While thumb-typing or finger-swiping on your smartphone screen may be good enough for tweeting or texting, more wordy activities -- like typing long email messages, taking notes at conference sessions or writing documents like this one -- are grueling at best. For that, you need a physical keyboard.
There's no shortage of Bluetooth keyboards intended for tablet users -- some freestanding, some also acting as a screen cover or carry case. Many of them can be used with smartphones, but since most are as big as a tablet, they are less than convenient.
One solution is a folding Bluetooth keyboard, which is not only useable by most smartphones, but small enough to easily carry around. In this roundup, I report on five folding keyboards intended for use with smartphones: Cervantes Mobile Jorno, iwerkz Universal Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard, Perixx Periboard-805L, Targus Universal Foldable Keyboard for Android and Zagg Pocket Keyboard.
(One recently announced keyboard that wasn't available at the time of review is the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard, introduced at the Mobile World Congress in March 2015 and due to ship in July. According to Microsoft, the keyboard will measure 11.6 in. open and 5.8 in. closed, weigh 7.1 oz. and work with Android, iOS and Windows 10 phones.)
To test the keyboards, I carried them around for several days and used them to type email and documents -- including the first draft of the review for the keyboard in question -- at home at my desk and dining room table, at the public library and at a few other places.
In addition to the sizes of the keyboard in open and closed positions (closed size includes the case/stand, if any), I've included the the full width of the keys, from the left edge of the leftmost keys to the right edge of the rightmost keys (e.g., the Shift keys at either side of the keyboard). For comparison, the Shift-to-Shift width of a standard desktop keyboard is about 11 in.
All keyboards in this round-up recharge via a micro-USB port and include a USB/micro-USB cable. All fold vertically except for the Zagg, which folds horizontally. The Targus has a dedicated top row of function keys (Home, Search, Cut/Paste, media control, etc.), while the other four keyboards let the top row of numbers/symbols also act as function keys when accessed in combination with the FN key. The iwerkz, Jorno and Perixx include an FN/keyboard key combination that lets you suppress the virtual keyboard on the display to maximize display space.
Cervantes Mobile Jorno
Direct price:$99Size: 9.91 x 3.53 x 0.26 in. (open); 5.87 x 3.87 x 1.0 in. (closed) Full width of keys: 9.19 in. Weight: 6.5 oz. Compatible with: Android, iOS, Windows (tablets only)
Cervantes Mobile's Jorno is a trifold keyboard with the middle segment being half the total width, and the left and right sides folding in.
What's distinctive about Jorno's design is the impressive metal hinges, which allow the keys in the folds to retain a standard keyboard's non-columnated positions -- exactly what touch-typists want. In addition, its "shorter sides, longer middle" configuration lets you type with it on your lap -- if you can keep your legs close enough together.
Jorno began as a Kickstarter project back in 2012, reaching about $5,000 over its $100,000 goal. Interestingly, the Jorno's initial design had four hinges, folding into a 3.5-in. square, with a much smaller case, but the design changed over time to the current rectangular-closed shape.
Jorno's compatibility list is the longest of all the keyboards in this roundup, including not just iOS and Android but also Windows/Mac/Linux-based tablets, BlackBerry, PlayStation, WebOS, and Symbian. (Of course, since all the keyboards reviewed here are Bluetooth, it's entirely possible that the other keyboards work with all these systems as well.)
The Jorno case opens up to form a stand, and has a 1.5-in. tab that can slide out in front if you want your phone or tablet to recline back at a lower viewing angle than the folded-case proper provides. Magnets in the case keep it in place in both the closed and stand configurations.
The Jorno has no visible switches -- opening and closing the keyboard turns it on. Pairing is initiated using the FN-C key combination; the C key also has a Bluetooth symbol. You tell the keyboard which OS you are pairing to via FN plus the labeled Q (for Android), W (for Windows) or E (for iOS) key. The FN key combined with the top row of keys also provides Home, Search, Cut/Paste and media control.
