The Writers Workbench
by Robert J. Elisberg
Keyboards to Go
As people have started to use larger-screen mobile phones almost as replacements for tablets, there’s one thing lacking that keeps them from the Big Tent, and that’s the lack of a keyboard. They’re fine for short notes or e-mails, but other than that you’re very limited. But there are portable keyboards around that do their best to overcome this. While they’re more focused for use with tablets, they certainly would help with smartphones, and one model is even portable enough to make a very respectable companion.
I've also included a separate review having nothing to do with portable keyboards, though it is for a portable device. But it fell through the cracks, and is one of my favorite devices, so I figured I had to include it here…finally.
ZAGG UNIVERSAL KEYBOARD
Though portable and wireless universal keyboards such as this from ZAGG or the one following from Logitech aren’t precisely marketed as travel devices, but rather to extend the usage of a smartphone or tablet, I think that travel is their best application, so I’m including them here.
To be clear, they both work fine providing a near-full size keyboard to let you do serious work on your smartphone or tablet, and can be carried in a briefcase. But neither fit well in a purse (though the ZAGG could in a large purse), and a significant point of a smartphone or even tablet is that you can just grab them and go, no attaché required. But when traveling, you might not want to pack a laptop, and so a portable keyboard can fit the bill. Moreover, as “universal” devices, these keyboards give added functionality when traveling.
Most portable keyboards work with either Windows or Apple or Android. But the ZAGG and Logitech work with either. If you use devices all with the same operating system, a universal keyboard isn’t necessary – but with so much mix-and-matching of devices today, more people do have a need of a keyboard that can operate on multiple devices. In the case of the ZAGG, there is a little switch underneath that simply toggles between the operating system format you’re using. So, if you own an Android phone, an iPad Mini and Windows tablet, the ZAGG will work with all of them. There are multiple function keys that generally fit most proprietary commands of each O.S., including Alt-Ctrl and Command, as well as keys to control the playback volume and fast forward/reverse of your device.
What’s so nice about the ZAGG is how light and small it is, just 10.5 ounces, and about 10”x5.5”x.5”, yet has a keyboard that provides for fairly easy typing. It’s not full-sized, but allows for comfortable typing, though if you have chubby fingers typing will be a bit cramped. You probably won’t type as fast on the ZAGG as you would on a full-sized keyboard, but you can type quite well. The flat Chiclet-like keys (generally not my favorite) have a good feel to them, and are textured lightly so that fingers grip reasonably well without slipping.
The keyboard has a cover that slides off and then inverts to hold your smartphone or tablet. There’s a holder that flips out and which you should be able to put most any device in. Devices connect via Bluetooth. And you charge the keyboard with a micro-USB cord. The rechargeable battery is rated to last for three months of normal use of a couple hours a day.
The ZAGG has a curved ergonomic design which I found to be a plus and minus. The plus is that this allows for a comfortable typing angle. The bigger negative is that, being slightly curved, it takes up a touch more space in a briefcase than a flat keyboard would and is a bit less practical to pack. I’d have preferred a straight keyboard with a fold-out stand, though the curve is minimal and not overly problematic.
I don’t think I’d regularly use the ZAGG for daily use (though might on occasion), but it’s quite nice, small and light for travel. It retails for $70, but was sold at the time of writing on Amazon for just $19.
ZAGG POCKET KEYBOARD
In a twist on its Universal Keyboard reviewed above, ZAGG’s Pocket Keyboard is even smaller and far more portable. With that comes some plusses and negatives.
On the positive side, this is exceedingly portable. It folds up easily, is light and could simply fit in the inside pocket of a sportcoat, or most purses. (It’s just under nine inches long, and only two inches wide when folded. At a half-inch deep when folded it looks like a very fat ruler.
There are separate models configured for iOS and Android, though it’s easy to switch between operating systems whichever you buy. It also works with Windows tablets (which is odd, but good because initially it didn’t), though it doesn’t pair with a Windows Phone.
(The company says there is a plan to have this become Windows Phone-compatible, as well, with a firmware update, but there’s no date on that yet.)
