Pinterest Stumbleupon Whatsapp
Advertisement

Bluetooth keyboards offer a winning combination of portability and cross-device compatibility — but they’re not perfect for everyone. While there are Bluetooth keyboards out there worth buying, you should be aware that there are some real trade-offs to consider.

For example, gamers, coders, and those who write often may fare better with wired keyboards, which tend to offer better reliability, functionality, and security. Should you get one? Here are six reasons why you may want to rethink the Bluetooth keyboard.

1. Keyboards Should Be Long-Term

The keyboard remains one of the few computer components that will never go obsolete. With PS2-to-USB adapters, many mechanical keyboards from thirty years ago are still useful today. And why would you want to use such an old keyboard? For its mechanical switch (how mechanical keyboards work How Does A Mechanical Keyboard Work? [Technology Explained] How Does A Mechanical Keyboard Work? [Technology Explained] For geeks, mechanical keyboards are the holy grail of input devices. They’re relatively rare, they’re expensive, and require some explanation for people to understand them. It’s everything a geek could ask for. If you’re not... Read More ).

Unlike today’s membrane keyboards, a mechanical keyboard offers a combination of durable keycaps along with switches that will last for up to 50 million key presses — and the keys for a mechanical keyboard are usually easier to activate.

A common membrane keyboard requires around 70 grams of force to actuate while a Gateron mechanical switch only needs 35 grams of force. Plus, mechanical switches activate when they’re half-pressed unlike membrane switches which only activate when they’re full-pressed.

This is what a membrane switch looks like:

Advertisement

membrane switch

This is what a mechanical switch looks like:

mechanicalkeyboard4

Mechanical Bluetooth keyboards exist but they aren’t practical, mainly because you lose the portability that makes a Bluetooth keyboard worth getting. For example, the Varmilo VB87M keyboard weighs around 4 pounds, which is more than my entire Dell XPS 13 laptop Dell XPS 13 2015 Review and Giveaway Dell XPS 13 2015 Review and Giveaway The XPS represents the pinnacle of laptop design in 2015, and it's the best bang for your buck out of any laptop we've ever seen in the $800 price range. Read More .

Sure, there are a few excellent options out there, such as the Filco Majestouch Minila:

USA Majestouch MINILA Air 67 Key Linear Action Bluetooth Keyboard FFBT67ML/EB by Filco USA Majestouch MINILA Air 67 Key Linear Action Bluetooth Keyboard FFBT67ML/EB by Filco Buy Now At Amazon $126.00

Unfortunately, it doesn’t connect through a miniUSB cable, which offsets the fact that it’s one of the few portable Bluetooth mechanical keyboards around. Before buying anything, I advise reading up on what kind of keyboard switch is best Popular Keyboard Technology Compared: Which is Right for You? Popular Keyboard Technology Compared: Which is Right for You? When talking about computer peripherals, the computer keyboard is the unsung hero. Read More for you.

2. You Can’t Trust Manufacturers

Logitech and HTC both claim to sell “mechanical” Bluetooth keyboards, but if you look closely, you’ll find that neither model actually possesses any mechanical switches. It’s a shame because both are, by most standards, high-quality devices.

For example, the Logitech Keys-to-Go model protects its keys using a fabric covering. Here’s a good shot of it:

logitech keys to go bluetooth keyboard

But in marketing speak, the term “mechanical” can refer to anything that adheres to the following definition:

google defined mechanical

It does not mean what you’d expect it to mean, namely that the keyboard actually employs spring resistance with metal actuation points. A tear-down of the HTC Nexus 9 keyboard and the Logitech Keys-to-Go proves that neither offers the mechanical switches that one would expect.

Here’s what Logitech’s Keys-to-Go looks like after removing the fabric covering the keyboard:

keys-to-go dissection

As you can see through the transparent (potentially acrylic) keycaps, there’s a scissors-style membrane switch. Here’s a side-by-side comparison between Logitech’s computer-rendered marketing image (left) and what the switch looks like (right):

logitech keys to go dissection and comparison

The render doesn’t look anything like the production version. Even so, I can say that the Logitech Keys-to-Go keyboard is a fantastic keyboard, although it still suffers from many of the issues with Bluetooth keyboards, such as an unreplaceable Li-ion battery.

On the positive side, its spill-proof design and portability make it an ideal keyboard for mobile productivity. Right now it retails on Amazon for between $30 and $50.

