Ever since Apple added Bluetooth keyboard support to iOS, manufacturers have been working to deliver products that add a hard keyboard to the iPhone with at least a little bit of style. We've checked out a number of these before -- namely the Nuu Minikey and the TK-421 -- but we've yet to find anything that actually makes it worth the extra bulk (not to mention battery consumption). BoxWave's Keyboard Buddy is yet another sliding keyboard case built for the iPhone, but is it better than the rest? Read on past the break to find out.
BoxWave Keyboard Buddy iPhone case
Solid sliding mechanism
Matte black soft-touch finish
Home and Spotlight buttons
Off-center space bar
Keys could be more tactile
Design wise, the Keyboard Buddy is fairly sleek, especially considering that it adds a full hardware keyboard to the back of the device. The sliding mechanism is very solid, and there's a satisfying click as you open and close it. It's reminiscent of the slider on a device like the Sidekick Slide -- and that's a good thing. There's also ample room to hit the top row of number keys, something other sliding cases often have trouble with. It charges via miniUSB, and BoxWave claims you should be able to go a whopping 45 days without having to re-juice. The whole kit has a matte black, soft touch finish that adds a nice grip to the all-glass iPhone 4. Pairing the Keyboard buddy was an uneventful affair; we were up and running in about 30 seconds after typing in a passcode. That's when we were able to put this thing to the test.
The actual keyboard on the Keyboard Buddy is very similar to the one found on the Droid 2 as you can see in the image below. Keys are laid out edge-to-edge, and there's a decent, but not amazing amount of give with each click. Unfortunately, the space bar is oddly placed on the right side like the enV or N900, which definitely takes a bit of getting used to and isn't something we're totally stoked about. To add insult to injury, it seems as if there are two separate levers under the space key itself, meaning that if you hit in the middle, you could end up double spacing unintentionally. It's definitely a bit of an annoyance, and hinders the usability for sure. There's a home key on the upper left and a spotlight key on the upper right which will jump you straight to your search springboard page, two nice touches for sure.
It's important to point out that when you opt to use a physical keyboard, you lose all autocorrect functionality within iOS. We longed for things like automatic capitalization of "i" for example, and wish that it would automatically add apostrophes to contractions. Maybe this is something Apple could enable as an option in a future iteration of iOS, but for now you're forced to make somewhat odd finger contortions to capitalize and add special characters.
In real-world usage, we're not so sure it improves typing speed over the virtual option. There's simply not enough definition on each key, and it minimizes the advantages you get over a physical keyboard like on a BlackBerry. We constantly found our fingers slipping across multiple keys, leading to more typos and more frustration than we would've liked. Add this to the lack of autocorrect, and we were already switching back to portrait mode to use the virtual keyboard built-in. Still, there is something very nice about using the hard keyboard when you're sitting or not moving around, so you can focus on what keys you're hitting.
BoxWave definitely got some things right in the design department, but the actual keyboard itself needs some tweaks to be really effective. If each key had a bit more give, or if they were more defined, we'd probably have a very different opinion. Still, for a penny under $70 there are a lot worse options you could spend your money on. If you've got a dire need for a keyboard case right this second, we don't think you'll be able to find anything better.