Research In Motion has launched a new mini Bluetooth keyboard for the BlackBerry PlayBook - complete with accompanying case to house it all. But should you be bothering and will it make working on the go any easier?
There are two parts to the Official BlackBerry PlayBook Mini Keyboard: the case and the keyboard.
The case, which doubles the thickness of your BlackBerry tablet, is well-built, has a black leather finish and when closed resembles an A5 sized Moleskine notepad. The PlayBook slots into a tough plastic shell, keeping it nice and safe, and there are holes for the micro USB, mini HDMI and docking pins to stay connected. The volume and power button at the top are covered by the stiff plastic, making them somewhat harder to use but not impossible.
The rear of the case features a hole for the rear-facing camera and a kick stand to angle the PlayBook when using the keyboard. It looks like a dinky laptop - so cute.
The kickstand designed by RIM is fairly flimsy and unless you have it on a level surface is likely to fold shut - it did regularly for us. It is also not wide enough to use on your lap, as you would with a laptop. And while we're complaining, you can't adjust the angle either - although that's not the end of the world.
The bottom half of the black case is for the Bluetooth keyboard to sit. It can be removed from the case as it's held in place with four elastic corner straps that are in keeping with the design ethos. Stupidly, however, the front left strap covers the power switch making it awkward to turn on and off. Not great.
On the plus side, the inside of the case is felt-lined giving a good purchase on the keyboard and there is little to no movement when you type.
The keyboard itself is the same physical size as the PlayBook in width and height, but half the thickness. It features a full QWERTY keyboard, albeit with slightly smaller keys than your regular laptop. Those keys are over five rows including a row for numbers, a large spacebar, and mini trackpad which allows you to scroll around the screen very much in the same way as you can with your BlackBerry smartphone in "bridge mode".
The keys are responsive and comfortable to type with, as long as you don't have fat fingers. The trackpad is responsive enough to allow you to use without difficulty too, and it really is like using your trackpad on your laptop. It even supports two-finger scrolling, single tap to select, and a number of other gestures and movements to switch apps if you don't want to raise your hand to the touchscreen.
Touch typists will be pleased to hear that the J key features a comfortable homing dimple, however we still struggled to home ourselves on the keyboard, at first believing it has something to do with the A key being too far to the left. It sits outside of the screen real estate when in the case, and that caused us to struggle at first to hit the right letters - we seemed to be off by one letter.
Our inability to type without making mistakes soon disappeared with practice. Within the first hour we were comfortably typing with speed - this article was written with the keyboard on the PlayBook.
Only a couple, with the main one being that you'll find it hard, but not impossible to charge your PlayBook while using the keyboard in the case. This is because the Micro-USB cable shipped in the box with the PlayBook is too long to fit properly- it is possible though, as you can see below.
This is solved by taking the keyboard out of the case and folding the case back on itself, but we doubt that's what the designers had in mind when they where drawing up the Mini Keyboard.
There are some nice elements to the Mini Keyboard and if you are planning on typing a lot on your PlayBook this will make it a lot easier, turning your tablet into a mini laptop for when you need to work on the plane but can't be bothered to get the laptop out.