Wherein I Move a Lot of Words Around

Bluetooth Keyboards

For a mess of reasons too boring to get into, I wanted to get a Bluetooth keyboard for my iPad Mini. After poking around for a bit I found some good candidates, but holy hell is the market for BT keyboards crap right now.

The Apple Wireless Keyboard is pretty much a desk keyboard. While I really hate wires, I hate replacing batteries for needlessly portable devices more, so I always go wired at desks when I can (my love for the Magic Touchpad is an exception to the rule). There are a dozen clones of that keyboard out there (whose manufacturers are both named and unnamed) but the design is very much for the desktop.

I did a search and found a long list of keyboards that would possibly work for me and settled on three to seriously consider: the solar-powered Logitech K470, the Logitech K480, and the Microsoft Universal Mobile keyboard. I chose these because they looked well-designed, supported multiple devices (once I learned this was A Thing™ I realized I wanted it for my Apple TV), and were available for purchase locally so returns would be easier.

Well, after going to a few places that listed the K470 as being in stock, it never was. Popular belief has it that it's been discontinued and that's kind of restricting supply. Oh well. I did find the other two locally and brought them home for some testing.

The Microsoft one is just lovely. It's very Surface-like, small, can pair with three devices, includes a cover that doubles as a detachable device stand, and is rechargable over USB (and a charge lasts six months, supposedly). I love this thing so much. I'm rather sad it didn't work out because so much attention to detail has clearly gone into this product that I was almost unashamed to carry around a MS keyboard with my iPad.

Alas, there are two flaws with this keyboard, and one is fatal with zero recourse. The first flaw is that I have man hands and this was apparently made for small children. Every key I hit was wrong. Even when I got used to it, I found myself smacking something random every 20 characters or so. Livable flaw, especially given how much I liked the thing, but annoying.

The big flaw, however, is a rather unforgivable oversight. The keyboard supports three devices: a PC, an Android device, and an iOS device. I mean that literally. You must have those exact devices for the different positions on the device switch are associated with keymaps for those platforms and there is no way to change that. If you have three PCs, you're boned. If you have three of anything, or even two of anything, you're boned. I have three Apple devices. I was boned. The modifier keys change for each expected platform and on anything other than the iOS mode the Command key is mapped to Control.

Think about that. That means to get Command back I have to remap Control to Command, thus losing Control (which I use in the shell -- a lot). I could switch Caps Lock to Control like a Proper Neckbeard but I never learned to care for that layout so it'd be a frustrating change.

Also, there aren't real function keys; they broke out the actual media keys and mapped them to their F-key for each expected platform. That kills a lot of CLI work as well.

So, I returned it. Sadly. I really liked it outside of that. The cover stand even held my Smart Case-wrapped iPad correctly without taking it off.

Next came the Logitech K480. This thing is big. It's about the size of a MacBook Air 11", but it's light enough that's not a big deal. While that initially gave me much pause, I realized that meant that they keys would feel properly spaced-out, and they do. I can type on this like any other keyboard without any issues at all. There are F-keys, and other than fn and Control being swapped it feels great. Best of all, it solves the keymap problem very well. The knob at the side lets you pick which pairing slot to use at the moment and when you want to pair a device you press either the pc or i buttons which establishes the keymap for that pairing slot at the time of pairing. Whenever you go back to it, the right keymap is used. It works great on the desktop, iPad, Apple TV, and my Linux server as a result. The battery is not rechargable, however. It uses two standard AAA cells, though they claim it'll last a couple of years on one set. We'll see. It wont be the end of the world if not.

Overall, though, what I discovered is that there are a lot of crap options out there and relatively few well-designed ones (at any price). I had hoped that by now there'd be some nice things out there but I guess everyone's making crap hardware to go with the crap freemium apps. At least I found a couple of options that show that some folks are still thinking about usability.