The BlackBerry Mini Keyboard for the BlackBerry PlayBook is one of those accessories that everyone wanted at launch. I remember my excitement over the BlackBerry PlayBook Convertible Case; had there been a keyboard tucked into that package - I can only imagine how pumped I would have been. At the core, the BlackBerry Mini Keyboard is a Convertible Case just tweaked in various areas with a stand and bluetooth keyboard/trackpad combo. The keyboard itself looks great as the black/white/blue color scheme fits in with the rest of the case. As first glance you can see the keys will be a bit rough for those of us with bigger hands due to their small size. With its good looks and portability, I found the BlackBerry Mini Keyboard has me using my PlayBook more than ever. Read on for my full review.
The BlackBerry Mini Keyboard was rumored for a few months before it hit the streets. We saw it pop up a few times here and there, one of which was on Kevin's doorstep. While we never really had any hands-on time with it, we pretty much knew what to expect. We've been itching for a BlackBerry Bluetooth keyboard and now we have one. The case itself is a reimagined BlackBerry PlayBook Convertible Case. It has the same basic design and is a bit fatter. Open it up, and you will see that the top holds your BlackBerry PlayBook and the bottom sports a mini Bluetooth keyboard. On the back cover you'll find a "kickstand" that holds the case and PlayBook up in "viewing mode". This I found a mixed bag as there is really only one position - you can't adjust the angle at all really which is kind of a drag. I suppose you can get used to having it as is, but if you want to move it at all, you'll have to MacGuyver it somehow. It does sit at an angle you'd expect for most things you'll need to do, but say if you're in the sun or just need to move it up or down, you can't easily manage that.
Using the keyboard
The keyboard is obviously not the biggest, so those of us with fat fingers may have some difficulty typing on it. I'll admit it was reallydifficult at first to type on the small keys. I found myself crouching my hands and using more of a "hunt and peck" method of typing. I kept at it for a while (I wrote most of this review with it) and was able to adjust after some time. It takes your hands a bit of time to get used to the smaller surface area of each key, and I also found myself moving my hands up to hit the space bar (rather than just my thumbs) which I found annoying. After about an hour or so I warmed up to the layout and was able to type much quicker than at the start. Once you get the hang of it you'll be speeding right along.
I think at times it may almost be better to just use the remote feature in BlackBerry Bridge and just type on your phone, however that may not be an option for everyone. The purpose of this case is to be your "on the go" laptop for plane flights, meetings or what have you - and for that it does its job well.
Trackpad navigation and gestures
The trackpad is very handy and RIM has implemented the gestures very well. Knowing how much you can do simply by swiping on the PlayBook screen, it's awesome to see those gestures carried over to the trackpad navigation as well. The built in trackpad navigation goes like this:
Mouse left-click: Using one finger, tap the touchpad.
Mouse right-click: Using two fingers, simultaneously tap the touchpad.
Mouse scroll: Using two fingers slide your fingers up or down on the touchpad to scroll up or downon a page.
Switch between open apps: Move the mouse pointer to the right or left edge of the screen (the pointer changes to one of the Switch App Right or Switch App Left icons), then right-click. Repeat to switch to the app you want.
Open the Home screen to select apps: Move the mouse pointer to the bottom of the screen (the pointer changes o the Home Screen Minimize icon), then right-click. The home screen appears where you can switch to another app.
Show the status bar: Move the mouse pointer to the top-left or top-right of the screen (the pointer changes to theShow Status Bar Right or Show Status Bar Left icons), then right-click.
Show the menu: Move the mouse pointer to the top of the screen (the pointer changes to the Show Menu icon), then right-click.
Open the virtual keyboard: Move the mouse pointer to the bottom-left corner of the screen (the pointer changes to the Show Keyboard icon), then right-click.
Move between pictures: Tap a picture with one finger, and then hold your finger on the picture and swipe to move to the next picture.
So as you can see, the navigation in the trackpad is pretty amazing. You can do everything you would normally do by swiping all on the trackpad - great stuff. This again was hard to master at first. Remembering the taps, scrolls and clicks confused me a bit at the start, but picking it up is easy after a few minutes. I do like that there is no physical "click" on the trackpad - rather it's just a tap. At first I thought it would be like my MacBook Pro trackpad and actually press down, but I love the fact that the tracked on the Mini Keyboard is solid and one less thing to worry about wearing out. My other small gripe is that I wish there were a way to speed up the scrolling a bit (if there is, I can't find it). I find that I have to lift my finger and shuffle the cursor too much when moving around the screen, where if the cursor speed were quicker this wouldn't be necessary.
Ports and charging
Charging the case itself and your PlayBook is super easy and you don't do anything special. The PlayBook ports are open on the bottom, so aside from having to leave the case open, you won't have to remove your tablet at all. The keyboard microUSB port is on the side which is awesome and makes charging it with the case closed the best option.
If you have a fear of committal you may think twice about sticking your PlayBook in the Mini Keyboard case as it's a real bear to get out. This is a good thing in that you won't have to worry about your PlayBook coming out on its own -- ever -- but, it does make for some hard times when you try to get it out. You have to pry at a corner and press from the back to get the device out, but once you do it a few times you'll easily get the hang of it.
Can this serve as a replacement for your laptop? I'd say in lots of cases, absolutely. Quick day trips, planes, trains or business meetings, the Mini Keyboard Case is an awesome setup that gets the job done. You'll have what you need in a much smaller package and won't have to worry about carting around your laptop or forgetting an extra charger. Once you get used to typing on the keyboard you can crank out long emails and documents with ease and won't miss having your laptop at all.
Do you have a BlackBerry Mini Keyboard? Thinking of picking one up? Head into the CrackBerry forums for more discussion.