When I was young, I played the piano. I was ok at it, did plenty of recitals and learned enough over 5 years to be able to still do some sight-reading even now. My middle daughter, who is 10 now, is quickly surpassing my skills, although for a while, I was able to sight-read some of her pieces so that I could help her. But she is much better than I am now.
My daughter is sort of a fly-by piano player. Our upright piano is right in the most highly trafficked area of our house. When she walks by it, she will stop to quickly knock out a quick piece. I consider her practicing to be more of “grazing” whereas when I practiced the piano, it was every day for about an hour a day. She is not able to practice as much as I would like, simply because she has an extremely busy schedule with 3 nights of 3-hour gymnastics practices and plenty of homework. And whenever we go on a road trip anywhere, she misses out on precious piano practicing time.
The other thing that she really enjoys is playing on her iPhone. A few months ago, I introduced her to GarageBand on the iPhone and she spent hours crafting pieces using the tiny little built-in keyboard and the built in effects and instruments.
Wouldn’t it be nice for her to have a keyboard that could not only allow her to practice when she is on the go, but also would hook into an iPhone or a computer? I often thought about that ideal solution. Then I was introduced to Mobile Keys by Line6. It was the solution that we were looking for. For starters, the Mobile Keys can connect to iOS devices, as well as Macs or PCs. Do note, it is not a stand-alone keyboard, meaning that it does not have a speaker built into it.
Another cool thing about it is, it doesn’t require batteries or a power cord. It is completely powered by the device attached to it, either via USB for the Mac/PC connection or via an iOS connector when you want to use an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch to use it. That is extremely convenient.
Before I go into the details, I wanted to interview my daughter about what she thinks about Mobile Keys, and let her do a quick demonstration of how it works.
When you first connect the Mobile Keys to your iOS device, you may need to download a helper application in order for the keyboard to be recognized within iOS (as well as to automatically apply any firmware updates for the keypad). Once you get your device configured, just use it the way you would a normal keyboard.
The Mobile Keys keyboard comes in two sizes: a 25-key and a 49-key. The one that my daughter and I tested out was the 49-key version. Remember that a full sized piano has 88-keys (36 black and 52 white). Below is the 49-key version:
And this is the 25-key one:
There are some “professional” and other important features built right into the Mobile Keys keyboard including:
- Velocity sensitive keys – the keys seem to respond to how hard and fast you hit them, much the way a piano or professional keyboard would.
- Work with CoreMIDI music apps – the Mobile Keys works perfectly with GarageBand, Reason, Logic and other digital audio workstations.
- No adapters necessary – and that includes drivers. It’s really nice to be able to simply plug-and-play.
- No power needed – the Mobile Keys uses the power of your device (so be sure that you have fully charged up your connected device).
- Full-sized keys – the nice thing is, when you use the keyboard, you don’t have to modify your finger settings because the keys are smaller or more tightly spaced. When you practice, you are using a real-world keyboard.
- Pitch & Mod wheels – you can control the pitch or modulation using the built-in spring-loaded wheels.
- Sustain & Expression pedals – if you have compatible external pedals, you can connect them to the Mobile Keys keyboard to add effects to your playing, much the same way you would with a regular piano.
- Volume and Pan buttons – if you want to jump up or down an octave, you simply can press a button to do so. Similarly, you can increase or decrease the volume.
The rear of the keyboard has inputs for mobile devices, USB and the 2 pedal types.
The most critical thing to the design of Line6’s Mobile Keys is that they wanted the design and feel to emulate the natural playing experience. I found the keys to be very responsive which is important when doing trills for example. Many keyboards on the market simply cannot handle very fast actions either because they are not sensitive enough or the physical keys themselves do not spring back quickly enough. I did not find that to be the case with Mobile Keys. And if you want to adjust the sensitivity of the keys, you can do so by changing the selectable velocity curves to your liking.
Both my daughter and I found the Mobile Keys to be quite easy to setup and use. A couple of times, however, the keys did not respond and seemed to loose their connection with our iPad or iPhone. However, simply disconnecting the keyboard and force-quitting the application we were using (e.g., GarageBand) and then reconnecting after restarting GarageBand brought the keyboard back into action. Once you have it configured, you definitely have a lot of fun using it with the different keyboard instruments found in GarageBand. It really does bring out the creativity in you or your child. I would definitely recommend the larger keyboard (the 49-key version) simply because you can really play or practice 2-handed pieces much more easily.
The 25-key Mobile Key retails for $149.99 (on Amazon, it is currently $149.00) and the 49-key version goes for $199.99 (and $199.00 on Amazon currently). As I said, I think the extra keys is worth the $50 price difference.
Overall, if you are thinking about getting a keyboard for you or your child to practice with or become creative, I believe that the Mobile Keys by Line6 is a pretty reasonable gadget to get. While you do need a companion device in order to use it (like a Mac/PC/iOS device), the fact that it doesn’t need power really is nice. And it feels so close to the real thing, you might be able to really have a piano on the go when you need it.
Disclosure Text : I have a material connection because I received a gift or sample of a product for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period. All opinions within this article are my own. More information can be found in my About page as well as here.
HTD says: Get your piano to go with the Mobile Keys by Line6.