BlackBerry PlayBook Mini Keyboard Review
The Mini Keyboard for the BlackBerry PlayBook is very much a luxury accessory and being pretty expensive maybe one that most PlayBook users wont pick up. It does however have some benefits that many users will love and come to cherish.
Being such a huge BlackBerry fan as I am, and also a PlayBook user, I was obviously pretty excited to get my hands on the Mini Keyboard. The question I initially was asking myself though was can I justify spending about £80 on an accessory when the on-screen keyboard on the BlackBerry PlayBook is wonderful to type on.
Only one way to find out and that's to read on.
If you saw my hands on video with the Mini Keyboard you would have seen how easy it is to set up and pair with the PlayBook. The Keyboard has a simple on/off button located on its left side. Once turned on it is just a case of going to your Bluetooth setting on the PlayBook and selecting the Mini Keyboard. After entering a pairing confirmation number the two are working seamlessly.
In terms of build quality the Mini Keyboard is fantastic. It is made up of two parts. First up is the case which is made from leather (well it smells like it). The workmanship appears to be second to none with a great design thrown in for good measure. Of course we have the BlackBerry logo embossed on the outside of the case so your friends can say 'ooh, what's that?'
On the reverse of the outside of the case you have a kick stand for propping the PlayBook up whilst using the keyboard. Above this we have a cut out for the camera lens to ensure full functionality when the tablet is incased.
Opening up the case we find that in the top section is a kind of rubber housing that holds the PlayBook. It is a snug fit which ensures the tablet wont drop out, however I have heard a few people mention that they have struggled to get the PlayBook out afterwards. I didn't find this an issue. It is just a case of being forceful and prizing the PlayBook from the case. I prefer it to be this way. It is far greater to have piece of mind in my opinion than the device popping out of the case and getting damaged.
This top section has cut outs for the ports on the bottom of the PlayBook as well as rubber covers on the top for your media controls and power button.
The bottom part of the case is flat with four pieces of elastic to hold the Bluetooth keyboard in place. At first I was slightly concerned about the elastic but it turns out it is a tight fit and the keyboard isn't budging.
So lets have a look at the keyboard itself. It certainly looks good and feels durable. The reverse side of it is made from the same material as the back of the PlayBook and we get the nice shiny BlackBerry logo centered. The keyboard itself is pretty lightweight.
So as you can see in the photos, the unit is made up of a full QWERTY keyboard complete with numbers on the top row, arrow keys for navigation and ctrl, alt, caps lock, space bar and an enter key much as you would find on a PC keyboard.
Typing on the Mini Keyboard certainly takes some getting used too. The keys are smaller than on the virtual keyboard but perform well. They feel good to press and once you have used the keyboard for a while navigating seems to get easier, much the same as with any new device.
To add to its computer like functionality we also get a touchpad/mouse below the space bar. You can use this to control all on screen navigation. Clearly the PlayBook's UI involves screen swipes/gestures which cant be done with the touchpad so instead when you navigate to the bottom of a application the onscreen cursor changes and with a quick tap of the touchpad the app will minimize. The same applies when scrolling to the top to access menus and settings.
While we are on the subject of scrolling I did find that due to the size of the touchpad it took a lot of scrolling to get one from side of the screen to the other. Not a major issue and I am sure one that gets easier with time.
Much like a traditional mouse the touchpad allows for multiple gestures. A one finger tap will simulate a left click. A two finger tap, a right click. You can also swipe the trackpad to move between pictures etc.
Up until now you will probably be of the understanding that I am enjoying the Mini Keyboard. Well I am afraid that things are about to change as I have found a major flaw with it.
That flaw involves one of the most important feature that was introduced with PlayBook OS 2.0, word prediction and spell check. Clearly when using the Mini Keyboard you don't by default have the virtual keyboard on screen. This means you have no word prediction or spell check (or none that I could find). On some native apps if a word was spelt wrong it would be underlined to warn you, but no options were given to correct it, unlike with the virtual keyboard. You can if you like move the cursor to the bottom left hand side of the screen where you have the option to activate the virtual keyboard. This however then means your screen real estate is reduced.
Even with the virtual keyboard open, on the native apps I tested I could not get spell check and word prediction to work. Strangely enough on my favorite third party app, Blaq, the prediction was there. Bonkers!
I just find it frustrating that we have a wonderful accessory here but with a huge feature of the OS not working (that I can see) RIM may have released it a little to early. Let's hope this is addressed in a future software update.
The Mini Keyboard is also quite weighty. Not a massive negative but it is certainly very noticeable. Clearly you get some extra bulk using this accessory but that is to be expected. You are sacrificing the weight and bulk for the glorious hardware keyboard.
There is no doubt that the BlackBerry PlayBook Mini Keyboard is a superb piece of hardware. Unfortunately, with me not being able to get the spell check and word prediction working as well as when using the virtual keyboard I was a little disappointed. That said, if you are not as useless at spelling as me it may well not be an issue.
The Mini Keyboard may well be best suited to business users that type documents whilst out and about or on a train commute. For this it is ideal and will supplement the need to take a laptop or notebook.
If the word prediction thing could be sorted I would use this keyboard all the time. I'm afraid to say that until it is addressed with am update I find using the virtual keyboard far more productive.
Posted by: James