A long while back there was a company called Think Outside, and they produced, among other things, keyboards for mobile devices. Back then there were only a few species of mobile devices that could make use of the Think Outside keyboard. Palm was riding fairly high, for instance, and sold several devices that supported Bluetooth keyboards. There were several Windows CE devices on the market, as well. Even Nokia was selling a tablet, the N800, when Apple’s iPad was nothing more than a project that Apple’s engineers were working on inside its deepest, darkest labs.
Each of these devices had their problems. Palm’s little pocket computers had plenty of applications available and could even edit Microsoft Office documents with the aid of DataViz’s Documents to Go software, but Palm devices were underpowered and had screens too small to do any real work.
Windows CE, and later Windows Mobile devices were capable, but kludgy. They were for the tech types and nerds. They also suffered from a lack of screen real estate, doing real work, while possible, was painful.
Nokia’s N770, then N800 was a valiant attempt at addressing the problems with mobile devices back then. These were actual tablets, albeit small ones. They sported 4.1” screens, huge for a mobile device in 2007, a built-in webcam, SD card slots, and were WiFi capable. They also had a reasonably beefy processor (OMAP 2420 running at 400MHz which was speedy at that time), and a nice compliment of storage (128 MB of RAM and 256 MB of Flash RAM).
The N770 and N800 also had Bluetooth, and that’s where the Think Outside keyboard comes in. I reviewed a Nokia N800 and the Think Outside keyboard. They made an interesting pair that hinted at what mobile computing could be like, but back then, in the end, the Nokia device just couldn’t quite do it. The keyboard, on the other hand, did it, and more.
I have the tri-folding Stowaway Bluetooth model, which has a shiny metal skin, uses one AAA battery, and opens to a true full sized keyboard in three easy motions. It’s a very good keyboard. Think Outside also made a small bi-fold Bluetooth keyboard that sported full sized keys. Folks who owned the latter really liked them, and even today, both keyboards command a high price in eBay and Amazon.
Unfortunately, Think Outside, now iGo Inc., no longer makes these keyboards, and that’s a shame because now is when we could really use them. Other companies are starting to fill the void left by Think Outside, and there are now several Bluetooth keyboards on the market from several vendors. One of the more interesting keyboards is from Verbatim, the folks better known for blank CDs and DVDs.
The Verbatim 97537 Bluetooth Keyboard with its device stand
Actually, the Verbatim 97537 Mobile Bluetooth Keyboard is a rebranded Freedom Pro Bluetooth Keyboard. The Verbatim keyboard doesn’t offer as many enhanced function keys as the Freedom Pro. Beyond that the two keyboards appear to be the same.
The 97537 is a sizable package, closed, it’s six and a quarter inches long, four inches wide, and almost an inch thick. Open it up and it’s longer than Apple’s aluminum Bluetooth keyboard, measuring a table filling 12.5”. When folded, the 97537 fits snuggly in the provided case. Forget about stuffing this package in any but the largest of pockets.
When open you are presented with a set of nice-sized keys suitable enough to make most touch-typists happy. They’ll like the tactile feedback the keys provide as well as the satisfying bounce the keys give when pressed. What may throw a few typists off is the split space keys, which are narrower than the lettered keys to begin with.
Dividing the key to accommodate the fold makes what is a space bar on normal keyboards downright lilliputian, and you’ll require accurate thumbs to hit them consistently. Touch typing is a skill based on muscle memory and confidence. Your fingers “know” where the keys are and nearly every keyboard is set up the same way. The 97537’s space key is changed just enough to disrupt that confidence, so you’re never sure that you’ve hit it and have to check. This action is minor, but will reduce the speed of most keyboarders.
Verbatim was nice enough to add music control keys along the left side of the device. Volume is controlled by the top two keys while Previous Song, Play/Pause, Next Song, and Stop completes the set. It would have been better to make these keys user definable so that I could include some edit functions.
