Control-Alt-Grrrrrr: A look at Penclic's Mini Keyboard K2
Tired of the same old keyboard design and looking for something a bit different? The Penclic Mini Keyboard K2 (US$69.95) definitely fits the bill in terms of not being the typical keyboard, and as you'll see in this review that's not necessarily a good thing.
Design and Functionality
When I think of Scandinavian design, I usually think of sleek minimalist wooden furniture. The Swedish-designed Penclic Mini Keyboard K2 comes in black (unless you're looking at the company's website, where the keyboard is white), and definitely has a different look to it. It's about the same width and depth of the Apple Wireless Keyboard, but with a top end that swoops up. It's striking but difficult to describe; if that description makes no sense to you, just take a look at the photos. That thick top end is where the batteries -- a pair of rechargeable NiMH AAAs -- reside. The keyboard comes with a retractable USB to micro-USB cable that can be used to recharge the batteries, which are supposed to last about two months on a charge.
Getting to the batteries is pretty easy -- you flip the keyboard over and there's a little door that you open to pop them in. Of course, the door isn't attached to anything, so in my case it promptly went flying across the room and ended up on the floor. Unlike most every other battery-powered device that I've used in the past half-century, there's no little indicator to tell you which direction the batteries need to be facing. As luck would have it, the first time I installed the batteries they were put in backward.
Not that you get all that much of an indication that the batteries are installed properly and are charged up... You're supposed to see a red LED on the strange little "Wireless" sign on the top end of the keyboard flash once if everything's hunky-dory. It did just after I installed the batteries, but then didn't flash on subsequent flicks of the power switch on the bottom of the keyboard. I took this as an indication that the batteries were discharged, so I took the opportunity to look into how the charging works.
To plug in the charger, there's a little red silicone door (image below) that needs to be opened. I poked and prodded at the door with my fingernail and couldn't get it to budge. Finally -- wanting to get this review written sometime in the current century -- I resorted to using the corner of a SIM card to pry open the door. Plugging in the USB cable resulted in repeated green flashes on the keyboard LED, which the owner's manual said was a sign that the batteries were charging. Note to the Penclic designers: just leave the frickin' cable door off! It's not needed, and it's certainly a pain to get open.
Also on the bottom side of the keyboard are two flip-up feet that raise the angle of typing a bit. They're plastic, and I would hope that they contain a bit of metal as I can see them snapping off if you bang on your keyboard in frustration like I'm doing writing this review.
The key layout is pretty standard and may actually be attractive to our European readers as it has the ever-popular Alt Gr key -- although it's spelled (appropriately enough) on the Mini Keyboard K2 as "Alt Grr". That angry-sounding "Grr" is appropriate, since this is definintely not an Apple-friendly keyboard -- as the standard Command keys are nowhere to be found. The return key on the board is a bright orange for no apparent reason other than to be different, and there's an orange numeric keypad overlaying the 789-uio-jkl-m? keys. There's no indication how that keypad is supposed to be accessed; the function keys use a blue theme, but if I followed the color cues here, it seems like I should depress the Return key to activate the numeric keys. There's also an oddly-labeled key located between the Fn and Alt keys on the left side of the lower row of keys, and the owner's manual provides no clue as to what it does.
I have to admit I smiled at the F2 key, which is also labeled in blue with "Silence!" Rather than using the typical international symbol for mute that you see on just about every other keyboard in the world, Penclic's designers chose to use the English word "Silence!" and promptly alienate and confuse non-English speakers.
One thing I really don't understand about the Penclic Mini Keyboard is why the designers chose to go with a proprietary wireless mode rather than use the widely-accepted Bluetooth standard. Bluetooth works with almost everything today, from iPhones and iPads to Macs and PCs. You're not going to be able to use the Penclic with an iPhone or iPad, and when you choose to use it with your Mac or PC, you'll have to give up a USB port to house a minuscule wireless receiver. That receiver has a maximum range of 5 meters (about 15 feet) compared to Bluetooth's usual range of about 10 meters. Knowing how widespread Bluetooth keyboards are, it probably cost Penclic more to produce this proprietary model.
Let's get into the pricing while I'm thinking about it, shall we? For $69.95 you're getting a keyboard that has a non-standard key layout and even specifically states in the owner's manual "MAC (sic) operating systems do not support all the special functions." A quick search on Amazon for cheap Bluetooth keyboards that are Mac- and iPad-friendly finds them for as little as $13.96 with free Amazon Prime shipping! Even top-brand names are less expensive -- Logitech's awesome solar-powered Bluetooth keyboard (K760) sells for about $60 and doesn't need a dongle, a cheap retractable USB cable, or AAA rechargeable batteries behind a flyaway plastic door.
As for typing -- the main reason you'd want a keyboard -- this is nothing spectacular. The keys have a decent amount of feedback that's common to just about any keyboard that uses the same type of scissor keys. When those little legs are propping up the Mini Keyboard K2, it tends to be quite a bit noisier than most other keyboards.
The Penclic Mini Keyboard K2 has nothing to recommend it, unless you're so wound up in "Scandinavian design" that you just have to get this keyboard to match your IKEA furniture.
- It has an Alt Grr key that should make some European buyers dance with glee
- What a lovely box!
- Just about everything else, including the choice of AAA batteries, the lack of a battery direction indicator in the battery compartment, the idiotic idea of putting a silicone door over the micro-USB charging port, the lack of Bluetooth support, the lack of any semblance of support for Apple devices, strange and unexplained keyboard markings, noise, ad infinitum
Who is it for?
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