Microsoft is no stranger to keyboards and mice, and while the momentum these days is behind Windows 10, their hardware prowess in mobile is still alive and kicking.
This morning, the company has announced that their Universal Foldable Keyboard is now available at retail and online for $99.95. The device as originally announced at Mobile World Congress back in March. As someone who uses their ergonomic desktop solution and Surface devices, the Universal Foldable Keyboard certainly piqued my interest. This is my review.
These days, Bluetooth keyboards are found all over the internet. However, Microsoft brings their keyboard expertise to the table with their ultra-portable Universal Foldable Keyboard. As the name implies, this device is thin, light and, in theory, it should deliver and excellent typing experience. Here is what you get for a hundred bucks:
- 5mm thin keyboard
- Bluetooth Smart aka Bluetooth 4.0
- Up to three months of power on a single charge
- Spill-resistant design
- Works across iPhone, Android, Windows and Windows Phone 8.1 (with Update 2)
- Can pair with two devices with an easy toggle switch
- Magnetic closure
- Micro USB charging
Between the ability to charge with a micro USB power source or pair to two devices, there is not much in the way of hardware flaws for the Universal Foldable Keyboard.
Pairing the Universal Foldable Keyboard was a breeze. Simply hold down the button for device 1 or device 2 for a few seconds and it starts blinking. Now choose the operating system through the OS toggle button (upper right) and select the keyboard through your device settings. Finally, you are instructed to type in a six-digit pairing code on the keyboard and tap the enter button.
Every time you open or close the keyboard, it turns on or off. Assuming the device you had previously paired is within range, the keyboard automatically pairs giving a stress-free setup.
Clearly Microsoft has taken what it has learned from the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3 Type Covers and applied it to the Universal Foldable Keyboard. True, a Surface's keyboard and keys are larger, but between the button's design, aesthetics, even the fabric all make the Foldable keyboard feel like a close cousin to the Surface. That is an excellent thing as the Surface keyboard does a lot considering how thin it is and that carries over to this device as well.
Typing and key travel
Say what you want about a keyboard's design and it all take second place to how well it works as a keyboard. Luckily, the Universal Foldable Keyboard comes out on top from my usage over the last few days.
Although the Universal Foldable Keyboard is extraordinary thin (and light) the key travel is significant, giving you the feeling of typing on a laptop keyboard. Indeed, the key travel is better on the Universal Foldable Keyboard than some full laptops. It is not quite better than say a classic Lenovo ThinkPad, but then again, this keyboard folds up and fits into a jacket pocket or purse with ease.
Ultimately, typing is personal preference. Some people like loud clicking reminiscent of mechanical designs while others prefer the quiet, soft touch of modern computers. The Universal Foldable Keyboard is somewhere in between: it is not quite loud, but it is not silent either. There is a satisfying response that is quite impressive considering its sizes.
The keys seem smaller than the Surface keyboard, but they are slightly larger than my Microsoft Ergo keyboard. Granted the keys on my desktop ergo keyboard are spaced apart, whereas the Universal Foldable Keyboard are adjacent.
For being pocket-sized, I have to say I rather enjoyed using the Universal Foldable Keyboard. It does take a little training, and you tend to type with just the tips of your fingers, but surely the convenience is a compromise.
All is not perfect
If there are any downsides to the Universal Foldable Keyboard, it would be the floppy center and no backlit keys. The latter is forgivable as throwing mini LEDs around the keys would not only up the costs, but it would knock down that stellar battery life of "three months". Still, this keyboard would be an amazing sight it if could light up too.
The floppy center is, of course, the tradeoff from it being foldable. That much is obvious and when using it on a solid surface hardly an issues. So, it is lappable? Kind of. You can make it work, but it will not be the most enjoyable experience as you'll have to lean on the edges to keep it from folding in on itself.
Both of these complaints though seem like nitpicking what is otherwise a fantastic design.
Windows Phone and Windows 8.1
The Universal Foldable Keyboard works very well with Windows Phone, so long as you are rocking Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 Build 15127 or later. You can check if you have Update 2 under Settings > About. That OS refresh delivers Bluetooth HID support something Windows Phone lacked up until spring 2015. Of course, if you are on a US carrier, you may be hard-pressed to find that update on your aging Lumia e.g. the Lumia 1520. Only newer phones like the Lumia 640, Lumia 640 XL, Lumia 735, BLU Win HD, HTC One (M8), and the LG Lancet come with HID support out of the box.
Luckily, Windows 10 Mobile is not too far off, and that OS support Bluetooth HID natively.
Still, there are some limits. For example, many of the function keys, including volume controls, pause, play and search seemingly do nothing on Windows Phone. All of those keys, even the 'screen lock' function work perfectly on Windows 8.1, but for the phone you will be sticking to just the QWERTY part of the keyboard.
On Windows 10 Mobile, these limits are there as well. Although the Bluetooth stack is not yet complete, so I cannot tell if it will support those features later on (the Home key though does at least bring you back to the Start menu). The QWERTY part of the keyboard works well in Windows 10 just like Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2.
When it comes to Windows 8.1, all of these function keys worked without an issue as expected.
Is it worth $100?
As mentioned earlier, Bluetooth keyboards are very common these days. Whether they are from major device manufacturers or knockoff brands, you can find devices for a lot cheaper.
Having said that, for $99.95 the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard appears to deliver in all the right areas:
- Super portable
- Elegant design with magnetic closure
- Long-lasting battery life (and convenient USB charging)
- Pretty excellent key travel and typing response
If you frequently like to work on your phone or tablet (or both), the Universal Foldable Keyboard is a great investment. It is geared for the professional who needs to work on-the-go wherever, whenever. If, however, you are looking for a cool accessory that you may only occasionally use, you may want to think about saving that $100. It is not that the keyboard isn't worth it – it is – but you could just as well buy something cheaper so that you do not feel bad if you toss in the drawer.
Still, Microsoft has offered a unique solution not only for Windows and Windows Phone users but those rocking an Android or Apple product as well. The Universal Foldable Keyboard is a well-engineered product that is pretty darn cool. It just comes with a hefty price tag.
If interested, grab the Universal Foldable Keyboard from Microsoft or Amazon starting today.
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Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.