Fans of physical keyboards often make do by juggling a separate iPhone and BlackBerry. But Typo hopes to bridge that gap, and end iOS auto-correct frustration, with its $99 keyboard case. Backed by Ryan Seacrest (yes, that one), the Typo case has already inspired a lawsuit from BlackBerry. But does this accessory really live up to the hype?
If you've seen a BlackBerry, you know what the Typo's keyboard looks like. From its three silver, horizontal frets running the length of the keyboard to the color and shape of the keys, the Typo's keyboard is a dead ringer for one of BlackBerry's units.
The Typo Keyboard Case comes in two pieces that slide together around the iPhone. The top half looks like any other iPhone 5 or 5s case, covering the handset's edges and back while offering openings for the rear camera, power button and volume buttons. The star of the show, the Typo's keyboard, sits on the bottom half of the case below the iPhone's screen.
Unfortunately, the Typo case blocks the iPhone's Home button. That's particularly an issue for iPhone 5s users, as the case blocks the handset's Touch ID sensor. Typo added a dedicated Home button to the bottom left corner of the keyboard, but Touch ID remains obscured. On the keyboard's left edge is a micro USB port for recharging the case. Under the Typo is a large opening for the iPhone's speakers, and channels for the Lighting connector and headphone cable.
The Typo measures 5.6 x 2.4 x 0.52 inches and weighs 1.4 ounces, bringing the 3.95-ounce iPhone 5s' total weight to 5.35 ounces. Fortunately, the weight doesn't feel concentrated near the keyboard; rather, it's dispersed across the handset. Unlike the BlackBerry keyboards that it emulates, the Typo's keyboard is relatively narrow, which means your hands may feel cramped while typing.
Installing the Typo keyboard is easy enough. Simply slide your iPhone into the top section of the case, then slip the bottom portion on. Push the two ends together to make sure they are properly connected and secure. To pair the Typo with your iPhone, open the Settings app and turn on Bluetooth.
Enable Bluetooth discovery on the Typo by holding down the Bluetooth button on the keyboard until the blue light on the space bar flashes. Tap the Typo keyboard when it appears in your list of paired Bluetooth devices, and the two devices will be paired. To turn off the keyboard, you can either un-pair it from your iPhone or just turn off your Bluetooth connection.
Typo uses all of the existing iPhone keyboard shortcuts, including double tapping the space button to enter a period, as well as capitalizing the first word after the end of a sentence. In terms of special buttons, you get a Bluetooth key for pairing the device with your handset, as well as a button to activate the keyboard's backlight. A keyboard button lets you pull up or hide the iPhone's on-screen keyboard.
Unlike the wider BlackBerry handsets, the Typo's narrow design made typing for long periods uncomfortable. We found ourselves constantly readjusting the case in our hands to find an easier, more comfortable way to hold it. The keyboard's keys are also far smaller than the iPhone's on-screen keys, which meant we had to be more accurate with our typing. It also doesn't help that the keys feel cheaper and stickier than what you'll find on a BlackBerry layout.
To test the keyboard's performance, we downloaded the TapTyping app. As we became more acclimated with the keyboard, we saw our accuracy increase from 96 percent to 99 percent and our speed increase from 20 words per minute to 28 wpm. We were less accurate on the iPhone's keyboard, with our accuracy ranging from just 95 percent at first, to 96 percent after practice.
That said, our words per minute were still higher when we used the iPhone's on-screen keyboard, increasing from 20 wpm to 34 wpm over a couple of days. That's likely a result of how easy it is to reach the iPhone's delete key compared to the Typo's. We also noticed that the Typo's backspace and L keys were too close, which resulted in several typos during use.
Beyond its design and performance, there are two additional considerations to take into account if you're thinking of purchasing the Typo case. First off, when paired, the keyboard turns off the iPhone's auto-correct feature, which can be a serious issue for users who make frequent typos. Secondly, there is no lock for the Typo's keyboard, which means if you accidentally tap a key while it's in your pocket, your iPhone's screen will be activated, draining both your handset and the keyboard's batteries.
The Typo's design offers current and former BlackBerry users a familiar look, but that's about it. Typing on the $100 case's keyboard is slower and less comfortable than using the iPhone's on-screen keyboard. Plus, the fact that the Typo lacks a lock means you'll be activating your iPhone's screen whenever you accidentally tap a key, which could quickly zap your phone's battery. If you're looking for an iPhone-compatible replacement for your BlackBerry's physical keyboard, the Typo is worth a look, but the typing experience isn't quite good enough for us.