04
Aug
image
Last Updated: August 9th, 2011

Intro

Update 8/9/11: Cameron took the keyboard out for a spin after the TouchWiz UX update and posted his impressions here. In short, it fixes some bugs, but most of the shortcomings remain in my opinion, and my verdict doesn't change.

Some people may never end up updating to TouchWiz UX, so I'm leaving the review below intact.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is currently my favorite Android tablet, so I was excited to see how some of its accessories, like the keyboard dock in this review, pan out. If the tablet is so drool-inducing, how bad can a keyboard dock made specifically for it be?

Well... it can be bad, to the point of sending it back and never wanting to see it again. Sorry, Samsung, but for the price ($69.99), this keyboard is not worth the trouble or the money.

Let's take a look at why.

The Keyboard Dock

While there are many different kinds of useful and interesting keyboards out there for both phones and tablets, the $69.99 Samsung keyboard dock is nothing more than strictly a keyboard that conveniently puts the tablet in an upright position and is made with Honeycomb in mind.

Physically, the keyboard is pretty slim but has an ugly tablet guide/holder that is sticking out, effectively doubling its thickness. Thankfully, it's removable, but more on that later.

wm_IMG_9322

The keyboard is white, which makes it look like an Apple product. Frankly, I absolutely hate the design. It looks plasticky, and combined with the black guides makes the whole attachment look like a glorified old-school typewriter or a printing calculator. Ugh. I suppose some of you will disagree with me, but I'm putting it into the Cons pile.

The keyboard has a pass-through 30-pin connector on the right side, which you can use to charge the tablet or, supposedly, hook up peripherals, such as mice, HDMI connectors, SD card readers, and pretty much anything a USB-host capable device is supposed to handle. Too bad that the latter part is absolutely flawed - more on that in the Cons.

wm_IMG_9309 wm_IMG_9311 wm_IMG_9313

The only other connector on the keyboard is the 3.5mm audio jack on the back side. You won't believe it, but even the jack is flawed.

There is one LED light on the keyboard on the right side, which indicates CAPS LOCK mode - it's not meant to show whether the keyboard or tablet are on or not - strictly CAPS LOCK.

wm_IMG_9314 wm_IMG_9319  wm_IMG_9323

But let's move on to the [few] pros (after my 12-minute video review).

Video Review

Pros

  • First and foremost, this is a keyboard, and as a keyboard, it's great. I have almost no complaints about typing on it, and the button configuration is quite pleasant.
  • It's made specifically for Honeycomb, with a ton of tablet-only buttons:
    • Back, home, app switcher, Internet/Mail, lock/unlock, brightness, volume, music controls, app drawer, and menu keys on the top.
    • On-screen keyboard toggle, language, and notification bar keys on the bottom right.
    • Search, voice input, and on-screen keyboard toggle (again) on the bottom left.
    • Nice to haves: cursor keys, tab, ctrl, shift, CAPS LOCK (that doesn't work at all), both del and backspace (no alt, forward, or home/end buttons, although there is a workaround for the latter - ctrl-left and ctrl-right, and for the usual ctrl-home/ctrl-end we have ctrl-up and ctrl-down on the Tab 10.1).
  • Relatively light and sturdy construction.

Cons

  • Ugly design (in my opinion), very reminiscent of Apple. I would have much rather preferred a black option.
  • The keyboard fits only Samsung tablets with a proprietary 30-pin connector and is made specifically for the 10.1 (8.9 and the 7" will probably fit but may be wobbly and/or incompatible in some ways)
  • Switches the software keyboard to stock every time you dock, so you have to switch it back to your favorite one, like Thumb Keyboard, every time you undock - one of my biggest gripes.

     wm_IMG_9325

  • No alternative inputs whatsoever - just 1 proprietary Samsung port. No USB, SD, HDMI - nothing.
  • No battery like in the transformer (I would have been glad to pay more for this option).
  • Some plastic flex in the keys - nothing major but feels cheap.
  • While typing, sometimes here and there a letter gets duplicated. It's rare but it happens, and I'm not sure if the problem is hardware or software. It's annoying.
  • The CAPS LOCK key doesn't work. It does nothing but turn on the LED indicator on the right.
  • Plugging in a mouse using the 30-pin <-> USB connector (sold separately for $19.99) doesn't work and actually breaks the keyboard until you re-dock it. Yeah, it's that bad - watch the video where I show exactly what happens. Note: the mouse works just fine if plugged in directly to the tablet.
  • Little things like the Del key doesn't work in Gmail and in general, you end up using the touchscreen a lot more than you should with a keyboard. This is not Samsung's fault at all - it's more of a sign that Android is not yet well optimized for keyboard docks.
  • Speaking of typing, you would think that the on-screen keyboard would disappear if the dock is plugged in, right? Wrong! The on-screen keyboard pops up all the time for no reason whatsoever - is Samsung trying to justify having those 2 on-screen keyboard toggle keys this way?
  • The black guides/mounts are very difficult to remove and bulge out otherwise, making the keyboard twice as thick - you will also likely scratch whatever you have in your bag if you drop it in there.
  • Audio jack turns itself "off" when not in use, which ends up producing noise/interference when connected to a stereo using a 3.5mm cable.
    • Let me explain - and by all means it's not going to be a problem with all cables/speakers, but when I plug just one end of the 3.5mm cable into my speaker, it starts making noise that sounds like a bunch of audio interference, until I connect the other end of the cable into my phone, for example. This makes the noise go away completely, so that I can enjoy music and podcasts.
    • With the Tab 10.1's keyboard, this is not the case. Unless there's active audio output present, the jack in the keyboard is in the same state as if the cable is just unplugged, thus creating the noise. This is a big problem, so I would opt in for using the Tab's own audio jack, which sits at the top of the tablet.
  • On initial power-on, the keyboard was detected as a media dock rather than a keyboard and didn't work at all. I've seen other cases of this reported on the Internet, but I'm not sure how to reproduce it (it may be related to not rebooting the first time or a low battery charge).
  • $69.99 - that's a whole of a lot of money to pay for a keyboard dock that doesn't do much else and is compatible with only a few devices.

