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TYPO: The keyboard you want, but plenty of downside

[CORRECTION - Page 7] The keyboard case for the iPhone 5/5S looks and feels a lot like a BlackBerry keyboard. You get a great keyboard, but you pay a big price or two.
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1 of 7 Larry Seltzer/ZDNet

The best of both worlds?

Blackberry users the world over, but especially in the US, have been flocking to the iPhone. Talk to them and you'll hear many say that they loved the keyboard and miss it, but they couldn't do without the great iPhone software anymore.

Now a startup, co-founded and partly funded by Hollywood and radio big shot Ryan Seacrest has come out with The Typo Keyboard, a case for the iPhone 5/5S that integrates a Bluetooth keyboard obviously reminiscent of the BlackBerry's.

It's reminiscent enough that BlackBerry has filed suit against Typo Products LLC, alleging "...patent infringement and that Typo has blatantly copied BlackBerry’s keyboard..."

We claim no particular legal expertise in these matters, but we see their point. It's hard not to think of the BlackBerry when you look at and use the TYPO.

Does it succeed? As a keyboard, yes. Just like the BlackBerry, it's a pleasure to use for typing compared to the iPhones or most other soft keyboards.

We do have some problems with the design which we'll go into in some more detail on the pages that follow. When you consider them all, the many downsides of the TYPO become clear.

One big problem is that, because the TYPO covers the iPhone keyboard, it also covers the Touch ID, the fingerprint reader on the iPhone 5S. No doubt many users buy the 5S with Touch ID in mind, so that's certainly something to consider. Consider also that the iPhone 5 is no longer for sale and the TYPO doesn't fit the 5C.

The company was accepting pre-orders, but these ran out. New orders will be shipped mid-March, although the company warns that only limited quantities will be available. The TYPO keyboard costs $99. That's a lot of money for a device like this, but it could be worth it to you if you type a lot and you miss that BlackBerry keyboard feel.

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2 of 7 Larry Seltzer/ZDNet

A copy? What do you think?

The keyboard on the left is the BlackBerry Q10. On the right is an iPhone 5 clothed within a TYPO.

When asked about the lawsuit, TYPO issued this statement:

    "We are aware of the lawsuit that Blackberry filed today against Typo Products. Although we respect Blackberry and its intellectual property, we believe that Blackberry’s claims against Typo lack merit and we intend to defend the case vigorously. We are excited about our innovative keyboard design, which is the culmination of years of development and research. The Typo keyboard has garnered an overwhelmingly positive response from the public. We are also looking forward to our product launch at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week and remain on track to begin shipping pre-orders at the end of January."
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3 of 7 Larry Seltzer/ZDNet

The iPhone keyboard: A low bar to cross

The iOS soft keyboard has been largely devoid of innovation since version 1.0. All the real creativity in keyboard design has come on Android and — here's some irony for you — BlackBerry, which developed a really great one for BBOS 10. Probably even a bad physical keyboard would be a step up for the iPhone.

Of course, it's not just about the quality of the keyboard. Because the physical keyboard is off-screen, the entire screen is available for things other than the soft keyboard.

Because the keyboard covers up the iPhone button, TYPO has a key, the bottom right key with the squarish figure on it, to perform the equivalent. Two keys to the left is a key which raises the soft keyboard.

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4 of 7 Larry Seltzer/ZDNet

The keys to their success?

Close up, the keys look more BlackBerry-ish than ever. They have a great feel and enough travel that we got reasonably fast with typing with a high degree of confidence.

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5 of 7 Larry Seltzer/ZDNet

Cable city

The TYPO has its own integrated battery. It does not draw power from the phone, but leaves an opening on the bottom for the Lightning and headphone jacks. On the side is a MicroUSB plug to charge the TYPO. TYPO claims more than a week of battery life with active use and that roughly corresponds to our experience.

Whether this is the right way to do it is a good question. The alternative would be to couple with the Lightning plug, draw power from the phone, and provide a female Lightning outlet and headphone jack on the case. Clearly that would add cost and complexity to the TYPO design.

typo06.jpg
6 of 7 Larry Seltzer/ZDNet

The light bulb moment

(Sorry, not a great picture here, but it makes the point.)

The TYPO has a backlight which the user can invoke by pressing the light bulb key at the bottom left. At bottom is the keyboard in the dark, above that is with the backlight on.

This is a cool feature and worthwhile, but it needs to be said that soft keyboards are, by their nature, back-lit, so the backlight was really a requirement for the TYPO.

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7 of 7 Larry Seltzer/ZDNet

Three-headed cable

[CORRECTION: TYPO tells me that the cable pictured on this page was provided only for the pre-release test units. The TYPO will ship with a conventional MicroUSB cable.]

Because TYPO users need both a Lightning and MicroUSB cable, and providing two cables would look lame, they created a three-headed cable, with USB B on one end for the charger or computer, Lightning on the other end for the iPhone and, in-between, a MicroUSB head for the TYPO charger.

The cable is kind of neat, but it's basically a hack around the problem they create by requiring MicroUSB charging for the TYPO. The cable can't be used for charging both devices at once. This isn't often going to be a problem because the TYPO won't need to be charged often, but if you have a TYPO it almost certainly makes sense to keep a separate MicroUSB cable around too, and maybe a second charger.

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