2015-11-17Anker is a brand I’ve heard of only recently, and I heard of it mainly for its portable USB battery packs. Anker is apparently one of the best-known and most reliable name brands of those batteries—members of my local Ingress-playing community use “Anker” as a generic term for USB batteries the way one might use “Kleenex” as a generic term for facial tissues. “Just a minute, let me plug into my Anker…”

The brand is not as well-known for Bluetooth keyboards—but maybe it should be.

By an odd coincidence, I have ended up with two different but very similar Anker Bluetooth keyboards. After my AmazonBasics keyboard (the same one Juli reviewed here) stopped working a few weeks ago, I glanced back at the Bluetooth keyboard buyer’s guide I covered in September and chose this Anker rechargeable model that the guide picked as its best low-end price choice. (I chose the white version instead because I liked the color better.) It ran me $26—not a bad price.

Then, about a week ago, I happened to be browsing through Bulldog Liquidators, a low-cost damaged-and-surplus-goods store, when I came across this other Anker Bluetooth keyboard, normally about $16, marked down to $10. The main difference is that, instead of having a built-in rechargeable battery, this one uses two AAA batteries like the AmazonBasics did. As it happened, I thought it would be nice to have a second keyboard so I wouldn’t have to keep switching the pairing back and forth on my “main” one if I wanted to use it with my Fire—and the price was certainly right, and the brand was one I already knew. And they were both small and light enough to go in my gadget bag, along with both tablets.

One of the more annoying things about the keyboards, at least for the purpose of writing a review, is that they don’t actually have succinct model names or even model numbers—or at least, not ones you can find them by. If you were to search Amazon on the Anker A7721 or A7726, you’d draw a blank. As far as Amazon is concerned, they are the “Anker® Ultra Compact Slim Profile Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard for iOS, Android, Windows and Mac with Rechargeable 6-Month Battery (White)” and the “Anker® Bluetooth Ultra-Slim Keyboard for iPad Air 2 / Air, iPad mini 3 / mini 2 / mini, iPad 4 / 3 / 2, Galaxy Tabs and Other Mobile Devices (Black),” respectively. Which is a bit of a mouthful to keep using in either case. For this review, I guess I’ll just call them the rechargeable keyboard and the battery keyboard.

The rechargeable keyboard is a slim, compact full-sized Bluetooth chiclet keyboard, with large rubber feet to give them good purchase on most surfaces. The built-in battery pack gives it a decent amount of heft, so despite its mid-$20s price, it doesn’t feel “cheap.” It is equally usable on my lap or on a surface, and I haven’t had any problems typing on it.

Comparing it side-by-side with my old AmazonBasics keyboard, the keys on it are larger, making it more like an actual full-sized keyboard (and making the keyboard about an inch wider than the AmazonBasics, meaning that it unfortunately won’t fit into the keyboard case I got for use with the AB.) The Anker also has better key travel, whereas the AmazonBasics keyboard was decidedly mushy by comparison. Typing on the Anker feels like typing on an actual laptop keyboard—maybe not as good as a mechanical desktop keyboard, but not a bad portable experience either.

Another nice thing is that this keyboard is meant to be compatible with iOS, Android, and Windows devices—and there’s a function key to switch the functions of some of the buttons to work better with specific operating system functions for those particular devices. The AmazonBasics keyboard I got came in two separate flavors—Android/Windows and iOS. And after trying the Android/Windows one, I ended up switching to the iOS, because it had the Esc key that I needed for use with my terminal emulator software.

Fortunately, that’s not a problem with this Bluetooth keyboard. Not only does it have Esc, but it also has Control, Option/Alt, and Command/Splat buttons—and the latter two are also duplicated to the right of the spacebar. (That’s one of the few areas where the AmazonBasics one actually comes out ahead, as it duplicated the Control button, too.)

Another difference from the AmazonBasics model is that this Anker has a rechargeable battery built in, with a standard micro-USB port for charging. I haven’t had, and probably wouldn’t have, any way to test the battery life. For one thing, it claims a battery life of up to six months, and I haven’t even owned it for six weeks. I imagine I could probably use it for weeks on end without having to remember to recharge it, and that’s just fine with me.

A lot of the above also holds true for the other Anker keyboard, the one with batteries. It’s of a similar design, including the exact same keyboard layout and key size, but there also some important differences. First, the keyboard is a bit lighter due to the lack of a built-in rechargeable battery. It also has a ridge along the back where the AA batteries go, which raises the rear of the keyboard to a slightly higher typing angle than the rechargeable keyboard’s. This one just has four small rubber feet, instead of the six bigger ones that hold the rechargeable keyboard firmly in place.

The combination of the lightness and a slightly mushier key feel make the battery keyboard feel more cheaply-made than the rechargeable, even though the actual price difference is just a few dollars. If I hadn’t been able to get it for several dollars off its normal price, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to pick it up. If I had to choose between the two, I’d definitely spend a few extra bucks and get the rechargeable one. Still, it feels appropriate to use a cheap Bluetooth keyboard with my equally-cheap Fire tablet.

The battery keyboard also has another slight problem—which I somewhat expected given that the keyboard was marked down for sale in a damaged-goods salvage shop. It turns out the power switch doesn’t work—whether I turn it off or on, the keyboard remains on. I could probably have my electrical-engineer brother put a new switch in, but it hardly seems worth it for a $10 keyboard. In the meantime, I simply take one of the batteries out when I’m not using it.

I do have to say, it is nice to have two keyboards for two tablets. It makes it easier to multi-task—I could be writing a blog entry on my Nexus with the rechargeable keyboard, while I have Google Hangouts or a SSH terminal session open for chatting on my Fire. No more having to swap between apps (even if having a keyboard does make it easy to swap by hitting Alt-Tab just like in Windows). I even ended up picking up a second cheap Bluetooth mouse at Micro Center, so I can have a mouse with each device, too.

It’s really great that quality Bluetooth keyboards are so inexpensive now. Even a rock-bottom-priced gizmo like the $50 Fire could make a great choice for writing via Google Docs or some other editing application. A tablet and a light keyboard (and an optional Karma Go hotspot for Internet connectivity) are a lot easier to toss in a purse or bag for easy portability than a heavy, bulky laptop. So, if you want to remove yourself from distractions, all you need to do is find a nice quiet spot to set them up. It might not be an AlphaSmart, but it’ll more than suffice for the task.


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