We've seen a ton of devices use NFC to initiate connections between devices, but they don't actually transfer the data via NFC. When you tap your phone to one of Sony's new NFC-enabled headsets, for example, the Near Field Communication signal initiates a Bluetooth connection between the devices then gets out of the way. However, at Mobile World Congress, we had a chance to use Elecom's TK-FNS040 NFC Keyboard, which uses an NFC connection to pass every keystroke you type back to your phone or tablet.
The keyboard, which is manufactured by Norwegian company One2Touch, is split in the middle so you can lay a smartphone or 7-inch tablet in the blank space between the G and H keys. As long as the NFC chip on the back of your device maintains physical contact with the NFC chip in the TK-FNS040 keyboard, you can type and the keyboard will transmit your letters directly to your mobile device.
Though the TK-FNS040 was first announced last year, Mobile World Congress 2013 was our first opportunity to try the innovative device. At the Elecom booth, we had a chance to pair and unpair a Nexus 7 tablet from the keyboard and type on it. The rubberized keyboard itself was really compact, with small, rubbery keys that make it less than ideal for typing a dissertation but good enough for some quick data entry or answering emails. The device folds up nicely, allowing it to fit in a small, zip-up carrying case that's compact enough for a pants pocket.
The biggest problem we had with the demo unit was getting it to form an NFC connection. As we lifted up the Nexus 7 and placed it back down again in the middle of the keyboard, a small alert on the tablet's screen would announce "NFC connected" or "NFC disconnected." However, we had to try several times to get a connection, moving the tablet slowly and deliberately down onto the surface.
One problem with NFC in general is that, to form a connection, the user must get a near perfect alignment between the chip on one device and the other. In the case of Elecom's TK-FNS040 NFC keyboard, we had a really difficult time getting the two aligned, even when we lifted the tablet up and put it back down without moving it left or right. We also got numerous messages from the keyboard utility telling us it had crashed.
We hope that the problems we experienced were limited to the demo unit at Elecom's booth, because the concept of transmitting keyboard data over NFC is an impressive one and we've like to see it work. Though the TK-FNS040 is only sold officially in Japan, we found a couple of importers selling it to Americans including Japan Trend Shop, which has the NFC Keyboard listed for $276.