Adding a keyboard to your tablet can transform it from a device that’s great for consuming content to a genuinely useful extremely lightweight and portable laptop replacement for content creation, which comes on instantly, is super fast and lasts for ages.
If you own a more recent iPad you can add one of Apple’s smart keyboards, but they start at £159 or $159. The Arteck HB220B Bluetooth keyboard costs less than a tenth of the price and does 90% of what the Apple version does. I actually prefer the most important aspect of this budget keyboard: the typing experience.
This model is the new version of the popular HB030B model. It’s slightly larger with full size keys which makes typing much easier, and it can quickly switch between 3 devices with its dedicated buttons. It has a backlight with 2 brightness levels and 7 colour choices with up to 6 months of battery life from its rechargeable battery.
I’ll provide a brief overview of the keyboard, setting it up with an iPad, a Samsung Tablet and an iPhone, before demonstrating some of the advantages of using a keyboard with your tablet with a few tips and tricks for good measure.
Of course I’ll be pointing out any flaws along the way. Could the Arteck keyboard be the most useful accessory you could add to your tablet for under £15 or $20?
The keyboard comes in basic packaging with a micro-USB charging cable, 6 rubber feet and a surprisingly comprehensive user manual. I attached four of the adhesive feet to the corners of the keyboard over the screws.
It’s lighter than the Apple Keyboard at 233g, although it doesn’t come with any screen cover or integrated stand. It measures 272mm by 150mm and is 5.5mm thick.
For the price of the keyboard, the build quality is good with plastic keys, a matte finish plastic surround and a metal back. There is some flex but no more than you’d expect – I’ll come back to this shortly.
The keyboard has an integrated 500mAh battery which takes up to 3 hours to charge with the included micro-USB cable, although mine arrived with plenty of charge remaining.
Flick the power button to turn the keyboard on and press and hold one of the three blue device buttons for three seconds until its associated Bluetooth pairing light flashes. Pair to the descriptively named Bluetooth 3.0 Keyboard in your device’s Bluetooth settings – in this case an iPad.
You need to remember to press the Fn key together with the Q, W or R key depending on whether you’re connecting to iOS, Android or Windows respectively, for everything to work properly.
You can connect to a further two devices using the remaining 2 blue buttons in exactly the same way. Here I’m connecting button two to my iPhone and button three to a Samsung tablet. I also tried it with a Windows PC and it worked fine.
You can quickly switch between the three devices with a single press of one of the blue keys.
Despite using the old Bluetooth 3.0 standard, I didn’t have any issues connecting multiple devices, and it paired quite quickly. Switching between devices generally worked fine. Occasionally when connecting to my iPad there was some delay or the keyboard didn’t operate exactly as it should. Turning the keyboard off and on sorted it out – and testing out this keyboard for the review I was doing rather more switching around that you’d typically do in normal use.
There’s no battery indication on your device with Bluetooth 3.0, but a single press of the F12 key with the battery icon will indicate the remaining charge, blinking four times for full capacity down to one time when the battery gets below 25%. If it keeps flashing you’ll need to recharge the integrated 500mAh battery with the included micro-USB cable, which takes up to 3 hours. Battery life is meant to be over 90 hours. My keyboard arrived with a full charge and after a week of fairly heavy use, mainly with the backlight on, it’s not even down to 75% battery remaining.
You can have the keyboard backlight off or choose from two brightness levels by tapping the backlight button. Holding the backlight button down, you can cycle through no less than 7 colours using the up and down arrow keys, but unfortunately there’s no white which would be my preferred option.
The lighting is fairly subtle even in its brightest mode and not as bright as its predecessor the HB030B. But it’s still a nice feature to have, and although it will use a little more battery I tend to leave it on. The lighting turns off after a minute of inactivity to save battery but comes on immediately with a press of any button.
The keyboard is really quite enjoyable to type on. The full size keys have decent spacing around them, and I could type almost as quickly as I can on my MacBook Pro keyboard and desktop mechanical keyboard. The keys have a good amount of travel which I like – just under 2mm. If you’re typed on a MacBook Pro keyboard without the butterfly switches, it feels similar. There is a fair amount of flex, especially in the middle of the keyboard and it’s still just slightly more cramped than on your laptop or desktop computer.
Probably my biggest gripe is the small Enter key, which is very easy to miss. But I’ve still found it more than acceptable even for longer typing sessions.
Using the keyboard with an iPad
Pairing a keyboard like this with your iPad hugely expands its capabilities. The most notable immediate difference is that you no longer have half the screen taken up with the on-screen keyboard.
