In the modern era of computers, everything gets more and more mo bile each year. Whether Microsoft initiated or only followed this trend is a matter of debate. However, during recent years they released more than a few mobile hardware devices that are targeted at mobile users who want to be productive while on the go. Such a device is the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard, a highly portable keyboard that is designed to work with smartphones, tablets, 2-in-1 devices and any other computer with Bluetooth connectivity. We have used and tested the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard for a few days, both on our desks and on the go, and now we'd like to tell you about our experience, in this review:
Unboxing the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard
The Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard comes in a glossy, premium-looking cardboard box. If you're curious to see what the keyboard looks like, you can see a picture of it on the top of the package, as well as an actual size print of the keyboard, in folded position, on the right side of the box.
The packaging uses a magnetic closure so, in order to open it, all you have to do is drag and lift up the right side of the box, just like you would open a book. It's quite a nice detail which makes for a very pleasant unboxing experience.
Inside the box, you'll find the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard in its folded position, together with a Micro USB cable for charging it, the product manual and the warranty. Another nice touch is that, on the inside of the top cover of the box, you'll find printed a quick user guide. This simple user guide is all you need to quickly set up your new Bluetooth keyboard.
Design and hardware specifications
The Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard can be used with smartphones, tablets and any computer that has Bluetooth support. Hence the universal part of the keyboard's name, although Microsoft advertises this keyboard as being created especially "for your tablet and smartphone".
And we can see why: when you fold this keyboard it measures onl y 147.6mm (5.8 inches) in length, 125.3mm (4.9 inches) in width and it has a thickness of only 11.5mm (0.45 inches). These dimensions are small enough to make it fit into a larger pocket, right next to your 5 inch smartphone. Or, you can slip it into your purse or backpack, next to your tablet. The Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard is also lightweight and, based on m y not so trustworthy kitchen scale , it weighs about 200 grams (~7 ounces).
When you unfold it, you turn on the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard. There's no power switch and you don't need one either. The keyboard uses built-in magnets to keep itself closed, or folded if you want. When it's open, the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard has a length of 295.1mm (11.61 inches) and a thickness of only 5mm (0.2 inches), which makes it similar to other portable keyboards we've seen, like the Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard K810.
The Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard can pair with two different devices at the same time. According to Microsoft, the Universal Foldable Keyboard offers a "full-sized keyset for fast, comfortable typing". The part with the full size keys is true and we can't argue with that. As for the part about comfortable typing, we'll talk about it a bit more in the next section of this review. Spoilers ahead: it's not as comfortable as they say!
Microsoft built the keys from black plastic and used a soft gray colored fabric to wrap the keyboard. The Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard is also built to resist to accidental water spillages. But the keyboard is not waterproof - if you spill an entire bottle of water on it, the keyboard will most likely stop working. However, it should be able to withstand a few drops of rain, for instance.
In terms of supported operating systems, the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard is officially compatible with Windows 8 through Windows 10, Mac OS X 10.7 through 10.10, Android 4.4.4 to 5.0 and iOS 7 through 9. Besides these, we can testify that the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard also works with devices running on Windows 10 Mobile, Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow and Amazon's Fire OS 126.96.36.199. We tested it ourselves and it worked well.
Using the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard
We wish we could say that we enjoyed using the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard, but unfortunately we cannot. The keyboard itself is very nice in some aspects, but the its overall usability is not great.
On the bright side of things, pairing and switching between different devices is easy. The Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard has two dedicated keys for the two Bluetooth devices to which it is paired. You'll find them on the top left side of the keyboard and all you have to do to switch between the paired devices is to press one of these keys.
We also like the fact that Microsoft included an operating system switch key. It's called "OS" and it's found on the top right corner of the keyboard. Depending on what the operating system installed on your smartphone or tablet is, you can use this key switch to change how the special keys work. By special keys, we are referring to the keyboard's media keys, the Home key, the Search key and the Lock key. We used the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard with Windows and Android devices, and these special keys have always worked as expected.
Setting the keyboard was the easy part and the one we liked about the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard. But here's what we didn't like about using it:
- This keyboard is not made for long typing sessions. Why? Probably because it's foldable. That means that when you open it and you try typing on it, you must adapt to the large gap between the left and right hand keys. Keeping your hands on this keyboard simply doesn't feel natural. And if you are a touch typist and you don't usually look at the keys when you press them, you will feel like you've reached the Ninth Circle of Dante's Inferno!
- Some keys are larger than others and that makes things harder than they should be. For instance, the T and the N keys are larger than full sized keys, while most of the punctuation keys are smaller. Why would the T key be larger than the Enter key?
- Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard is supposed to be a portable keyboard that you will use mostly when you're on the road. Unfortunately you won't be able to use this keyboard on your lap… because it folds. Therefore, its mobility is severely hindered. You need a table or a desk in order to use it productively.
On a different note, we tested the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard with a few of our devices and it worked great every time. We paired and used it with a Motorola Nexus 6 running on Android 6.0.1, a Kindle Fire HDX tablet running Fire OS 188.8.131.52, a Nokia Lumia 930 with Windows 10 Mobile, a noname Windows 8.1 tablet, and with a traditional desktop Windows 10 PC. The keyboard worked great with all these devices and by great we mean pairing, connecting, setting the specific operating system keyboard layout and so. We were able to do anything we wanted on it except fast typing.
The Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard is a Bluetooth keyboard with many contrasts. The idea behind it is great, the device looks good, it is very easy to carry and it's compatible with many types of devices and operating systems. However, it has an important downside: it's not great for long, productive typing sessions and you can't use it to type on your lap or other places except stable surfaces like tables and desks. Getting accustomed to this Bluetooth keyboard requires a long time and effort and, even after you get accustomed to it, you still won't be as productive as you are when using other Bluetooth keyboards, including models that are manufactured by Microsoft. We recommend it only to people who prioritize mobility over productivity.