Review: Solid Line Products Slide & Type 2.0
It's been more than a year since we saw NUU's MiniKey, which has remained our highest rated iPhone keyboard case to date. There's been little competition in the field, and the models we've seen have, simply put, been bad. Solid Line Products' Slide & Type 2.0 for iPhone 4/4S ($75) is MiniKey's first real challenger. This Bluetooth keyboard accessory has a setup similar to NUU's product, but adds a handful of keys in a noticeably different layout and a neat stand feature too. We still don't find the concept as a whole necessary, but if for those looking for a hardware typing solution, this one should be in strong consideration.
Although the shape and coloring are a bit different, Slide & Type is like all of the keyboard add-ons released so far for iPhones. It pairs a hard plastic, pocket-sized Bluetooth wireless typing surface with a black plastic shell. As is the case with almost all shells, it offers a basic level or protection for the iPhone’s sides while leaving openings for the top and bottom edges as well as the side switch and volume rocker, and doesn’t form any sort of protective lip.
The keyboard is on rails, attached to the back of the shell. Unlike MiniKey, whose keyboard’s curves flow into those of the shell to make it look like one cohesive unit when closed, Slide & Type’s is a non-matching grey with a silver ring around it—at least on the black version—and has a shape that makes it appear as if it was simply slapped on to the back. It’s really not a terrible thing, but we do prefer the consistent look of NUU’s unit more. The keyboards extend out about the same distance, although Slide & Type is just a bit thicker. Solid Line rates the battery for 45 days of continuous use, and it recharges via the included Micro-USB cable in about four hours. One problem with the case itself is the deeply recessed rear camera. When the keyboard is retracted, the lens is partially blocked and the flash is affected as well. Sliding it open does eliminate these issues, but shouldn’t be necessary.
All of Slide & Type’s power and pairing controls are located along the bottom edge of the keyboard, directly underneath the iPhone’s Dock Connector port. From right to left, there’s a power switch with three positions—off, on, and on with backlight—a Micro-USB port, and the Bluetooth pairing button. Wirelessly connecting the keyboard to the iPhone is easy; thankfully the button doesn’t require a paperclip or pen, and can simply be depressed with a finger. Once it’s connected, pressing any key will wake the iPhone’s screen. The backlight works well enough, staying active for a second or two after every key press when that mode is turned on. It’s not terribly bright, but it gets the job done.
To really test the keyboard itself, this portion of the review was written using it. There’s a full, but shifted, QWERTY setup alongside a handful of modifier and specialized keys such as “www.” and “.com”, as well as a D-pad, which is a first. It can be used to move the cursor around, and the center button serves as a second enter button. In total, there are 50 keys compared to 42 on MiniKey; they’re slightly narrower, but a little taller, and have small gaps between them. We prefer the clickiness of NUU’s hard plastic keys to the slightly softer ones on Slide & Type; it’s a tradeoff that comes at the expense of a better layout. A pair of Fn keys are used to shift to numbers and symbols. It took some practice for us to remember that one must manually switch back and forth as they keyboard enters a “function lock” state after the button is pressed just once. The only iOS specific key is a Home button in the top left corner.
For those who are experienced iPhone typists, the process of relearning on a physical keyboard may be difficult. Not only is it a different tactile experience, but the shortcuts you may be used to are gone. The iPhone doesn’t automatically capitalize the first letter of sentences, insert a period after two clicks of the space bar, or autocorrect words, for example. This can certainly slow down many users who rely on these tricks. After some practice, we found our speed was picking up, but not quite as fast as tapping away at the glass. Between MiniKey and Slide & Type, we felt a bit more confident with the former, which allowed us to type at a quicker rate. As we said in our review of MiniKey, the major advantage with iPhone keyboard cases “isn’t in accuracy, but rather in freeing up the other half of the iPhone’s screen so that you can actually see the full paragraph that you’re typing rather than just a sentence or two.”
Slide & Type does have one unique feature that we haven’t seen from these kinds of case before. When the keyboard is extend, the case can be rotated upwards on a tight hinge, offering a nice viewing angle. It’s a nice engineering trick. although flipping it up does block the top row of keys; don’t expect to be able to type away as if it was a mini laptop.
While Slide & Type is certainly towards the top of its field, we can’t say it’s empirically the best. The layout is quite nice, and there are plenty of cool touches such as the D-pad, the backlight, and the stand. Ultimately, however, the value of any keyboard comes down to just how well it types. Here, clickiness is a big factor, and there just wasn’t enough to totally eliminate our hesitancy. For those that really think a physical keyboard is an important option, we’d say compare the features of this one and MiniKey, and decide which tradeoffs you’re willing to deal with. They both earn the same general recommendation.