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neilm

Hello to Surface Bluetooth Keyboard- then goodbye!

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neilm    851
neilm

I've been using a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 now for nearly three years and it continues to do sterling service. Most of the time I use it in it's dedicated docking station attached to a 24" touchscreen monitor and external keyboard and mouse. 

For a number of years I've been using an old Keysonic wired keyboard I bought at Maplin Electronics. Despite trying a few others I always return to it for the feel of the keys and general responsiveness. I liked the Logitech K810 Bluetooth keyboard very much but the lack of a numeric keypad was an issue I could not live with for everyday office tasks. 

When Microsoft announced a range of new peripherals at the end of last year, I was intrigued by the new Surface Bluetooth Keyboard. This was a standard, enhanced layout Bluetooth keyboard in a compact format, and constructed in a smart aluminium and grey finish consistent with other Surface products. It became available in UK from the Microsoft Education store in March for £80 so I bit the bullet and bought one. The current retail price is £89 including VAT, post and packing from Microsoft.

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There is no doubt that this is a svelte, good looking keyboard and is well constructed. Although compact, the key pitch is pretty close to a standard keyboard but space has been saved by using very narrow bezels all around. On the bottom rear edge is a raised cylindrical extrusion which holds the batteries and pitches the keyboard up at the back for more ergonomic typing. There are no other adjustments, nor a wrist rest.

The battery cover snaps on and off via a magnetic connector, and at the edge of the battery compartment is a push button for Bluetooth pairing. 

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At this point I was looking forward to a few years of service, but I will admit now that in use there have been too many issues adversely affecting performance, that from this week I've reverted to my true and trusty Keysonic wired keyboard. 

Installation
This is a Bluetooth 4 keyboard and apart from inserting the batteries and pairing with the PC, there is no other setup. There is no dedicated software or key mapping options. 
Microsoft anticipate the 2 AAA batteries lasting up to a full year, so power management is quite aggressive, of which more later. There are no options to modify the power management. 

Pairing follows standard Bluetooth protocols. Push the pairing switch on the keyboard and initiate device seek on the host device, and the host will request a keycode to be typed on the keyboard to complete the pairing. This progressed smoothly as expected and the Surface Pro 3 installed all the relevant drivers and system files. 

One point to note is that this keyboard can only be paired with one device- there are no multiple pairing options as seen in the Logitech K810. 

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In Use
The keyboard has a good feel to it. The Chiclet keys have a small but positive travel with a firm but not intrusive return spring. I'm not a touch typist but there are bumps on the F and J keys to identify the home row for those who are. The pitch of the keyboard with its raised back edge feels comfortable. Keys are not illuminated, presumably to save drain on the dry cell batteries, but toggle keys do have small white LED indicators. 

The top row of Function keys are mapped to various control functions as is seen on laptop keyboards. They are two thirds height and apart from media control keys, they include Windows specific functions such as search, task view, connect and settings. If you use software which needs standard function key operation, there is a Fn key next to the left Control key. The Fn key is a toggle so the selected control set persists until the Fn key is pressed again. The LED lights up when standard function keys are in operation. 

There are also four dedicated keys above the number pad for Calculator, Show Desktop, Properties and Lock Screen. 

As mentioned above, there are no options settings nor any dedicated control panel to modify key actions, but I'd assume that proprietary key mapping software would continue to work fine. 

I have found a couple of small issues. Being a rather poor typist who uses six fingers in random combinations (!), I've found that there is a certain amount of ghosting- where a keypress remains registered for a fraction after a subsequent key is pressed. In the normal course of events this is not an issue, but I have been testing some software that uses some Alt key combinations, and I've occasionally hit the Alt key by mistake after typing an 's' or a 'c' and the corresponding Alt function has triggered. I'm sure this is not an issue for most users though. The other is that for some reason, apparently at random, the Insert/Overlay toggle triggers, so you find yourself overwriting when editing rather than inserting. It seems to happen after using the Home or End keys, and in this case I am certain I'm not hitting the Insert and Home key together. 

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Power Management
To conserve power with the AAA dry batteries, the keyboard goes into a power save mode after about 15 minutes. It requires a keypress to release power save, but this keypress does not register with the host PC. For me this has caused some annoyance because I typically leave a client record open on the screen for about 20 minutes before completing it. Invariably I wish to start the new sentence with a capital letter, but pressing Shift and starting typing does not register the capital. The only way around this is to press a non letter or navigation key before resuming typing. At the risk of some higher battery drain, I'd much prefer to have the option to set the power save delay to something like 30 minutes. 

