Bastron Keyboard Review and Hack

A while back I bought the Bastron mechanical Bluetooth keyboard from Massdrop (if you like my writing and sign up using this link, when you buy stuff I'll get cool stuff from Massdrop). Initially I wasn't very impressed with the keyboard, but I have since done one little hack that actually makes me feel totally fine about it (in fact, I'm writing this review on this keyboard).

First, the problems:

  • The slot that's supposed to hold your device works fine: but only if your device is not wearing a case. Put a protective case on and you won't be able to wedge your device in. That's not horrible if your case is easy to remove, or your device has a kickstand. Mine has a kickstand, so that works out fairly well. It's a bit slidy if you tip the keyboard to the left or right because you were holding it on your lap. I might try to come up with a holder that fits in the holder so I don't have to take my device out of it's case.

  • The holders in the slot are hard plastic, not any kind of rubberized. It's not a big deal, it still holds things fairly well - it just seems like it would be a bit more secure if it had a bit more friction.

  • The screw to hold the battery cover on has no little plastic retainer tab. That means when you unscrew it for the first time in your garage/office and the screw drops to the floor it will be several days that you have to use cellotape to keep the battery compartment closed until you find the screw by happenstance.

  • There is. No. Off. Thought you were going to take that keyboard with you anywhere? Well, if you like random bumps sending keypresses to whatever paired device you have on you. I mean sure, you can turn off your Bluetooth but then how are you going to listen to music on your fancy cordless headphones? Or you'll forget to turn Bluetooth back on. But even without those, the keypresses still turn the keyboard on so it will drain the battery trying to connect to your device. You could build a case that would prevent any of the keys from being pressed, but why doesn't it just have an off switch? Who wants to send an embarrassing message to their boss, just because their keyboard didn't have an off switch? For me, that meant my keyboard pretty much stayed on my desk or in a drawer. And when one of my kids found it and pressed a button then I'd have to go to my phone settings and tell it to show my on-screen keyboard anyway. Super annoying.

  • The bottom half of the case obviously came straight out of the mold. I'm pretty sure the edges are sharp enough to cut paper. Or your fingers. I'm pretty sure taking a knife or a bit of light-grit sandpaper to it will make all the difference in the world. But this keyboard could be dangerous. Maybe they're trying to be sharp, since it doesn't weigh the 5lbs of the Model M.

  • No media keys. It's got an Fn key, but the only special keys that activates are arrows on wasd. Not esdf for those of us who like our typing bump. Or hjkl, where they were originally on keyboards. Or even just arrow keys wedged in the bottom right hand side. But I digress. There are no media keys on any of the F keys or anywhere else, so you have to deal with not being able to go home, or back, or do any of the things that you get on most other Bluetooth keyboards. Heck, I had one that had no escape key, but it had media keys! Would it really have been such a big deal to add those keysyms to Fn+F1-12?

  • Backlight has one level of intensity: barely there. Unless you're typing in total darkness, you probably won't be able to tell the difference between on and off. Good for battery life, I guess (but why no power switch???). But it would be nice to have the option of at least one more level of brightness, you know?

  • Occasional dropped or duplicated keys. If you pause for a moment during your typing then it's possible that the next keypress won't register. It can't be due to distance, the phone is literally sitting on they keyboard less than an inch from the antenna. Even if my phone's Bluetooth antenna is on the other side it's only a couple of inches away. I'm pretty sure it's just because the keyboard goes into sort of a suspended state to try and save power (but no power switch?? Yeah, I find it that annoying).

Of course, the keyboard isn't all bad. For instance, it has a real, physical Esc key, so it beats the Macbook Pro there. It does have a mouse, though I still don't think I've ever given that a try. I finally put some batteries in it (and it has an off switch!). The keyboard does have a dedicated win/meta/cmd key so if you're using it as a common keyboard between your Windows, Linux, and Mac computers then it will actually be fine. It also comes with a wifi dongle - though a bit weird because it actually takes over one of the Bluetooth device slots so you can still only connect to three devices.

And the mechanical switches are delightfully clicky. If you like blue switches then you'll love the noise from typing on this keyboard. You might annoy your neighbors, but we're used to that. I've never typed on Cherry Blues (I do have some other blue budget switches, and some Cherry Browns), so I can't compare, but I suspect that you couldn't really tell in a proper study.

You noticed how I've continually harped on the lack of a power switch. Well, as I discovered to my surprise and delight, the best part about this keyboard as I finally discovered - that huge bulk at the back where the battery compartment lives? Turns out that otherwise it's completely empty. That means there is plenty of room to add a power switch.

picture of empty compartment (full size)

Just remember that the channel the device sits in is pretty much on the bottom. I thought my test fit revealed enough room but I was wrong, so I had to reposition it. But there is a ton of room on both sides of the battery compartment.

The switch I installed was one that I took out of a Fisher-Price John Deere Animal Sounds Hayride toy. I drilled a hole for the switch, cleaned it up a bit with a box cutter, and mounted the switch with some hot glue. I had used a screw before but it turned out hot glue sticks really well to whatever material this case is made out of (ABS?)

So now I have a power switch. I can turn my keyboard on and off which means I can actually stick it in a bag. Or decide when I want to disconnect it rather than having to wait 20m for it to timeout. And when my children smash the keys it doesn't send angry emails to my co-workers. Frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! That turned my #1 problem into a total non-issue. All it took was my soldering iron, a bit of solder, some extra wire, and I was done.

This keyboard cost $48 with shipping. Would I buy it again? If it was going to be my first and only keyboard - maybe. Bottom line:

If noise is a factor where you plan to use this keyboard (like a classroom, church, or boardroom), portability is a concern, and you don't want to modify your keyboard, this is not the keyboard for you.

But if you're comfortable cracking open a case and you want a keyboard with a built-in stand, a mouse, and nice loud, clicky keys then $50 isn't really that bad. This keyboard can connect to three devices and after at least adding a power switch it's fairly portable, and not too bad (if you can get used to typing quickly so you don't have too many missing keys).

If I had to do it over again, I probably would have just built a tray for a cheaper Bluetooth keyboard that has a real escape key and all the other media keys that I might be interested in. And a rechargeable battery. Though if I want to replace it with a 6v lithium battery, charging circuit, and maybe a set of Bluetooth speakers there's plenty of room for that.