Why Typo, of all the names for a smartphone keyboard? The company answers the obvious question with a Wikipedia quote.
A typographical error (often shortened to typo) is a mistake made in the typing process ... The term includes errors due to mechanical failure or slips of the hand or finger.
Well, yeah, sure, but that doesn't really answer the question we -- oh, wait, there's more: "For many of us at Typo, typing on our iPhones is a slow, tedious one- or two-finger affair. Our desire is to avoid making Typos by using the Typo Keyboard." Ah, so you named it "Typo" because you want people to use it to not make typos -- sort of a reverse Orwellian doublethink approach to product naming. You know, like the MacBook Backpain. The Typo harnesses Ryan Seacrest's deep pockets to the tune of $1 million, in order to address an issue that hardly anyone seems to talk (read: complain) about anymore: the death of the smartphone keyboard.
For the American Idol host, it's a problem big enough so as to require a low seven-figure investment. And while we could certainly spend the day pondering precisely how much it might have cost for the television personality to purchase a controlling share in troubled QWERTY enthusiasts BlackBerry, we'll instead focus on where the money ended up. Simply put, the Typo is a case that snaps onto your iPhone 5 or 5s, adding a full QWERTY keyboard to the bottom. It's not the first keyboard case we've seen for the iPhone, though past models have largely stuck to a slider form factor, letting you type in landscape mode and stash the thing out of view when you're not using it.
The Typo, on the other hand, adds the keyboard to the bottom of the device, a decision that drew immediate comparisons to BlackBerry handsets the moment it was unveiled (not to mention a recent lawsuit). And the similarities aren't fleeting. The pad looks remarkably like the one you find on the Q10, right down to the thick white lines separating the rows and the beveled keys for speedy touch-typing. There are some issues with the placement -- for starters, there's the fact that it completely covers the iPhone's large home button, though Typo's fixed this with the addition of a small button with a square icon in the bottom right-hand corner, so you don't have to pull the case off every time you need to exit out of a program.
What the company can't really fix, however, is the nearly one inch it adds to the iPhone's already long, skinny body. In fact, the press material notes that the final version of the hardware will actually be 1.7 millimeters taller than the beta version we tried out. The other big issue is also pretty clear after analyzing the Typo for a second: The phone is really, really top heavy. Look at how Dana's holding it in that lead image. That's no coincidence. She's propping up the back, due to the really weird center of gravity the case creates. And because it's not a slider, you'll have to deal with that keyboard sticking out any time you want to, say, play a game in landscape mode. The upside, as Typo notes, however, is that the removal of the virtual keyboard means you've got a lot more screen real estate for typing.
The case's build quality is actually pretty nice, overall. It has a matte black, soft-touch back, akin to a Mophie, that feels fairly good and offers some tracking for your fingers during that inevitable cradling. The Bluetooth pairing process is pretty straightforward as well. We managed to accomplish that in less than a minute, with the space bar showcasing a nice glowing blue light to let you know when things are ready. The keys are pretty decent -- not quite BlackBerry-level, but a lot nicer than other keyboards we've tried, and while there's a bit of a learning curve, that's to be expected for any new device keyboard.
There's also a button for backlighting. That'll likely have an effect on battery life, though with the week of active use you're supposed to get on a single charge, you'll probably be all right. And when the battery is about ready to go, you'll see yet another light warning you that it's time for a charge. There are holes for access to the necessary buttons and ports, with a micro-USB socket on the left side to charge the keyboard.
All of that will run you $99 when the Typo goes live on the 13th. The case does what it claims, but like the Q10 itself, this feels like an instance of too little too late, as so many of those BlackBerry loyalists who were eagerly awaiting a new device with a decent keyboard eventually jumped ship out of frustration, only to realize that a virtual keyboard wasn't quite so bad as they'd imagined. If you continue to die a little every time you type on your iPhone's screen, perhaps this thing is worth a look.