How to use an external keyboard with your Acer Google Nexus 7 tablet

The Google Nexus 7 is a great mid-sized tablet. It isn’t over heavy and performance is snappy. The screen is large enough for the Nexus 7 to be used for taking notes, say in a lecture or meeting. You can use the on-screen keyboard but it isn’t ideal. The lack of a hardware keyboard turns out not to be a big problem as there are two or three options for use of external keyboards. Saying that, we haven’t yet found one that provides UK keyboard support.

Android’s origin as a mobile phone operating system are very obvious in this application because the first thing you realise is that you are going to have to learn to read sideways. Although individual apps rotate with the device, the home screens are portrait mode only, making inital operation a bit of a pain.

Although the Nexus 7 lacks a wordprocessing application as standard, it is possible to write text in the body of an email or using Google Docs. The latter is really quite clunky but may suit some. Alternatively there are many note-taking Android apps, such as Evernote.

Connecting an external keyboard to the Nexus can be done in two ways – via the micro-USB socket or Bluetooth. We haven’t tried Bluetooth as it requires a battery-powered keyboard. The need to keep both the Nexus and keyboard batteries topped up means the risk of a flat battery causing problems is doubled. It is hard enough making sure our phones and tablets are charged, neven mind an occasionally-used keyboard, so we investigated USB.

There are two options for connecting a USB keyboard to the Nexus 7. Buy a protective case with a built-in keyboard or use PC existing keyboard via an micro-USB adapter.

The price of a case with a built-in keyboard is remarkably low. We tried the “IVSO® Slim Faux Leather Keyboard Case”, ordered via Amazon, which costs £9.99. Not a bad price for a case, let alone one with a keyboard. The same case seems to be available under a number of different brands.

So, what did we think? In short, it works, although there are a couple of niggles. The micro-USB plug is on a thin ribbon cable and sticks out beyond the case when plugged in, putting it at risk of damage. It would have been much better if it had a right-angle connector and/or a little more space to the side of the case so it could be left plugged in. As mentioned earlier the keyboard is a US keyboard, although the Nexus doesn’t seem to be able to support UK external keyboards anyway. Hopefully something that will get fixed in a future update. The keyboard is about 7/8 the size of a normal PC keyboard, so not a bad size and the case has a non-adjustable fold-out leg that props the Nexus up when in use. The Nexus is held in place by two elastic straps and three flexible plastic brackets, which mean it will only fit one way round or the buttons will foul. The power button is under one of the elastic straps, which is a minor irritant.

The alternative  method of attaching an external USB keyboard means purchasing a micro-USB to USB ‘OTG’ (On The Go) adapter, costing £2 to £3 from Amazon. You can then plug a regular USB keyboard in. We tried a UK Dell USB keyboard from an old PC. It worked fine, although the Nexus thinks it has a US layout, so transposed ” and #. The £ went missing in action but that seems to be due to the Android external keyboard issue mentioned earlier. We managed to get a couple of German and French characters to appear, although nowehere enough of them to write in either language.

So, two different ways of using a USB keyboard with a Nexus 7. The right solution for you will of course depend on where and when you want to use a proper keyboard but neither cost very much at all, so perhaps the right option is to have both.