Review: Dell Tablet Wireless Keyboard + Folio Case

Posted: January 11, 2014 in accessory, Consumer Electronics, Dell, keyboard, review, tablet, Venue Pro, Windows, Windows 8
Tags: , , , , , ,

I’ve spent the past few days using Dell’s solution for those who need a keyboard for their Venue Pro 8 tablet. It has come in handy when needing to write emails and edit documents. I have yet to write code with it, although I plan to soon. Unfortunately, while the keyboard and case match the Venue Pro 8 perfectly, it’s hard to recommend this accessory for medium to heavy duty work until Dell treats the keyboard with the attention to detail afforded its laptop-bound brethren.

Every time I use a compact keyboard I am reminded all designers of such keyboards must be sadists. They move keys around to obscenely hard to reach places. Sometimes they remove keys altogether, making the keyboard worthless. Dell’s Tablet Wireless Keyboard for their Venue 8 Pro is no exception. Take a gander at the photo below. Why does the keyboard need two Alt keys? Couldn’t that second Alt be used for the apostrophe, which is explicably a Function key combination? Why is the question mark key on the left, next to a full size shift key, when it could have been put in its normal position next to a smaller right shift key?

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That’s not to say it’s all bad. Actually, the keyboard itself is quite good for short emails and corrections to documents. Expectations are usually low for compact keyboards, so this is better than some when it comes to comfort. I didn’t make many mistakes, although any time I needed certain punctuation I had to stop and think. It’s the ergonomic and functionality decisions, and aforementioned omissions, that make absolutely no sense. For example:

  • The keyboard has no backlight. If Microsoft can insert a backlight in a keyboard half as thin, why can’t Dell?
  • Two watch batteries are required. Yes, it comes with them, but those things are expensive. Why isn’t there a rechargeable battery that could charge via MicroUSB from the Venue Pro’s USB port?
  • I said it before, but come on – what in the world were they thinking with the apostrophe and quote keys? They’ve moved from a normal location – next to : and ; – to requiring a Function Key combination. But they left { and } intact? Who uses those often while typing in Word or web sites? Maybe developers, like me, but we need the quote and apostrophe, too!
  • The keyboard connects magnetically to the case – which is awesome – except, the keyboard doesn’t deactivate itself when the magnet is engaged. That causes key presses to turn the tablet on, thus draining the battery. It also drains the keyboard’s battery. It sounds like a simple engineering task, magnet turning off the power circuit, but maybe I missed something? The magnet is also a bit weak. Don’t treat this like Microsoft’s Surface keyboard. You’ll want to place the keyboard elsewhere if you’re only going to use the Venue Pro 8 as a tablet.
  • If the on-screen keyboard can fit all keys on the Venue Pro’s screen, why can’t the physical keyboard that has more physical room?

If you were a product manager, would you let this thing ship with such obvious issues?

Those gripes aside, I like the keyboard, and its design complements the Venue Pro 8. The design of the folio case, it’s built-in pen holder, and magnetic grip of the keyboard to the case all make this a worthwhile addition to your Dell Venue Pro accessory list. Just don’t expect to get much work done with it if you need apostrophes, dashes, or quotes.

Pros: Keyboard perfectly matches contours of the Venue Pro 8, and connects magnetically. Package comes with a case that looks very nice and can hold the digitizer pen. Keyboard can be left in the car, at home, and so forth, so you don’t have to carry it around when not needed.

Cons: The keyboard + case combo seems to weigh as much as the Venue Pro, practically doubling the weight. Alcohol must have been involved when deciding the keyboard layout. The magnet is a bit weak. The keyboard isn’t good for any long documents due to the layout’s inexplicable key locations.

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Figure: The keyboard connects magnetically to the flap on the case.

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Figure: The keyboard looks great even when not being used. That doesn’t mean it folds back like the Surface – it will fall off if you treat it like Microsoft’s prodigy.

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Figure: The keyboard runs off two CR2025 3 volt batteries. The tray is a bit difficult to remove.

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Figure: The keyboard.

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Figure: Unwrapping.

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Figure: The packaging. Front.

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Figure: The packaging. Back.

