One of the big decisions people have to make when considering a Microsoft Surface tablet involves the keyboards: Which one should you get?

The options are the TouchCover pressure-sensitive keyboard ($119 on its own or included with a $599 32GB or $699 64GB Surface) or a TypeCover keyboard with moving keys ($129).

Microsoft Surface TypeCover keyboard up close.

Here’s my first piece of advice: Consider saving yourself some money and getting neither.

Yes, the TypeCover and the TouchCover are cool, and the foolproof way they snap magnetically into the bottom of the device is a very neat trick. But I’ve been surprised at how little we’ve been using the TouchCover around the house.

This speaks to the fact that my family is using our Surface primarily as a content consumption and light communications device. For that, the touch screen interface and on-screen keyboard are more than adequate for the job.

But what if you’re determined to use the Surface for heavier content input? After testing out both keyboards myself and talking with a bunch of people who have been using them, my best piece of advice is that you really need to spend some time with them in the store, or better yet with a friend’s Surface, before making your decision.

Microsoft’s Surface TouchCover keyboard.

In lieu of that, here are some tips: If you’re an ace typist, the type of person who has mastered touch typing with a high degree of accuracy, the TouchCover may well be your ideal solution.

The pressure-sensitive keyboard is tuned to ignore incidental touches, and requires moderately strong and accurate keystrokes. It seems to work best for people who type precisely and can land their fingers consistently in the center of the keys.

Exhibit A: Television reporter Glenn Farley from KING 5 News in Seattle. I spent time with Glenn helping out with his Windows 8 reports a couple weeks ago. At one point he started testing out the TouchCover, and my jaw dropped. I hope he doesn’t mind me revealing this, but he’s an incredibly fast and accurate typist, and the TouchCover is perfect for him.

This does not describe me. I’m a moderately fast typist, but I’ve mixed the lessons from my high-school typing class with my own, um, unique style. My typing habits are a little lazy, and I frequently hit keys just a bit off-center or at an angle.

Often when I’m typing on the TouchCover, it will miss letters that a normal keyboard would register. The more I use the TouchCover, the better I get, but it’s still a far cry from my accuracy on a standard notebook or desktop keyboard.

I have also spent a little time testing out a TypeCover. For me, this keyboard has the opposite issue — sometimes registering the key that I press plus one of the adjacent keys, because they are packed so tightly together, with barely a gap in between them. But again, you get better at using this keyboard the more you use it.

Bottom line: Consider going without, but if you must, do your best to try them both out first.

Previously on GeekWire


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  • guest

    I have used them both, extensively. Touch cover is largely useless (which is why they weren’t letting folks use it prior to launch.) Type cover is essentially a thin, low throw keyboard with built in touchpad. Expensive, and begging the question of why you didn’t just buy a touch-enabled ultra book. That would also allow you to run existing windows SW. In it’s current manifestation, Surface RT doesn’t have a future. Let’s see how people react to the Surface “Intel”.

    • SilverSee

      “Touch cover is largely useless (which is why they weren’t letting folks use it prior to launch.)”

      For you.

      From Todd’s post: “At one point he [television reporter Glenn Farley from KING 5 News in Seattle] started testing out the TouchCover, and my jaw dropped.”

      Most reviewers have praised the TouchCover, though many said it does take some acclimation. My own experience with two members of my immediate family is that they use and like the TouchCover.

      You are entitled to your opinion, just don’t presume you speak for everyone.

      • uxo22


    • VHMP01

      “why you didn’t just buy a touch-enabled ultra book”… You have not been reading all articles, have you? Todd’s wife uses their Surface before sleeping, a touch-enebled ultrabook is unconfortable this way, but with the Surface you can have both, a great Tablet and a working ultrabook, why don’t people get it?

  • Alberto Duarte Moreira

    You can still connect another keyboard in the usb port! it also works ok!

    • SilverSee

      Or via Bluetooth.

  • GeekWire Fan

    It’s interesting how so many people, including Todd and also Mary Jo, are using the Surface RT to replace their notebook PC but are doing so using a keyboard and sometimes also with a mouse. Sounds like turning the Surface RT into an ultrabook PC notebook rather than using it as a ‘tablet’. It would seem that if you’re using a tablet with a keyboard so often, you really don’t need a tablet, but instead maybe an ultrabook PC running Windows 8 with a touchscreen. It’s like buying a convertible sportscar and talking about how the most important thing you will get for it is a top to keep it covered. It seems that many Surface Pro users will wish they had a Surface Pro early next year, especially since there really are no ‘metro’ stye apps that is better than it’s Win32 desktop counterpart. Maybe using a Surface with a keyboard is just not using it as a tablet, it’s using it as a notebook computer that has a touchscreen. Either Surface RT is not a great tablet, or many people are using the wrong device for their needs. Most people who used a Tablet PC ended up using the keyboard rather than flipping the display around to use with a stylus.