Logitech Keys-To-Go Ultra-Portable Stand-Alone keyboard for devices with iOS 7 and higher, Android 4.1 and higher, or Windows 7 and higher, Red (920-006948) Logitech Keys-To-Go Ultra-Portable Stand-Alone keyboard for devices with iOS 7 and higher, Android 4.1 and higher, or Windows 7 and higher, Red (920-006948) Ultra-portable iPad Bluetooth keyboard and Android Bluetooth keyboard features an ultra-slim, light, go-anywhere design that fits easily in a coat pocket, purse or briefcase Buy Now At Amazon $21.99 Logitech Keys-To-Go Ultra-Portable Bluetooth Keyboard for Android and Windows, Dark Blue (920-007196) Logitech Keys-To-Go Ultra-Portable Bluetooth Keyboard for Android and Windows, Dark Blue (920-007196) Ultra-portable wireless keyboard for Android and Windows devices: Ultra-slim, light, go-anywhere Bluetooth keyboard fits easily in a coat pocket, purse or briefcase Buy Now At Amazon $17.99

I should also note that the Logitech’s Keys-to-Go uses Bluetooth 3.0 rather than the more modern Bluetooth 4.0, which is an example of our next issue.

3. Standards Become Obsolete & Insecure

Unlike a wired connection, the Bluetooth wireless protocol rapidly changes over time, which would be fine except that Bluetooth keyboards don’t receive security updates as they age. What’s considered secure today might be easily exploited tomorrow.

For example, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) published a best-practices guideline for Bluetooth usage, which notes that older Bluetooth standards that don’t support the Low Energy extension are vulnerable — and that’s pretty much all Bluetooth 3.x keyboards.

There’s a long list of potential security holes and I recommend reading it, along with Kaspersky Lab’s list of Bluetooth security vulnerabilities, which includes Bluejacking and Bluebugging.

4. No Bluetooth In the BIOS

What’s a Basic Input Output The BIOS Explained: Boot Order, Video Memory, Saving, Resets & Optimum Defaults The BIOS Explained: Boot Order, Video Memory, Saving, Resets & Optimum Defaults Your computer’s BIOS (basic input/output system) is the low-level software that starts when you boot your computer. It performs a POST (power-on self test), initializes your computer’s hardware, and passes control over to the boot... Read More (BIOS) environment? On a PC, and some Mac computers, users can enter a pre-OS boot environment and change basic variables, such as CPU frequency and other settings. Unfortunately, Bluetooth drivers are loaded by the operating system.

Without wired capabilities, it’s impossible for a keyboard to function in a BIOS environment. A handful of Bluetooth keyboards do possess the ability to work over a wired connection in a BIOS environment, but these are almost always expensive mechanical models.

One of the few Bluetooth keyboards to also support a connection via USB cable is the Varmilo VB660M. Unfortunately, the keyboard was discontinued, and it’s almost impossible to find one now.

varmilo vb87m

Varmilo VB87M Bluetooth Game Mechanical Keyboard The German Original Factory Cherry MX Brown Switch Varmilo VB87M Bluetooth Game Mechanical Keyboard The German Original Factory Cherry MX Brown Switch text-align center Keycool 87II urle Backlit Mechanical Gaming Keyboard-Cherry MX own Switch Keycool 87II urle Backlit Mechanical Gaming Keyboard-Cherry MX own Switch issecifieddesignedfor thosewhoseersonastecanmakeamechanicalkeyboardforuse Keycool 87II urle Backlit Mechanical Gaming Keyboard-Cherry MX own Switch is a great keyboard for gaming and tying This tenkeyless size mechanical keyboard will u your game and reduce the finger sain caused by rubber dome keyboards because it i Buy Now At Amazon $299.99

You can get the Varmilio VB87M instead. It’s one of the best — if not the best — Bluetooth mechanical keyboards available today and is sold through Massdrop on an intermittent basis, or you can get the VB87M with Cherry MX Brown switches on Amazon. (Massdrop offers configurable models so you can choose switch types and backlighting options.)

Unfortunately, the VB87M suffers from all kinds of connection issues when used with Windows, as the controller will not function on older versions of Windows, which do not support the Bluetooth 4.0 standard. While the Bluetooth standard itself is reverse compatible — meaning you can use a Bluetooth 4.0 device on a 3.0 wireless card and vice-versa — Windows 7 doesn’t support Bluetooth 4.0 modules.