Comments
  1. rmr says:

    Thank you for the review Auri. Non-standard layout and the CR battery type are definetely something to consider. I think I’ll go with the Microsoft Wedege bluetooth keyboard and mouse. From experience, I have hard a hard time adjusting to these type of “awkward” layouts, especially when coding or writing queries. The other advantage of the Wedge is that if I am to change the device, the keyboard would still work and I’d be used to it with the new device. Now, if a case manufacturer was to make a Venue case that would incorporate that keyboard, that’d be nice.

    • Auri says:

      To be fair, it’s a Bluetooth keyboard, so I doubt it’s tied to the Venue Pro in any way and would work with any device, silly design decisions aside.

  2. rmr says:

    Granted. Just too many poor implementations with this keyboard to carry it over to a new device for my taste. I would however likely still buy it if Dell puts it on sale since it includes a case ($59-$69 range) Still looking for a way to modify a USB dongle to force charging while using peripherals. there’s a couple of youtube videos on that.

    • Braino says:

      Hi rmr – the keyboard actually comes with a case. There is another folio case for the venue 8, but it is not magnetic and cannot hold the keyboard in place.

      Frankly i like the case that comes with the keyboard better than the ‘folio’ case, But you are still talking $99-ish for the pair.

  3. Cody Conway says:

    Well well well worth noting that Dell just discontinued the stylus for the Venue Pro 8. I had been on a waiting list for my shipment containing the keyboard and stylus for 8 weeks now. The keyboards have been shipping for 2 weeks but it was waiting on the stylus. Dell called me to tell me they fully canceled my order. I called the Hell(p) desk and was able to speak to a lovely indian named Bob who swore to me he was in New York looking at the big lady liberty . . . Never the less . . . they resubmitted my order for the keyboard only, but assured me there was no possible way to get a stylus unless picked up at a local retailer who may have them in stock. . . right after they released the update that fixes the stylus bugs. This is quite alarming and upsetting.

  4. I just got mine, and it would be nice if the magnet was stronger. Actually, unless I read your review, I wouldn’t have know there was a magnet. A stylus would be great! I bought several 3rd party ones, but none work, so there is something wonky with the touch. Other that those couple things, I am please with my device.Heck, for a $300 Windows 8.1 Pro device, how can you complain? I think Dell did a great job on this one!

    • Braino says:

      Hi Cody & Bobby –

      My understanding is that Dell discontinued the active stylus because of design issues. For example, the rubber end was breaking off too easily. That’s a $.03 part that you cannot replace… so bye bye pen.

      The new stylus (Rev A01, I think) is out now and you should be able to order it online. 🙂

    • jpm says:

      We cannot get our key board to type a word or sentence…if you want to hold the “h” key down no problem or any letter for that matter…but if you want to type a word out like “help”…we get nothing…any ideas to get the wireless keyboard working correctly…ready to ship it back to Dell…

      • Auri says:

        If that’s happening, I’d get a replacement from Dell. Another approach would be to try another Bluetooth keyboard and see if it has the same issue. If so, then it’s a software problem.

  5. Jeffrey says:

    Are the magnets in the Keyboard or in the cover? Does it seem like the keyboard can come apart easily? I would like to open it up and place a ton of tiny super strong magnets inside the rim to make it attach with better strength.

    • Auri says:

      I haven’t had it fall off terribly easy, although it’s nothing like the Surface’s keyboard. I believe the magnets are in the keyboard, connecting to metal in the cover.

      • Braino says:

        I just took a paperclip and slid it across the case and keyboard. it appears there are 4 magnets in each. I took another magnet to the case and keyboard and didn’t find any other metal.

        I expected to find the magnets in the corners but this is not true – they aren’t even even, even. 😉 On the keyboard top ones are above F2/F3, and F7, just about 1/2 way up the bar above the keys, or even vertically with the “‘DELL” letters in the logo. The bottom ones are below the space bar, near either end of the space bar.

        When I hang my keyboard on the case by the magnets it stays, but a light shake will make it fall. I too would like better magnets, but what i really don’t like is the case itself doesn’t stay shut by magnets.

  6. Steven says:

    What is the weight of the keyboard?

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