Conclusion

The keyboard dock offered by Samsung is a disaster at this point. It's not worth the money, and the list of cons currently outweighs the pros 15 to 3. My recommendation would be to stay away from this keyboard, unless all you need it for is typing emails or documents all day, and even then you have to use a Bluetooth mouse with it, as the USB one plain doesn't work.

A much nicer, though a lot more expensive solution - a Bluetooth keyboard/case combo - will be coming out of Samsung soon (currently listed at $130+ at Expansys), and should provide for much better experience. Update: Here it is in action:

If that's not your cup of tea, I suggest exploring regular USB or Bluetooth keyboards and combine them with a simple upright stand - you will save a ton of money, and your keyboard will be compatible with pretty much anything else on the market.

This concludes my review, but if I missed anything, don't hesitate and ask down below.

Until next time.

Artem Russakovskii
Artem is a die-hard Android fan, passionate tech blogger, obsessive-compulsive editor, bug hunting programmer, and the founder of Android Police.
Most of the time, you will find Artem either hacking away at code or thinking of the next 15 blog posts.

  • Ruslan

    I just bought the tab with the keyboard. Love the tab, hate the keyboard. It is heavier than the tab itself. I have only one question. How come I am having trouble downloading pdf's off of some website? I can download the pdf and save them on my PC; however, I cannot do so on the tab ( the website is for school materials, so it is password protected)

    • slmd2g

      Have you installed Adobe PDF reader from the market? Could be a PDF only it can handle.

    • Mart

      CAPS LOCK key doesn't work. It does nothing but turn on the LED indicator on

      Surely that's a BIG plus? If you don't utterly despise caps lock, then you know nothing about computers.

      Lol :-)

    • Mart

      "CAPS LOCK key doesn't work. It does nothing but turn on the LED"
      Surely that's a BIG plus? If you don't utterly despise caps lock, then you know nothing about computers.
      Lol :-)

  • slmd2g

    Going to have to disagree with the review. We picked up 3 of these, one for my girlfriends desk at work, one for a travel bag, and one for my work desk. I think they match the design of the Samsung tablet perfectly. Also if you read up on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 you will see that you can not just go hooking USB devices (mice, etc) up to the port on these docks, they want you to buy their (just released USB Dock adapter, or hdmi adapter, etc.) Also the Speaker line out jack has worked great when connected to our stereo, and i've not seen the feedback your talking about here. The keyboard is well built, and the only flaw we can agree on with this review, would be the Blue-Whatever its supposed to be for light ;) The shortcutkeys on the keyboard are great for home screen, all the android defaults, and the keyboard-popup/down. I do wish you could disable the software keyboard completely but that seems to be an Android issue, as does most of the slow data entry issues in a browser, etc. I don't think this is the keyboard for someone who needs to take it with them and use it all the time with the tablet, its not the most portable, but it does make sense for a perm desk dock. Btw, if you need a mouse I see Logitech has just released a mouse for Android 3.1. I typed this comment on the dock just now with no issues, and it sure was a lot faster than if I used swype or the default keyboard. One more thing, there are some good utils (tasker, or other dock managers) that can automate the keyboard swap, or other functions when connecting or disconnecting the dock. If you need a dock, this one is not much more than the media dock by samsung, and you get the keyboard w/ it.. So another bonus.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      We'll just have to agree to disagree then :-]

      If you re-read the part about the mouse, you'll see that I did use the special connector that you're talking about - otherwise I wouldn't have been able to plugin the mouse in at all. It just doesn't work with the dock but works fine with the tablet itself.

