Touchfire Screen-top Keyboard for iPad Hands-on: Gimmick or Godsend?
For those tablet users who love the portability of their devices, but just haven't gotten used to typing on a virtual keyboard, the Touchfire Screen-top Keyboard might be a good match. Although Touchfire started as a Kickstarter project in October of 2011, its first production run just shipped to Kickstarter backers on June 28. The screen-top keyboard is designed to magnetically and adhesively attach to the iPad and its accompanying case to provide easy tablet typing. Find out how well it works.
The transparent Touchfire screen-top keyboard comes with two magnetic cover clips and adhesive stickers, as well as six additional adhesive stickers for when the starter pair wears out. The cover clips are magnetic and stick to the sides of the keyboard, while the adhesive stickers on the cover clips stick to your Apple Smart Cover. This way, the keyboard becomes attached to the Smart Cover so you don't have to reattach it every time you want to use it.
We liked this feature, as it makes the screen-top keyboard portable and incorporates it into the Smart Cover, combining two iPad accessories into one. You just have to hold the tab down when you want to use the keyboard and open the Smart Cover. The tab on the bottom tucks under the edge of your Apple Smart Cover so nothing slides around or moves from its positioning.
Although Touchfire says the screen-top keyboard was designed with Apple's Smart Cover in mind, it works with any case that leaves enough room for the product. And if you don't want your keyboard constantly attached to your tablet case, you can fold it up and stash it in the thin storage case it comes with. You can also easily fold it down for full-screen use.
The keyboard works with all iPad versions, but is only usable in landscape view.
Although we appreciated the transparency of the keyboard, which allowed us to easily see the keys below to avoid typos or confusion, it was so thin that we were afraid it might rip after mild wear and tear. We also think a bit more thickness could have given the keyboard the springy feedback it needs.
We do like that the small tactile bumps on the F and J help keep your fingers stay aligned while typing. Another plus: the keys were stiff enough that if we merely rested our fingers on the screen-top keyboard, the screen-top keyboard didn't register pressure and trigger the touch screen.
We wish the magnets on the cover clips were stronger. When we typed a lot, we noticed that the screen-top keyboard didn't necessary stay firmly attached to the magnetic cover grips, so at times the keyboard moved and wasn't on top of the right keys.
Overall, though, the screen-top keyboard makes the tablet typing experience smoother. We appreciate the raised keys and rubbery feel, which gives us a sense of where our fingers should lay and a sense of stability when navigating the keyboard.
Touchfire's website includes a Typing Tutor application so you can easily get acquainted with how the screen-top keyboard works and feels. This feature is easy to access: Go to www.touchfire.com/start on your iPad and tap Typing Tutor.
The Typing Tutor is broken into lessons and activities on basic words, basic sentences, Shift key, quick quotes, numbers and symbols and the Return key and the Semicolon. We appreciate the included "test" activities; it gave us a chance to get used to the keyboard while also learning unique features about the iPad's keyboard.
When we took the Typing Tutor's typing test, we averaged about 100 words per minute, which is more than our 80 words per minute average when typing on a regular keyboard. But we had more problems typing accurately, as we had a 10% error rate with the Typing Tutor compared to a 1% error rate on a regular keyboard. This could be because we aren't as accustomed to typing on an iPad where the keyboard is physically smaller. We did notice, however, that the space bar sometimes did not sense our touch and missed spaces, which resulted in us spelling whole words wrong before noticing the issue.
You also need to take into account the extra time it takes typing numbers or symbols such as + or $ on the iPad. Instead of just pressing shift then the symbol key like on a PC keyboard, you must go to a different screen to access those symbols on the iPad.
The Typing Tutor provides useful tips on how to gain efficiency when typing on your iPad, though. For example, it informed us that tapping the Space bar twice quickly will auto-insert a period at the end of your sentence. And it notes that after typing a period, the iPad automatically capitalizes the next word.
Typing Tutor takes about 20 minutes to go through all the lessons, but you can skip through lessons to choose specific ones you want to take a look at or pause lessons and return to them later.
The Touchfire screen-top keyboard is a dirt and dust magnet because of the rubbery material. Cleaning is thankfully easy, though: Just run water over the case and pat dry. That way, any dirt from fingers or outside gunk won't get in the way of your typing experience.
Although we generally enjoyed the typing experience with the screen-top keyboard and typed pretty quickly, we made lots of errors, too. We could see ourselves spending $15 to $20 for the accessory, but right now the price is too steep. Touchfire is now taking reservations for its second production run.
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