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A real keyboard for your iPhone 4?

By: 21 September 2011 No Comment

While the Apple iPhone 4’s virtual keyboard does have its fans, there are people out there who much prefer honest-to-goodness mechanical keys.

Yes, Apple has spent a fair amount of time telling us about how superior the virtual keyboard is. Still, there are those consumers who want a mechanical keyboard but also want the iPhone and its scads of unique apps.

What’s a keyboard fan to do other than pick up a Blackberry, Google Android-powered device or something else that offers mechanical keys? For those consumers that like the iPhone just fine but could do without the keyboard, there are a number of physical QWERTY keyboards out there that may do the trick.

Clearly, there’s a market for physical keyboards — just head over to Amazon.com, run a search for “iPhone keyboard” and take a look at all the products that match that description. One of the lowest priced and highest rated iPhone keyboards on Amazon is simply described as the “Brand New Wireless Bluetooth Sliding Keyboard + Rubberized hard shell case for iphone 4 (AT&T or Verizon) by BD.” That overly literal description is for an item that costs $26.95 plus shipping and works surprisingly well.

It is, in a nutshell, an iPhone case and slider keyboard that pairs with an iPhone through a Bluetooth connection. Is the keyboard as good as one of those that is designed around phones such as the Motorola Droid 3? Not quite, but it just might be a solid option for iPhone owners who like their phones but hate typing on them.

Setting the keyboard up is easy enough. Simply snap the iPhone into the unit’s case, pair the device through Bluetooth and your off and running with a four-row keyboard that provides plenty of tactile feedback and is set up quite well in spite of some quirks (more on that in a minute). You get a dedicated row of numbers on the keyboard and hard, plastic keys that do promote accurate typing and may well be appreciated by those who never warmed up to the iPhone’s virtual keyboard.

The keyboard also causes the virtual one to vanish from the screen when the device is paired, thus freeing up some “real estate.” That fact should be appreciated by anyone who has had trouble reading longer emails when the virtual keyboard is enabled and hogging up over half of the screen. The Bluetooth keyboard also works well with most Apple applications, but you’ll wind up looking at your screen sideways for those programs that use the profile keyboard rather than the landscape one.

The case for the unit has a convenient hole cut in the back so as not to interfere with the iPhone’s camera, too. Furthermore, the sliding unit moves the keyboard with ease and keeps it locked solidly in place when in use (or stored away securely when it’s not in use). It’s a well designed keyboard that works exactly as advertised.

Ah, but the unit is a bit quirky. First of all, the shift key is merged in with the bottom row of letters and is shoved to the right of the keyboard. That takes some getting used to, but does make sense — this is a four-row keyboard with one entire row of numbers, so some engineering to pull off a functional keyboard in a limited amount of space was necessary. Another oddity is that there is only one shift key and that’s located on the left of the unit. Also, there are a number of symbols that must be accessed through a function key. Yes, the whole thing is a bit quirky, but it works well enough once you spend some time with it and use it.

Also, this does make the iPhone about .25 inches wider. Fortunately, the unit is light enough that getting used to the extra weight is easy, but some may be annoyed by the extra width.

Then, there’s the Bluetooth issue. If you want this keyboard to be used as a convenient device, then you’ll keep Bluetooth active on your iPhone and that does suck down the battery noticeably. It can also take a second or two before the keyboard is ready for use provided the user keeps it powered down when it’s stored away — turning the unit off saves power, but it does have to locate and pair with the phone through Bluetooth when it is switched on and ready.

Speaking of power, the unit has its own battery and the manufacturer claims the keyboard will last up to 45 hours between charges. Naturally, the keyboard is yet another device to keep charged. Fortunately, it charges through a standard USB cable and that is convenient.

Finally, some of the standard iPhone keyboard features aren’t available on the mechanical keyboard. Tapping the spacebar twice will not yield a period and the thing generally doesn’t capitalize letter automatically.

All in all, this keyboard isn’t perfect but that’s to be expected. It’s an add-on to a device designed by people who figured a virtual keyboard was more than good enough for consumers. In spite of a few minor inconveniences, the keyboard does work as advertised and provides a good alternative to the iPhone’s virtual keyboard. When it’s not in use, the virtual keyboard appears as normal, meaning you’ve got a choice here — the iPhone’s keyboard, for example, can easily be used for short messages while the Bluetooth one is ideal for entering longer blocks of text.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

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