You will need some sort of stand for your iPad. I use the Smart Cover which works well. The only real limitation with this setup it’s difficult to use on your lap, like you can with the Apple keyboard. But at a desk it works fine and I prefer that I can push the screen slightly away from me.
It does take some getting used to having to switch between the keyboard and tapping the screen but you do get used to it. If you’re on iOS 13 or above, you can attach a wired or Bluetooth mouse. It’s definitely not necessary, but works quite well once setup which is far more difficult than it should be. You need to go into Settings | Accessibility | Touch and and turn on Assistive Touch. If you want to attach a wired mouse you’ll probably need an adapter like the Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter I’m using here. And you’ll need to run power to the adapter for most mice to work. But then you just plug in your mouse and you’re away.
With a Bluetooth mouse it’s can be a little more finicky. It took a few attempts to setup an Apple Magic Mouse, and even then scrolling and gestures aren’t supported. A cheap Bluetooth mouse off Amazon worked fine.
Scroll down and tap on Devices then Bluetooth Devices. Make sure your mouse is in pairing mode and tap on it under Devices. Accept any pairing requests and you should see the cursor ap pear on the screen. There’s a huge amount of configuration available which I won’t cover in this video. But if you go back a page and tap on the mouse in Connected Devices, you can customise what each button does.
And back at the Touch page, you can change the pointer size under Pointer Style, which by default is massive. You can also change its colour. Bizarrely you can’t currently change it to a mouse cursor!
The mouse works just like you finger. You can drag up from the bottom of the screen to bring up the dock, or pull down from the top right for the control centre. And using the scroll wheel in web pages and documents in very handy.
Coming back to the keyboard, tapping the Esc key always takes you back to the home screen, and tapping it twice brings up the app switcher. Like on a Mac, CMD spacebar brings up search. The F10 function key is also a dedicated search button. And whilst we’re on the function keys, the volume and media controls are very useful, and the Print Screen button is an easy way to take a screenshot. If you want to use the actual function keys, tap the F7 Function Lock button. Its associated blue LED next to the power light turns on.
You can use CMD and CMD SHIFT tab to cycle forward and back through your open apps, which makes multi-tasking much smoother. And CMD ALT D shows and hides the Dock.
Typing documents is a far more pleasant experience with physical keys and the extra screen space. And correcting mistakes and editing your documents is much faster. The cursor keys work as you’d expect, and holding down shift together with the cursor keys you can select characters, or whole words if you add in the ALT key and whole paragraphs if you tap the up arrow. And you have copy and paste with CMD C and CMD V respectively.
These various shortcuts work across most apps, but in lots of apps you can get a lot more productive with app specific shortcuts. It’s very easy to see what shortcuts are available – just hold down the CMD key to see a complete list. CMD T to open a new tab in Chrome, and CMD W to close a tab are handy ones.
In more heavy weight apps like Procreate, Photoshop and the powerful video editing application LumaFusion there are pages of shortcuts, that really will make a difference to your productivity. It’s worth spending a bit of time learning at least a few shortcuts. They have transformed how I use LumaFusion.
If you own an iPad or any other tablet for that matter, and are toying with the idea of buying a Chromebook, MacBook or Windows laptop, I’d consider trying a budget keyboard like this one from Arteck first. You won’t get a self supporting screen, and you don’t get the port choices that laptops provides. But even an entry level iPad is way more powerful than a similarly priced computer for many tasks. Using LumaFusion I can edit 4K video on a 2 year old iPad that costs £300 or $300 back then. Even a laptop costing 3 times the price would struggle. And no stylus I’ve tried on any device comes close to the experience of using the Apple Pencil.
The iPad is already very portable and lightweight with excellent battery life. Spending less than £20 or $20 on a keyboard makes it that more useful. The Arteck HB220B is a great option. It has decent build for the price, it’s lightweight and I found it enjoyable to type on. It’s handy being able to quickly switch across to your phone with the Bluetooth keys, to respond to WhatsApp, for example.
It even has backlighting that the far more expensive Apple keyboard doesn’t have. But you’ll have to add the price of some sort of stand, if you’re not already using a case with that function. And unlike the Smart Keyboard you will have to charge it occasionally.
My only really minor issue was the small Enter key but I have started to get used to it. There is some flex too, but not enough for concern.
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Arteck HB220B Bluetooth keyboard: https://amzn.to/3b3TFNG
Arteck HB030B Bluetooth keyboard: https://amzn.to/2SbLxlx
Budget Bluetooth mouse: https://amzn.to/3b1zoZg
Apple Smart Keyboard: https://amzn.to/2S7AQRb