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Hands-On with the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard

Posted October 6, 2021 | Hardware | Microsoft Surface | Mobile | Surface Pro 8 | Surface Pro Signature Keyboard | Windows

In many ways, the new Signature Keyboard for Surface Pro 8 isn’t a major update when compared to Type Covers past. But it’s also the best version yet, thanks to its integrated Surface Slim Pen 2 storage and charging tray.

But then, I’ve always liked Microsoft’s Type Covers. If you think back to the original Surface Pro in 2012, it’s perhaps sobering to know that Microsoft originally thought that the Touch Cover would be the more successful peripheral because it provided a touch screen-like typing experience without hiding any of the display. But because Surface Pro was—and is—really just a PC at heart, the more traditional Type Cover, with its hardware keyboard and integrated touchpad, always made more sense to customers.

Helping matters, Type Cover has always worked well, too. Despite what many might assume would be a bouncy and flimsy experience, Type Cover delivers on a laptop-like typing and pointing experience, one that exceeds laptops in some ways because it supports two typing angles: magnets in the base of Surface Pro have always helped to enable this functionality, and it’s one of those features we’ve seen other hardware makers copy for their own products.

With Surface Pro 8, things are finally changing improving after several years of iteration. And it starts with the name: The Type Cover name is gone, replaced with the more generic Signature Keyboard naming convention. (With previous Surface Pro models, Microsoft offered Type Covers and Signature Type Covers, the latter of which typically came with an Alcantara top. Now, we only have Signature Keyboards.)

There are three versions: The Surface Pro Signature Keyboard, which retails for $180; the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen 2, a bundle that costs $280; and the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard with Fingerprint Reader, which costs $200 and adds a Windows Hello-compatible fingerprint reader to the right wrist rest. Each is coated with Alcantara, which makes sense since this is the “signature” material associated with Surface, though there don’t seem to be all that many colors choices right now. And each includes a built-in storage and charging tray for Surface Slim Pen 2.

The pen tray is a great addition, and it’s hidden when you use the Signature Keyboard in its raised, magnet-attached orientation, creating a cleaner, classic look.

And thanks to the use of magnets in both the tray and the pen itself, you can’t place Slim Pen 2 incorrectly; it will simply flip around and attach correctly if you try to do otherwise.

But the bigger news is that Microsoft has finally changed the Surface keyboard connector in a mainstream product for the first time since Surface Pro 3. (Insiders will know that this design really originated with the Windows on ARM-based Surface Pro X in 2019.) That means that Surface Pro 8 cannot use Type Covers designed for Surface Pro 3-7 (and vice versa). But Surface Pro 8 and Pro X Type Covers are interchangeable. I assume this change was made in part to facilitate pen charging in the Signature Keyboard.

From a usage perspective, Signature Keyboard appears to work identically to its Signature Type Cover predecessors, with a similar typing feel, which I like quite a bit, and only a bit of bounce when used by heavy hands like mine. The keyboard is backlit and full-sized, of course, and offers the classic Surface look and feel, with the same layout Surface fans have come to expect, with the PrtScn, Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn buttons in the top function row.

The touchpad is on the small side compared to most modern PCs, but I happen to prefer that, given how error-prone Windows touchpad gestures can be. And it works well, with a satisfying click. As it always has.

And to wrap things up, yes, the new Signature Keyboard attaches and detaches to Surface Pro 8/X in the same manner as before. And, again, magnets are used to ensure a properly aligned connection every time. This is a proven design, and it, too, works well.

As I noted in my Surface Pro 8 first impressions post, this is the first Surface Pro to truly elevate to Microsoft’s “tablet that can replace your laptop” tagline. And the Signature Keyboard plays a major role in making that happen. It’s just been waiting for the ideal Surface Pro to show up. And now it has.

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