    • Todd Bishop

      Hmm, just to clarify, I’m actually not using the Surface RT to replace my notebook. I’ve tried some that, just to test the limits of the Surface RT, but for the most part I’m using it as a tablet, and I think that’s the right way to think about this device, for the most part. The keyboard is more of a novelty to me, which is why I recommend not getting the keyboard if you can avoid it.

      One problem for Microsoft is that the stock pictures of the Surface RT, with keyboard, make it *look* more like a notebook. Of course, people who buy it thinking that it will be a notebook replacement will be sorely disappointed.

      • guest

        “Of course, people who buy it thinking that it will be a notebook replacement will be sorely disappointed”

        A lot of [home] notebook and PC users I know, most in fact, use very little of the available feature set. They mostly surf the web, listen to music, look at photos, do the occasional Office doc or spreadsheet, and occasionally print something. Several can and have gotten by with an iPad lately. So for that segment, at least, RT might not be disappointing at all.

      • VHMP01

        The TouchCover doubles as protection, a lot of people use that on an iPad, what is so hard to understand? That protector can be flipped all the way around so it’s no on the Tablet usage’s way at all. Add that on a plane, a restaurant table, etc. you could simply use a practical keyboard, it’s amazing idea. So, if you need heavier typing, dock the Keyboard, mouse and external monitor. Pretty simple and great setup! On top, I get a Tablet with ‘All’ my personal settings! Can’t get any better than that.

    • SilverSee

      FYI, the Surface also has micro-HDMI out and is capable of driving a full size 1920 x 1080 desktop display in all the same modes that Windows 8 supports (extended, duplicated, primary, etc.). No reason this machine can’t be docked in a desktop computing configuration. Bluetooth keyboard and mice are a bit more convenient as they eliminate the USB connection, but either works.

    • Christopher Budd

      I had a Tablet PC back in the day. I never used the stylus then because the support for it was pretty poor (not even Office really supported that), the recognition wasn’t good when the support was there. And for me, I type much faster and more accurately than I can handwrite.

      In the end, both Microsoft and Apple have learned that handwriting as an electronic input mechanism is just a non-starter. That’s what made the iPod touch and then the iPad such a leap forward: they found a way to get rid of the keyboard and not go the handwriting route.

  • Christopher Budd

    Keyboards are interesting things from a use perspective. I remember working onsite at a client in the mid 90’s and the keyboards from their old Wang system that had been gone for years were highly coveted treasures (they had better international character support than the PC keyboards did).

    I’m a very fast, reasonably accurate typist (touch typing, self-taught) but I wouldn’t use the TouchCover keyboard as I can’t stand keys with no mechanical give and feedback (those remind me of the “keyboard” on the old Atari 400 computer

    This is actually very helpful as if I were to get a surface, I think I would not bother with a keyboard and instead try to get my Microsoft wireless 5000 to work with it (which is a pretty nice keyboard: I use it with my Macbook).

  • Surface Owner

    Or consider owning both like I do

  • Eric Snyder

    In other words, if you don’t know how to type correctly, a physical keyboard does you no more good than the on-screen keyboard.

  • Jim Haughwout

    I got a chance to play with the Surface for an hour at the Microsoft store in Boston (I have been using touch screens since Windows CE and Palm). I, too, found the virtual keyboard best.

    The touch cover feels like a combination of worst aspects of a physical and virtual keyboard and requires a learning curve to use (then again to switch back to a real keyboard). The pressure-sensitive keyboard had too much resistance and not enough movement. It felt “mushy” in comparison to a LogiTech keyboard. However, the surfaces virtual keyboard was very nice (nicer than an iPad).

    My only complaint on the virtual keyboard was the screen aspect ratio. The Surface is marketed as a “productivity” tablet but has a 16:9 “entertainment” aspect ratio. This means the virtual keyboards takes up 40+% of the screen in landscape mode (and is too tiny in portrait mode). I wish the Surface had a 4:3. It would make the virtual keyboard (what tablets are intended for) more useful.

  • Robyn’s Online World

    I really find the keyboard, either of them, to be a required accessory for the Surface. I do use it quite a bit without a keyboard, but if you are doing any kind of work on the go that requires a lot of typing, the keyboard saves a lot of time. As far as which to get, as others have pointed out it truly depends on what kind of typist you are as to which will work best for you. Disclosure: I am part of the Microsoft #Surface ambassador team, but opinions are my own.

  • Douglas Kirschman

    I think this is spot on. I bought mine with the type cover, and I do love it. I can type on it almost as fast as I can on a PC.

    I do agree with him though. I don’t use the keyboard a whole lot. If I REALLY needed a keyboard, I could get a USB one for seriously like $15.

  • VanessaElizebeth

    Thank you for providing such useful info.I would like to peer an extra post like this.

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