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August 22nd 2012 4:15 pm

Do you want a keyboard with that tablet?

There are lots of keyboards available for tablets, ranging from Bluetooth keyboard cases for iPads to specialized docks like the ones ASUS offers for its Transformer line. But few tablets actually ship with a keyboard, since most are designed to be used primarily with their touchscreens, and keyboards are generally considered aftermarket products designed for a small subset of the user base.

But longtime second-tier tablet-maker Archos hopes to change that with its new 101 XS tablet. Due out in September, the $400 101 XS has a cover that doubles as a keyboard, similar to those that Microsoft showed off earlier this year with the Surface. Unlike most other tablet keyboards, Archos' "Coverboard" comes bundled with the 101 XS, and a lot of the tablet's functionality is built around the keyboard, with mixed results. As Engadget puts it:

The Coverboard design is smart, even if the plastic feels cheap, and we can't give Archos enough kudos for taking the keyboard beyond accessory status to an important part of the device. The layout isn't the most ergonomically sound, which defeats the purpose of having a built-in keyboard in the first place, but we hope the company can refine this concept to get better results.

Do you think it's a good idea to integrate a keyboard so closely with a tablet? Personally, as long as you still have full access to all of Android's touchscreen functionality, I don't see any downside. However, I'm a little picky when it comes to keyboards, so I suspect I'd still end up trading in the Coverboard for something a little more ergonomic (I'm looking forward to trying out Microsoft's new Wedge and Sculpt). With all of the Bluetooth keyboards out there, there's no reason to limit yourself to a single manufacturer's offerings. But products like the Coverboard will help to further legitimize the keyboard/tablet combo, which is good for anyone who, even occasionally, still finds typing on actual keys a more effective option than using an onscreen keyboard.


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3 replies

This is the exact thing that I have fought with for the last year or so of my iPad experience. While I LOVE the tablet form factor, I also wish it was a bit easier to be productive when I am on the go and the idea of having a keyboard would be great.

At this point, I don't think it is so much of a question of if we want a keyboard, because I feel as more users move to tablets as their primary computing device, the need for a keyboard for heavy usage such as document writing, email, etc is going become a necessity. The key issue is how to create a keyboard cover/case that not only provides the functionality of a keyboard, but doesn't impede the experience when you want to use your tablet as a tablet.

I have come to this conclusion specifically after spending well over 2 months reviewing the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad (www.natemcintyre.com­/2012­/08­/07­/review­-logitech­-ul...). While I ended up deciding to keep it, I only really use it when I don't feel like carrying my MacBook Pro 15" around in my bag, but still want to have the ability to type of long emails and notes with ease. This has effectively relegated the accessory to usage only when on vacations, or meetings where I won't be needing to fire up my development environment.

To summarize, keyboards are the standard input device for computers for a reason - they simply provide the best possible method for entering text available and have been that way for years. The winner in the market will be the first company to find a way to provide a keyboard that gets out of the way - I am looking at you Apple!
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I would really love to have a tablet with a truly integrated keyboard. I want a tablet that is fully functional without a keyboard but also provides laptop-level functionality with one.

I own both an iPad and an Air, and I find that when I need to do something any more input intense than brief note-taking, I reach for the Air instead of the iPad because it will take less time and be more efficient (I have to correct a lot of mistakes on iPad typing). I'm really comfortable with a keyboard. On Windows, Mac, and Linux, I type quickly and do a lot of computer control with keyboard shortcuts. When doing word processing, I rarely ever touch the mouse.

Now, although I'm a keyboard junkie, I've never purchased a keyboard for my iPad. I don't ever use my iPad for word processing. I don't know whether those two things are just correlated or cause-and-effect. It just doesn't quite do it for me.

In order for me to really replace my Air and go all-tablet, I would want a tablet with a keyboard that can do these two things (which those available for the iPad can't):
  1. Be integrated with the form factor like the Transformer dock or Surface cover so I don't have to carry a tablet & a keyboard as separate things. Until recently, that wasn't done very well for the iPad (and I think still those keyboards only fit the forms for the iPad 2 & new iPad, not for my iPad UNO.)
  2. Allow me to control the tablet from the keyboard. I do not want to have to reach out and touch the screen to control the tablet. The Transformer dock and Surface cover will both have trackpads, something that is impossible to pair with an iPad without jailbreaking, and I imagine Apple will never allow pairing a pointing device with an iPad. Android-geared keyboards (including this Archos XS) usually include Search, Menu, Home, and Back keys that allow me to operate most things with the keyboard. Although I obviously haven't used Windows RT, Windows 8 allows all the good old keyboard shortcuts and some new ones, and the Surface will have charms on the keyboard (and on the Wedge & Sculpt Mobile keyboards).
Try launching an app on your iPad using just your bluetooth keyboard. On Android - like this Archos XS - you probably can for now... but I don't think you would be able to do this on Android if Google removes universal search due to Apple's patent.

On a Surface, I should be able to operate the device using only the keyboard, without even touching the screen or trackpad. That will make it the perfect keyboard for power-user productivity, combined with a device that works fine without it. Just right.
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Yes I do!
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