Hands on with the Atek OnBoard Travel Keyboard

Ok, so not everyone on your holiday shopping list warrants spending a fair amount of cash on something like the Epson Artisan 700 we showed you earlier this month. It’s never easy to figure out what to get for that friend, distant relative or coworker via secret santa that is cool, useful and isn’t going to cost an arm and a leg. Here at BGR we feel for you and seeing as time is running out, quickly, we thought we’d give you a cool idea that definitely won’t be duped at your office’s white elephant no matter how many people participate: The OnBoard Travel Keyboard by Atek.

In this day and age, the trend with just about everything in the world of gadgets is smaller. Mobile phones are shrinking, televisions are getting thinner, digital cameras are getting tinier and so on, and the same can be said for travel keyboards. Foldable, rollable, stuffable – pretty soon there will be a keyboard that will fold up to fit in your laptop’s PCMCIA slot. This is all fine and good but there’s a major problem with this trend; as travel keyboards get smaller and more flimsy, they also get less usable. Enter the OnBoard Travel Keyboard by Atek. As is the case in many industries, sometimes the best option completely discounts trends and fashion in favor of build and usability. It might not be razor-thin or have sexy aluminum accents, but it also definitely isn’t going to flap around under your fingers while you frantically bang out that last revision in your hotel room at 3am.

Atek’s design is great. Picture a standard desktop keyboard, flatten it out and remove everything other than the keys themselves and area immediately surrounding them. Then add sliding cover and you’ve got the OnBoard. It has a 99-key layout which retains the 1-9 keypad and omits only the Print Screen, Scroll Lock, Pause/Break, right side Ctrl and Windows keys from the standard 104-key layout. In case you missed that, along with the image at the top of this post, the OnBoard has a full numerical keypad! In other words, all you Excel-hounds can ditch the annoying little USB keypad you’ve been carrying around and use a real one.

As you can see, this is not a wireless keyboard. There are definitely pros and cons when it comes to wired keyboards but for the most part, we see this as a big pro for two main reasons: First off, there are no batteries required which means you don’t have to pack extras or freak out when your keyboard runs out of juice after all the local stores have closed. Also, the keyboard is much lighter as a result. The second major reason is the lack of extra tiny pieces. Unless your wireless keyboard makes use of Bluetooth and your laptop has integrated Bluetooth, wireless means there is an extra dongle involved that we inevitably lose or snap off.

In terms of size, while it might not fit in some man-purse like carry on, it will absolutely fit in any standard computer bag. It measures 14 3/4-inches long so it might even be longer than your laptop but trust us when we tell you, this translates to an infinitely more usable experience. Nothing is cramped, key-size is not compromised and like we said before, it has a full number pad! Here are a few shots of the OnBoard in our laptop bag with a MacBook:

On to operation and feel, Atek likes to compare the OnBoard to a laptop keyboard but we won’t even bother because there really isn’t any comparison. We, like most people, hate laptop keyboards. The positioning requires an unnatural reach, the keys never have enough resistance and the hand travel from the keyboard to an external mouse is way too far. Laptop keyboards are fine if you’re on the move and have no other choice, but once stationary we always prefer an alternative. The OnBoard has the look and feel of a desktop keyboard. The keys are tall and have a good amount of travel, though the actual amount of travel required to register a key press is minimal – a very good thing. We can honestly say that this is the only travel keyboard we’ve tried that hasn’t slowed our WPM at all; try saying that about a flimsy rollable keyboard.

Our only qualm in terms of operation is that the key resistance is a bit high. We wouldn’t say that the keys are hard to press but they do require an above-average actuation force. After a bit of use however, this complaint is essentially negated by the fact that the keys require such little travel to register a press. You can fly across them with ease and even the most minimal depression will be recognized. As such, it might be good that the actuation force needed is high because it prevents miss-strokes — it just takes a day or two to get used to.

In the end, Atek’s OnBoard is without a doubt the sturdiest and most usable travel keyboard we’ve ever come across. To make that claim about a keyboard that costs – get ready for this – a whopping $29.95, was staggering even to us. You know your pals at BGR are always looking for the sexiest new gadgets out there but sometimes you just have to slow down and admit that a comparatively bulky $30 accessory might simply make more sleek and compact competitive products seem bush league. We’re not saying the OnBoard is ugly by the way, we’re just saying it’s plain and simple compared to the general direction many accessories are moving in today. But then you have to ask yourself: Do you want a keyboard that looks sleek while you sit alone in your hotel room typing away, or do you want one that works as well as possible?

In the end, Atek’s OnBoard makes a great gift for anyone who travels for business. A keyboard that rolls up and flops around might be fine for some light surfing but if your giftees have some real work to get done, you’ll want to give them the right tool for the job – especially when it’ll only cost you $30 to snag it.

Click on over to our Atek OnBoard gallery!

Atek OnBoard Travel Keyboard product page

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