      • slmd2g

        Yup - my bad - I did re-read that part, and see you did use the connector. I do agree the keyboard is overpriced, as are most of the accessories for the galaxy tab 10.1, but I still think its the best tablet out and we own two of them in this house, which are constantly in use. I just updated mine w/ the TouchWiz update, and I'm interested to see if any additional functionality comes to the keyboard dock with this update. I'll post if I notice anything new. I'd also like to report that the girlfriend has gotten a LOT of comments on her keyboard dock at work, about how cool looking it is, etc.. of course I think most of these have been female, so perhaps there is a different target market for this device.. Personally I am sick of having black devices, they show dust too easily, and the glossy ones show off scratches too much.

    • http://gplus.to/rnpatton Nathan Patton

      I don't know what kind of speakers you're plugging your dock into, but you might as well be listening to your music through a victrolla. Seriously, I don't think anything under 2000khz comes though. The speakers on the tablet itself produce more frequency range. Thanks for the tasker suggestion btw! I can't beleive I didn't think of doing that.

  • Jason Hanford-Smith

    ... and people were complaining about the ASUS Transformer dock being expensive at $150.

    I've got a battery, two USB ports and a full size SD card slot, and I can just plug a mouse in and go!

    Even though it complains about not using the stock soft keyboard as default, the new 3.2 update allows you to turn off that warning too, so I can keep whatever soft keyboard as default and just plug in to the dock and it's all fine.

    Summary: Kind of surprised Samsung got one-upped by ASUS on this, especially coming out with this afterwards.

    • slmd2g

      The number one thing that keeps me with the Galaxy Tab 10.1 vs the Asus, or any other tablet is the size and weight.. It makes such a big difference for a device you spend most of your time carrying around like a book or notepad. I've tried pretty much all the tablets for a week at a time or more, and once I got my hands on the Galaxy Tab 10.1, I could never go back to anything else.. Despite the lack of connection options outa the box, I find myself not needing them most of the time anyway with everything stored in the "cloud" or accessed over wifi/bluetooth.

      • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

        I absolutely agree with this, which is why the Tab 10.1 has been my top recommendation, and will be for a long time until something comparable comes out.

  • Tyler Walles

    I never have been a fan of Samsung, every device of theirs that I've had has been crap, feels cheap, and generally not a good experience to use. IMO Samsung is no better then Apple (not a compliment at all, I don't find any of Apples products appealing at all, aesthetics nor ability). So this review doesn't surprise me at all. Just my 2₵

  • http://gplus.to/rnpatton Nathan Patton

    If the touchwiz update had not fixed the dock improperly forcing you into the clock-dock, I would have certainly taken it back. That was my main annoyance. Smaller annoyances include 1. being forced into the samsung keyboard (which still works even though I immediately change my keyboard back to swype) 2. The touch keyboard poping up every now and then (which you can immediately dismiss and then continue to type in full screen). Oh and I almost forgot, the audio-jack (at least on mine) only outputs high frequencies. I popped on my Denon DJ headphones and tried listening to some dubstep, and to my suprise, virtually zero bass whatsoever. I plugged them into the top and was immediately greated with the full sonic range. Somehow, despite all of this, this thing remains to be barely usefull enough for me to keep.

  • http://www.tablet2cases.com/ tablet cases

    great review. the keyboard dock actually looks nice and fits the samsung look

  • Tugrul

    I agree with the written review prior to touchwiz update. Keyboard now works as it should. All the cons are gone. Capslock works, lang button switches languages, etc, etc...

  • Diana

    Ii cat even get the keyboard to work. Buttons dont work at all

  • max

    hi...i want to buy this tablet with keyboard dock but im just not sure if the keyboard dock supports more languages and characters in other languages...im from slovakia so if it does not support it would be problem because I need to type in characters like č,š,á,í... does it support this? or it depends on your language settings on tablet? thx for answering :)

  • Perk Cartel

    July 2013 (things take a little longer to arrive here in the Land of Oz) and this review sounds quite negative, the slow keyboard occurs on some website inputs, hardly a major deal, the soft keys still pop up with any new text cursor position change which I think is a serious flaw, but the two switch keys are quickly accustomed, the design issues are subjective of course, I think it's a beautiful piece of engineering, so there, it screen docks in 2 seconds , and it saves faffing about with ergonomic screen angles with a bluetooth board (eg want to try a Blueboard and the screen on your lap?) For fat fingered folk like me the small right hand shift never gets used, (they could easily be made the same size and be both usable) but perhaps most serious flaw of all - the whole device doesn't appear to have a decent help feature except for the manual PDF (unless I'm missing something that should be obvious), no USB IN is a major flaw in my view while folks are still buting USB sticks for archiving, I'd give the keyboard 6.5/10 tops but the table alone is a killer at 8.5/10, but I also like the keyboard soft touch feel, I have no idea what "plasticky" means as a tactile technical quality, isn't every key device made of plastic and the surface texture of this keyboard is responsive and a comfortable matt, the keyboard cambered ergonomic shape dock bay is simply turned back to back with the screen to fit the slip case, so no big deal there either...