Words on a Page Writings about writing

Writing with a tablet and a Logitech K480 keyboard

The keyboard on an old typewriter

There are times when I want to travel light. Very light. That means leaving my laptop and Chromebook at home and grabbing my tablet.

The problem with using a tablet to write is that it can be hard to type using the on-screen keyboard. If not difficult, then a bit slow.

While I like using the combination of a folding Bluetooth keyboard and a tablet stand, it really only works well when I have a flat surface. I can’t, for example, have the tablet and keyboard on my knees as I type away at a conference or on a train.

About a year and a half ago, I came across the Logitech K480 keyboard. I’ve been using it on and off with a couple tablets since then, and found that it’s a useful device.

Here are my impressions of the keyboard.

What it is

The K480 is a portable keyboard that works with computers, tablets, and even smartphones. You can use it with up to three devices simultaneously. All you have to do is turn a knob to switch between the devices. I know, that’s a bit retro but it’s also part of the keyboard’s charm.

The keyboard connects to your device using a technology called Bluetooth, which exchanges data between devices over short distances. All recent mobile devices and computers support Bluetooth so you shouldn’t have any problem using the K480 with what you already own.

(If you want the full specifications of the keyboard, go to the Logitech website.)

Using the keyboard

Getting started is easy. Place your device into the slot at the top of the keyboard. The slot is wide enough for a 10 inch tablet on its side, or a tablet and a smartphone standing on their ends. Next, activate Bluetooth on your device. Flip the switch at the bottom of the keyboard to turn it on.

If it’s the first time you’re using your device and the keyboard, you’ll have to pair them. Hold down one of the Bluetooth keys at the top right of the keyboard. There are two — hold down the PC key for computers, ChromeOS and Android devices; hold down the i key for Apple devices. It should only take a few seconds for the keyboard and your device to recognize each other and connect.

The K480 keyboard with an Ubuntu Touch tablet

The keyboard itself is about about 85% or 90% of the size of a standard laptop keyboard. It’s not too small and only takes a few minutes of typing to adapt to it. They keys themselves are solid and let out a distinct, comforting clack (kind of like an old IBM keyboard, but not as loud) when you’re typing. At least, they do with me — I type a bit more heavily than most people.

Like the keyboard on a notebook or desktop computer, the K480 has a number of function keys. Use those keys to go to your device’s home screen, to open menus, to cycle through open apps, and even take a screenshot on your device.

If you’re using the K480 with a tablet or smartphone, you can use the same keystroke combinations that you use on a desktop or laptop computer to perform common tasks — for example, CTRL+C to copy text and CTRL+V to paste it.

How I use the keyboard

I have two tablets that I use the keyboard with: an Android-powered Nexus 10 tablet and a tablet that runs Ubuntu Touch. I’ve been using the latter more, if only because it’s the lighter of my two devices and it’s more then enough for my needs.

As I mentioned earlier, I use the K480 as an alternative to a folding Bluetooth keyboard and folding stand combo. I grab the K480 when know I won’t have a flat, stable surface at my destination on which to lay the keyboard and stand.

I’ve taken the K480 to various events where I’ve used it to type notes and send tweets. It’s sat across my knees and turned using a tablet into an experience that’s a lot like using a laptop in the same situation. The keyboard and tablet stay steady, and the K480 offers a stable base on which to type.

Drawbacks

I can’t say that I use the keyboard to its full potential. I don’t live on my phone and have never used two devices with the keyboard simultaneously. So, I really can’t comment on how well or badly the K480 works with multiple devices.

While the K480 keyboard is solid, it’s made from plastic. It looks a bit cheap, and at times feels that way too. The keyboard is also heavy. Much heavier than the folding keyboard I use. In fact, it’s heavier than either of my tablets, too. Together, the K480 and one tablet weigh about as much as my Chromebook.

Those are minor problems, though. I can easily look beyond them. Overall, I find the K480 keyboard to be a useful addition to my mobile toolkit. When I need to, I can use the K480 when it’s not practical to use a folding keyboard and stand.

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