On a number of occasions, the keyboard failed to wake up at all despite any number of keypresses. In those situations I've had to resort to removing and reinserting the batteries or remaking the Bluetooth pairing. 

Trying to get advice on this via Microsoft Support was a farce. Initially it took me about three attempts to speak to someone in the right department- Peripheral Support sent me on the Surface Support who sent me back to Peripherals! Eventually they decided it probably should be Surface support so I duly reported the 'fail to wake' issue with a first line technician. He appeared to have never heard of the Surface Bluetooth keyboard as he kept trying to refer to the Touch or Type covers. He finally asked for the product SKU and serial number, but their database recognised neither. The next step was advice to go through all the obvious stages such as repairing, but he said that as the Surface Pro was over two years old (despite the keyboard in question being only a month old) he would have to charge me a service and support fee. At that point I lost the will to continue and decided to investigate myself. Eventually I found an item in Device Manager relating the the Marvell Avastar Bluetooth Radio of the Surface Pro. This had a power management tab with 'Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power' checked. Unchecking this seems to have solved the issue and it has only repeated the inability to wake up once since then. 

Conclusion
Overall the Microsoft Surface Bluetooth Keyboard is a very nice piece of hardware significantly let down by poor firmware and lack of software configuration. The issues I've seen are not inherent in Bluetooth keyboards, as my Logitech K810 exhibited none of these issues and had its own control software. 

Ultimately, the over aggressive power management and tendency for ghosting has resulted in me this week giving up on the keyboard and returning to my old, reliable wired model. I suppose there is a slight chance that my sample is faulty, but I'm pretty convinced it is an inherent issue. 

This is a great shame as the appearance, build quality and typing experience are all excellent. I can only hope that Microsoft finds a way to customise some of the settings via a control applet, but I'm not holding my breath. 

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The Guru    1,458
The Guru

Now that is a very timely review there Neil as I was considering buying one of these, but it is definitely off my list now!

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neilm    851
neilm

It's a real shame as the concept is excellent and the physical build quality to usual Surface standards. 

As an occasional input device I'm sure most people would not see major issues but as far as I'm concerned, it is not fit to use as a primary input device for business use.

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tonybro    371
tonybro

Likewise I was thinking of it to go with my work Surface Pro 4 (which I believe has arrived at the office)...

Can't be doing with that... :-(

 

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neilm    851
neilm

Well if either of you want to borrow it to give it a try you are welcome!

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The Guru    1,458
The Guru

On that score you have email, but based on my situation if Tony wants to try it first then ........

 

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tonybro    371
tonybro

I can borrow it and satisfy myself first and pass to Daron on his return. I can deliver to Daron.

Thanks, Neil.

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neilm    851
neilm

Sounds good Tony.

If you PM me (or email or Slack!) and I'll get it organised!

Could be a fair way of seeing if my issues are local or if you see the same things :)

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The Guru    1,458
The Guru

Sounds like, we have a plan!

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fowljr    340
fowljr

Good review Neil. I'm still here using my trusty Linx 1010B running the latest Windows 10 insider build! :wink:

 

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neilm    851
neilm
Quote

As a matter of interest linked your post in the MS closed consumer group. One reply so far from a member who says he has the keyboard and has no such issues at all. Weird!

For me, the failure to wake issue was mainly fixed by the alteration to settings on the Marvell BT adapter in the SP3- to my mind though the keyboard installation process should have adjusted that if it was so critical. Maybe other BT adapters don’t have power save on by default? 

The issue of needing to wake the keyboard after sleep by a  keypress would only affect those who leave a document open and return to it more than 15m later, as I regularly do.  This was 50% of my reason for stopping using it. 

The issue of key ‘ghosting’ is mainly a function of my poor typing technique and ergonomics of the slightly smaller keyboard footprint. That said I see the issue on neither my wired keyboard nor the Logitech K810, so there is obviously something within the Surface Keyboard provoking it.

 

 

 

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The Guru    1,458
The Guru

Definitely a sub-par experience though Neil for an expensive piece of kit. We'll see how the testing goes on!

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