My United Airlines flight was somewhere over the middle of the United States when the flight attendant confronted me.
“Sir, you must turn off that keyboard,” she said. “Bluetooth isn’t allowed at any time.” I was traveling with an iPad and a Bluetooth-connected keyboard in lieu of my MacBook Air and was typing away furiously.
In response, I pointed out, nicely, that the flight was equipped with Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth is just another wireless technology.
“I’m not here to debate the issue!” she snapped. “Turn it off now.”
Confession: I already knew about the Bluetooth ban. Airlines routinely disallow Bluetooth use at all times during flights because the FCC says it might interfere with the airplane’s electronics. And yet, I see passengers all the time using Bluetooth keyboards with their iPads or listening to music on Bluetooth headsets. I was curious to see if I, too, might get away with it.
Since my Bluetooth “bust,” I’ve looked around for tablet keyboards that don’t use Bluetooth. Turns out the vast majority of tablet-compatible keyboards do, but I found a few alternatives worth considering.
Samsung Galaxy Tab Keyboards
Samsung currently offers three different Galaxy Tab Android tablets in the United States: a 7-inch model; a 7.7-inch tablet for Verizon Wireless; and a 10.1-inch device. I own the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, which is no longer listed for sale on Samsung’s site but is still available on Amazon and other sites.
The company also makes keyboard docks that connect to tablets via proprietary, 30-pin dock-connector ports. There are 7.0 keyboard docks, 7.7 keyboard docks, docks for the 8.9 Galaxy Tab and another dock for the 10.1 model. The 10.1 keyboard dock only fits that particular model, but the 8.9 dock can also accommodate the 7.0 and 7.7 Galaxy Tabs. Each keyboard is listed for $80 but can be purchased for less on Amazon, eBay and other sites.
The Galaxy Tab Keyboard Dock feels a bit heavier than standard Bluetooth keyboards. The keys are small and not ideal for long periods of typing. On the plus side, it has a speaker line out, you can recharge the tablet while it’s in the dock (as long as you have access to a power port, of course), and there are numerous dedicated keys for media playback, email, Internet and more.
Macally iKey30 Keyboard
Macally makes what appears to be the only non-Bluetooth keyboard currently available for iPads, iPhones and iPod touch devices. (Apple came out with a clunky keyboard dock when it released the first iPad, but subsequent models don’t fit too well in the dock and Apple no longer sells the product, at least not from its website.)
The iKey30 connects to your iPad via its proprietary dock connector. I haven’t used this particular keyboard, but CIO.com sibling publication Macworld rated it 3.5 mice (out of 5). Reviewer Dan Frakes wrote that the keyboard “offers an impressive array of full-size, standard-layout keys,” it’s “small and light enough for travel, and you can use it in places—such as on a plane—where you can’t normally use a wireless model.” And the price is reasonable; the keyboard is available for about $45 from B&H.
Now You Know
And so, frequent flyers and tablet app aficionados, if you find yourself facing an irritated flight attendant, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
James A. Martin is a seasoned tech journalist and blogger based in San Francisco and winner of the 2014 ASBPE National Gold award for his CIO.com blog. He writes CIO.com's Living the Tech Life blog and is also a content marketing consultant.