Die-hard BlackBerry fan? You may find a lot to like in the Ryan Seacrest-backed, ironically named Typo ($99 direct), a BlackBerry Bold-style keyboard case for the iPhone 5 or 5s. It looks almost identical to the real thing, although it’s not as well made. Think of it as training wheels; if you’re wedded to a hardware QWERTY keyboard, this will help you switch to an iPhone and still bang out emails with abandon. But if you’re already at least moderately used to using an on-screen keyboard, the Typo isn’t worth buying given its numerous compromises.
Concept and Design
The Typo Keyboard is the sort of product that makes you wonder, “Why did it take this long?” Even as demand for keyboarded phones wanes, nearly every one that has come out in the past several years has been a bulky, horizontal slider. Very few have had the traditional slab BlackBerry-style form factor.
Well, there’s one good reason: lawsuits. BlackBerry has already sued Typo for copying its keyboard design. The uncertainty surrounding the Typo’s ultimate legality has caused a run on supply: The first batch of pre-orders has already sold out and will ship to customers by the end of January, according to a Bloomberg report. Order one now and you’ll be in line for the next round, which should ship sometime in March.
Let’s put all that aside for a moment and take a look at the actual product. The keyboard case comes in two plastic pieces; the bottom half houses the keyboard, and you insert the iPhone into that first, and then the top half covers the rest of the iPhone and closes up and meets with the bottom half. It’s easy to assemble and fits snugly around the iPhone. Note that the Typo doesn’t fit the iPhone 5c or any earlier iPhones.
The Typo increases the dimensions of the iPhone 5s from 4.87 by 2.31 by 0.3 inches (HWD) to 5.6 by 2.4 by 0.55 inches, a significant jump especially in height, while weight increases from 3.95 to 5.23 ounces. It detracts from the iPhone’s svelte and lightweight form factor, but it’s not that far off from adding a regular protective case, aside from the extra length.
After charging up the Typo with the included micro USB cable, pairing the keyboard is simple: Head to your iPhone’s Settings, make sure Bluetooth is on, and then hold down the Bluetooth key on the Typo keyboard; it’s to the left of the space bar. A blue light underneath the left side of the space bar will pulse indicating pairing is in progress.
Typing and Conclusions
As the product photos indicate, the Typo keyboard covers up the iPhone’s home button. To make up for this, there’s a smaller Home button on the bottom right corner of the keyboard. You can still press this one once to bring up the home screen, and twice to activate Siri. Unfortunately, that means you’ll never get to use the fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 5s. On the plus side, tapping the Typo’s Home button brings you right to the “Enter Passcode” screen, which is one tap faster than usual. I kept hitting the Home button by accident with the phone in my pocket, which would activate Voice Control if I held it down; a keyboard lock would have been helpful to avoid this. The backlight isn’t automatic; you have to activate it manually with a key on the bottom left corner.
Unlike the BlackBerry Torch or Bold keyboards, the Typo version has keys that run straight across. There’s also only one shift key to the left, not two shift keys like on a Bold, and the return key isn’t larger. The keys feel chintzier; the real Bold has a more refined, gummier feel that’s quieter and less clicky to type on. But typing on the Typo still feels okay, and if you’re used a BlackBerry now, you’ll have no problem adjusting to this arrangement.
With the keyboard attached, the iPhone no longer pops up the on-screen keyboard for keying in browser URLs, writing emails, and texting. It seems to be about as seamless as possible; it’s always going to be a little weird jumping between a touch screen and a keyboard, since iOS isn’t designed for that the way BlackBerry 7 and BlackBerry 10 were. For example, the Typo disables autocorrect, and it also means you have to hold down Shift for capital letters, or Alt for a period or comma. So it’s slower than it could be, but you get by—that’s what you’d do on a real BlackBerry, after all.
I owned a BlackBerry Curve some years ago, and have been using an iPhone for a while now; using the Typo during this review slowed me down, because I’ve gotten very used to the iPhone’s screen, even though I was a quick typist with the Curve. I wouldn’t buy this product personally, although I think it does the job. My lovely wife, on the other hand, emails clients all day long; she recently replaced her broken, beloved BlackBerry Torch with an iPhone 5s. She tested the Typo for several days. The verdict: She liked it more than I did, and would consider buying it, although she’s already getting more used to the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard as each day goes by.
Typo says the keyboard should last from 7 to 14 days on a single charge in typical use. Some reviewers have already reported reliability issues with the various hardware keys. Our keyboard worked perfectly during the review period. There’s no Android version, but most Android phones have significantly larger screens, and are easier to type on as a result.
Hopefully Typo Products will sort out its manufacturing process sooner rather than later. As for its legal troubles, that’s for the courts to decide; the iPhone could certainly use this type of accessory product for the significant number of people out there that still prefer hardware keyboards. Ideally, the Typo would have been better-built and less expensive, and I don’t think all of the design decisions were successful ones. But if you’re clinging tightly to your keyboarded BlackBerry, this accessory could be just what you need to make the leap to an iPhone.