Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Mimsy Were the Technocrats: As long as we keep talking about it, it’s technology.

A tale of two keyboards: iwerkz and Logitech K760

Jerry Stratton, August 22, 2014

Logitech K760 solar keyboard

The K760 can quickly switch between up to three devices, such as the iMac and iPad here.

Since I already had an Apple wireless keyboard for my iMac when I started traveling with the iPad, I generally brought the Apple keyboard with me on trips. The Apple keyboard is nice because it’s compact; the only real problem was that when I returned from a trip I needed to reconnect with the iMac and have the iPad forget it. It wasn’t reasonably possible to use the Apple keyboard at home with both the iPad and the iMac. I was always waking the wrong computer up.

My Apple wireless keyboard is old—it actually came with my previous iMac, and I kept it for use with my current iMac when I bought it about five years ago.

About two years ago, I unpacked the keyboard after a long trip to discover one of the keys missing. Fortunately I was able to find the missing key in the bottom of my luggage and it snapped back in fine. But I decided it was time to start looking for a good portable keyboard that I could dedicate to the iPad. Unfortunately there just didn’t seem to be anything out there. The roll-up keyboards seemed nice, until I was able to try one out. The display model at Brookstone worked only sporadically, which didn’t bode well for surviving the rigors of travel.

I continued to use the Apple keyboard, taking extra care to pack it safely. But about a year ago another key fell off, and while it snapped back in it didn’t work. It was the backslash/pipe key. I tried to get by without it—I use Python at home most of the time, which doesn’t use the pipe for or, so mainly I used it on the command line and in Perl. In those circumstances I pulled up the onscreen keyboard palette. Which is as annoying as it sounds—probably all the more annoying because it happened so infrequently I never remembered, and was usually several lines down before I realized there was an issue.

iwerkz portable keyboard and iPad

The iWerkz’s case doubles as a stand for an iPad or iPhone. The only real drawback to the iWerkz is the gap where it folds in the middle.

I finally got fed up in March and looked up new keyboards for the iMac. The Apple keyboard was my default choice because I liked the feel of the keys as well as the lightness of the keyboard. However, while searching I saw that the Logitech K760 keyboard claimed to use desklamp light for solar power and could support up to three devices at once. It was getting good reviews on Amazon that also said it replicated the feel of the Apple keyboard—at less than half the price. I couldn’t pass it up.

I’ve been using it now for four months, and so far it’s been great. It’s a bit larger than the Apple keyboard due to the large solar panel across the top, but this is more than made up for by the ability to take the keyboard out onto the porch and tap a button to immediately depair with the iMac and pair with the iPad. Not having to change batteries is, so far, also a bonus. Knock on wood, I have not had the internal battery run out.

It’s especially nice when experimenting with new apps on the iPad and iPhone. The K760 supports pairing with three devices, so I have button 1 pair with the iMac, button 2 with the iPad, and button 3 with the iPhone. Switching happens in less than a second, allowing me to quickly go from typing on the iMac in Textastic to typing on the iPad in HotPaw BASIC.

However, the new keyboard is just as inappropriate for travel as the old one, perhaps more so because of the glass covering the solar panel. I could put it back in its box for travel, but that makes it even more bulky.

Enter the iWerkz foldable keyboard. My girlfriend bought me this ruby gem for my birthday, and gave it to me early because we were going on a month-long road trip. It wasn’t a huge surprise: I had let her know it would be a great gift. The iWerkz folds inward so that the keys are protected in travel. And unlike the rollables I looked at, it’s a solid keyboard.

iWerkz keyboard, folded

The open space toward the bottom is the stand for an iPad. Underneath, there’s a pull-out tab that turns into a stand for iPhones.

Like the Logitech, the iWerkz sports an internal, non-replaceable battery. It charges via a micro-USB cable; it does not come with a charger, just the cable, which can be plugged into a computer or into any USB wall adapter that has a standard USB port.

The iWerkz keyboard’s main drawback is the space between the two sides of the keyboard that makes folding possible. If you are a touch-typist, you’ll need to be able to adapt to your index finger having to jump unnaturally far to hit the ‘b’ and ‘6’ keys or perhaps adjust to using your nearer hand for them. Further, the numbers across the top of the keyboard are oddly spaced. Toward the middle they’re fine, but at either end the spacing makes them off. It takes some getting used to for touch typing.

