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Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard hands-on: Solid, but not quite universal

Mark Hachman | Nov. 3, 2014
How can you call a keyboard universal if it doesn't work with Windows Phone? Microsoft's Universal Mobile Keyboard can't quite answer that question.

It all sounds rather confusing, but in reality there's only a few key combinations that shift from OS to OS. Most people already instinctively know to type ESC to back out of an operation. I kept the keyboard cheat sheet near me for a few minutes, but found I could discard it after then.

But there's one major problem: Microsoft's Universal Mobile Keyboard doesn't seem to pair with Windows Phone. Yes, it pairs with Windows; if you have a Windows tablet without a keyboard, you can use the universal keyboard instead. But if you want to connect to Windows Phone, it doesn't pair. I tried it with two: a Nokia Lumia Icon (Windows Phone 8.1) and the latest Lumia 830 (Windows Phone 8.1 Update) just to check, but--nope. Why, Microsoft, why?!

A solid keyboard
Overall, the keyboard measures about 9.4 inches by 4.2 inches, with an official weight of 12.875 ounces. I measured each key at about 1.3 cm on a side, about 27 percent smaller than the keys on the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover.  The tactile feedback is surprisingly good for what's essentially a chiclet keyboard. (I wrote this entire review on it, while seated at my dining-room table.) 

So how does it type? Pretty well, but with a few hiccups.

In general, I found I could type at about 80 to 90 percent of the speed I can reach on a Surface Pro 3--which isn't all that fast, about 50 words per minute or so. (Unlike the SP3, the Universal Mobile Keyboard lacks a touchpad or pointing device.) The smaller keys didn't lead to many additional errors, although my fingers sometimes drifted down to the bottom row of command keys. Fortunately, that didn't produce any negative results, although I did find myself tapping the Fn+SPACE keyboard combo by accident, which briefly displays the keyboard language on the screen.

Personally, I find I type fairly quickly over short periods on a smartphone keyboard. But that isn't the target customer for Microsoft's Universal Keyboard--it's the executive who totes around a bunch of different devices in a backpack or briefcase, and has to do some real work in a pinch for a half hour or so. Just not on a Windows Phone. 


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