The PlayBook has had something of a checkered history, but its 2.0 software update has put it well on the road to BlackBerry 10 and given it a social network-integrated messaging platform that's second to none. But there's one thing the diehard BlackBerry user needs, and that's a keyboard.
RIM's PlayBook Keyboard Case is the answer, making the already Moleskine-like PlayBook look even more like a hipster's paper notebook, with its stitched faux-leather covering and elastic closure. It's a Bluetooth device, so there's no additional cabling needed, and you can charge the keyboard with the PlayBook's own Micro-USB charger. Although there's a secure flexible plastic surround for the tablet to fit into, the keyboard is easy to remove, as it's held in the case with four elastic corners, so you can remove it and use it with the PlayBook's desktop dock. The case has a small stand on the back, held closed with magnets.
Pairing is simple — just turn on the keyboard, and enable Bluetooth on the tablet. You'll be prompted to type in a pairing code (not forgetting to hit return). There's a simple option to connect a keyboard to another PlayBook, so you can share it between devices. Once connected, battery life is good — we found it lasted several days. Our one real quibble with the keyboard is in the position of the power switch, right under one of the four elastic corners that hold it in the case.
Where the PlayBook keyboard differs from many other Bluetooth tablet keyboards is its trackpad. Connect it to RIM's tablet, and you're presented with a familiar mouse pointer on-screen. Like Windows 8, if you drag the pointer to the corners and sides of the screen you can use it to replicate the familiar gestures. Unlike Windows 8, however, there's a cue in the way the pointer changes as to the available functions. Of course the keyboard doesn't disable the PlayBook's touchscreen, and it's often easier to just reach out and use the screen. The touchpad also includes support for left and right mouse clicks — using a single-finger tap for left, and a two-finger tap for right. Two fingers can be used to scroll through web pages.
We found the keyboard comfortable, although the chiclet keys are rather small. There's no need to worry about the trackpad when typing as it's automatically disabled, which means you can use the combination of PlayBook and keyboard (and the built-in Documents To Go software) to create and edit documents while on the move. You can use the familiar Windows and Office editing keys —something that's hard to use on a touch keyboard, especially while working with a screen-full of text.
RIM has delivered an effective tool in its Keyboard Case. It's a worthwhile addition to a sadly underrated tablet, and one that's a good-looking case as well. It's not surprising that it's currently sold out, even at its $119 asking price — and we'd recommend it to any PlayBook user.