Technology, Travel

Continuing Thoughts on Portable Keyboards

I’ve been on a keyboard buying spree lately after cancelling my WayTools TextBlade order two weeks ago. While I like the iPad’s software keyboard, I can still type faster on a physical keyboard. Writing code on iOS devices prior to the iPad Pro has been a torturous exercise, with constant tapping and re-tapping of the 123 and #+= keys to access commonly used programming characters. An external keyboard makes this all so much easier.

With the money that was credited back to my account from WayTools, I now have three working keyboards that I can use with my iOS devices or Mac computers:

  • iPad Keyboard Dock (iOS only)
  • Logitech K811 Easy-Switch Keyboard
  • Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (MFK)

These are in addition to my venerable Logitech K760 solar-powered keyboard which I’ve been happily using for the past four years.

Three keyboards for my iOS devices

iPad Keyboard Dock

This keyboard was originally sold as an accessory to the first iPad. Featuring a 30-pin connector, it also works with the iPad 2 and the iPad 3rd-generation (with Retina Display).

To get this keyboard to work with the iPad Pro, I bought a Lightning to 30-pin cable adapter and a 30-pin female to 30-pin male extension cable. At 0.2 meters long, the Apple adapter is too short to position the device and keyboard in a usable manner. Note that not all 30-pin to 30-pin extension cables are made alike; some only transfer power and not data. The non-cable version of the Lightning to 30-pin adapter is another option if you want to use the iPad Keyboard Dock with an iPod touch or iPhone.

Two downsides to using the iPad Keyboard Dock. The first is the cable and adapter mess that you have to go through to get the keyboard talking to the iPad. You’ll have just as many cables if you want to plug in an old PS2 or ADB keyboard into an iPad.

Second, the iPad does not charge when plugged into the iPad Pro’s 12-watt AC adapter via the Keyboard Dock’s passthrough 30-pin connector. The iPad’s charging indicator turned on, but the battery continues to drain.

Says it's charging, but the iPad Pro's battery is still draining when connected to the iPad Keyboard Dock

As a result, I don’t see myself using the iPad Keyboard Dock with the the iPad Pro. It still works well, however, with iPads that feature the 30-pin connector. I can see using an older-generation iPad has a distraction-free writing station in the future.

I was able to win the iPad Keyboard Dock on eBay for just a cent. The cables alone to get it to connect to a Lightning device cost $28!

Logitech K811 Easy-Switch Keyboard

I bought this keyboard for two reasons. First, it will work alongside my K760 in the office. I have two laptop computers, along with my iPhone 6s and my iPad Pro that I’d like to use with an external keyboard from time to time. Both the K760 and the K811 can only connect with three devices at a time. Having both keyboards on my desk allows me to use the K811 with one computer and the K760 with another computer. Both keyboards will also be paired to my iPhone and iPad Pro.

I’ve used abyssoft’s teleport in the past to link up my keyboard and mouse/trackpad to multiple computers, but I’ve noticed that transitioning from one computer to the next is not as smooth as it used to be.

Second, the K811 (or the Microsoft keyboard) may replace the K760 as my travel keyboard, as it’s slightly smaller and lighter than the solar-powered keyboard.

Typing on this keyboard feels different than on the K760 or the aluminum Apple Wireless Keyboard, but I am slowly getting used to it. One thing that has been throwing me off on all of these keyboards is the different buttons on the top row. For instance, F8 on the K760 is a battery indicator button, and the power switch is at the end of the top row. On the K811, F8 and F9 are for adjusting the backlit keys and the power switch is on the edge of the keyboard. My muscle memory is constantly under attack whenever I switch between these input devices.

The keyboard normally retails for $99, but you can find the K811 keyboard for around $84 on Amazon or between $40-75 on eBay.

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard

The primary selling point of the Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard is that it folds in half. This makes the keyboard half the size of the K811 keyboard when you’re not using it.

The Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard is half the size and a tad lighter than the Logitech K811 Easy-Switch Keyboard

While the keys are all in the same place as a regular English keyboard, the size of certain keys is variable. Punctuation keys such as comma, brackets, and double quotes are smaller and the T, G, H, and N keys are bigger. There’s also the giant crease in the middle of the keyboard where it folds in half. I wonder if Microsoft tested slightly larger versions of this keyboard with keys that were the same size. I would prefer this even if the keyboard was slightly larger. A bigger MFK that folded in half would still be smaller than the K811 when stowed away.

The MFK can switch between two devices via Bluetooth. It has an OS-switch key in the upper-right that re-configures the Fn/Command, Option/Alt, Home, Control, and Escape keys for Windows, Android, or iOS. One thing that’s annoying is that the Esc key in iOS mode functions as the Home button, even though the dedicated Home button on the bottom row does the same thing. I’d prefer if it acted as an Escape key.

All of these keyboards could benefit from improvements to iOS. One is the ability to re-map hardware keys so I can make the Caps Lock key function as the Control key; I can do this on OS X within the Keyboard pane in System Preferences. Second, I would love to have Emacs-style bindings throughout iOS, as this would allow me to edit text faster. I’m a particular fan of Control-D to do forward delete.

Like the K811, the Microsoft Foldable Keyboard retails for $99, but it’s available for $59 on Amazon or around $40-50 on eBay.

Future Travels

I didn’t have the K811 nor the Microsoft Foldable Keyboard until this week, so I ended up bringing my K760 to the Code/Media 2016 conference in Dana Point last week. The K760 worked fine, but I would have preferred the reduced weight and bulk with the K811 or Microsoft Foldable Keyboard. I’ve been trying to get my travel weight down to ten pounds or less, and every ounce counts.

Since long typing sessions is not yet common on my trips when I’m traveling with just the iPad Pro or the iPhone 6s Plus, I think the Microsoft Foldable Keyboard would serve my needs better than bringing the K811. When folded in half, it’s much more portable. Over time, I hope to adapt to the odd-layout and smaller keys. If I’m traveling for work with my laptop, I would definitely bring the K811, the Roost Laptop Stand, and a wireless mouse. Having the display elevated is much better ergonomically for me.

Note: Some of the product links in this article are affiliate links with Amazon. Purchasing these items using these links may provide me with a small referral commission.

Rants, Technology

Cancelling my WayTools TextBlade Order

There was a draft of this post that had been waiting to be published on this blog for over four and a half months ago. It’s time to post it and provide a four-month update.

“I’m still waiting for my WayTools TextBlade multi-touch keyboard that I ordered back in January, 2015. The company said that they would ship in February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and now mid-October. Unexpected hardware changes and revisions to firmware are the reasons for the delay, but WayTools keeps telling its customers that shipments are right around the corner. I’ll believe it when the TextBlades ship. Other customers are getting restless, judging from the increase in the amount of order cancellations and disappointed posts on the WayTools forum. The company has not done itself any favors with its passive aggressive attitude on the forums and its habit of cancelling orders for those customers who complain too much.”

As a way to pass the time, I drew a twelve-month calendar for 2016 called, Waiting for TextBlade.

Waiting for TextBlade

It’s now mid-February, and the TextBlade remains an elusive product for customers. At the end of December, 2015, the company released the companion app for the keyboard on the iOS App Store, which gave hope that they would ship in January. Then, at the end of January, WayTools announced the Test Release Group (TREG), which is a shipment of pre-release TextBlades to a small group of customers (hundreds). The TREG is designed “to accelerate validation and help refine the product quality and experience.” WayTools also noted yet another hardware problem with the shield layer (that protects against leaking electrical noise) that they would be fixing.

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Decluttering, Minimalism, Musings, Technology

My Tech Workspace from 2004 to 2016

Every week, The Sweet Setup interviews an Apple aficionado about his or her computing environment. I enjoy looking at the the products, software, and workspaces these people use on a daily basis; it gives me ideas on what hardware or apps I might want to try out in the future. Plus, I like looking at photos of minimalist desks!

In the process of uploading all of my photos from Aperture over to Google Photos, I came across the photo below. It shows how my computing environment looked like twelve years ago on January 10, 2004. Nearly all of the technology items in the photo are now obsolete, have been recycled, or are gathering dust in my house. The items cost many thousands of dollars in total; I got great use out of some of them, not so much for others.

My workspace circa 2004

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Reviews, Technology

The Roost Laptop Stand and an iPad Pro at CES

Last year, I supported the Roost Laptop Stand on Kickstarter. The Roost is a portable, height-adjustable stand for laptops. At home, I use a Rain Design mStand with my MacBook Pro. It’s a nice stand, but it does not travel well. The Roost appealed to me because it was lightweight, foldable, and could adjust its height, features the aluminum mStand lacks.

I’ve been at CES 2016 the entire week, and I had the opportunity to walk the showroom floor on opening day. There is a large section, sponsored by iLounge, devoted to mobile gadgets and accessories. When I turned the corner at the end of the exhibit hall, I immediately saw and recognized the Roost and its inventor, James Olander. I introduced myself as a backer and told him how eager I was to receive the Roost later this month. He graciously fulfilled my Kickstarter pledge right there on the show floor!

On this trip, I left the laptop at home and brought only my iPhone and iPad Pro. Using the iPad Pro as a drawing tablet has been a revelation, but I do notice increased neck and shoulder fatigue while illustrating because I am constantly hunched over. And, while it doesn’t replace the MacBook Pro for all my use cases, the iPad Pro can certainly function as a laptop replacement for many of my needs. If I paired it with an external Bluetooth keyboard (I am still waiting for the TextBlade to ship), the height of the iPad propped up with the Smart Cover) is still lower than I would like. The dynamic design of the Roost allows me to use the iPad Pro for both purposes, and my initial ergonomic impressions are positive.

For drawing, I place the iPad Pro, sans cover and with the volume buttons facing up, onto the Roost. When working in this position, I am more upright, and my neck and shoulders feel much better. Increased arm strain is a possibility, since my hand is now angled upwards instead of resting on the display and table.

To make the iPad Pro more suitable for use as a laptop replacement, I attach the iPad Pro’s Smart Cover and rest the folded triangle on top of the Roost’s two vertical arms.

It’s not as precarious as it sounds and might look, and I am able to tilt the Roost + iPad Pro side to side. See this animated GIF below:

The Roost has medical-grade silicone around the pivoting grips, which provide friction to keep a laptop from slipping. Two reminders when using it with the iPad Pro: first, don’t tilt the Roost towards you, as the iPad will fall out. Second, be sure not to place the Pro in the Roost such that the volume buttons get pressed accidentally in the right pivoting grip.

I’m happy that I ran into James and the Roost booth today at CES. I got my Roost early and was able to chat with the inventor. The product looks and operates exactly as it has been described. And, although it wasn’t designed with the iPad Pro in mind, it works well with it.

If you’re at CES, be sure to visit Roost at the Las Vegas Convention Center, North Hall, Booth 6635. James is sharing the space with Steve King at California Pacific Designs, who is demoing several well-designed Apple accessories. Steve showed me his BASE Apple Pencil charging stand, the FLOAT, an elegant shelf for the iMac or Cinema Displays, and a series of nice aluminum headphone (and Oculus Rift) stands. Check them out!

Twelve months of waiting for the TextBlade in one calendar for 2016.
Comics, Technology

Waiting for TextBlade 2016 Calendar

One year ago, an early press release arrived in my inbox from a company called WayTools. It was poised to announce a revolutionary keyboard called the TextBlade. There was scant additional information on the keyboard, and it wasn’t until one month later on January 13, 2015, that the company unveiled its product website. The TextBlade is a multitouch keyboard that collapses into a pocketable form factor. The keyboard looked to be a great accessory for those that travel frequently who want the feel of a full-size keyboard in a tiny package.


