I took the Filco MiniLa Air Bluetooth keyboard with me on vacation this year to use with a MacBook Air propped up on the fantastic Roost stand. I use the tenkeyless Filco Majestouch at home, and I was hoping for the same super-accurate, clicky-key action in this battery-powered, portable wireless version.
And I almost got it. But for one major flaw, the MiniLa is almost as good as the desktop version. The good news is, that flaw might just be a personal quibble.
The Filco MiniLa Air Bluetooth is a full-size keyboard in a pint-size package. Most keys are the same as you’d find on a regular-size clicky keyboard, but space has been saved by shrinking the shift keys, moving the arrow keys into the main cluster and combining the top two rows, putting the function keys into the number key row, accessible by using the two special function keys on either side of the shrunken spacebar.
The keyboard isn’t light (it’s 680 grams) but it is built like a brick shithouse, easily able to stand up to the rigors of travel. Speaking of travel, you’ll want to keep the sturdy plastic cover that protects the keys in the shipping box, because it’s the only way to cover the keys when you dump the MiniLa in your bag. I combined it with a rubber band to keep it in place. It’s low-tech, but almost size-less and it works perfectly well.
Another note, before we get to the typing experience, is that the MiniLa has six DIP switches on the back, which can be used to make changes to the keyboard’s hardware output. You can switch those function keys to work as extensions to the spacebar, or you can switch off the Windows/App keys. Depending on the layout (U.S., Japanese or ISO), you can also do things like switch the delete and ~ keys. What you can’t do is flip the Alt and Win keys to become Option and Command keys, making the MiniLa useless for iPad users who are coming from the Mac. These keys are marked on the front with Mac-friendly legends, and you can easily flip their functions in the OS X keyboard prefs, but if you want to use the MiniLa with an iOS device these keys will be in the wrong place for you.
I’ll sum up the typing experience first. I’m typing the review for the Filco MiniLa Air Bluetooth on my regular, full-size Filco. When The Lady saw this, she said “Uh-oh.”
The problem is the shift keys. Both of them are tiny, the same size as all the other keys. I’m not the world’s most accurate typist (just ask Lewis, who edits my posts), but even so, I found I kept making mistakes, on almost every word. Worse, like the iPad Brydge keyboard, I kept hitting the up arrow as well as the right shift key, which would highlight the previous line and then obliterate it as soon as I typed the next word. Even after a week of solid use, this didn’t get any better. And you know what makes me really angry? The fricking caps lock key is full-size, and sitting right above the left shift and tilde (~) keys. Why not swap them?
Surprisingly, the thing that didn’t cause a problem was the little spacebar. I didn’t find the two function keys all that useful, although that might be because I’m pretty vanilla when it comes to typing – I’m a words and numbers guy, with lots of keyboard shortcuts, but not really any function key use. When I did need the function keys (for adjusting volume or brightness, for example), I had no problem getting used to it.
In summary, the MiniLa Air feels cramped. Even though the actual typing part of the keyboard is the exact same size as my regular Filco, and the keys use the same Cherry MX Blue key-switches, the fact that all the other keys are smaller and squished together makes the whole thing feel too tight.
Which is a shame, as in most respects the Filco is a fantastic keyboard. The switches and build quality are top-notch, the key action and sound are beautiful (the sound is actually slightly quieter and denser than the full-size model) and the Bluetooth connection is strong and intelligent (it sleeps and wakes at just the right times). It’s just a shame I can’t type on it, as it’s not only a great keyboard for travel, but also looks great under an iMac on the desktop.
But like I said, maybe this is just a personal foible. If you’ve typed on keyboards with mini shift keys before, or if you are a very accurate typist and don’t have to worry about hitting the arrow keys instead (or in tandem with) the shift key, then you should probably give this keyboard a try.
There’s one more thing to consider. The Filco MiniLa Air Bluetooth goes for £100, which is only a few pounds more than the Logitech K811. Viewed like this and in comparison to loads of overpriced iPad keyboards, the MiniLa Air is a steal. If you don’t mind those vestigial keys, that is.
|MiniLa Air Bluetooth keyboard by Filco ($100 list)|
The good: Amazing build. Bargain price
The bad: Tiny shift keys make it hard to use.
The verdict: It all depends on those keys. I can’t use it, but maybe you can.
Buy from Filco