Just about every tablet and phone can use the appropriately named Universal Mobile Keyboard from Microsoft. This accessory works with devices from Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, and more, whether they run Android, iOS, or Windows.
Is this $79.95 accessory right for you? Read on to find out.
Build and Design
When closed, the Universal Mobile Keyboard is 9.5 by 4.3 x 0.5 inches (24 x 10 x 11 cm) and 12.9 ounces (365 g). This makes it large enough to have room for a comfortable keyboard and a sturdy stand, while remaining quite portable. It’s not pocketable though, but it rides easily in a briefcase, gadget bag, or large purse.
The basic shape is a clamshell, the top flipping around to where it can lay flat and become a stand for a tablet or phone.
One of the best features of this accessory’s design is that the two sections are held together at the hinge only with magnets. This allows the keyboard and stand to be as far apart as the user wishes, or the stand can be used for TV or movies without the keyboard being anywhere near.
Two ridges on the top portion support the user’s mobile computer of choice. They are spaced to be able to hold devices of a range of thicknesses, as long as the computer is 0.4 inches (10 mm) or less — Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 is too thick, for example. But this is an exception, as we successfully tested the Universal Mobile Keyboard with a great many other models, from average-size phones all the way up the 12.9-inch Apple iPad Pro.
This dock is able to support a device at two angles, one about 45º and the other about 30º, giving users a little choice in how their tablet is sits when the keyboard is being used. The exact angle depends on how thick the device is, with thicker models sitting more upright. This is a weakness in the design, as some other external keyboards offer a wider range of angles.
The exterior surface of the top portion of the Universal Mobile Keyboard has a rubberized texture so it doesn’t tend to slide even when holding a large tablet.
The keyboard on this accessory is 9.25 inches (23 cm) wide, making it roughly the size of keyboards found in smaller laptops. There is sufficient key separation to enable touch typing, but those with large hands or people who are accustomed to using a full-size keyboard designed for a desktop PC could well find it cramped.
The keys are relatively quiet, are comfortable to push, and offer a decent amount of key travel.
If purchased in the U.S., Microsoft’s Universal Mobile Keyboard has a QWERTY layout, with five rows of keys, including a set of arrow keys at the lower right. The bottom four rows are normal size, but the top row of numbers/punctuation are reduced size. The standard layout, including punctuation and symbol keys, means that there is no learning curve to type on this accessory.
Above the regular keyboard is a set of special control keys: power on/off, mute, volume up/down, media play/pause, next track/previous track, and a search key. These functioned on all the devices we tested them on, whether it was Android, iOS, or Windows.
Some of the keys have different functions depending on which operating system the tablet or phone uses. For example, on an iPad, the Esc key acts as a Home button.
Microsoft promises that the keys are good for 5 million presses each before wearing out. Naturally we couldn’t test this, but we can say this keyboard is working perfectly after several weeks of heavy use.
None of the keys have backlights, so this keyboard can’t be easily used when there’s little or no ambient light.
There are also versions of this keyboard for French, German, and Japanese.
The Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard employs the wireless standard Bluetooth 3.0 so it can be used with a wide range of devices and operating systems, and there’s also no need for the keyboard to be in physical contact with the tablet or phone to function.
Another of its best features is this accessory’s ability to pair with up to three computers and move between them with the flip of a switch. There’s a big caveat, however: the three devices have to use three different operating systems. This is great for anyone who has Windows tablet like the Surface 3 and an Android phone, or maybe an Android tablet like the Galaxy Tab S2 and an iPhone because flipping a switch on the keyboard is all that’s necessary to move between these. It’s not good news for anyone who has an iPad and an iPhone, or two Android models because switching between these would require going through the pairing process every time.
iOS and Windows have support for Bluetooth keyboards built into them, and the Universal Mobile Keyboard can be used with any Android model with Bluetooth HID (Human Interface Device) support. There’s no additional software to install; just pair the accessory with the tablet or phone to start typing.
This product runs of a built-in 300 mAH battery which Microsoft says is good for 6 months of use before needing a recharge. Bluetooth keyboards use very little power, so this is a reasonable estimate. Microsoft also promises that just 10 minutes of charging is enough to keep the device running a full workday.
On the rare occasions it does need to be charged, there’s a micro-USB port on one side. The appropriate cable is included with this item, but it will need to use the USB wall plug that comes with the tablet or phone.
There’s a power button on the right side, but just opening and closing the clamshell turns the Universal Mobile Keyboard on and off. One of our few issues with this item, and it’s a minor one, is that the power button is in a place where it’s easy to accidentally hit when moving this accessory around, inadvertently turning it off.
An issue with all Bluetooth keyboards is that they need to shut themselves down if they aren’t used for a while to maintain their battery lives. This means that when the user goes back to typing after doing something else for a few minutes, like going for coffee, there’s a delay of several seconds while the accessory reactivates itself and reconnects to the tablet or phone. This can be moderately annoying, and is the reason why the Surface tablets and the iPad Pro can physically connect to keyboards without needing Bluetooth.
The Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard is one of the best on the market. It can be easily shared among several devices, it’s generally well designed, and certainly well built. It’s appropriate for businesspeople, students, or anyone who needs to enter a lot of text into a mobile computer.
It can hold devices at just two angles, though, and is less useful for those who have a tablet and phone that both run the same operating system.
The Universal Mobile Keyboard’s regular price is $79.95. There are other keyboards designed to be used with a range of tablets and phones to compare that price to. One of these is the ZAGG Pocket, which has a suggested price of $69.99. Another option is the LapWorks Amigo 2.0 Folding Keyboard which goes for $139.95. Keyboards designed specifically for individual models, like the one for the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 run from around $100 to $150.
So Microsoft’s offering is not out of line with competition, especially considering its high quality.