BlueNext BN1000 Mini Bluetooth Keyboard and Android HowTo

The BlueNext BN1000 is a very small and very cheap (£6) Bluetooth keyboard. Unlike many other cheap mini Bluetooth keyboards, the BN1000 features an almost full implementation of all the AT standard keys, including CTRL, ALT, ESC, PageUp/Down, Tilde, Home, End and Tab. This makes it especially useful as a keyboard for Linux terminal sessions such as SSH. Combined with an Android smartphone running an SSH client, and you have a surprisingly effective emergency terminal. The keyboard is light enough that you could carry it around all the time, and cheap enough that you could keep one in your car, one in your bedside drawer and another stuffed in your hotel bag.

SSH sessions are especially useful in low bandwidth situations, such as in areas with only 2G not 3G coverage, or abroad where data charges may be extortionate. I find it easier to browse Facebook using the Elinks text-only browser over SSH, for example, than I do using the official Facebook app or mobile site over 2G, and the BN1000 is a lot easier to stuff in my backpack than lugging even an ultrabook to a Welsh mountain campsite, and a lot less expensive if my children sit on it. Sure, I could use the excellent Hacker's Keyboard app instead, but that takes up too much screen real estate (horrible Americanism) on my pocket-friendly sized smartphone.

The downsides are that the BN1000 is a bit of a pig to connect. There are also a tiny minority of keys which it either doesn't support or that I haven't worked out how to access yet, namely the Function keys (F-keys, F1..F12). Another downside is that the layout printed on the keys is US only; if, like me, your Android device is configured for en-GB UK locale, you'll either need to know how to switch in and out of US layout (which is thankfully very easy) or learn some key combos off by heart (I tried, it's clearly technically possible, but let's just say... it's really difficult). Heck, who needs the £ pound sterling symbol anyway? I might use it in a wordprocessor, but I can't recall the last time I needed it in an SSH session - the HTML £ entity, sure, but not the actual keypress. A final niggle is that the keys are rubbery. Those of you old enough to remember the Timex/Sinclair ZX Spectrum home computer will be perfectly at home with it. Those of you expecting the feather-light touch of cheap dome keyboards or the reassuring feedback of old Nokia T9s will be, er, disappointed. Be firm with your keypresses.

Before we begin configuration, a disclaimer: these instructions are for Android 4.2.2; your Android version may vary.

Pairing and connecting

The actual Bluetooth pairing, under Android, isn't really the trouble. It's pretty painless to get the thing to pair. The tricky bit is getting the BN1000 to be recognised as an input device.

Once paired, the BN1000 can be rather temperamental to be recognised as an input device. The method that always works for me is:

If that doesn't work, consider the possibility that the battery needs charging.

Switching Android international keyboard layouts

Skip this section if your Android device is already configured for US English.

Shopping around, it seems that the BN1000 only comes with US layout etched onto the keys. You can use it as a UK keyboard, but only if you can guess and memorise the various British key combos. I decided to configure Android for US keyboard layout for external keyboards. It is easy to switch back and forth between UK and US layouts on the fly, and it doesn't affect the default on-screen keyboard.

We need to install a foreign keyboard layout:

Now, whenever you hold down the FN key and press the Spacebar on the BN1000 keyboard, it will toggle between US and UK keyboard layout. You can switch back and forth as many times as you wish. It shouldn't affect the default on-screen touch keyboard.

Android SSH apps

ConnectBot used to be the de facto SSH client for Android, but unfortunately it is not longer actively developed. It does not fully support Bluetooth keyboards; notably the Ctrl key is not recognised. There is an actively developed branch, VX ConnectBot.

My favourte Android SSH client is JuiceSSH. This fully supports the BN1000 Bluetooth keyboard including Ctrl, Alt and all available keys. Logins (either passwords or private keys) can be stored, encrypted, on your Android device for easy access. Terminal and font size is easily adjusted using the volume control, either the device's own volume buttons or the Fn+9, Fn+0 keys on the Bluetooth keyboard. The on-screen keyboard and auxillary soft keyboard can be moved out of the way for more screen space, although it's a shame you can't get the status bar to fold off the top of the screen.

Public Domain - Andrew Oakley - 2014-12-11

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