As a child of the computer era, I’m thrilled with the ever-shrinking electronics that have given us things the tablet computers and iPhones. I use them for managing my calendar, my contacts, photos, documents, and all sorts of things. As a writer, however, I find that using the on-screen virtual keyboard is unacceptable for creating any text longer than an email, and while voice dictation is improving, it’s not really a substitute for typing yet.
The idea of a lightweight, portable keyboard is very compelling. The first one I tried was pleasingly compact. The Verbatim Mobile Keyboard folds into a package about the size of two decks of cards, and unfolds into about a 3/4-normal-sized keyboard. Unfortunately, I couldn’t adapt to the placement of the undersized shift key and stopped using it.
For a while, I’d go into computer stores and look at new products as they came out, but none was quite compelling enough. Then, early last year, Belkin announced their “Ultimate Keyboard Case” for the iPad. Everything I read about it sounded perfect, and I pre-ordered one. It arrived in April of last year, and I’ve been using it ever since. I spent a month studying in Ireland, and the iPad was the only computer I took with me, and I managed to write most of an entire play, and a research paper on Joyce, among other things.
My only quibble with the Belkin keyboard is that their product literature claims that the iPad can be easily used in it’s fold-flat tablet configuration as well, and I don’t find it comfortable to do so. The primary reason is that the edges of the keyboard section don’t lock to the edges of the iPad, and so while the combination of the two is flat, it still feels like two tethered objects, rather than a single unit. A secondary concern is the added weight of the keyboard, but it is so light (411g) and thin (6.4mm) that I’d probably put up with it if it felt differently in my hand. As a result, I frequently pop the iPad out of the keyboard case when I know I’m going to be using it in “pure tablet” mode for any length of time. Because I was an early adopter, I was contacted by the product manager and I shared some of my experiences with him.
Fast forward to earlier this week. I snapped my iPad out of the case, and doing so, broke a piece of plastic that keeps the tablet secure in the case. I was disappointed to have it break, but I figured that if I got my glue gun out, I could repair it well enough to keep using, and when the glue dried, the case seemed to hold as well as before.
I noticed that the break had occurred where the case was thinnest, at a cut-out for the headphone jack. Since I still had the email address of the PM at Belkin, I wrote him again, noting the potential flaw, and explaining my experience. He immediately wrote back asking me if they could have my case to examine, and offering a brand new one in exchange. They also asked if I could make a video showing how I inserted and removed the iPad from the keyboard case.
I sent them a video and the replacement keyboard arrived by next day mail. As a general rule, I don’t like being on the bleeding edge of product design. I prefer to start with version 2.0 rather than 1.0 of a product. In this case, however, the corporation showed a real interest in the users who bought the first version, and I’m feeling very happy about how they treated me. I still don’t think the perfect keyboard/tablet combination exists, but I’m productive with this one, and I’ve recommended it to others. And, obviously, I’m pleased enough with how Belkin responded that I wrote about it.