Over the years, I've watched countless people work from their mobile devices — even to the point of endlessly tapping out documents on their smartphone keyboards. I even know of one peer who wrote an entire book on her Blackberry, typing out character after character, until she had composed a 60,000 word novel on a mobile keyboard.
If I attempted that feat, I'd be lucky to finish a chapter before I wound up in the ground. Why? My agility on a smartphone keyboard is, well, /dev/null. To that end, I am constantly looking for a good keyboard to pair with a mobile device. I've gone through a number of possibilities, my favorite being the Logitech K480. The only downfall with that particular keyboard is that it isn't quite as portable as I'd like sometimes.
And then comes iClever, a Chinese company that produces low-cost peripherals for mobile devices. Most of their peripherals are chargers, speakers, headphones, and the like. However, they also produce a little tri-folding keyboard that, when folded, isn't much bigger than a Nexus 6 smartphone. When unfolded, the keyboard serves as a full-functioning device that can make working on the go significantly easier. I'd tested out their original keyboard and enjoyed it quite a bit. But when the company reached out to me with a newer version, complete with a trackpad, I had to give it a go. This keyboard can be purchased on Amazon for about $60.
The keyboard can connect with (and easily switch between) up to three devices, via bluetooth, and is universally compatible with IOS and Android, Windows, Mac, Linux, Blackberry, Playstation, WebOS, and Sybian. It's not truly a full-sized keyboard, but it comes close. You do have to get used to typing on a slightly cramped platform, but when you factor in the fact that this device makes working on the go (especially when "on the go" means smartphone or tablet only) almost as easy as sitting at your desk, that $60 is well-spent.
The good is simple: The iClever tri-fold keyboard with trackpad is as portable a keyboard as you will find. Period. On top of that, it functions very well. Yes, it has its idiosyncrasies (more on that in a bit), but when you're looking for a keyboard you can pack in a pocket and still serve you well, this is, hands down, the most likely candidate. Of course, this won't replace the keyboard built into your tablet case, but for anyone wanting to travel with a single device (like a smartphone), this is your gadget. Unfold it, connect it, use it (Figure A), fold it up when you're done, and slip it in your pocket, your purse, or your pack.
As for the battery? It's built-in, can be charged via Micro USB (sorry, no USB C here), and lasts a long, long time. I managed to eek out a week's worth of typing on the thing before having to give it a charge. Granted, that was pretty standard on-the-go usage (as in, not 8 solid hours a day), but you'll get plenty of battery life out of this keyboard.
The keyboard also comes with tiny fold-out bumpers that stabilize the edges of the device (Figure B). I highly recommend folding these out so to not put undue stress on the keyboard hinges.
Finally, the trackpad is a great addition to this keyboard. Instead of having to reach to touch your smartphone (or tablet) screen, simply use the trackpad to bring a cursor up so you can interact directly from the keyboard (Figure C).
First off, you have to remember that this isn't truly a full-sized keyboard, so you have to make minor adjustments. That should be expected. Beyond the minor adjustments made, there are some issues I have found with the keyboard layout and functionality. As you're typing along you'll very quickly discover some of the keys aren't where you're used to. In particular, the ' and " characters are made with the function key in conjunction with the L (for the ') or the :/; (for the ") keys. This really puts a cramp in your typing flow, but something that you can work with.
Even with the cramped space, iClever has really made the most of it. This device is mostly keyboard, so there's almost zero wasted space. That does equate to you making a lot of mistakes while you get used to cramping your hands and fingers together as you type. But what do you expect? This is a keyboard that is 11" by 3.5" unfolded and 6.25" by 3.5" when folded. The iClever does go a long way to make up for this cramped space, by having larger than usual keys (almost to full-size). Those larger keys will still take some getting used to. Give it a bit of time and you'll be (nearly) up to your regular typing speed (until you need to write a contraction, plural, or quote).
Beyond the cramped space (and the odd placing of a few keys), I find myself hard-pressed to come up with another con for this keyboard.
As far as portable keyboards are concerned, you going have a hard time finding a near full-sized device that folds up to fit in your pocket and serves as well as this. The iClever tri-fold keyboard with trackpad does a masterful job of removing the tedium from working on the go. Type with far more efficiency and accuracy on a keyboard only slightly larger than your smartphone. That, my friends, is an office on the go.
- This Raspberry Pi-powered Linux computer packs a keyboard and display into a phone-sized case (TechRepublic)
- How to connect an Apple wireless keyboard to Windows 10 (TechRepublic)
- The only Bluetooth keyboard you'll ever need (TechRepublic)
- An Android Bluetooth keyboard for all your mobile needs (TechRepublic)
- Hands-On: Logitech K380 Compact Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard (ZDNet)
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.