Its second drawback is that it requires some sort of solid surface to rest on. Because it folds in the middle, it folds upward when I rest it on my legs. I’ve been thinking that a large binder clip should keep it from folding but in practice it isn’t difficult to find a solidish surface. I’ve used hardcover books, composition books, and a folio as surfaces when I can’t find a table or bar, and they work fine.

The iWerkz still beats the hell out of writing longer documents (such as this, which I’m touch-typing on the iWerkz) using the iPad’s onscreen keyboard.

The iWerkz keyboard, when folded, fits into a small case to further protect it; when not used for the keyboard the case doubles as both an iPad stand and an iPhone stand. Folded and in its case, the keyboard is so small that I take it with me just about everywhere I take the iPad. It practically fits in my pockets, and easily fits into the messenger bag I carry the iPad in. It’s a lifesaver when we go to write at a 24-hour coffeeshop or take off on a road trip.

December 9, 2015: Last week, the iWerkz foldable keyboard started failing. I’ve only had it now for a year and a half. On Thursday, a few keys wouldn’t work, but they’d start working again after typing for a bit. By Saturday, major portions of the keyboard were failing indefinitely. It’s currently unusable. I have a query in to iWerkz customer support via their web page, but since the keyboard is over a year out of its warranty, I don’t have much hope. Judging from the Amazon reviews, this is a widespread problem. Fortunately, it looks like there are more options in the portable keyboard space today than there were a year and a half ago.

December 11, 2015: iWerks support got back to me in 24 hours and suggested charging the keyboard overnight, then de-pairing it and re-pairing it. In attempting to do this, I noticed that the supplied micro-USB cable was no longer working (I verified this on another device as well). I used a spare micro-USB cable to charge the keyboard overnight, and in the morning it began to work. It was still difficult re-pairing it, because some of the numbers were not responding (the 5 and 0), but after trying enough times to get a pair code that did not have a 5 or a 0, the keyboard began working fully a few minutes later. It’s an odd failure mode. But hopefully I have use of the keyboard again, as it has been very useful.

December 27, 2015: After the New Year I’m going to contact support again, because every time I use the keyboard I have to take several minutes mashing down all the keys before it starts registering many of them. It’s odd that this started happening after the keyboard (presumably) lost its charge for the first time due to the cable failure.

May 16, 2016: The keyboard is unusable unless it’s plugged into power and even then it’s problematic. I’m nearly certain the issue is that the battery is no longer holding power. The issue started about a year and a half after I bought it; I have no idea if that’s to be expected or not.

October 11, 2016: Verbatim Bluetooth Folding Keyboard
Verbatim Bluetooth Folding Keyboard

The Verbatim folding keyboard provides a fairly standard keyboard, at near-standard sizes. The main problem is that half-width SHIFT key on the right.

While it seems to have been sadly discontinued, the three-in-one solar-powered Logitech K760 that I reviewed in A Tale of Two Keyboards is still going strong. The iWerkz has, sadly, developed problems. Some of the keys don’t work unless I play at the keyboard every time I turn it on, and some of the keys never do start working during some sessions.

I’m pretty sure that the problems were battery-related. I’ve gotten so used to the durability of built-in batteries on Apple products that I forget, sometimes, why people like to be able to change batteries out. Because they lose power over time. The iWerkz customer support people were very responsive, but, as a writer, I need to have a keyboard that works not one that I can get working if I try hard enough.

So when I went looking for a replacement, I specifically looked for a keyboard with replaceable batteries. That’s a tall order, because portable keyboards also need to be small. This Verbatim folding Bluetooth keyboard solves the problem by putting the two AA batteries into a ridge on the left, that folds over into a groove on the right.

The Verbatim does not come with a handy iPad/iPhone stand. It does have a slide-out stand for iPhones, but it’s designed for older iPhones with the wider pin connector: the slide-out has a dummy piece of plastic sized to fit into the wide pin connector and hold the iPhone up that way. It won’t work with newer iPhones, and it won’t work with iPads, newer or older. While the older iPads also have that connector, the slide-out stand won’t support the greater weight of the iPad. Rather than a plastic case that doubles as an iPad/iPhone stand, as the iWerkz ingeniously has, the Verbatim comes with a leather-like pouch to protect the folded keyboard from battering while traveling.

The lack of a stand doesn’t bother me, because I already have an articulated stand that I occasionally used when using the Logitech with the iPad.

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