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The keyboard is a finely tuned weapon of the competitive gamer, an adored object of the obsessed enthusiast, an incumbent target for the natural interface engineer, and the category-defining input method of the laptop product manager.
For most of us, though, it remains a tool that we often take for granted on a PC and sometimes bemoan the absence of when using more mobile devices. But even in a world where speech and gestures continue to gain ground, companies continue to work on keeping fingers as productive as they can be on the go.
Mipow Folding Keyboard
After early folding portable keyboards like the Stowaway had disappeared with the demise of the PDA, Kickstarter helped bring them back a decade ago with the Jorno. As is sometimes the case for crowdfunded products, the gestation period was so long that, by the time the redesigned product finally reached patient backers, a host of alternatives had begun to flood into the market.
A more recently crowdfunded folding keyboard earns high marks for style. Mipow's single-fold keyboard is billed as the world's thinnest at only 3.5 mm. Of course, that leads to the question of how the keys feel given that, despite Mipow's glamorous lifestyle product shots, you can't enter text with your forehead.
Indeed, the product entails some input challenges, but they have little to do with its thinness. While the round keys are large enough and offer adequate response, the right side of the keyboard presents a reduced angle among row keys as the rows go up, which can be disorienting for seasoned touch-typists. In addition, the small Shift key sits to the right of the up arrow cursor key, which can lead to pinky stretches. However, after a second or third go at using the Mipow, mistyping decreased significantly. Other tradeoffs include the lack of backlighting and the use of the older but thinner microUSB connector instead of USB-C. And while the keyboard doesn't have an intrinsic way to angle a phone for a better typing experience, Mipow offers a clever origami-style case (the "Magic Pouch") that can support a wide range of phones and tablets.
Royal Kludge RK925
If folding keyboards represent a push to reduce keyboards to their maximum portability, mechanical keyboards are a push to maximum effectiveness. With the latter's bulky profiles, it would seem as if the two would never meet. But mechanical keyboard specialist Royal Kludge has given the combination a shot with the RK925, a 60% mechanical keyboard that folds horizontally between the "Q" and "A" rows. While such folding or even "roll-up" segmented keyboards (like LG's Rolly keyboard from the mid-2010s) don't reduce the portable footprint as effectively as designs that fold in the vertical center, they avoid a host of disruptions to layouts that often include, for example, split space keys.
The sturdy, aluminum RK925 is a folding keyboard for those who want the fewest compromises to the typing experience. It offers an upgrade over virtually any laptop's keyboard with a satisfying springiness, includes two levels of (white-only) backlight activated via the sole Fn key located to the right of the space bar, and supports USB and Bluetooth connections. Royal Kludge has also included swing-out extensions at the keyboard's top that can support smartphones and some tablets. Now, if only there were more quality Bluetooth trackpads for Windows and Android…