Hands-on with the RIM BlackBerry Mini Keyboard and Convertible Case (review)

The BlackBerry Mini Keyboard is a new accessory for the PlayBook, but is priced way too high and is too small to be something I would buy for my PlayBook.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

I have written several times about my experiences with the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook and I think it is an excellent 7 inch tablet device. RIM recently announced the BlackBerry Mini Keyboard with Convertible Case and I see online that their first batch of stock is already sold out. I had the chance to use the keyboard for a couple of weeks so check out my image gallery and short video walk through below. Do I think it is worth the $119.99 asking price?

Image Gallery: Check out photos of the ZAGGkeys Flex Bluetooth Keyboard for Apple iOS and Android devices.
Image Gallery: Close up of Mini Keyboard
Image Gallery: PlayBook & Keyboard combo

First impressions

I was sent the keyboard from the PR folks and it never came in a retail package so I cannot comment on that out-of-box experience.

Like most things I have purchased from RIM, the keyboard and case seem to be very well constructed and have BlackBerry branding embossed in various places. The keyboard is quite small and quite a bit of space is used up by the trackpad at the bottom. It matches the PlayBook well with black coloring and blue highlights on the keys and the back stand.

Walk around the keyboard and case

The BlackBerry Mini Keyboard and Convertible Case is a two part system that is designed for your to carry your PlayBook in all the time. The top portion consists of a heavy, well designed rubber frame that securely holds your PlayBook in place. You simply press your PlayBook into the opening and a lip fits around the entire front of your PlayBook. There is an opening on the back for your rear facing camera too. Raised buttons are present for the power and volume buttons with openings for the headset jack, microphone, microUSB port, HDMI port, and charging connectors.

There is a flap that you extend on the back, highlighted behind in blue, that you use to prop up your PlayBook at an angle. This has to be pulled out and held in place while you set your PlayBook down or else it will snap back closed against the case bottom. I would like to have seen a design where you pull this out and it stays in place as I had my PlayBook flop down a couple of times when I did not hold this open.

There is also a weak elastic strap that goes around the keyboard side to keep the case closed. I don't know if it was just my evaluation unit that had elastic that felt like someone tried to see how far it extended or if they are all really too weak to barely hold the kit closed. I would like to have seen a more substantial strap here.

The keyboard takes up the bottom portion of the combination and is secured into the case by four corner elastic straps. I would like to have seen a more substantial securing mechanism since I really don't know why you would ever use the keyboard outside of the case and it doesn't make sense to me why you need it easily removable. Also, the bottom left strap partially covers the single power button on the keyboard and makes things a bit inconvenient, also giving me the impression this securing mechanism may have been a rush job.

The keyboard is 7.6 x 5.10 x 0.25 inches and is quite small for an external keyboard. Typing on it works, but it takes some effort to stay on the right keys and I just could not get my speed up too much. There is a dedicated number row, but no Tab key. You will find directional arrows in the bottom right and two Shift keys. The F and J are slightly indented so you can use them to recenter your fingers, but that didn't help my medium to large sized hands too much.

The trackpad is the shining star of this keyboard and works very well for fine selections on your PlayBook. It gives you a mouse on the display and I almost would like to have just the touchpad as an accessory.

RIM states the keyboard will last for up to 30 days on a single charge. Of course, that is highly dependent on how much you use the keyboard during this time and I haven't had enough time with it to confirm this battery life.

Usage experiences and pricing

I tried using the Mini Keyboard on a regular basis for entering text, but after using the ZAGGFolio on my iPad I honestly couldn't go down to such a small keyboard and get comfortable with typing for long periods. The PlayBook already has an excellent onscreen keyboard for shorter periods of text entry and without going to a nearly full size experience I am not seeing the real usefulness of the Mini Keyboard.

The trackpad works well for controlling the mouse cursor on the display and I do like that the keyboard and PlayBook are easily carried together in a single kit. I think the securing mechanism for the keyboard in the case could have been more permanent though and made sure not to cover the one single button you need to use to turn the keyboard on and off.

The BlackBerry Mini Keyboard will be available for $119.99, when stock is made available again.

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