Scott Hanselman

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard - Dual Bluetooth Pairing and Three Operating Systems

August 9, '15 Comments [11] Posted in Hardware | Reviews
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Microsoft Universal Foldable KeyboardI have a Surface Pro 3, an iPad 2, and an iPhone 6+. I also have a few Android devices for development. Sometimes I'm on a plane and want to do email, or I'm playing a game on my iPad and I've got my iPhone off to the side. You know, various combinations like you do.

For a while I used the Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard. (To be clear, NOT the Foldable one...that will show up in a moment) It's universally well-reviewed and with discounts can be found as low as US$58. One of the big pros of the Universal Mobile Keyboard is that the cover separates via magnets from the keyboard and includes a notch to hold your tablet up at an angle.

However, for me it had a few nits. It's about 75% of full-size which is just a little "off" for larger hands. It's also quite large. You can't really put it in an inside jacket pocket, it's definitely a backpack item. It's great, but it's not perfect...so, I tried the:

Universal Foldable Keyboard

Fast forward a year and the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard is out. I preordered it as soon as I saw it in April. I swear if I had a dozen of these in my backpack I could sell them in a day of just sitting in a cafe. Folks always ask about it. It's lighter than most mobile keyboards, the folding is cool, the battery life is months (they say...I've never charged it yet, but it charges with micro-USB so that's trivial), and it supports basically any device.

I was at OSCON using the keyboard and the two things I consistently heard were:

  • Why have I never heard of this?
  • This is from Microsoft and it supports any device?

Seriously, Microsoft needs to do more than just word-of-mouth to advertise cool stuff like this. I realize I'm gushing, but I like the keyboard.

Here's the details. It's about 6 inches by 5 inches. Pictured below next to my Arc Touch Bluetooth Mouse (which also rocks) for size comparison.

The Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard

It unfolds, of course, and it's deceptively thin. Here it is pictured next to my Surface Pro 3 keyboard. The material and keys are basically the same. Surprisingly the fold in the middle looks a lot more dramatic than it feels in practice. Notice that the T and N and G and H are wider than they should be? That subtle but significant change makes touch typing very easy, in fact.

The keys are advertised as "full-sized" but you can see in the pic they are likely about 90-95% of full size. So "darn near full-sized" would be a fair statement. They aren't significantly smaller than my Surface that they slowed me down, but it's worth pointing out.

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard - Multiple Bluetooth Pairings Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard - OS Button

The killer feature - besides the folding - is that you can pair two devices to it at the same time and switch between them. See the [1] and [2] buttons there? You long-press to switch devices. You can be typing on your Surface or Tablet, then get a text message on your phone, then just long press to reply to it then long press to return to the main device. The keyboard also has an OS button in the upper right corner to manage keyboard mappings, and it remembers them for each paired device.

For example, the Escape Key on iOS is also Home, or a double-press is the iOS task switcher. The Home button is home or the Windows Key depending on your device. There's also a CMD key for Macs as well as the usual Alt/Option key.

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard - Compared to Surface  Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard - Home Keys

A only real con of this keyboard is that it does need a flat surface to sit on. It won't work well on your lap. Also, I haven't figured out how to force the FN key to reverse the functionality so there is no easy way to do things like ALT-F4. The default functionality for the top row is for more "Consumer" things like muting the volume and such, not for coders and hotkeys. For many folks that will be a deal-breaker, but for blog posts, emails, and surfing around, it's fine for me. I'm not going to code for hours on it.

I also did an unboxing video the day I got it in the mail, filmed with a potato, so check it out and subscribe to my YouTube.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Sunday, 09 August 2015 23:53:06 UTC
Thanks for the post. I'm replying to your comment that you "haven't figured out how to force the FN key to reverse the functionality".

Some Microsoft keyboards let you press Fn+CapsLock to lock/reverse the FN key. I know this works on the Surface Touch keyboards, and on the MS All-in-One Media Keyboard. Have you tried Fn+CapsLock on the MS Universal Foldable Keyboard ?

Jacob
Monday, 10 August 2015 04:15:53 UTC
Is it backlit?
Les
Monday, 10 August 2015 05:28:28 UTC
IMHO, without functional keys it's worthless as keyboard for anything
Georgy Grigoryev
Monday, 10 August 2015 08:03:00 UTC
The pairing issues (loses pairing) kill the usefulness nor this. See amazon reviews.

You'll see what I mean.
jim cc
Monday, 10 August 2015 13:26:57 UTC
Hey that is nice. Now I want one...
Taki
Monday, 10 August 2015 13:46:29 UTC
Still rockin' the Palm wireless keyboard! The box says only Palm devices, but it's a generic bluetooth keyboard. I know it works on Windows and Android -- haven't tried Apple yet. A bit smaller than the Microsoft one (6"x4") when closed; still 95% full-size keys. I'm not on the go as much, so the 2xAAA batteries usually last me well over a year. Two things that it has that Microsoft could copy to raise their keyboard's usefulness: The slide lock (can use it on my lap when open and locked!) and built-in phone stand (tilts the phone up so you can see it while typing).

Thanks for the review, Scott! Now I know what to look for when my Palm wireless keyboard *eventually* breaks. That is, unless I run across another one at a garage sale ;-)
Monday, 10 August 2015 17:55:25 UTC
Jim cc - I have had it for a few weeks and been using it daily and haven't lost pairing once.

Georgy - I'm looking into that...

Jacob - It doesn't seem to. I'll email the team.
Scott Hanselman
Monday, 10 August 2015 19:54:02 UTC
Thanks for another nice review and for tormenting us UK buyers with some more cool tech.

However the UK pricing for such gadgets is so inflated - if you live in the U.S. this keyboard is $74.99 (less than £50) on Amazon.com. If you live in the UK, you're looking at a cheapest price of £73.51 ($115) - over 50% more expensive! And no, Amazon.com won't let me ship this item international (I tried). Sigh!
Jim T
Thursday, 13 August 2015 18:58:48 UTC
somehow, when i first read this, I thought this would also pair with like, actual laptops (e.g., my 2011 macbook air). 24 hours later (thanks, amazon prime!), i have keyboard in hand, but alas, cannot pair it to my primary work machine... :/
chris hollander
Saturday, 15 August 2015 03:31:44 UTC
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Thursday, 27 August 2015 22:32:57 UTC
Scott, that looks like a nice keyboard. I wouldn't want to use it as my primary input device, but certainly it has it's place.

I feel compelled to share my opinion on a phrase you used: "the killer feature". I admit, my eyes rolled as I read it. Ever since the media went completely overboard and beat the horse dead with "iPhone-killer" it seems that the media and bloggers still love to over-use the term "killer". Can we throw that term away into the deep dark dungeon alongside the much overused "-gate" suffix? If something really was to be a "killer" wouldn't it have to do something that is both special, unexpected, and unique in the market?

There are other keyboards that have these features -- and some do it even better. The Logitech K811, for example, supports three different devices, allows for hot-swapping between them, and is even back-lit.

http://www.logitech.com/en-us/product/illuminated-keyboard-for-mac-ipad-iphone

At the end of the day, it's not a big deal -- just my personal opinion. I simply find it interesting that your article about a keyboard made me think more about over-sensationalism in the media, and less about a piece of hardware.
Kyle
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.