Dell Venue 8 Pro Bluetooth Keyboard Review

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Venue8Pro_keyboard

I bought the Dell Bluetooth Keyboard for my Venue 8 Pro, getting it for the relatively low price of $60 via an Amazon price match (yes, Dell online will match prices, a nice surprise). Normally, the keyboard is $99.99 on Dell’s site, which is a bit pricey even considering that Dell includes a matching folio case with magnets that hold the keyboard (somewhat) securely to the tablet.

Overall, I want to really like the keyboard, and will be giving it a try as my sole mobile device to replace my MacBook Air and Nexus 10 tablet. Unfortunately, my initial impressions are less than favorable for one very disappointing reason that I’ll get to in a moment.

Build Quality
The keyboard and case are both nicely made, with that combination of lightness and durability that’s hard to achieve. Both match nicely with the Venue 8 Pro, which is also extremely well made and exudes quality. The surfaces used are dust magnets but have a nice soft feel, a tradeoff that I’m happy to make.

The case fits the Venue 8 Pro like a glove, being snug but not so tight that the tablet is difficult to remove. The standalone Dell folio case is thinner and more functional, with better pen holder placement at the top and a wider range of angles for propping up the tablet. The keyboard case keyboard, on the other hand, has a stiffer plastic back and is a bit thicker, with only two angles and a pen holder that’s unfortunately placed on the back of the case and thus requires the tablet to be placed screen-down (or keyboard down) when not in use. Overall, I prefer the standalone case, but the keyboard case is acceptable.

A nice touch is that the keyboard case cover magnetically secures the keyboard, creating a single unit. The magnets aren’t strong enough that the keyboard won’t slip off, but if you’re careful you can carry the combo around without too much concern. It’s a bit thick for such a small device, but that seems like an reasonable compromise.

The keyboard itself feels like a quality accessory, thin and light but still solid. There’s no creakiness to the keyboard, which could be a concern for such a thin device, and the materials are comfortable to handle. I do think that $99.99 is a bit much for the keyboard and case, but not egregiously so. Less expensive options are available, but from what I’ve seen they appear to be more cheaply made, so I think you do get what you pay for in this case.

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Keyboard front view: notice the small left Shift key and odd ?/ key placement. Also, some
important symbol keys are functions, which can really slow things down. More on that in the
next section.

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Keyboard back view: this is a nice rubberized plastic.

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Cover back view: this is a very unfortunate place to put the stylus holder.

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Cover front view: not much to see, but this is magnetized and holds the keyboard in place.

IMG_6533
Cover side view without keyboard: reasonably thin.

IMG_6534
Cover side view with keyboard: a bit thicker, but still comfortably to carry.

IMG_6538
Keyboard side view: yes, it really is this thin.

IMG_6541
Keyboard side view: power and Bluetooth switch placement. They’re small, but perfectly
usable.

Typing Experience
Of course, what matters most with a keyboard is how it performs, specifically if it allows a user to achieve full typing speed. In my case, I can type 80 words per minute on a good keyboard, and since I’m a writer and typing speed is of the essence, keyboard feel and key placement is incredibly important to me. Indeed, one of my most important criteria when I bought my MacBook Air in 2012 was its keyboard quality—compared to the other options at the time, the MacBook simply offered the best keyboard and that weighed heavily in my decision to purchase it versus the Windows ultrabook competition.

The Dell Bluetooth Keyboard is a mixed bag in this regard. On the one hand, key travel is surprisingly good for such a thin keyboard, and although it’s small the keyboard offers decent enough spacing between keys. After only a few sessions, I can type at around 80% of my usual speed in most cases, which would be more than acceptable for such a portable writing machine.

Unfortunately, Dell absolutely butchered the key placement. In particular, the left shift key is very small, with the rest of its space taken up by an oddly placed “?/” key combo. I’m having a hard time capitalizing using the left shift key, instead often producing a “/” that must be deleted and then the shift key consciously held down. So far, this slows me down considerably, and is a significant frustration. And, while I can likely get used to it, the transition from the Dell keyboard to any other keyboard will be jarring.

Also, Dell chose to implement a number of important symbol keys as functions, meaning that symbols like the “‘” require hitting the function key. I find myself hitting the enter key instead when I try to type an “‘”, which is another frustration.

Overall, the typing experience is significantly hindered by the key placement, and I’ll have to give the keyboard some additional use before I can decide if it’s usable for me. If not, then the keyboard will go back to Dell and I’ll have to look for an alternative if the Venue 8 Pro is to serve as my mobile writing machine.

Conclusion
There’s not much more to say about the Dell Bluetooth Keyboard. It’s a well-made accessory that’s hampered by bizarre key placement, and I find it difficult to recommend to anyone who isn’t willing to take the time to get used to it. That’s a shame, because otherwise I could recommend it wholeheartedly.

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