Scribbler’s Saga #57 – Bluetooth is a Bitch

Posted: February 3, 2018 in Uncategorized

The current setup…

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

In my quest for just the right tools, I’ve chewed through a lot of stuff that I know the social media gods and monsters that like nanny shaming people over all kinds of things will get a-yellin’ over. Things like the right way to write (or rather type in this case) that maximizes for several possibly mutually exclusive factors. Portability. Connectivity to my Dropbox account. Assists editing. Size of screen and angle of display. Connectivity between keyboard and the rest of my gear. Size and feel of the keyboard.

Frankly in building up the small pile of old but still functional gear that I will soon have to clear out making them someone else’s problem through the Salvation Army, I’ve jumped on at least one grenade in each category. And I have gone back to an older solution with some twists, which says new ain’t always better.

Portability. Sounds self explanatory; buy the smallest object that does the job. Luckily, Microsoft finally built-in quite a bit of useful to the mobile version of Office that they sell to Apple users that circumvents the near automatic subscription shill for Office 365 found elsewhere. That means you can use a late-model iPhone for most of your writing…if you bring the right supporting gear.

For years, people didn’t want to write on phones because the screen proved too small and finger-tapping revealed as too slow. Emergency use only. Phones got a little bigger pushing up against the lower limit of tablets. The whiny became more strident if someone tried to write with the touchscreen keyboard. Enter the Bluetooth connection which allowed the user to add a keyboard in order to type normally-ish.

Bluetooth gave, Bluetooth took. The connection gave the ability to mate a keyboard to whatever tech you wanted while generally making the same small screen seem larger removing the visual obstruction of the finger tap keyboard. And Bluetooth doesn’t always work…the take.

Most of these observations result from also having a couple variations on the iPad that were never as portable as a phone, even the Plus size. Once I had my iPad Mini, the game was to try to find a keyboard that fit the size of the tech that I liked typing on and that also didn’t cause more problems with the connection. I’m batting .500 at best.

Small keyboards are more portable, but sometimes too small for typing. Small tablets are maybe eight inches across and my hands stuck index finger to index finger like for a fingernail inspection are also about that wide. I was taught to type on larger keyboards where the raised parts on the F and J keys help keep each hand safely on its own side. It feels miserable to type with a small keyboard, possible like fighting with a spear in a phone booth.

Initially, I had solved the problem with a full size Apple wireless keyboard to go with the iPad and now my iPhone that I’m admitting that maybe I should stop experimenting when something actually works. I wanted to maximize portability. The keyboard is as light as it gets given that Apple can’t make a regular size keyboard smaller, but at the time the wires and cables and protective cases still seemed too heavy in my bag.

Concurrent with the above, I went with a bunch of mini-sized Bluetooth clamshells that mimic notebook computers. Tried at least two by Logitech and the latest one by Brydge. They were for the iPad Mini creating the ugly typing feel, but only some of the time did the Bluetooth connection even talk to the devices properly. And guessing when something would work had no rhyme or reason.

Oftentimes, the connections would seem to work. Tap the buttons on both phone and keyboard and wait out the microsecond long handshake before working. But, the iOS mobile version of Word still has many secondary features that make use of the touchscreen to provide information. Word count. Bold. Italics. Underline. If you’ve guessed wrong with a cheap Bluetooth, these features might not work causing the need to shut down the connection and reset the phone to restore functions.

The Apple to Apple Bluetooth connection always scored high on working. Presumably, Apple employees drank much coffee whining in meetings about playing ‘Tooth Roulette and did what they could to make sure that they sold you the phone and the keyboard to go with it. But, it was a little bit bigger despite being the lightest possible for its size.

The Brydge clamshell works pretty well but it only seems like it maximizes portability adding weight to my bag that made me still want to go lighter. Moving me towards my Plus-size iPhone.

Unfortunately, more design effort has gone towards making a tablet like a notebook computer than has gone to doing the same for a large phone. The problem with phones used like this is that while the clamshell keyboard case will stand a tablet up so we can type with an approximation of good sitting posture, no one has thought to do that with phones. And a clamshell for a phone will be even smaller.

People do try to fill these market needs and helpfully blast the adds into my Facebook feed. I recently bought a keyboard (see second picture) that should work with my phone or a small tablet. The keyboard feel is okay for being about the same size. They got me selling the fold up keyboard that goes even lighter in my bag and has a shelf on which to place the phone. Oooh! Light and not too bad trying to type!

Too bad the Bluetooth connection proved cheap returning me to the old tricks first learned on the iPad Mini. Tapping the button that leads to the secondary features like Word Count got me a blue screen where the tap keyboard usually goes, jammed. I cleared this several times by turning off the Bluetooth connection and resetting the phone. Doing these things several times within a few minutes because you’re just stupid enough to repeat what didn’t work the first time, just to be sure, is angry making.

What is the current result of my experimentation? I went back to the Apple Wireless Keyboard that I hadn’t thrown away when I pulled out the batteries. I made the connection that requires a typed code which many barely functional Bluetooth objects don’t. I needed something to prop up the phone improvising putting my phone up against two lights I already have in my bag (see top photo). The keyboard is as light as it’s ever going to get knowing my typing requirements. More importantly, the Bluetooth functions first time every time.

And this is my process of trial, error and stupidity in stepping away from something that worked but wasn’t small enough and then ended up either not working or being too small. And I realize that none of this has more than a 15-percent bearing on your search for your writing tools. I hope you recognize Good For Now sooner than I did.

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