typo_iphone_keyboard

Typo Products

Mobile


Ever since the iPhone debuted with its multi-touch interface, typing on glass has largely replaced the earlier method of typing on small plastic keyboards built into smartphones. The device most famous for its physical keyboard, the BlackBerry, has fallen out of favor, and the early Android models that included physical keyboards are much rarer today.

But some people who have switched to the iPhone from a BlackBerry still miss the tactile keys. They miss the rapid, fairly accurate, two-thumbs typing they mastered on their old phones. Some even go so far as to carry an aging BlackBerry along with their shiny new iPhones, primarily for email. Even those who type on glass all the time sometimes adjust by composing shorter emails, or by adding a signature line begging forgiveness in advance for typos and odd auto-corrections.

Now, a new company, Typo Products, is introducing a $99 iPhone case that comes with a built-in, backlit physical keyboard at the bottom edge. I’ve been testing the Typo keyboard, and can recommend it for physical keyboard die-hards. It has some trade-offs, and won’t likely appeal to most iPhone users who never became thumb-typing wizards. But those who miss physical keyboards will love this thing.

In fact, the company was launched by a Las Vegas taxi-advertising executive, with TV personality Ryan Seacrest, because both were strong fans of physical keyboards, and each was carrying two phones.

The Typo, which works only with the iPhone 5 or 5s, is a Bluetooth keyboard, and must be paired with the iPhone — one time only — before you first use it. I found this to be easy and quick.

It attaches physically easily, as well. It’s a two-piece case whose halves snap together in the middle. It has the usual holes to provide access to the phone’s buttons and for the camera. The company says the case provides some added protection for the phone, but isn’t primarily built for protection.

The keyboard itself is a four-row version, with sculpted keys that look and work much like a BlackBerry keyboard. In fact, BlackBerry has already sued Typo, claiming patent infringement. Typo says its product is “innovative” and doesn’t violate BlackBerry’s patents.

Once you set up the Typo, it takes over from the iPhone’s software keyboard anywhere text can be entered — email, texts, notes, etc. A key on the Typo can summon the software keyboard if you like.

The Typo also has a key to turn on backlighting, and another that mimics the behavior of the iPhone’s famous round home button, because — and here’s the first trade-off — unlike any other case I’ve seen, it covers the home button. The Typo’s substitute is a tiny key at the lower-right edge, so it isn’t as convenient as the real thing.

Oh, and on the iPhone 5s, you lose the use of the fingerprint-recognition feature, which is built into the home button, so you’re back to typing in passwords to log in to the phone. You don’t lose access to the Siri intelligent assistant, however. Holding down the Typo’s home key triggers it.

I found that the Typo does its job well. While I’m no thumb-typing Jedi, and have no problem with typing on glass, I was able to thumb-type pretty quickly and accurately on the Typo. A couple of former BlackBerry addicts I spoke with who had tried it were over the moon about it.

The Typo has some common auto-correction features built in, such as the ability to enter a period by hitting the space bar twice, and the smarts to auto-insert the apostrophe in words like “couldn’t” and “wouldn’t.” But Apple’s automatic spelling correction doesn’t work when it’s connected.

There are other keyboard cases for the iPhone. I haven’t tested them, but most have slide-out keyboards that hide away when not in use. The Typo’s keyboard is always ready to use, but it sits at the bottom of the phone’s long rectangular screen.

Typo iPhone keyboard

Typo Products

The good part about this design is that, unlike the virtual keyboard, it doesn’t take up any space on the screen. The bad part is that it adds about half an inch to the length of the phone, and makes it a bit harder to plug in headphones and power cords, whose sockets are now recessed beneath the protruding keyboard.

The Typo doesn’t draw its power from the phone’s battery, so it must be charged separately, with a separate cable. This can be an annoyance, but the company claims the keyboard will last one to two weeks between charges. In my shorter tests, it never ran out of juice.

Another trade-off: Because the keyboard’s top edge comes so close to the bottom edge of the screen, I found it made it hard to accurately tap on buttons and links that appeared on the display’s bottom edge.

