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RIM's Mini Keyboard with Convertible Case is actually two products. A standalone Bluetooth Mini Keyboard and a Convertible Case designed to hold both the PlayBook and the keyboard while on the go. Freeing up limited screen real estate and giving users a better QWERTY keyboard typing experience (plus a trackpad) the Mini Keyboard will be a popular add on to input oriented PlayBook users.
The Convertible Case, not so much.
As an avid PlayBook user who finds the 7-inch tablet's size just right for rides on the train or for checking on-the-go email, Twitter feeds and the latest newspaper issues using the PressReader app, the prospect of making my device more useful with a keyboard was certainly attractive.
I do attend a lot of meetings and find I prefer to type than write down notes. Being able to do so with a proper QWERTY keyboard is far better than having to duel with the software keyboard which for me is a common problem with many touchscreens and tablets, specially when the autocorrect feature thinks it knows better and substitutes unrelated words as you are typing.
A well designed keyboard plus case would help the PlayBook become a better tool specially for RIM's core business users.
Out of the Box and Set up
The BlackBerry Convertible Case for the PlayBook, which is the leatherette case that incorporates a rubber case that fits around the PlayBook and which also serves as a stand.
It is easy enough to fit in the PlayBook into the Convertible Case which feels like a high quality product in itself although the fit in our prototype was a bit off (the part that connects to the PlayBook's power button and volume keys did not fit right).
The Mini Keyboard itself is a nice piece of hardware. Built from hard matte plastic, it feels solid yet lightweight and it can be used independently from the Convertible Case, which is great since there are many PlayBook cases out there that are better than the Convertible Case that ships with the keyboard.
This is clearly a well designed and developed piece of hardware. It is evident that RIM put a lot of effort into the design and construction of the Mini Keyboard as it did with the PlayBook which is arguably one of the most solid tablets in the market today, at least in terms of build quality.
Connecting the Mini Keyboard is simple and straightforward. The PlayBook's Bluetooth radio will pick it up right away and once you key in a generated code, you're good to go.
Typing and Performance
Typing on the Mini Keyboard will require some adjustment from users. This isn't a full sized keyboard after all and seems to be better suited to two-finger pecking specially for users with larger fingers.
It is a much better typing experience than using the on screen keyboard on the PlayBook and it is actually nice to have all that screen real estate.
The Mini Keyboard's trackpad, is simply fantastic and even includes right and left mouse click capability. While it is easy enough to use your finger on the screen at any given time, having a trackpad with a keyboard feels more natural and is generally more precise.
While the Mini Keyboard is quite good, the Convertible Case as a stand doesn't really work well.
The convertible case doesn't seem to be sturdy enough to support the screen and even on a flat surface sometimes collapses without warning. I had a tough time keeping the screen part (which is the PlayBook) up while typing as the small stand that props it up kept folding. I found myself wincing each time the PlayBook plopped helplessly beneath the clumsy stand.
If I were to buy my own Mini Keyboard for the PlayBook, I would use it with a different case, one that does a better job of keeping the PlayBook angled properly and upright and one that can be used on my lap for those times when a flat surface isn't available.
Having a PlayBook and Mini Keyboard combination is nice. It is like using a netbook with a touchscreen and one that can be freed from case and keyboard when not in use.
Anyone thinking of getting this accessory should try it out first and see if the keyboard is something they can work with before investing the $119 that the combo costs.
Photos by Gadjo C. Sevilla