A little cover opens over a slot into which you slide your portable device – though it’s not very deep, so if you have a thick case, you’d have to either remove your device or just lean it up against the stand.
The negatives start with the 85% key layout being a bit cramped. I don’t have chubby fingers and could manage things okay – but just okay. Bigger fingers would require hunt-and-pecking. (Though the feel of the keys is quite good.) There’s also no CapsLock key or PageUp/Down. No Home or End keys either. And the Enter key is smaller than ideal.
There’s no On/Off switch – the device automatically turns on when you open it, and goes off when you close it. Magnets hold the keyboard closed when it’s folded, so there’s no flopping open. And its polymer battery is rated as a huge two years between charges. So, no, I didn’t get a chance to test that yet.
If you do significant typing, ZAGG’s Universal Keyboard is far better, this is just too cramped for intensive writing. But if you need something particularly small or for emails and notes, the Pocket Keyboard is incredibly portable and has a solid feel. It retails for $70, and could be found at the time of writing for $52.
LOGITECH MULTI-DEVICE KEYBOARD K480
Logitech has its own portable and wireless universal keyboard, similar in concept to the ZAGG, though quite a bit different in specifics. Certain of its features are impressively good, though it has a couple of important caveats.
The K480 is solidly made with a large keyboard that’s very close to full-size. The keys are concave, which I like, and spread out in an “island” style. Typing is fairly smooth, though feels a touch “plasticky” to me. Still, typing is quite comfortable, and would also be for those with chubby fingers.
The layout of the keyboard is good. There’s a wide array of well-marked function keys. And a very convenient “format wheel” that lets you pair up to any three devices at a time, using Bluetooth – you can work on an iPhone, Android tablet and even a standard Windows or Mac computer at the same time, simply by turning the wheel to whichever device you’ve set up and want to access, and it connects immediately. Two clear buttons let you choose between PC/Android and iOS to pair the keyboard to your device.
There’s a long, wide slot for inserting your smartphone or tablet – almost any device should fit in this at a good angle – in fact, you could fit a tablet and smartphone in it and work on both simultaneously, switching the wheel between configurations. This cradle is 10.5” long, so it should fit most, if not all tablets, though if you have a rare device that’s longer than that, it wouldn’t fit in horizontal mode.
It runs on two AAA batteries, and the device provides a long life of up to two years. When you do go on the road, however, it’s important to have backup batteries. The on-off switch is underneath, nice for a clean look, but I prefer the button on top where you can see if you’ve accidentally left the device on.
The two caveats. First, the K480 works cross-platform with Mac, Chrome and Windows, as well as tablets for those formats, and also iOS and Android smartphones. But not Windows Phones. As a Windows Phone user myself, this is a negative, but won’t be a problem for most people.
The other caveat is that the K480 is quite large and heavy. The keyboard is just under 12” long and 8” deep, and almost an inch thick – but most notably, it’s 1.8 pounds. That’s almost as heavy as some light notebooks…and heavier than most tablets.
As a result of all this, I tend to prefer the ZAGG Universal for its overall format and size versatility in both travel and daily use. However, there are situations where the Logitech would be preferable. It’s a bigger, more accessible keyboard after all, so if you specifically and solely want a universal, wireless keyboard for travel, rather than everyday on-the-go use, the Logitech is very good for sticking in your suitcase and setting up in your hotel room (– provided that you don’t use a Windows Phone, which shouldn’t be a problem for most). Also, the “format wheel” is more convenient for setting up multiple devices and quickly switching between them than is the bottom toggle of the ZAGG.
The Logitech K40 retails for $50, and that’s pretty much what I found it for online.
myCHARGE TALK & CHARGE
This is sort of odd. The myCharge Talk & Charge is not a portable keyboard. It’s a portable charger. And I’ve mentioned it in several columns about portable chargers, always assuming that I’d posted the review for it. But in browsing my notes, I discovered the review sitting in a random, unfinished column. So, I’ve never actually have published it! (I know what happened – though it’s a portable charger and could have been included in one of my many charger round-ups, the device is designed in a way that is particularly useful with mobile phones and so I held it back for a phone column, which got delayed and never completed.) Now, normally I might consider letting it slide at this point. But since it might be my favorite portable charger – which is saying a whole lot, given how much I write about portable chargers… – I figured I had to include it. Finally.
