From the moment I found out that the iPhone 4 would support bluetooth keyboards, I didn’t believe it would be long before a case would arrive combining protection with a handy, more tactile input device. And, indeed, it wasn’t long, and as is typical of the tech world, we’re not exactly deprived from choice.
One average entrant is the TypeTop Bluetooth Mini Keyboard Case for the iPhone 4. It’s average because, whilst it does exactly what it says on the tin, it doesn’t quite mesh with my personal preferences when it comes to keyboard feel.
Portable bluetooth keyboards for the iPhone are a pretty good idea if you use your phone to blog on the go, writing excessive amounts of text which would get tiresome with the iPhone 4s onscreen keyboard. They are, however, a bad idea for day-to-day use; text messaging, browsing the internet (if you’re not authoring verbose forum posts) and other such activities.
The problem is not with the TypeTop itself, or any bluetooth keyboard for that matter, but in the fact that keeping bluetooth enabled really doesn’t do your iPhone battery any favours. Turning on both the keyboard, and the iPhone’s bluetooth is too much effort for the odd text. This problem is overcome somewhat by the menu system available to jail-breakers, but sadly Apple aren’t so concise and straightforward with enabling/disabling bluetooth on their phone.
Bluetooth problems aside, the TypeTop is a fairly handy keyboard for those who dislike typing on the iPhone itself. It has a couple of problems in its “feel” however.
The keys are soft and mushy, a strange detachment from the typical phone keyboard which uses hard plastic key-caps for a good, solid feel with a quick and decisive response. The mushy feel of the TypeTop makes it somewhat unresponsive until you’re very used to the keyboard, and I’d much, much prefer a hard version.
The second oversight, and perhaps the more unforgivable to many, is the lack of those little ridges on the bottom of the F and J keys. You’re not going to touch-type on this keyboard, either way, but if you can’t *see* then figuring ou the lay of the land can be somewhat difficult. A article I read recently demonstrated that the iPhone is exceptionally friendly to blind and visually impaired users, and it’s not the only one.
A keyboard without these standard indications is, most likely, not terribly accessible, but being audibly impaired, and not visually impaired, I can’t really say for sure. Still, the key feel of the TypeTop isn’t great, which really lets down an otherwise great, rechargeable battery containing package and a pretty good case, to boot.
The case has an integrated stand, the iPhone clips into a shell in one side, the keyboard slides into the other, and the whole lot closes up into a swish flip cover. It is, however, utterly bricktastic and makes the iPhone somewhat difficult to pocket. The keyboard, however, can be slid out, pocketed separately and used with your choice of case. Which is handy!
This also means you can use this keyboard with an HTPC, or (thanks to BTSTack) an Apple TV. Can’t really complain about that.
The vertical flip cover, necessary to really make the keyboard usable, also has its flaws. When closed it’ll cover up the volume rocker, somewhat of a pain if you rely on it in lieu of a remote.
Incidentally, for those of you who aren’t obsessively astute, you’ll be interested to know that the keyboard used in the flip-out TK-421 iPhone keyboard case looks to be exactly the same as that used in the TypeTop.
Ultimately, the Boxwave Keyboard Buddy looks like your best bet at the moment, although I haven’t tried it! It doesn’t appear to be detachable, though, making it less flexible than the TypeTop.