When Microsoft announced the Surface tablet, the industry was amazed particularly by the keyboard cover.
- The Touch Cover, which is a laser etched soft keyboard. It costs $119 and comes in five different colours black, white, red, cyan, and magenta. It has a fully functioning multi-touch trackpad with two buttons.
- The Type Cover, which retails for $129 comes in one colour, black, and resembles a fully functioning physical keyboard with trackpad.
How good are these keyboards? Judging by the first wave of reviews, pretty darn good.
Joshua Topolsky of The Verge remarked about the Touch Cover’s functionality:
On a desk or other flat surface, the Touch Cover works reasonably well. It doesn’t come close to replicating a physical, tactile keyboard, but it does do a good job of reminding you where your fingers need to be…The Type Cover is another story altogether — it’s one of the best portable keyboards I’ve ever used.
David Pogue of The New York Times commented on the idea behind the Touch Cover:
[The Touch Cover] is an incredibly slick idea, but the keys don’t move. You’re pounding a flat surface. If you type too fast, the keyboard skips letters. (“If you type 80 words a minute on a keyboard and 20-30 on glass, you should be in the 50s on the Touch Cover,” says a Microsoft representative.)
Walt Mossberg of AllThingsD remarked about the style and usability:
These are better than any of the add-on keyboards I’ve seen for the iPad. And Microsoft has built in a standard USB port and a sturdy kickstand for typing on a desk.
There is a downside to these keyboards: They are almost useless on your lap. There is no hinge to keep the screen upright and the kickstand works poorly on your legs. Despite that, these features make the Surface better for traditional productivity tasks than any tablet I’ve tested.
Sam Biddle of Gizmodo is the only person really hating on it:
It’s just a half-broken death march up the learning curve. The trackpad, sludge-like and jerky, is even worse—particularly galling compared to the super-smooth touchscreen—and unlike the keyboard, will never get better with practice.
Matt Burns of TechCrunch thought that the Touch Cover was essential:
Without a Touch Cover, the Surface RT feels incomplete in design and function. The problem here is that the Surface is basically a big laptop screen without the keyboard. The cover rights the design’s wrongs by forcing the user to use the physical keyboard rather than the on-screen keyboard. Microsoft knows this. After all, Surface is rarely advertised without a Touch Cover, but that doesn’t alleviate the sting of paying another $100+ for a keyboard.
Tim Stevens from Engadget liked the Touch Cover, but warned that there was a slight learning curve:
You wouldn’t think a 3mm-thick piece of polyurethane could make for a comfy keyboard, but the pressure-sensitive Touch Cover is a compelling companion to your written missives. Just give yourself a little time to get used to it. Microsoft warns it could take four to five days to reach your peak touch-typing speed.
Peter Bright of Ars Technica wanted to hate the Touch Cover, but ended up liking it:
I expected to hate the Touch Covers. I wanted to hate the Touch Covers. As a fluent touch-typist who normally uses an extremely loud Dell clicky keyboard, the Touch Covers represent an affront to everything I stand for. But the damn things work, and work well, and I don’t really know how I feel about that. They do take a little getting used to; it’ll be a few days before you’re really comfortable on them. 50 words per minute should be readily achievable, with an accuracy and convenience that surpasses any on-screen keyboard.
Matthew Honan of Wired backed up the learning curve notion:
It’s actually quite fantastic. On this miniature keyboard, that has no actual physical keys, keystrokes fire as fast as you can type them. There is no lag. There is, however, a learning curve.
I struggled mightily with typos and finger placement for the first 24 hours. My left wrist hurt like hell. The pinkie and ring finger on my left hand were cramped. But by day three, my hands began to relax and I was typing quickly and, for the most part, accurately. After a week, I powered along at 90 words per minute. It’s not the same speed I hit on a full size keyboard, and I still have typos galore (though far fewer) but given how much I’ve improved in a week, it’s impressive.
Oddly, it is perhaps less effective as a cover than a keyboard. It folds over nicely, but doesn’t stay closed as well as I’d like. Several times, I opened my bag to a glow, like something out of Pulp Fiction, to find the Surface had lit up as the Touch Cover came open inside.
Zach Epstein from BGR calls the Touch Cover, “brilliant”:
I find it to be the perfect compromise between a traditional tablet typing experience (tapping on glass) and typing on a standard keyboard.
By supporting an ultra-thin, feather-light full keyboard accessory, the Surface instantly becomes one of the best tablets on the planet in terms of productivity without adding any bulk. Typing on a soft polyurethane keypad is not the same as typing on a regular keyboard of course, but I got pretty good with it after a few days of practice.
From what we gather, the cover is essential to the tablet. If you plan on purchasing a Surface, make sure that you pick up a Touch or Type cover because it really makes the device.