There is no shortage of Bluetooth keyboards out there for mobile typists, but most of them are bulky and serve little purpose if you don't have a surface to put them on. Enter TrewGrip. This eye-catching keyboard relegates its keys to the rear, with soft grips on the sides and a center dock that lets you easily attach any of your small mobile devices. The $249 TrewGrip offers tons of versatility for those typing on the go, but you'll have to spend some serious time and money.
There certainly isn't a keyboard out there that looks like the TrewGrip. This party-in-the-back peripheral sports a full QWERTY keyboard split into two portions on the device's rear, with a wing-shaped, curved design that's meant to keep every crucial key within reach.
Navigation and function keys such as Enter, Space and the arrow keys are located on the front for use with your thumbs, as are the left and right mouse-click buttons on the top right portion. The gray front panels help you keep your place by illustrating the layout of the keys underneath, complete with green LED lights that illuminate every time you hit a corresponding key.
The TrewGrip's docking area lies at the center, where you'll be able to attach a smartphone or a tablet up to 7 inches. Above this area, you'll find the keyboard's power switch and mini-USB input.
Typing on TrewGrip was a mostly comfortable experience. We could access the bulk of the QWERTY keyboard and front navigation keys without having to move our hands around, though some keys near the bottom required a slight bit of stretching -- particularly, "control" in the front and the bracket keys on the back. To keep hand cramps at bay, the TrewGrip's left and right edges sport thick foam grips, which are available in black, blue, red and the company's signature green.
Measuring 12.03 x 5.85 x 1.85 inches and weighing 1.25 pounds, the TrewGrip is smaller than a desktop keyboard (our Dell KB212-B keyboard measures 17.4 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches), but it's not the most portable device. The curved shape of the TrewGrip makes it rather bulky for traveling, and negates any space or weight benefits of carrying just a tablet while on the go.
TrewGrip is compatible with Windows 7, Windows 8, Apple OS X, iOS and Android. Pairing the gadget with your PC or mobile device is as simple as connecting any other Bluetooth keyboard. Once the keyboard is charged (TrewGrip says the peripheral needs four hours to charge fully), you just need to open your device's Bluetooth menu and connect from there.
If you'd like to affix your smartphone or tablet to the suction mount at the center, simply slap it onto the surface. Our Apple iPhone 4s stayed securely in place when docked onto the TrewGrip, as did our Dell Venue 7 tablet.
TrewGrip doesn't expect you to pick up its quirky device and immediately start crunching away at 100 words per minute, which is why the company offers an extensive training program for free on its website. The TrewGrip typing tutor features 72 exercises across six categories, ranging from basic repetition of the a,s,d and f keys to long, complex sentences designed to build speed.
If you get bored with those exercises, you can play around with TrewGrip's training games. These diversions include simple matching games such as Key React and more-challenging offerings such as Focus. This game forces you to concentrate on three specific keys and tap them when their onscreen icons enter a certain part of the game board.
Finally, there's TrewGrip's typing test, which measures your gross words per minute (wpm), net wpm and accuracy after 1 minute and 30 seconds of typing.
We tested our TrewGrip on a Windows 7-based Dell Latitude 6430u, a Dell Venue 7 tablet running Android 4.3 and an Apple iPhone 4s running iOS 7. The keyboard paired quickly with all three devices, and there was little to no noticeable input lag when typing on any of them.
The keyboard's gyroscope allowed us to accurately navigate our mouse cursor among multiple monitors on our PC, and you even get the mouse function when pairing the TrewGrip with an Android device. We found the feature especially handy on Android, as you can navigate around your tablet without having to lift your hands from the keyboard's grips.
The TrewGrip's rear keys provide snappy feedback, and have enough give that they remain comfortable during long periods of typing. Much like a traditional desktop keyboard, they have 3mm of travel and require 60 grams of force to activate. The smaller navigation buttons on the keyboard's front feel stiff and shallow by comparison, but you won't need to use the arrow keys in rapid succession like you would with the QWERTY portion.
Even though it has all of the components of a quality Bluetooth keyboard, the TrewGrip's learning curve is too steep to ignore. The company claims that you'll be able to regain your flat keyboard typing speed after 8 to 10 hours of practice, so you'll need to consider if you want to put in the necessary time to take full advantage of the TrewGrip's benefits.
Even after a few days with the TrewGrip, our gross wpm topped out at a measly 13 wpm, though we did have a high accuracy rate of 98 percent. The typing test started to feel more natural after repeated attempts, but only slightly.
While the TrewGrip sports an intelligent key layout that mimics where your fingers would end up on a traditional keyboard, it takes a considerable about of time to get used to pressing those keys in a vertical, upside-down orientation. While TrewGrip is meant to feel as intuitive as a flat set of keys, we constantly found ourselves looking down at the device in search of the next letter.
There are benefits to using the TrewGrip, but you have to work hard for them. This reverse keyboard is comfortable and compact, and can turn your tablet or smartphone into a mini PC in a few seconds. The device has a myriad of use cases, from medical workers who need to input data while standing, to couch potatoes who want a comfortable means of surfing the Web on their PCs.
Mastering the TrewGrip is a commitment, and its makers are fully aware of that. The TrewGrip's website offers a truly admirable number of free training tools, and you will get better at using this unique device if you stick with these tools. We commend the functionality that the TrewGrip offers, but you should be prepared for a very steep learning curve if you're going to plunk down $249 for one.