Around a month ago, I started reading rumors and seeing pictures on the internet about some kind of official BlackBerry keyboard and stand combo case. I was extremely optimistic, realizing that this could be very useful, and could really help boost my productivity with my PlayBook, which I take everywhere and do a surprising amount of typing on. So, this afternoon, I went on over to the Source to see if I could try to pick up one to see of it really was as good as I hoped. After taking a while to set it up and read the instruction sheet and the do’s and don’ts paper (I almost never do that actually, might be a good thing to start), I put my PlayBook in the supplied case, turned on the keyboard, and started testing.
I am actually writing this on the Docs to Go app on my PlayBook, using the PlayBook Mini Keyboard, and I am finding it`s a pretty decent combination. However, I am still very unsure about this product, mostly because of its steep $100 (On sale!) price point, and I am finding that it wasn`t really what I expected in a number of ways. So, at the moment, I am on the borderline, of deciding to keep it, or return it to the source for a full refund. Before the BlackBerry fan-boys (and yes, I consider myself one) that may be reading this article get upset at me for having un-realistically high standards, let me explain myself.
I bought this fully expecting something that I could type quickly and accurately into (after all, isn’t that what keyboards are for?), and I’m finding that I have to back-track and fix keyboard caused spelling errors far too often. The keys are fairly small and close together, so you have to be very careful which ones you press. Even then you have to push them down fully to make sure that is accepts it. So, between those two things, you have to consciously press each key fairly hard on every keystroke, which in itself slows down your typing speed considerably. What compounds this problem even more is the fact that the auto-correct feature that OS 2.0 brought to the PlayBook doesn’t work when the keyboard is being used. In fact, it doesn’t work at all without using the virtual keyboard, which defeats the purpose of using a physical keyboard. When that gets fixed, I will be able to fairly easily forgive the afore-mentioned constraints of a 7 inch keyboard.
Other than the defects with typing, I feel that I should comment on the case and physical keyboard itself, it feels well build and solid. The keys will not touch your PlayBook screen when the case is folded, as they are sunk slightly, and the edges of the case are also raised a little bit to prevent the keys scratching your screen. The case is surprisingly thick and heavy, coming in at just over 2 pounds, and around 1.1 inches thick (only marginally thinner than my 2-year-old notebook!). The keyboard, surrounding plastic, keypad and surrounding case also feels very solid. It weighs more than it looks like it should, and definitely more than I expected. But, it protects your PlayBook very well, so it’s worth it in my opinion.
I would have also liked the kick-stand at the back of the case to be a little stronger though, and there should be a way to easily get your PlayBook out of the case, it took me about a minute of hard trying to get it out and not damage my playbook. But in time, as I break the case in, that should become easier and easier.
The track-pad is very nice, extremely responsive and a pleasure to use. Again, my only complaint being that it is quite small and it takes some time to get used to that, but, as that is a part of the product’s design, and is a necessary part of its 7 inch form, I can`t hold it against it. All the functions are there that I could realistically expect on a 7 inch keyboard, other than French accents, those would be really nice as I am currently learning French as a second language (If anybody who’s reading this knows how to insert those on the Mini Keyboard, or even the on-screen keyboard, could you let me know in the comment section please?).
So, thank you RIM! For making such a high quality product that is great ‘eye-candy’ and very functional! However, I feel a sincere “Hurry up!” is also in order. As you may know, if you read my PlayBook review, and PlayBook OS 2.0 review, I have been quite forgiving and as understanding as I could be with regard to the delays that RIM seems to constantly be suffering from, but to release a keyboard, without even bothering to write a quick software patch to add the already existing auto-correct and auto-complete feature to that keyboard, seems pretty in-excusable, especially considering how long this keyboard has been in development for, so, in the end, the missing auto-correct feature really kind-of ruins the product for me. Because of the nature of the keyboard, and the fact that I will be doing a fair bit of typing on it, this omission may end up being a deal-breaker for me.
So, if in the next 30 (the time within which I was told I could take it back to be re-funded in) days RIM still hasn’t released an update to fix this, I will be very seriously considering taking this back to be refunded. Although I think overall RIM has done a great job on this, with a good design, nice features and a very nice well designed case as a bonus, I need auto-correct, and it`s not there.
*UPDATE (April 10 2012)
Tomorrow, I am taking it back to The Source for a full refund, the 30 days has not yet expired, but I feel that unfortunately, to me, it is not worth the steep cost ($120 regular price). This isn’t a comment on the product though, it is well-built, sturdy, thin, and visually appealing. The problem was, I had to weigh that all up with the steep price for an accessory that I won’t use very often.
The BlackBerry Mini Keyboard is a solid, well-built, sleek piece of hardware designed to offer much faster typing on your BlackBerry PlayBook (although it also works with most other Bluetooth supported devices). For the most part it does an excellent job of this, with an approximate battery life of 30 hours, 30 minute charging time, great well designed and very tough protective case, and a sensitive trackpad that is especially helpful when browsing the internet. However, it’s not all good, the keys are hard to press properly until you get used to its small size and this leads you to make a large number of spelling mistakes, which are aggravated by the lack of autocorrect for the keyboard.
I recommend this to all PlayBook owners who do much typing, as it serves as a great laptop replacement. But with the caution that they will have to wait for an update from RIM to have a functional auto-correct option.
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