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Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard review: Surface's Type Cover, split in half

Mark Hachman | July 15, 2015
Who cares about a mobile keyboard? After all, I can thumb-type quite handily, I can dictate text to Windows 10 via Cortana, and I'm never too far from a physical keyboard, especially with thin-and-light ultrabooks or a Surface tablet. So why bother with Microsoft's latest Universal Mobile Keyboard?

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard

Who cares about a mobile keyboard? After all, I can thumb-type quite handily, I can dictate text to Windows 10 via Cortana, and I'm never too far from a physical keyboard, especially with thin-and-light ultrabooks or a Surface tablet. So why bother with Microsoft's latest Universal Mobile Keyboard?

Because eventually, if Microsoft's Continuum vision comes to pass, it will become your PC's keyboard, too. And that makes evaluating it more important than you might think.

Fortunately, the Universal Mobile Keyboard can be summed up quite neatly: it's essentially Microsoft's very good Type Cover keyboard, but in a split-keyboard, quasi-ergonomic layout that connects to all three major mobile platforms via Bluetooth. It's spill-resistant. And, of course, it's foldable. I've confirmed this.

Using it couldn't be easier. Simply unfold it, and it automatically turns on and connects to any devices that you have previously set up to connect to it. Microsoft claims the battery will last for three months, after which you'll have to charge it using the included microUSB charger.

Ergonomic keyboards usually split down the middle to allow a user to position his or her wrists in a line drawn from the elbow straight to the tips of the fingers. In practice, that usually means that a typist has her forearms pointed slightly inward, or pigeon-toed, and an ergonomic keyboard will accommodate that.

Though Microsoft makes no claims that its Universal Folding Keyboard is ergonomic, the split keyboard features includes both "N" and "T" keys that are twice the width of the others, characteristic of an ergonomic keyboard. Yet the keys are aligned vertically, much like any other standard keyboard. The keyboard also lies perfectly flat.

There's no getting around it: I was able to type at about half the speed I normally would using the Universal Foldable Keyboard, primarily because the split keyboard and the oddly-sized keys felt unnatural. Keep in mind, though, that I'm both a relatively lousy typist as well as someone who generally doesn't use an ergonomic keyboard. After several hours of use, though, I still didn't like using it.

And that's a shame, because otherwise, Microsoft's keyboard is very well built. I'm probably slightly biased here because it's nearly identical to the slightly smaller Surface 3 version of Microsoft's Type Cover; I've used the Surface Pro 3 as a daily driver for more than a year, and become quite fond of Microsoft's Type Cover keyboard for both machines.

Still, there are differences. The key layout doesn't follow either the Surface 3 or the Surface Pro 3, but tucks a subset of the most common functions into the top row: volume and playback controls, search, a key to lock the phone or tablet, and a button to change the keyboard to adjust its layout to the three different mobile operating systems--Windows, Android, and "iPad /IPhone" (not iOS). Microsoft doesn't actually label the top row of keys with function controls at all, although a Function key is indeed present on the keyboard.

 

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