RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook didn't exactly set the world on fire, but the company's latest and most stylish accessory aims to both protect and add greater functionality. Armed with a touch pad and full QWERTY keyboard, the BlackBerry Mini Keyboard shields the tablet from harm and attempts to transform it into a laptoplike device. Find out if we think that's enough to entice PlayBook buyers.
From solely a design perspective, the ultracompact BlackBerry Mini Keyboard with Convertible Case is thoughtfully constructed. Like other tablet-and-case combos from Belkin and Tagus, this product squeezes a full QWERTY keyboard and protective cover into a tiny footprint to match the PlayBook's small size. The keyboard itself is just a quarter of an inch thick, 7.6 inches tall, and 5.1 inches wide.
To protect the tablet, the case provides a tough rectangular shell on the right side where the PlayBook squeezes in. This stiff shell has apertures for the tablet's major ports and physical connections including the rear camera lens. Also, there are corresponding buttons for Power and the PlayBook's combined volume bar and Play and Pause key.
The case's flexible cover is cut from all-black polyurethane that mimics the luxurious feel of leather and also sports a soft microfiber interior. A small stand flips out in back to prop the tablet up at a comfortable angle for a comfortable view of the screen while typing. The Mini Keyboard sits on top of the case's left flap and is held in place by four elastic straps.
When fully assembled, the entire package (7.9 by 5.5 by 1.1 inches) is only slightly larger than the PlayBook itself. Of course the case adds to the PlayBook's weight, which at 0.96 pound means it's heavier than other 7-inch slates such as the 0.76-pound Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. Combined, the case, tablet, and keyboard weigh an arm-straining 2 pounds, not much less than an 11.6-inch MacBook Air.
Along with a five-row keyboard layout and dedicated number row, the Mini Keyboard also has a small touch pad. It's a feature that sets this accessory apart from other case-and-keyboard combos. RIM likes to tout the accessory as providing a Windows-style mouse interface.
The Mini Keyboard connects to the PlayBook via an encrypted Bluetooth wireless link, and the setup process is dead simple. I used the Micro-USB port to charge the keyboard before flipping a small power switch (both located on the device's left side) and pairing the keyboard with the PlayBook from within the tablet's Bluetooth settings menu.
After this, a pointer appears that scrolls across the PlayBook's screen when you swipe two fingers along the touch-pad surface. Just like on a standard laptop, dragging two fingers up and down enables vertical scrolling within documents such as Web pages and PDF files. A tap with one finger serves as a mouse left-click while tapping with two fingers functions as a right-click.