The Blackberry Z10 made headlines recently. A million units were shipped in the last three months. But I’m more excited about the company’s Q10 (scheduled to be released this month). It’s not that I’m a Blackberry fan, I’ve never even used one before; it’s that the Q10 is part of a dying breed of smartphones with physical QWERTY keyboards. Their disappearance has largely been blamed on the success of the iPhone. During the iPhone’s first few years, competitors offered plenty of physical keyboard/touchscreen combo smartphones: just look at this top ten list from 2011. However, as the iPhone came to dominate the market, smartphones all started to look more and more like iPhones.
The smartphone is an essential tool for most people who work in PR. At a recent industry event, one of the panelists chided the audience (all PR pros), that more of us weren’t live Tweeting the event. We’re expected to be constantly connected, at the very least while working at events or when dealing with a crisis. At Bridge, we specialize in PR for overseas-based companies, and we often need to communicate with clients and media in different time zones, so work hours can vary a lot, too. Most of us would probably agree that we’d feel lost without smartphones.
I bought my first smartphone in 2010, the LG Ally, and I stuck with it because I never found a much better option with a physical keyboard. I’ve been an iMac user for years and I always wanted an iPhone for the syncing capabilities, but I couldn’t fathom using a touchscreen keyboard. The keyboard has always been the most important factor for me when choosing a phone. I text like a rabid teenager (I’ve sent/received 1,036 text messages in just the last 7 days), and I take lots of lengthy notes. There is also something much more satisfying about pressing down on actual buttons versus tapping on a screen. I type much faster on a physical keyboard, and I never quite took to autocorrect. I’d rather a few typos than have my phone try to guess what I’m trying to write. After three years with the same phone, I finally came to terms with the fact that touchscreen keyboards are here to stay. I begrudgingly started shopping around when I stumbled upon this gem: a Bluetooth slide-out keyboard for the iPhone 5! I happily traded in my old phone for an iPhone 5 and after fumbling with the touchscreen for a few days, I ordered the Bluetooth add-on from Amazon. Without further ado, here’s my review.
Abco Tech® Bluetooth Sliding Keyboard iPhone 5 Case (White)
Set-up was extremely easy and intuitive. I paired it with my iPhone like any other Bluetooth device, and the phone snapped snugly into the top part of the case. It comes with a micro-USB charger and as far as battery life, I’ve been charging it at least every other night and have had no issues (though I expect battery life will decline over time). The keys take a bit of getting used to, but if you type a lot, you’ll be fine with a few days of use. There are “lock” and “home” keys, as well as two “command” or “Apple” keys which let you use basic keyboard shortcuts (ie: copy, paste, select all, undo) without having to touch the screen. There are also 4 arrow keys which let you navigate long bodies of text with ease. If you compare the proportions to a normal keyboard, the space bar is very small and off-center. This is quite annoying because you have to strain your right thumb to reach it. Functionally, this is probably the biggest flaw in the design.
Aside from the space bar, there are other obvious aesthetic flaws. The keyboard just about doubles the thickness of the phone which may be a huge turnoff for many. I got the keyboard in white, which has a matte finish that gets dirty very quickly. I haven’t tried to clean it yet, but from reading other reviews, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to do it.
At the end of the day, whether you’ll like this product or not will largely depend on how much you value function over form. Most of my friends react with disgust when I whip this huge thing out of my pocket. The iPhone’s sleekness is its main draw and if Steve Jobs saw this bulky case, I’m sure he’d be rolling over in his grave. However, if you’re like me and often feel the need to draft entire novels on your smartphone, you should give this keyboard a try. It’s about the price of a normal iPhone case ($25-$29) and Amazon has a solid 30-day return policy so you don’t have much to lose.