ThinkGeek TK-421 iPhone keyboard case review

We've been eagerly waiting for iPhone cases with built-in keyboards to hit ever since iOS 4 added Bluetooth keyboard support, but they simply haven't materialized like we'd hoped -- in fact, ThinkGeek's TK-421 case is the first to hit the market, nearly eight months after iOS 4 was first announced. Now that it's finally here, we've got to ask -- is this thing the ultimate iPhone accessory? Does the iPhone actually need a keyboard? Does flipping open automatically make something awesome? Read on to find out.

The TK-421 is an odd little beast -- the keyboard flips out clockwise, instead of sliding or folding open. Unless you're holding the phone in landscape with the button on the left, that means a screen rotation is required -- not a big deal, but a transition that can delay grab-and-go typing. It also means that you have to open the phone to use the camera, since the keyboard blocks the lens while closed. It initially appeared that opening the keyboard woke the iPhone display automatically, but that's not actually the case -- it's easy for keys to be accidentally get pushed when they slide past the top part of the case during the open motion, and that's what actually triggers the screen. We'd have liked to see this functionality implemented for real, though.

Size-wise, well, the TK-421 is pretty gigantic. The actual case around the iPhone is of average size, but the keyboard is far from svelte, and there's a significant gap between the two halves -- you're essentially doubling the size of your phone. You've also got to deal with the incredibly bulky hinge, which justs out permanently from the right side of the phone, making both right- and left-handed use uncomfortable. On the plus side, the TK-421 is light as a feather -- it barely adds any weight to the phone at all. Just size. Lots and lots of size.

Let's talk about that hinge some more -- it's pretty flimsy. From what we can tell, it's held together by a single pin, and the two halves lock into either position when two magnets on either side of the pin align. It's a clever solution that feels stable enough once you've got it open, but the huge amount of wobble and flex doesn't inspire too much confidence -- and it feels almost comically easy to break when closed since the gap between halves is so big.

Once you've got it open, the keyboard itself is fine -- it paired right up to our iPhone and worked without issue. Typing feel is serviceable for a hard plastic keyboard, we suppose, but the layout is terrible. The delete key is next to the space bar, and the Enter key is kicked way off next to the period key -- both concessions to space, we suppose, but that doesn't explain why there are virtually useless Control and Alt keys. It took us a few moments to find the apostrophe, which buried under a function key. Speaking of the function keys, the labels appear to have been copied from a Mac keyboard but mapped somewhat at random -- the arrow keys work, as do the volume keys, but the Home key is actually an old-school word processing Home and not, you know, an iPhone Home. There's also an Expose label, which is cute and useless, and a set of brightness keys that heartbreakingly do nothing. And just to add insult to all this injury, the key labels themselves are painted on quite sloppily and don't line up -- check out the T, Y, U, and I keys just floating away in the picture above. Whoops.

Let's just end this here, lest we become too overwhelmed by despair -- the TK-421 is all of 50 bucks, after all, and if you're totally desperate for an iPhone keyboard case it'll probably do the job. Turns out we're not quite as desperate for an iPhone keyboard case as we thought, though -- we'd suggest passing on the TK-421 as a first-generation novelty and waiting for something a little more thoughtfully designed to show up. Boxwave Keyboard Buddy, you're up next.