In both the original press releases, WayTools said that TextBlades were entering mass production and would be available in February. Nearly a year later, however, no production TextBlades have reached customers’ hands. Every month, I went to look for a status update at the end of the month, only to see the date for shipping pushed back another month. February became March, which became April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and now December. As of today, the company has not provided a status update on its blog or on its forum in weeks.

What’s the cause for the delays? There’s a litany of hardware and firmware problems on WayTool’s self-described punch list, ranging from the molds for the keycaps being too stiff, over-the-air firmware update bugs, and the occasional (and hard to reproduce) key repeating phenomenon. On WayTool’s forum, two camps have formed, one continuing to encourage WayTools to release a (near) perfect product, and another that just wants the company to ship the d*mn keyboard already. The latter group is also disappointed that WayTools charged their credit cards on order, even though no product has shipped for months. There are examples of people who complained loudly, only to have WayTools cancel their orders for them. In my opinion, customer service at WayTools — at least on the forum — has been especially lacking in tact and manners.

I’ve taken my Logitech K760 Solar Powered Keyboard with me on trips before and wished for something more portable. The TextBlade looked like an intriguing solution, and I was happy to give them $100 for the keyboard. As the year anniversary of the product’s announcement comes up in less than a month, I find my fingers hovering over the cancellation/refund button. What has kept me from cancelling thus far is that I was one of the first people to pony up money for the TextBlade. WayTools has said the earliest orders would get a “substantial” gift. But, I have to draw a line in the sand at some point. So, if WayTools doesn’t ship the TextBlade by the middle of January, I’m out.

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In the meantime, I drew the following illustrations using my new iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. This 2016 Calendar take a sometimes humorous, sometimes sad look at the tardiness of the TextBlade product. Which one is your favorite? Tell me by leaving a comment below!

Comics, Technology

Illustration of the Day – Iron Man

Today’s illustration features Iron Man protecting a child from an unseen threat. Two cars, one overturned, are damaged in the street behind Iron Man. 

Drawn with an Apple Pencil and an iPad Pro using Savage Interactive’s Procreate. I found a nice tip in Procreate’s settings where you can configure different tools to use with your fingers and the Apple Pencil.


For those who lament the fact that the Pencil doesn’t feature an eraser, you can configure your finger to be the eraser in Procreate. Since the palm rejection is very good, there will be few times when you will erase things accidentally. Personally, I am fine tapping the erase tool manually so I have set my finger to do gestures only. This way, only the Apple Pencil will draw within Procreate. 

Here is the video showing each step of the drawing’s creation:

Apple, Comics, Journal, Musings, Technology

The Apple Pencil has Reignited my Love of Drawing

The Spider-Man drawing above was created entirely on the iPad Pro using Procreate and the Apple Pencil. After many years, my love of drawing has been reignited and transported to the digital age.

Friends of mine from childhood, high school and college remember me as someone who loved to draw. Armed with reams of continuous pin fed dot matrix computer paper from my father’s workplace, my elementary school friends and I would draw battleships and castles. Our fortresses featured various dungeons, moats and parapets to defend the inhabitants from the invading hordes. Our vessels would have multiple 16-inch cannons, missile launchers, and enough anti-aircraft, anti-missile, and anti-submarine weaponry to repel any assault on our naval fleet. As I entered middle and high school, I began reading comic books and drawing Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Batman in my sketchbooks.

Yet, as much as I loved computers, I never took a liking to drawing digitally. Tools like Illustrator still confound me to this day for anything but the most simplistic projects. I remember buying one of the first Wacon Intuos tablets, but I could never get used to the experience of looking at the screen while drawing on the tablet. It felt unnatural and I yearned for that 1:1 experience. I realize that many people have no problem with this approach, but it just wasn’t for me. I’ve tried numerous styluses, both dumb ones and those with Bluetooth for my iPhone and iPad, but none could replicate the feeling of drawing on paper.

Today, Wacom has its Cintiq line, Samsung has the Galaxy Note 5 which features a halfway decent stylus in the S-Pen (though the screen is too small for the type of drawing I would like to do) and Microsoft has Surface tablets which come with high-precision styluses. As a longtime Apple user, however, I could not bear myself to switch platforms.

With all that said, one can imagine my excitement with the announcement of the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil. The videos depicting the Pencil in action were impressive, and I waited with great anticipation at midnight of launch day to order the Pro and Pencil. While I was able to pick up my iPad Pro on day one, my Pencil was backordered for three to four additional weeks. In some ways, this was good, because it gave me the chance to become more familiar with the differences in the iPad Pro compared with my other iPads. It features the best software keyboard that I have used to date, one that I can conceivably use for typing long form text and editing HTML documents.

I didn’t buy the iPad Pro for typing; I bought it to draw! So last week, I began calling Apple Retail stores around the peninsula, asking if they had any Pencils in stock. I was initially told that all Pencils were backordered, and that they wouldn’t be arriving for weeks. Then, I read reports that small batches were indeed arriving at retail stores, including the one nearest to my house. I went to that store on the morning of the 19th. The specialist informed me that while none were in stock at the moment, more were coming later in the day. So, back home I went and waited until after lunch. As I entered the Apple Store, my eyes went directly to the shelf  where the Pencils should have been. My heart sank when I saw an empty shelf. Fortunately, my prayers were answered; they had 10 more in the back!

Up until now, I have been using an Adonit Jot Touch Bluetooth Stylus1 and Procreate on an original iPad mini for my digital illustrations. Shown above is a page from a children’s book that I am making for my son. While the Jot Touch was certainly better than using my fingers, I have not been entirely satisfied with it. The lag, the weird plastic disc at the tip, and the buttons that I kept pressing by accident were annoying. The lack of good palm rejection in all of the iOS apps I’ve tried to date made drawing an awkward experience.

The Apple Pencil resolves all of these problems to my satisfaction. It has the least lag or latency of any stylus I’ve ever used due to the high sampling rate between the Pencil’s movements on the iPad Pro’s display. The tip of the Pencil is small and precise; where I place it is where the digital ink appears. I know Wacon tablet users love their buttons, but I like the fact that there are no buttons on the Apple Pencil; there’s nothing to accidentally press. Finally, palm rejection is extremely good across several applications like Paper, Procreate, and Notes. I am so glad to be able to place the side of my hand right on the screen without worrying that a big splotch would appear! And while there remain times when I see a stray ink mark, it happens so infrequently that it’s not a problem for me.

Procreate from Savage Interactive is an excellent painting application that offers multiple layer support, perspective tools, dozens of pre-set brushes, and an easy-to-use interface. It also records everything you do in the app, making it easy to see how I went from a blank canvas to the finished Spider-Man drawing.

It’s only been a few days, but to say that I am satisfied with the Apple Pencil is an understatement. For artists like me who never got accustomed to drawing on graphics tablets like the Wacom Intuos, didn’t want to plunk down the cash for a Cintiq, nor felt the need to switch platforms, the Apple Pencil and the iPad Pro is a game changer. And the great thing is that this technology is only going to get better. I’d welcome using the Apple Pencil on a smaller iPad for those times when I want a more portable drawing system. I’d also like to see better iCloud support in Procreate so that I can easily switch between art projects on all of my devices. I fully expect to do much more drawing in the future, now that the technology has matched my expectations.

Lastly, I pulled the old Apple Bluetooth headset dock to function as a charging stand for the Apple Pencil. I connected a 30-pin to Lightning adapter to the Pencil’s female-to-female Lightning adapter to complete the system. The port for the headset is magnetized, so the Pencil’s cap won’t roll off the table.

Here are some more articles and reviews of the Apple Pencil that are worth reading:

1 I originally wrote that I had a Jot Pro, but it’s really a Jot Touch. Mine is an older version of the one Adonit sells today, and it features a plastic disc instead of a normal looking plastic nib at the pen’s tip.