- Editor's Rating
If you’re an iPhone user who finds the virtual keyboard a little too, well, little, or otherwise unsatisfying, you might want to try ThinkGeek’s TK-421 iPhone Case With Flip-Out Keyboard (MSRP $49.99, on sale as I look for $39.99)
Created, designed and manufactured by ThinkGeek, the TK-421 iPhone Case consists of a slim case that snaps easily around your iPhone, with the keyboard underneath, ready to swivel out for use. While lightweight — about an ounce and a half — it does double the total thickness of the smartphone.
The keys are real, albeit small — 5/16 inches by 3/8 inches each. That’s as big as they can be, given the available space. And they have a reasonable “clicky” feel.
The TK-421 comes in two models: one for the iPhone 4 and one the iPhone 3Gs. It will NOT work with the iPhone 3G, as that OS doesn’t support Bluetooth keyboards. And, according to ThinkGeek, the keyboard will NOT work with the Verizon iPhone (no reason given).
The TK-421 should work with any application that would invoke the virtual keyboard. So far, I’ve used it with the iPhone’s Mail, Messages, Safari, and Notes apps, and the iSSH secure-telnet app.
Charging is done via a mini-USB port, in case you don’t already have the right USB cable in your collection.
The power switch is in the back. And this could be the dealbreaker — between the placement — hard to reach — and the shape and design. If I’m careful, I can move the power key with the edge of a fingernail, otherwise I need to use something pointy like a paper clip, pen, or key. In any case, it adds several seconds to getting session started.
Pairing the keyboard with your iPhone is simple… once you figure out what button to press. Once the power is on, go to the iPhone SETTINGS General/Bluetooth, and hold down the thin black bar at the upper right of the keyboard. A popup will tell you a four-digit code to enter on the keyboard (I was also able to pair with a friend’s iPad, FYI.)
After that, most of the time the keyboard connected to the iPhone automatically when turned out. It’s easy to tell — if the keyboard is paired and connected, the iPhone’s Virtual Keyboard won’t display when you go to enter some text. However, you may need to reconnect or even re-pair.
To use the keyboard, once you’ve paired it with your iPhone, you simply swivel the keyboard out from under the iPhone and start typing.
The TK-421’s keyboard is closer to that of a standard computer keyboard than the iPhone’s virtual keyboard — but different enough that you have to pay attention, and teach your fingers some new key locations. For example, Backspace-delete is just to the right of the space mini-bar. Some of the non-alphanumeric characters require you type one of the red FN keys, which are just inside the SHIFT keys that are at the bottom right and left.
It’s easy enough to hold it in two hands and double-thumb type, but the keyboard is too small to ten-finger touch type. It’s ideal for using about four to six fingers. (If your fingers are smaller than mine, you might do better.)
One problem is that since you have to look at the keyboard to type, you have to keep looking between keyboard and screen. I found using the TK-421 keyboard somewhat more accurate than Virtual Keyboard… but not much faster.
One good use I’ve found for the TK-421 is with SSH/telnet applications, where the virtual keyboard, even as an overlay, severely interferes with the screen view. Here, the separate physical keyboard makes the application much more usable (although the small display still poses a limit).
There are, however, several downsides to having the Flip-Out Keyboard installed. For one, the TK-421 blocks the iPhone’s rear camera. Because of how the TK-421 is connected to the iPhone chassis, you have to swing the keyboard completely open to expose the camera.
Also, it conflicts with using many other accessories, like the OtterBox iPhone 4 Defender case (MSRP $49.95) that I’ve been using, or a clip-on battery pack.
If you do enough typing, want to have an iPhone, and aren’t having much luck with the iPhone’s virtual keyboard, the TK-421 iPhone Case With Flip-Out Keyboard may be useful. If you’re using applications that support landscape-mode, and don’t need to use the camera more than occasionally. Assuming you can work the power button easily enough.
Otherwise, you really need a bigger physical keyboard — or lots more practice with the iPhone’s virtual keyboard.