According to the company, the keys are "just 9% smaller than standard keys." The keyboard itself measures 9 in. Shift-to-Shift vs. 11 in. on a standard desktop keyboard, which makes the Jorno slightly over 80% of desktop size, according to my calculation. One quirk: The Delete key is at the upper right hand corner, not where my fingers expect it. I found I could be reasonably accurate typing on the Jorno (although, as was the case with all of these keyboards, I had to keep my eyes on things).
There is at least one distinct negative: When open, the underside of the hinges raise the keyboard like a pair of mini-speed bumps, so the keyboard doesn't lie flat. Every time I typed the keys on one edge, the other side seesawed up slightly. (I was able to cure this by folding two business cards in four, and taping one under each of the sides).
Even so, I recommend the Jorno, particularly if you are a touch-typist -- despite the problem with the hinges, having keys where your fingers expect them makes a big difference in ease of use.
iwerkz Universal Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard
Suggested price: $40 Retail price: $30 - $70Size: 11.5 x 3.5 x 0.25 in. (open); 5.87 x 3.5 x .88 in. (closed) Full width of keys: 9.56 in. Weight: 7.0 oz. Compatible with: Android, iOS, Windows (tablets only)
The iwerkz Universal Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard includes a hard-plastic protective sleeve that also serves as a stand for smartphones and tablets, which you can prop up either via a pullout tab or a slot in the case. When folded up, the keyboard halves stay together with a magnetic latch -- useful if you aren't toting the protector sleeve.
The iwerkz keyboard is slightly smaller than the Targus -- almost the same width but slightly shorter. It's available in five colors -- white, black, blue, purple and red; the keys on all models are white. It offers a number of shortcut key combinations, including functions like search and media player control. There are also several Android/iOS/Windows-specific key combinations, which are listed in the single-sheet instruction guide.
When the keyboard's open, the on/off switch is located on the top, with On and Off clearly labeled (which is not the case with some other keyboards such as the Targus). Pairing is initiated by a dedicated button labeled Connect.
The iwerkz lays nicely flat on a flat surface, making it easy to type on. However, because it has a straight-fold hinge in the middle, some keys aren't where touch-typists' fingers will expect them -- notably the "B" key, which is below the "Y" and "H" keys, rather than below the "T" and "G" keys. Similarly, the key for both a question mark and slash is at the bottom right, under the Shift key, and the arrow/cursor keys are closer to the right edge than usual. This positioning meant I often typed an arrow key by accident, moving the cursor up to a previous line.
Otherwise, the iwerkz Universal Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard is a reasonable choice and is available at a nicely low price at many retailers.
Retail price:$30Size: 12.5 x 3.75 x 0.31 in. (open); 6.75 x 3.75 x 0.62 in. (closed) Full width of keys: 11.0 in. Weight: 8.8 oz. Compatible with: Android, iOS, Windows (tablets only)
The Perixx Periboard-805L is the closest to a full-size keyboard of all those reviewed here. (The 805L is the black model; it's available in white as the 805L W.) It measures the same 11 in. Shift-to-Shift as my desktop keyboard, although one-quarter inch of the Periboard's 11 in. goes to the hinge/fold in the center.
The Periboard-805L's halves magnetically clasp together when folded up. There is no case, which is good for carry-ability, but also means there's no stand for your phone.
Like the other keyboards in this roundup, the Perixx Periboard-805L doesn't lock open. Interestingly, Perixx used to have a model that did called the Periboard-806, which is no longer available. (Perixx says it is working on a new model that will lock open.)
The power on/off switch is on the side, clearly labeled, with the pairing button adjacent.
Unlike the iwerkz keyboard, the Periboard-805L's "B" key is on the left, under the "T" and "G" keys, just like on a standard desktop keyboard -- a more normal, usable position. However, the hinge fold creates a gap between the keys in the center, which takes a while to get used to. Overall, it felt like my fingers weren't automatically settling into what touch-typing calls the "home position."
However, on the whole, if you prefer a full-width keyboard, don't mind the position shifts of some keys and don't need a case/stand, the Perixx Periboard-805L may be a good choice.
