Travel Keyboard 1st Order Solution

by Harvey Chao (Oct, 2016)

When traveling, there are times when a hardwire or WiFi connection is not available, so the laptop can't connect to check e-mail and other on line resources.

Smart phone with 3G or better connectivity. Allows limited speed web access and email access. Limitation: MISERABLE ability to type/enter text. Replying in any way but the most brief responses is painful. Touch type? Forget about it!

A bluetooth keyboard that links to the phone to allow touch type entry. Lots of choices, from full sized fixed, full sized and folding, or small half or quarter sized keyboards. The less than full sized keyboards are not much improvement over whatever the smartphone offers and really don't lend themselves to touch typing. Roll up or folding keyboards have issues with the nature/feel of the keys and potential durability/fragility of the hinges, latch, and overall implementation. Furthermore, roll up keyboards have to be placed on a flat surface, and your lap isn't one.

My initial intent was just to get the $69 Apple wireless keyboard, and, if cost were no barrier, I would have. But, I discovered a Bluetooth keyboard by Rocksoul (BK 101), that looks like a pretty good copy of the Apple Keyboard, and states it was specifically designed to be Apple compatible. It also is available for $30-35!

Comes in black or white and aluminum. VERY similar in all respects (Visual, key touch, and as far as I can immediately tell, functionally) to the Apple keyboard at ~half the price. (Discovered too late it is available at MicroCenter for $29.95, Frys price is $34.99). Size is: 11.3" L x 4"W x 1" H weighs ~ 9 oz. On a flat surface has a tilt of about 1" bottom to top.

Looks and feels close enough to the Apple keyboard on my lap top so decided to buy and try. I think it will be good enough - esp. considering half the price. Haven't done much with it other than type a few text test messages (sorry Bill C) via my iPhone. It pairs up readily, has a discrete on/off switch, and a standby and sleep mode. Runs on a pair of AAA batteries.

This keyboard can be balanced on the lap, or placed on a table surface and has some "non slip" feet to keep it from "running away" while in use.

That addresses the keyboard issue, but then how to position and hold the phone (in my case, iPhone) to see the screen while balancing the keyboard on your lap? Turns out that Kensington has a very simple solution, K39256US. It is a flexible stalk, about a foot long with a suction cup on one end, and a rotating clip that holds an iPhone at the other. This allows almost infinite positioning and viewing angle as well as portrait or landscape viewing of the screen. The suction cup will anchor to any smooth surface, and the phone just clips into the holder at the other end. Modestly priced, $20 at Frys.

How to integrate it all together? Simple. A piece of 1/8" acrylic about the size of a sheet of paper as a "base". Place the keyboard on the lower portion of the base, attach the Kensington "stalk" above it, place phone in the holder and bend the stalk/rotate the holder clip to the position/angle/rotation and you are done!

I suppose, that there is no reason you couldn't rotate the base 90 degrees if you somehow needed extra space between the keyboard top edge and the location of the stalk base.

This breaks down for travel/storage into 4 pieces: Phone, Kensington stalk, keyboard, and flat plastic base. They all fit easily into a brief case, laptop case, backpack or whatever. The iPhone clamp detaches from the end of the stalk to get more compact storage. The assembly sits nicely on the lap whether you are sitting on a bed propping yourself against the head board, or sitting in a chair or sitting in a car. I suppose, if the base is too "slippery" a placement on your lap, some simple material could be glued to one side - but I haven't experienced a need for that yet.

A second thought: the base, with a large metal "purse clamp" could be used as a clip board - or, you could use a clipboard for the base. In either case, the base can do double duty.

Total cost was $55 (because I used a scrap of acrylic that I had) and a few minutes of time to cut the acrylic to the desired size and round off the corners. Maybe I will ask my better half to sew me a simple cloth sack to store the keyboard, base and stalk in and then be able to just throw it into the RV or my back back and retrieve it all in one "grab".

You still have to be limited to the smaller display of a cell phone, and I haven't yet figured out if or how I can move the cursor via the keyboard. The cursor isn't too major an issue with the phone positioned in the stalk, you just move your finger up to the screen and move things that way. Maybe a wireless mouse could be used? I'll have to check into that possibility. I did see some 3rd party wireless keyboards with track pads, but I don't know if they will be compatible with an iPhone. I know that Apple makes both a wireless mouse and keyboard - maybe they somehow "piggyback" onto a single bluetooth connection? If a mouse was a "requirement" THAT might justify buying the Apple keyboard and mouse at the higher price.

I invite creative minds out there for refinements or better approaches that may come to mind!