can use an Android tablet, iPad, or, heck, a smartphone to do that.

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