Review: Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard

by on March 9, 2016

Ever since I got back into using an iPad as my primary personal computer (with a desktop Mac doing some heavy lifting), I started considering the best way to enter text. I’m quite good with the on-screen keyboard and prefer that option in most cases. Other times, an external keyboard improves efficiency and speed. While Apple offers an official option for the iPad Pro, other iPads must use external Bluetooth units. Because of this, I picked up a Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard to serve as a travel companion for my iPad Air 2.

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I support many iPads at work and it seems that the default option for a lot of people is “some sort of keyboard case” when ordering. As I prefer the flexibility of detaching and leaving a keyboard behind, it pains me (just slightly) to order some sort of device-specific case that adds bulk. While many have gotten svelte and are nicer to type on than the earliest incarnations, there’s still something to be said about a Bluetooth keyboard that can be used with your next device. I was using an Apple Wireless Keyboard for quite awhile with my third-generation iPad and an Incase Origami. Despite not having iOS-specific keys, it offered enough to be enjoyable. There was the bonus that it had the exact same layout and almost the same feel as my MacBook Airs at work and at home. That iPad was sold about a year ago and a few months later I replaced my home MacBook Air with a Mac mini, which then inherited that keyboard.

When picking up a new iPad Air 2, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to get a keyboard more iOS-oriented. I was leaning towards a few other models, but I happened to try a coworker’s Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard and was initially quite impressed. Besides being just a small mobile keyboard, there is a folding cover to protect it while traveling. The cover is detachable (held in place with magnets!) and can also double as a two-position stand for most mobile devices, including the iPad 2 and Microsoft Surface. After a bit of playing, and seeing one at a good sale price (list $80), I picked one up for myself.

The keyboard is available in two colors combinations: all black or white with a dark grey exterior. The exteriors of both are a matte, rubbery material, while the inside is a mix of glossy plastic and matte plastic for the keys. It’s actually a pretty classy combination that complements whatever iPad you’re using. For being a Microsoft product, it seems to be oriented heavily towards iOS. There is a dedicated Command key, and the only Windows logo isn’t even on a key—it’s on a small switch in the upper-right corner lets you select an operating system (Windows, Android, or iPad/iPhone). The switch is really for pairing three different devices and the OSes are mostly a suggestion (I have my iPhone paired on the Android position and haven’t noticed any incompatibilities). Additionally, it’s the same width as a landscape iPad Air/Air 2 and features the usual array of iOS-specific function keys: home, lock, volume, media controls, search, and show/hide the on-screen keyboard.

After getting the keyboard paired, it didn’t take long for me to get my bearings. Unlike some mobile keyboards, the layout is rather standard, save for the tilde key being moved to the left of the delete key—Escape takes it place. Apart from a few misses when I meant to type an equal sign, it was the only big adjustment. The row of numbers is half the height of the rest of the keys, but still comfortable to type on. I actually prefer this to keyboards that have moved the numbers to a secondary layer on the QWERTY keys. The actual key action is a bit like Apple’s own keyboards, due to the chiclet-style keys and scissor mechanisms. The arrow keys are in the style Apple has been moving to (large left/right, half-height up/down), and a function key to the left of them give the keyboard forward delete, page up, page down, home, and end.

In terms of battery life, Microsoft claims up to six months per charge, and I can believe that, as I have yet to recharge it. A subtle white LED in the upper-right corner of the keyboard will illuminate when pairing, but also when the battery is low. Like Apple’s newer input devices, a quick ten minute charge will give you enough juice to make it through an eight hour day and charge fully overnight. Charging the keyboard is accomplished with an included micro-USB cable from a computer or any other AC adapter you may have lying around. The keyboard turns on and off when the lid is opened and closed, thanks to magnets. There is a manual power/pairing button on the right side, too, although you probably won’t need to use it.

Ergonomically, an iPad with a keyboard often has the same issues that a laptop has, as the screen is too low and the keyboard is too high. However, thanks to the detachable lid, this keyboard provides a very flexible configuration. I have used the iPad sitting on a table and moved the keyboard closer to me or even had it balanced on a knee. It’s been used it with other stands, too.

When it comes to portability, the keyboard is an additional item that you’ll have to take with you, but I’ve been able to stash the keyboard with my iPad in most sleeves. It’s only a bit thicker than an iPad Air 2, and being the same width, fits in a lot of the same places. As I have said, the ability to travel lighter by leaving it at home is a plus in my book.

Microsoft gives you a three-year warranty with the keyboard. This is a nice bonus, considering that it will likely be covered after you upgrade your phone, tablet, or both.

Are there any real downsides to Microsoft’s Universal Mobile Keyboard? I can’t find anything significant other than the list price might be a bit too high, and the keyboard isn’t available everywhere. It seems Microsoft is in the process of replacing it with their Universal Foldable Keyboard, which takes cues from the Surface Type Cover, but folds in half and loses the ability to be a stand. If you can find the earlier incarnation around at a reasonable price, it’s a good product, and really shows that Microsoft can do a good job with iOS accessories.

The One-Sentence Verdictâ„¢

It’s surprising, but Microsoft has made an excellent iOS-centric keyboard that might be an excellent travel companion.

Pros: Great design, comfortable to type on, not device-specific, good warranty
Cons: None significant

The Facts

5/5Product: Universal Mobile Keyboard
Company: Microsoft
Platform: Any device with Bluetooth (iOS, Android, Windows, Mac)
Price: $79.95

This post has been filed in iDevices, Input Devices, iPad and Reviews