More or less, the Bluetooth standard is messy and fragmented. The same problem also plagues Linux where 4.0 modules fail to function properly. Compared to a wired connection, Bluetooth suffers from substantial compatibility issues.

5. Bluetooth Has Pairing Issues

This is Bluetooth’s biggest problem, and a quick scan of customer reviews of Bluetooth keyboards shows countless complaints about compatibility issues.

For example, the latest version of Ubuntu doesn’t work with Bluetooth 4.0 devices… and Windows 7 isn’t compatible with Bluetooth 4.0… and versions of Android older than 4.3 Jelly Bean won’t support Bluetooth’s Low Energy extension. Overall, Bluetooth’s compatibility issues can spoil the main advantage offered by Bluetooth keyboards in the first place.

With any luck, we’ll see some WiFi-Direct keyboards in the future (difference between WiFi-Direct and Bluetooth The Differences Between Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi Direct You Need To Know The Differences Between Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi Direct You Need To Know If you take a peek into the future, it's hard not to envision an always-on society that features a multitude of connected devices that work in unison to make your life more convenient. Read More ). WiFi-Direct requires a WiFi-Direct compatible wireless card, but that’s okay because most modern Android devices are compatible. The problem is that good WiFi-Direct keyboards are hard to find.

6. That Battery Won’t Last Forever

In fact, a Bluetooth keyboard’s battery might not even last a few years. All Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries fail over time (three ways to ruin a battery How a Battery Works and 3 Ways You Can Ruin It How a Battery Works and 3 Ways You Can Ruin It The modern battery is featured in so many of our favourite technologies that you could almost be forgiven for not spending time learning about their workings. Read More ), and the more discharge-charge cycles it goes through, the faster its battery chemistry loses coherency.

Furthermore, while a seldom-charged Li-ion battery can last a long time, most are not user-replaceable. If it does fail, you’ve got to discard the entire keyboard unless you have soldering skills (learn how to solder Beginner's Electronics: 10 Skills You Need to Know Beginner's Electronics: 10 Skills You Need to Know Many of us have never even touched a soldering iron - but making things can incredibly rewarding. Here's ten of the most basic DIY electronics skills to help you get started. Read More ). Bluetooth keyboards with replaceable batteries do exist, but they’re uncommon and few standout.

One exception is the Logitech K480:

logitech k480

Logitech K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard (Dark Grey) (920-007558) Logitech K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard (Dark Grey) (920-007558) Multi-device Bluetooth keyboard: Universal keyboard for typing on all your computing devices*: Windows, Mac, Chrome OS, Android, iPad, iPhone, Apple TV 2nd or 3rd generation (*Any Bluetooth-enabled computers or mobile devices that support external keyboards with HID profile. Check with device manufacturer for details) Buy Now At Amazon $29.98

The K480 offers a solid combination of a slender form factor, multi-device compatibility, and replaceable AAA batteries. Unfortunately, it still suffers from the majority of issues plaguing Bluetooth keyboards.

Should You Buy a Bluetooth Keyboard?

There’s no perfect Bluetooth keyboard solution, so you’ve got to either compromise or pony up the cash and pay a fortune.

One surprising note is that micro-mechanical keyboard switches do exist. A company called TTC sells switches with a height of 7.1mm, a suitable size for portable keyboards. I’m hoping that Logitech adopts the technology for use in a Keys-to-Go successor, which would be really nice.

If you absolutely must buy a Bluetooth keyboard, my advice is to either go cheap and use it as little as you can. If you don’t need wireless capabilities, invest in a solid wired mechanical keyboard 5 Heavy Duty Mechanical Keyboards For The Hardcore Gamer 5 Heavy Duty Mechanical Keyboards For The Hardcore Gamer We’ve made quite a song-and-dance about mechanical keyboards here at MakeUseOf, and now that more and more manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon they’re no longer specialised bits of kit reserved for the upper echelons... Read More , and if you need it for a mobile device, consider buying a USB On-the-Go What Is USB OTG? 5 Cool Ways to Use It on Android What Is USB OTG? 5 Cool Ways to Use It on Android USB OTG allows you to connect any USB device to your Android smartphone or tablet. There are so many possibilities! Read More (OTG) cable (make sure your device is compatible with OTG cables, although most Androids are).

Does anyone else have buyer’s remorse after scoring a Bluetooth keyboard? Tell us about it in the comments down below!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *