Input on input

By Laura Haight
Originally published as the Digital Maven by the Upstate Business Journal on April 12, 2013 

Your tablet is beautiful. It’s slim, slick and shiny. You can carry it in your purse or folio and no matter where you are, you can be productive.

Oh wait, productive to a point. Typing on tablets is not comfortable. How many times do you start to respond to an email on your tablet only to defer until you get back home or to work where you can write a more detailed response on your computer?

The difference between how much of a tool your tablet can be may be a keyboard or a stylus.

That, of course, would have Steve Jobs - who said  “God gave us 10 styluses—let’s not invent another.” - tossing and turning. What would not displease Jobs would be indicators that the growth of the tablet market is hastening the demise of the desktop PCs and changing the design and future trajectory of the laptop from desktop replacement to tablet adjunct.

Whether it’s an iPad or a Nexus, Samsung or Surface, adding a keyboard and/or stylus to the already robust library of business applications can take you from content viewer to content creator.

What you need depends on what you do. We use keyboards for more detailed writing - reports, proposals, blog posts. But what about doodlers and those whose pursuits are more visual and creative? Is your God-given stylus the effective input tool you need? There are some incredibly creative apps for artists and photographers that allow you to create or enhance original digital art. But for precision control, an index finger is a poor substitute for a brush or graphite pencil.

There are plenty of styli in the marketplace - standalone, retractable, stylus and pen combinations that can range from $8 to $80. Two elements to consider:

  • Match your stylus to what you want to do. If you’re an artist, check out Sensu Artist Brush & Stylus. The capacitive tip can be removed to expose a brush tip with synthetic, conductive fibers that is responsive and fluid.

  • Capacitive tips are NOT forever. They wear out and need to be replaced. Less expensive styli don’t allow you to change the tip - it’s just throw it away and buy another. That’s great if you don’t mind shelling out $5 every month or so (depending on how often you use it). But many of the better devices include replacement tips. They are usually more solid devices as well.

Tablet keyboards are a bigger investment and there are more usage and personal preference options to consider.

  • Connectivity . This may pose a problem if you are a mobile businessperson who has a smartphone, a tablet, a headset, portable speakers. All those Bluetooth connections can collide if you pair too many peripherals with one device. Still, you want a Bluetooth keyboard.

  • Form Factor. The keyboard needs to be as mobile as your tablet. Many come as part of cases or folios. You want the functionality but you don’t want to give up the good looks.

  • Feel. Anyone who has ever spent much time on a computer can tell you that the feel of the keys is different on different keyboards. Some are mushy, some are springy. This is something you should touch and try before you buy.

  • Power. Devices that drain power quickly tie you down. And not all devices are created equal in this regard. Backlit keys may seem an important feature but they are power-draining. Balance the bells and whistles against power drains.

  • How do you want to work? Do you prefer typing in portrait or landscape mode? If screen orientation makes a difference, you’ll want to look for a keyboard device that enables flexibility and doesn’t lock you into the more common landscape mode.

  • Do you want your keyboard to do double duty with both your tablet and your desktop or laptop? I use a Bluetooth keyboard with my laptop just because it is more comfortable for me. But it is hardly portable. For portability with my iPad, I have a keyboard and case. There are devices with a more portable form factor that can work at home and on the road, if that’s a preference.

  • Where do you plan to do most of your working? If you spend a lot of time traveling, you probably need to consider a unified case/keyboard/stand.


There are a lot of options on the market from combination keyboards and cases to standalones that can do double duty with your tablet and desktop/laptop. You will be looking at an average of $100 for a folio and $40-$60 for a standalone device. For reviews and comparisons: Check out ZDNet’s best picks for iPad keyboards and reviews specifically for Android tablets from Computerworld.

Sorry Steve Jobs, but many of us need a little help getting from content consumer to content creator.