When the iPhone launched in 2007, there was a vocal contingent that derided the handset for its lack of a physical keyboard. Fast forward seven years, and although much of that talk has died down, some iPhone users still want real keys. Enter Typo Products’ Typo Keyboard Case for iPhone 5/5s ($99). Famously funded by Ryan Seacrest, the plastic slider case adds a BlackBerry-style Bluetooth 3.0 keyboard to the bottom of the iPhone. The chiclet-style keys are small, but may feel comfortable to those who’ve used similar devices before. In addition to a full QWERTY layout, there are secondary functions on almost all of the keys, and the iPhone’s covered Home button is remapped to a key at the bottom right corner. There’s also a key backlight built in, which can be toggled on or off. A micro-USB cable is included for charging Typo’s 180 mAh battery, but no specific claims are made as to its longevity between recharges.
iPhone keyboard cases aren’t a total novelty. The earliest models came out at the end of 2010 — ThinkGeek’s TK-421 Mobile Keyboard Case doesn’t look anything like Typo, but offered similar functionality. After that, there were sliders, including NUU’s MiniKey, among others. None were set up in portrait orientation, though, and none left the keys permanently exposed.
Compared to all the cases that’ve come before it, Typo is certainly the slimmest, with the fewest moving parts.
The hard, matte plastic case slides on from the top and bottom; the top cap leaves the buttons and side switch exposed, while the bottom piece contains the keyboard, and covers the Home button. It adds a little less than an inch to the overall height of the iPhone, while leaving an opening that provides access to the speaker, microphone, Lightning, and headphone ports. Apple’s official connectors are most suitable for the rather tight spaces. You’ll find the micro-USB port at the bottom of the case’s left edge.
The keyboard itself runs the width of the iPhone, and is just a little over an inch tall, from the upper border of the top row down to the bottom of the space bar. Pending lawsuit aside, it’s evident the keyboard was at least inspired by certain BlackBerry handsets, such as the Bold 9000. Each of the keys has an inward-facing, raised swoop, and the F and J keys have small bumps to help you find them without looking. Other keys include backlight control, Bluetooth pairing, on-screen keyboard, and Home. While the last of those mostly replaces the otherwise covered button on the face of the iPhone, Touch ID functionality is completely blocked on the 5s.
After a easy pairing process — hold down the Bluetooth button with the appropriate Settings menu open, and tap on the “Typo Keyboard” listing that appears — Typo is ready to go. To conserve battery, it’ll automatically shut off after a few minutes of not typing, but pressing any of the keys will wake it back up in a matter of seconds. From there, the physical keys can be used systemwide, although the design isn’t conducive to landscape-oriented apps.
Having never been BlackBerry users, we can’t make a direct comparison to that typing experience.
However, after a few hours of using Typo, we found ourselves rather comfortable with the physical keys. After getting used to the size and setup, our typing became pretty efficient. While it was a little slower than with the virtual keyboard, we must acknowledge that we’ve been using that system for almost seven years, and this one for about seven days. Typo did some smart things with the software to improve the experience. For example, holding down any letter key will insert the capitalized version of that letter, eliminating the need to press shift first. Double-clicking the space bar inserts a period at the end of a sentence, and apostrophes are automatically added to contractions. While the full auto-correct system isn’t enabled, these features are still more than we’re used to when it comes to physical keyboards paired with iOS.
Despite the positive aspects, there are a few downsides to using Typo. We’re OK with the feel of the keys, but the click-click-click that goes along with typing can be annoying. Having to rely on modifier keys to access numbers, punctuation, and the like isn’t terrible, but it’s not as great of a solution as having alternate software keyboards. There’s the obvious Home button-blocking issue, but the way the remapped key functions is somewhat odd. When pressed, it takes you directly to the Home screen, rather than the Lock screen.