I mentioned that my old Stowaway keyboard only uses one AAA battery, the 97537 requires two, and from my limited testing, seems to require them more often. Even so, you’ll enjoy weeks of use before needing fresh power.
Once linked to my iPad, I only need to tap a key to wake that old Stowaway I mentioned up and have it connect. It’s a thing of technological beauty, really. Unfold and tap and the onscreen keyboard disappears and I can start using the hard keys. Fold it up and the Bluetooth connection is broken, the keyboard turns off, and my iPad is ready to use the virtual keyboard. If you stop typing for several minutes then the keyboard drops out of bluetooth. Tap any key to reconnect. It’s an elegant interaction that makes using the keyboard a pleasure.
The 97537 is not nearly as sophisticated. To wake the keyboard up you have to use the “On” switch, which requires a fingernail or pen point to move. Once on and connected the keyboard works just fine. If the keyboard is inactive for more than 5 minutes then it breaks the Bluetooth connection. A tap of any key activates the connection again, unless the iPad has gone to sleep as well. In this case to activate it again you’ll have to switch the keyboard off and then on again. Folding the keyboard won’t shut it down either, you have to use that little switch to turn it off or let the keyboard disconnect from inactivity. This all works, but it’s not nearly as nice as it could be.
The 97537 in its case
One annoying thing I’ve notice is that my iPad will forget about the 97537 from time to time, and I’ll have to re-pair it to use it. Thus far my iPad remembers the Stowaway just fine, even if I don’t use it for weeks at a time. This is a small and curious issue and it is hardly a deal breaker, but it’s a niggling detail that, when combined with others, makes using the 97537 less enjoyable.
Another example of poor attention to details is the fit and finish of the keyboard. The 97537 is not a rugged device. The plastics used inspire delicate handling when open. For instance, there’s a sliding mechanism at the top of the open keyboard (you’ll have to use a fingernail to use it) that’s suppose to lock the keyboard in the open position. I’ve forgotten about it a few times and have almost broken it when folding the board in a rush to pack up. Now I don’t bother using it.
Another example is the included device stand. The documentation that came with the 97537 says that I can use the stand with my iPod touch or iPhone. If you want to use your device in portrait orientation and have any but the thinnest of cases then using the stand is, to borrow a quote from The Princess Bride’s Vizzini, absolutely, totally, and in all other ways inconceivable. It will hold an iPhone in landscape orientation, however, and there was no problem supporting the iPod touch. In any case the stand feels as if anything heavier than an iPhone would crush it to pieces. I never use the stand.
Verbatim’s 97537 is a Bluetooth keyboard that really could have been a contender, it works well as a keyboard, but winds up missing the mark on too many details to make using it an enjoyable experience.
The keys, with the notable exception of the space bar, feel good in use, and pairing it is simple. The batteries last a while, and when folded and stowed in its included case, the keyboard is very portable if you are backpacking or briefcasing it.
It’s often the little things that count, and with the 97537, they subtract from the device. The split space key, the flimsy stand, the weak keyboard lock and others details may make you wonder if something better is available for the money. Even if I didn’t have a similar keyboard to compare it to, I believe the 97537 will leave a lot of folks underwhelmed with their purchase.
Still, the Verbatim 97537 Mobile Bluetooth Keyboard is an adequate device and it does what it’s suppose to and gets the job done, which is why I can RECOMMEND* it with a reasonable level of comfort.
Edit Note: I stated that the Verbatim documentation said that the included stand would support an iPad. That statement is wrong and I’ve corrected it. My apologies to Verbatim.
|Review Item||Verbatim 97537 Mobile Bluetooth Keyboard|
* Note: My rating system goes like this;
- Get it Now! - Highest rating and an absolute must-have
- Highly recommend - Minor flaws, but a great product
- Recommend - Flawed, but still a solid product
- So-so - Problem product that may find a niche market
- Avoid - Why did they bother making it? A money waster.