Targus Universal Foldable Keyboard for Android
Sometimes, a product's marketing can actually work against it. Despite its OS-specific name, the Targus Universal Foldable Keyboard for Android does work with iOS devices -- at least, it worked with my iPhone 4 and iPad 2, both running iOS 7.
The power switch is along the top edge, with the switch's positions labeled using extremely small raised letters; I found them difficult to read because they were the same color as the background. The Bluetooth pairing button is located on the underside on the keyboard; granted, you only tend to use it once or twice per session, but I found it annoying. The case/stand took a bit of practice until I could open it smoothly; there's a latch to keep the keyboard closed.
Unlike the other four keyboards, which have five rows of keys (so the top number keys also act as function keys), the Targus has a dedicated top row of function keys for such duties as Search, Cut/Paste and media control.
However, the keyboard has some quirks as well. For example, one key had a symbol that I didn't recognize and there's no "what's what" chart in the user manual. (I eventually called tech support, which said it lets you "finger-mark a display region for copying.") And even though the keyboard has an FN key, I didn't see any function markings on any of the other keys -- and anyway, the dedicated row of function keys makes the FN key moot.
Like the iwerkz keyboard, the Targus banishes the "B" key from under the "T" and "G" keys, to the right side of the fold, under the "Y" and "H" keys, which can slow down typing.
At 10.12 in. Shift-to-Shift, the Targus is the second widest keyboard in this roundup. Despite that, however, I found it the least comfortable to type on -- a combination of the center gap, the moved "B" key, and the overall size and space of the keys.
However, although I found the Targus too awkward for my taste, if you need a wide keyboard because you have a naturally wide reach, this one may work for you.
Zagg Pocket Keyboard
Direct price:$70Size: 8.75 x 6.87 x 0.3 in. (open); 8.75 x 2.12 x 0.5 in. (closed) Full width of keys: 7.8 in. Weight: 6.9 oz. Compatible with: Android, iOS
Zagg has a reputation for innovative design, so it's not surprising that the Zagg Pocket wireless Bluetooth keyboard folds horizontally rather than vertically, and incorporates a fold-out stand into the keyboard unit itself -- no separate case/stand to carry (or lose).
Closed, the Zagg Pocket is a neat, slim shape (somewhat reminiscent of a slide rule, if you know what one of those is). The long-fold design means the keyboard won't fit into a pants pocket or a jacket side pocket, but will fit in any but the smallest of carry bags.
Like the Jorno keyboard, the Zagg powers on and off automatically when you open and close the keyboard, which is nice. Pairing is simple: press FN plus the "Bluetooth" key (which, on the Zagg, is on the Right-Arrow key), and, if need be, follow up with FN-A for Android, or FN-I for iOS.
The Zagg is smallest of the keyboards in this roundup. Although Zagg says that it delivers "over 85% the size of a desktop keyboard," I measured the Zagg's width Shift-to-Shift at 7.8 in., which is closer to 70%. That's a bit narrow for my fingers, so I had to type a little slower than usual, and pay careful attention.
Like the Targus, the Zagg lacks a "suppress virtual keyboard" function key.
That said, the Zagg is a good choice -- no separate case, no odd-position keys, instant-on and it's the least bulky overall of the keyboards in this roundup. Just make sure you don't find the keyboard too small to type on.
Because much of the usability of a keyboard depends on how large or small your fingers are, whether or not you're a touch typist and whether you need to be able to work without having a continuous flat surface to rest the keyboard on, there's no single winner in this roundup.
For touch typists, the Jorno and Zagg offer the least compromised key layouts -- and although both are a little smaller than I'm usually comfortable with (something that can't be avoided with a keyboard this portable), I'd call it a tie between the two. Of the others, the Perixx lost points with me for not having any kind of case (although I'm eager to see Perixx's new "lock open" model when it's available). The iwerkz and Targus lost points for sundry bad design choices.
But in the end, any of these keyboards beat the heck out of thumbing or finger-swiping.