In addition, there’s no key to initiate dictation. You have to bring up the virtual keyboard and tap the microphone key to dictate.

And the added length makes the whole iPhone a bit top-heavy, especially when typing, but I was able to adjust quickly by slightly changing my usual grip.

I ran into one bug. The keyboard wouldn’t work at all in the phone’s universal search bar until I rebooted the phone, as instructed by a Typo spokeswoman.

The company concedes that the Typo is a “niche” product, for a minority of iPhone users. I agree. But I also agree that, for that niche, this $99 case could well be a great deal.




13 comments
erelias
erelias

Dear Mr. Mossberg,

Sorry it took me six weeks to catch-up with your column. I am happy to see that K2 and yourself are still together.

For us old geezers who were present at the creation, this is not exactly the WSJ; But as Redford tells Gondorf at the eend of that movie: " good enough".

You were missed.

All the best,

EE

Beckola
Beckola

Being an ex-blackberry faithful who does miss the keyboard, I will get one of these.  But I don't plan putting it on and using it all the time.  Instead I'm eager to have it available for those times I'm away from my computer and need to spend time composing a bunch of emails on my phone. Such as when traveling, etc.  Similar I suppose to a way some people pull out their small bluetooth keyboards when they are using their iPad to reply to multiple emails.   

bobsulli
bobsulli

When I saw the Typo, I presumed that it drew power from the iPhone that it's connecting to. Not too enthused with having yet another thing to charge up, but then do you have to remember when you did charge it up, too? Is there any way to know the Typo's battery's strength? And what does happen when the Typo's battery gets low?

Jose Francisco Contreras
Jose Francisco Contreras

Congratulations from Venezuela on your very new challenge. Think you must feel young again. We never finish to learn. Saw your review and let me tell you that I'm one of those who actually misses the physical keyboard, so I'm a firm candidate to buy one of those. Now with the physical keyboard plus bb messenger might as well say goodby to my bb bold!!

Dorkus Maximus
Dorkus Maximus

Next we'll get a 15" monitor and a DVD drive that plug into an iPhone.

Dorkus Maximus
Dorkus Maximus

If this is a "physical" keyboard, what is the keyboard that the iPhone already has: metaphysical?

Stephen
Stephen

Pauses and "ahhhhh" and generally being boring has always been Walt's Way....but nonetheless he put together an amazing and talented team, IMHO the best in the biz. A great combo of very highly intelligent, editorially independent (and finding his team a place to BE independent), and a lot of quirky weirdness that defines this industry makes these guys stand out. So be patience with Walt.....he started with punch cards. Love Walt....He da Man!

melgross
melgross

I don't know about this. It seems rather clumsy. It won't fit into any iPhone case, and it will be more difficult in a pocket.

Virtually everyone I know who used a mechanical keyboard, including myself, now prefers the virtual keyboard of the iPhone. Many have said that they can actually type faster.

I doubt this will sell too well.

pixelplayer
pixelplayer

I wanted to see the product in action more than Walt talking. And too many pauses and 'ah..."s between words and sentences make the review feel long and boring. May it's me being too used to more compact and "to the point" reviews from others.

bobsulli
bobsulli

also meant to wish Walt well on your new weekly video review adventure

Allerdyce Chambers
Allerdyce Chambers

@melgross But it is not supposed to fit into an iPhone case. It is supposed to be its own iPhone case.


There are quite a number of people who fully subscribe to the physical keyboard, and not many have been elegantly done. Let us hope that this gets the job done right.

Allerdyce Chambers
Allerdyce Chambers

@Marc (DarcFlii LLC) @pixelplayer How is it rude? Walt Mossberg is not God, that he is never to be questioned or critiqued. If that is pixelplayer's experience, I won't knock him. I don't think he was waging a personal attack on WM, there is nothing to suggest that.


You never know, maybe even the venerable Mr. Mossberg himself may acknowledge that this might have been one of his less enthusiastic reviews.

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