The myCharge Talk & Charge is a somewhat similar device to the also excellent TYLT Energi 5K portable charger reviewed here last year, but it’s specifically made and marketed for use with mobile phones. (The TYLT would work exactly the same, but with a longer cord that’s positioned slightly differently it’s more suited for general use than the myCharge.) Make no mistake, that’s not a criticism of the myCharge, just noting the differences. Both devices are wonderful. In fact, I briefly mentioned the myCharge last year in a TWW Note, when it arrived after the charger review was published, and thought it so good that it deserved a full review. Little did I realize it would be so belated. Oops R Us.
As the name suggests, the myCharge is made for charging your phone when talking – and for people who don’t want to have a charger case on their phone, which allows for the same thing but adds bulk 24/7. The Talk & Charge is a very thin, light charger with a small built-in micro-USB cord well-situated near the top so that you can lay your mobile phone flat on it and plug in to charge, while holding the phone and charger together comfortably while you talk.
I don’t always make comparisons, but they’re apt here. The myCharge holds 4,000 mAh, while the TYLT is 5,200 mAh – but 4K is still enough to charge your mobile phone almost three times. The TYLT is impressively thin and light – but the myCharge blew me away how even more thin, smaller, and bizarrely light it was (about a mere 4 ounces), thanks to a high density battery. The device is only about 5”x2.5”x.4” thin. It’s rated for an 18 hour talk time, 14 hours online browsing.
There’s also a USB port, and comes with a spare micro-USB cable, so you can charge two devices at the same time. The main, built-in cable delivers a 1.0 amp output, though the USB port impressively allows for 2.0 amps – this is noteworthy, since it means the device can charge a tablet. (Not fully, perhaps halfway, but most portable chargers this size don’t have the ability to charge a tablet at all.)
Know that myCharge makes two versions of the Talk & Charge. The one tested here is for microUSB devices, and retails for $60, but could be found online at the time or writing for $45. They also make one specifically for iPhones with a Lightning plug that retails for the same price, though it’s only 3,000 mAh (enough, still, for likely two charges).
So, which is better, the myCharge or the TYLT? It depends one you want to most use it for. If you only intend to use the battery for charging your mobile phone, especially while talking, I preferred the myCharge for its size and well-placed short cord. If you want a bit more versatility due to a longer built-in cord and more power (and a slightly lower price), the TYLT might be your choice. Know that TYLT also makes a smaller, lower power 3,000 mAh version, that’s less expensive and terrific. And also a 5K+ version that includes both a microUSB and Apple Lightning plug, though it costs much more.
- Amazon introduced a new line of Fire tablets, including one model that will sell for only $50. You can also buy a “six-pack” for just $250 – one for each member of the family, or room in the house. There’s also a kid-friendly model for $100 that’s a bit more protective against dropping and limits access to 20,000 pre-approved “age appropriate” Web sites and YouTube videos.
- OpenSignal did a study of high-speed 4G LTE connections in 140 countries. The United States came in 14th slowest.
- Though Google created Android Pay as a successor to Google Wallet back in May, the company has continued to upgrade Google Pay and just added a strong feature to the iOS version of the app – it now has the ability to transfer money to someone even if they don’t use Google Wallet.
- Users of the desktop version of Skype on Windows PC will soon be getting Skype Translator built directly into the app. When things have been upgraded, real-time translation icons will appear for audio and video calls, along with instant-message conversations.
To read more from Robert J. Elisberg about other matters from politics, entertainment, technology, humor, sports, and a few things in between, see Elisberg Industries. He can also be followed at a distance on Twitter or Facebook.
Note: The Writers Guild of America, West neither implicitly nor explicitly endorses opinions or attitudes expressed in this article.
Copyright 2015, Robert J. Elisberg. All rights reserved.