itablet Bluetooth Thumb Keyboard review
Testing out the Bluetooth connection with an iMac, we found it easy to hook up the itablet. There's a dedicated button that puts the device on the lookout for nearby Bluetooth devices, and the two promptly found each other with a minimum of fuss.
The itablet's unorthodox Shift-key positioning gave the Mac some confusion incidentally, more on the layout shortly, but once we'd manually selected the default European layout everything worked fine. Other OSes require varying degrees of tinkering, but generally you'll just have to go into the Bluetooth settings and either search for or add a device.
The design of the tablet is a little like a gaming joypad, with curved handgrips on the left and right of the back (although these are flatter than the equivalent grips on an Xbox controller, for example). There are small fold-out legs on the back, which can be used to slightly prop up the keyboard on a desk.
A soft, rubbery keyboard takes up the front of the device. There's not much space though, so the keys are crowded in quite closely and there are no familiar gaps to assist uncertain fingers.
And it takes considerable time to get used to the positions, and correct uses, of Shift, Alt and the function key.
Shift is a righthand shoulder key, and needs to be held down as you'd expect while you type capitals, percentage signs and so on. Fair enough. But Alt and Fn (lower-left shoulder and above the number 0, respectively) act like Caps Lock, staying pressed until you switch them off. There's a light to remind you that Fn is on, but we still frequently forgot.
All of which would be forgivable if you rarely used these keys but, ludicrously, you need to use Fn for delete. You can get locked into horrible, repetitive loops where you'll make an error, delete it, forget to take off Fn and therefore type a load more gibberish (you'll probably not be looking at the screen, since the key layout is unfamiliar), have to delete that and so on.
The itablet, then, is not suitable for prolonged typing. This review was started on the device, but the exhausted reviewer gave up partway through. For simply tapping in email addresses, gamertags and brief emails, it may be better than the alternatives (a tiny smartphone keypad, for example, or an onscreen keyboard navigated with a PS3 joypad). Nevertheless, we can't imagine the benefits will be game-changing.
In a nice bit of lateral thinking, the designers came up with the idea of installing a touchpad on the rear of the tablet. You don't have to flip it over either, as the directions have been reversed, so you can move the cursor around on a desktop PC by swiping with the free middle finger of either hand while grasping the tablet two-handed. There are left and right-click mouse button substitutes on the front of the device, but you can also tap the trackpad to click.
Unfortunately the trackpad is a little sluggish in its movement perception, a problem that's exacerbated by the awkwardness of blindly mousing from behind. It feels a bit like trying to find the right socket on the back of your TV while reaching around it. And when you're trying to type, you'll find you occasionally brush the pad and end up typing chunks of text in the wrong part of the document. Luckily there's a switch to turn off the touchpad, a thoughtful inclusion, but perhaps an admission that this feature isn't a total success.
Lateral thinking is great, but the convenience of input devices is heavily dependent on practised movements, familiarity and shared conventions. That after all is why we're all still using arguably less efficient qwerty keyboard layouts. So the benefits of having a reversed, unseen trackpad and weirdly placed function keys have to be pretty phenomenal to make up for the irritation factor caused by having to get used to a new system.
Xbox 360 support: a warning
A final complaint is the itablet's bold claim that it works with the Xbox 360. The 360 doesn't have built-in Bluetooth, of course, so (as I mentioned above) you need to shell out for a dongle. But that fact isn't mentioned until page 21 of the 24 page instruction booklet (the front and back of our review sample's box proudly and simply say it supports the Xbox 360, although the brochure pdf seems to have had all Xbox references removed).
We trust that this is not intended to catch out well meaning grannies on the hunt for Christmas presents.
The itablet Bluetooth Thumb Keyboard has some interesting design ideas, such as the built-in, rear-facing trackpad, and it looks pretty sharp, but usability isn't impressive. It works with a good range of Bluetooth-compatible devices, but we're struggling to think of one that would substantially benefit from the addition of this awkward-to-use keyboard and trackpad combo unit. iTablet told us that the keyboard is available via email only for £69.95. Contact [email protected] for more details.