Review: Matias Folding Keyboard
If you spend a lot of time working on the road—for example, in hotel rooms or at a remote office—bringing along a portable keyboard, a mouse, and a laptop stand lets you position your screen, keyboard, and mouse at proper heights, making for a more ergonomic workspace. Matias’s Folding Keyboard may work as part of your on-the-go setup, but a couple of quirks keep it from being all that it can be.
Bringing keyboards into the fold
As its name implies, the Folding Keyboard’s claim to fame is that it folds up for travel. At 10.1 by 5 by 1.4 inches in size when closed, the keyboard is chunky compared to Apple’s Wireless Keyboard—not as wide or high, though quite a bit thicker—but is still easily packable. (Like Apple’s model, the Folding Keyboard weighs less than a pound.) When opened up—you slide a small switch to release a lock holding the keyboard closed—the Folding Keyboard is only 0.7 inches thick but nearly 18 inches wide. This width, similar to that of some desktop keyboards, allows the Folding Keyboard to provide something Apple’s portable keyboard doesn’t: a numeric keypad. If you’re a road-warrior accountant, this is a welcome feature.
The idea behind the Folding Keyboard is great, but there’s a serious flaw in the implementation: Although the keyboard locks closed, it doesn’t lock open. When placed on a desk or other flat surface, it’s solid and stable, but if you try to use it on your lap, the keyboard’s hinge sags into the space between your legs—in other words, the keyboard starts to fold up—making typing difficult. (In my travel experience, few hotels have desks with a keyboard drawer, or desks low enough to make typing comfortable, so I often end up using my portable keyboard on my lap.) If the hinge locked in place, or if there were a couple rigid bars or slats that could slide behind the hinge when open, this wouldn’t be an issue; instead, you’ll need to use the Folding Keyboard on a desk or place something rigid on your lap under the keyboard.
The Folding Keyboard connects to your Mac desktop or laptop via USB; unlike most USB keyboards, the cable is detachable for better packing. Matias also includes a thin fabric carrying pouch.
Most keyboards use either desktop-style dome keys (which are traditionally larger and require more travel—the distance you have to press a key for it to register) or laptop-style scissor keys (which are generally thinner and require less travel and force to register). The Folding Keyboard uses an interesting hybrid: dome switches with thinner, lower-travel keys. These keys look like those found on a laptop, but feel more like those used on a desktop keyboard. I found these keys to have a good feel with obvious tactile feedback and little mushiness.
Unlike many Mac-focused keyboards these days, the Folding Keyboard provides few Mac-specific special keys: only mute, volume down, and volume up buttons. Even these are easy to overlook: located just to the right of the F15 key, they’re small, round, and all-black, so they blend into the keyboard’s body. The F12 key is labeled “Eject”, but that’s just a feature of Mac OS X: holding down the F12 key on any keyboard sends an eject command to the computer.
Home is where the features are
The Folding Keyboard uses a relatively standard Mac key layout, including two sets of true Mac modifier keys (control, option, and command), one on the left and one on the right. I appreciated the standard layout of the function keys (F1 through F15), which are separated from the main QWERTY area and grouped in four-key pods for easier touch-typing. As with many compact keyboards, the inverted-T group of directional-arrow keys is shifted partly below the right-hand return and shift keys, which means the right-hand modifier keys are shifted to the left a bit compared to their counterparts on a full-size desktop keyboard; I didn’t find this to be a problem while typing.
On the other hand, although the keyboard includes a full numeric keypad, in order to conserve space Matias didn’t include the traditional help/delete/home/end/page up/page down group (usually placed between the main QWERTY area and the keypad). Instead, these keys are arranged in an odd vertical layout: help and (forward) delete are in one column next to the forward slash (\) key, with home, end, page up, and page down in another column to the right. It took me a while to get used to this arrangement while touch-typing.
Standard keys aside, the Folding Keyboard has a number of unique and useful features. One of my favorites is subtle but useful: The numeric keypad includes its own Tab key, allowing you to perform many data-entry tasks with one hand. But the bigger convenience feature is that the Folding Keyboard overlays a second set of directional keys—the four arrow keys as well as home, end, page up, and page down—onto the home keys under your right hand (U, I, O, J, K, L, and M, along with the comma and period). You access these alternate functions by pressing the fn key—much like the one Apple includes on its keyboards—which is located just above the left-hand shift key. This feature allows you to use navigation keys without moving your hands from the home area.
Placing the fn key above the left-hand shift key makes it convenient to use this navigational overlay; however, the downside is that the fn key replaces the traditional caps lock key, which has been moved to an alternate function of the slash (/) key. If, like me, you frequently use caps lock, you must press fn-/ to toggle it. Having used a standard keyboard layout for many years, I never did get used to this arrangement.
Macworld’s buying advice
Despite a few key-placement oddities, Matias’s Folding Keyboard is a unique portable accessory that lets you pack a full-size keyboard in a relatively small amount of space. Its keys are very good for a portable keyboard, and it provides several useful features I haven’t seen on any other model, desktop or portable. On the other hand, the lack of a locking mechanism makes it a poor choice for use on your lap—a significant flaw in a keyboard designed for portability. If you need a portable keyboard for lap use, or one with wireless connectivity, Apple’s Wireless Keyboard is a better bet—and takes up less space in your laptop bag, to boot.
[Dan Frakes is a Macworld senior editor.]