Microsoft’s New Flex Keyboard for the Surface Pro Tablet

Also from Tom Warren:

The basic silhouette of the hardware hasn’t changed much, save for the new Flex Keyboard attachment. The tablet with an integrated kickstand has been a Surface staple for years now, and Microsoft continues to refine it rather than trying to reinvent it.

I got a chance to try this new Flex Keyboard, and I’m surprised at how much more stable it is than previous models. There’s no noticeable bounce when you’re using it on a desk, and even on my lap, it felt a lot more study than the previous Surface Pro keyboards.

You can even use this keyboard away from the Surface Pro as it automatically switches over to a Bluetooth connection once you undock it. Microsoft has a tiny battery inside the base to enable this and the new haptic feedback on the trackpad in this Flex Keyboard. The haptic feedback doesn’t feel as prominent as on the Surface Laptop Studio 2, but it’s still nice to have inside this new keyboard.

The basic idea of the Flex Keyboard is that it’s like the bottom part of a laptop — an integrated keyboard and trackpad, with a little dock for the included Slim Pen stylus. Unlike Apple’s iPad Magic Keyboard, the Flex Keyboard has a battery and works wirelessly over Bluetooth. I spitballed a similar idea for Apple’s Magic Keyboard on my podcast last month with Federico Viticci.

The appeal of working wirelessly isn’t so much, to my mind, for tablets. I can’t recall ever wishing my iPad Magic Keyboard would remain connected to my iPad over Bluetooth. In fact, I could see that being annoying when I want to use my iPad all by itself, with its on-screen keyboard. There’s a certain “you know what you’re getting” aspect to the fact that the Magic Keyboard is only active when the iPad is magnetically attached. The appeal I see of the Flex Keyboard design would be using it with a headset like Vision Pro. Vision Pro has great support for Bluetooth keyboards and Apple’s Magic Trackpad, but that makes two things you need to carry around with your Vision Pro if you want to use it for productivity. Better would be a single keyboard with an integrated trackpad.

Microsoft can use this design because they’ve steadfastly stuck to their guns on including a kickstand with Surface Pro tablets. Apple has never released an iPad with a kickstand, and almost certainly never will. But without a kickstand on the iPad itself, the Magic Keyboard needs that big cantilevered magnetic hinge to attach and support the iPad, which in turn renders the design unfeasible for pairing with a Vision headset. Even if the new Magic Keyboard had a battery and supported Bluetooth, it wouldn’t be a graceful peripheral for Vision Pro because of the hinge.

So Microsoft has an integrated keyboard/trackpad peripheral that seems perfect for use with a headset, but they only make headsets that no one seems to care about. And Apple has a headset that would be great with an integrated keyboard/trackpad, but their integrated keyboard/trackpad is designed exclusively for the new iPad Pros.

The Flex Keyboard With Slim Pen isn’t cheap, either: $450. A 13-inch iPad Magic Keyboard costs $350 and the Pencil Pro costs $130.

Monday, 20 May 2024