The iPad accessory market is full of keyboards. Most of them double up as cases, they’re about as big as the iPad and they’re not well optimized for other devices. The Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard is different. It’s small enough to carry around in your pocket when folded, and works with iOS, Windows and Android devices. What’s more, you can have it paired to two devices at once and switch between them with the press of a button. It’s safe to say that this is one of the most versatile and portable Bluetooth keyboards on the market. This review was written entirely on it.
When closed, the keyboard measures just 147.6mm wide, 125.3mm high and 11.5mm thin. It should comfortably slip into a coat pocket, or in the back pocket of your pants and will easily hide inside a bag or purse. When open, it’s 295.1mm wide, roughly the width of an Apple Wireless Keyboard, and thinner than an iPhone 6. Apart from the keys, the entire keyboard is covered and sealed inside a durable, flexible and splash-proof material. Although it’s not certified as waterproof, it’s designed to handle the odd accidental spillage here and there. It’s lightweight and designed not to draw attention to itself. There’s no catch, faster or band to keep the keyboard shut. Instead, Microsoft went with embedded magnets to ensure it stays closed when you want it to be.
It’s a 6-row keyboard with full-size keys and bespoke control buttons for each supported platform. It has volume and music controls, a lock key and home button which all do what you’d expect them to on iOS. What’s more, there’s a search button that launches Spotlight search. The battery inside lasts so long, it’s almost as if it’s powered by magic. It’s only when the Lithium-ion battery inside dies (after three months of use) that you’re reminded it’s not magical, and you have to go routing around for a Micro USB cable to plug it in.
Setting up is easy; opening the keyboard powers it on, closing it switches it off. Since there are two Bluetooth channels, each has its own pairing button on the top row, to the right of the Escape key. Select channel ‘1’ or ‘2’. On the far right of the top row of keys is the OS-switching key. Just above it are three small backlit platform logos. Press the OS-switching button until the iPad/iPhone symbol is lit up and go through the usual Bluetooth pairing procedure in the Settings app. To set up a second device, go through the process again, but select the other channel. Once you have two devices paired, regardless of which platform they are, you can switch between them just by pressing one of the channel buttons. It’s really useful and quick, especially if you like to get work done on your phone and tablet.
To begin with, typing was a challenge. Because of the foldable design, each side of the keyboard is separated from the other by the fold through the middle which is essentially wide enough that you could fit another column of keys in. If you’re a touch typist, this keyboard will confuse you to begin with. For one, I realized that I always use the index finger on my right hand to hit the ‘B’ key. Whenever I had to type a word with a ‘b’ in it, I’d almost without fail end up fingering the ravine in between the two sides of the Microsoft keyboard. That, or pressing ‘N’ instead. This isn’t helped by the fact that the ‘N’ is twice the size of a usual key, as are the ‘T’ and ‘G’ keys.
What’s more, typing on it isn’t exactly satisfying to the senses. As expected from a keyboard this slim, there’s very little travel when pressing the keys. There’s nowhere for the keys to travel to. There’s no click to please the ears either, and the keys are packed so close together, I often found my fingers tripping over the wrong keys. If the typing experience is of paramount importance to you, you’re not going to like it at all. Saying that, once I’d used it for a few hours, I got accustomed to the way it felt under my fingers.
It’s the portability of the keyboard that really won me over. Enough to make me forget my complaints about typing on it. If I’m ever on the move, I like to travel as light as I can. Anything that can be left behind, is. The more space I can save, the better. The Universal Foldable Keyboard barely takes up any room, doesn’t weigh anything, but is always ready just in case I need to get something typed up while I’m on the go. I don’t need a bulky case attached to my iPad.