BlackBerry Ltd.'s fight with Ryan Seacrest is in the news again, with a judge ordering the TV host's company to pay $860,000 for violating an injunction that banned it from selling the $99 Typo case.
It was just over a year ago when BlackBerry first sued Typo Products LLC for trademark infringement. Typo was generating a lot of buzz with its Typo Keyboard case for the iPhone 5 and 5S. The product is simply a phone case that snaps onto an Apple device and gives users those physical QWERTY keyboard buttons. And it is clear who Typo is targeting: Former BlackBerry users who still feel lost on a touch-screen and current BlackBerry users who are resisting the switch to iPhone for the same reason.
But is it any good? And really, is the product even necessary?
BlackBerry is suing because the mini-keys were too similar to its own and filed the suit. U.S. sales were halted, though you can still get them shipped to Canada. Aside from defending itself in the lawsuit, Typo quietly fell out of the public eye.
In January, at CES 2015, the company debuted its Typo 2 case for the iPhone 6, which it claims somehow fixes the whole patent infringement issue.
So I ordered one and decided to test it out.
For the most part, the Typo 2 works as advertised. It is incredibly easy to setup, with a quick press of a button and tap on the screen. It slides right onto the iPhone 6, doubling as a protective case, and leaves wide enough openings for full access to the Lightning port and headphone jack.
The keyboard itself does feel very similar to a BlackBerry, with the only noticeable difference being the middle is very slightly raised with each side tapering off to the edges.
Typo claims its keyboards will bring back the efficiency of typing. I used a browser-based speed-typing test to find out, jumping back and forth between the Typo and Apple's digital keyboard.
On average, I still typed faster on the digital keyboard, but only in the range of 5 words-per-minute more. That extra speed came with errors though, often between seven and 12 in the 60-second test.
In comparison, when using the Typo 2 I typically had zero or one error in the entire test. Having to physically press a key may take slightly more time and thought than mashing the screen, but it is definitely more accurate. Digital keyboard fans may have the same finished product as someone typing on physical keys, but that's often because autocorrect fixed their numerous mistakes in the process.
For comparison, I borrowed a BlackBerry Bold 9900 to see if I could type just as fast with its keyboard. The speed and accuracy was similar to the Typo 2.
Surprisingly, the Typo 2 doesn't feel like it adds much more weight or size than a traditional case when handling. However, the extra 20 millimeters (0.74 inches) in length is definitely noticeable in your pants pocket.
But the biggest problem with the Typo 2 is the fact that the keyboard covers the entire bottom of the iPhone, blocking access to Apple's Touch ID sensor. In testing, I didn't find myself missing the feature much (though that may change when Apple Pay launches in Canada). Typo has an included home button that gives you full access to multitasking, Siri and the like.
The real issue is more complicated. In recent versions of iOS, there is a menu accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, which at any time will give you the ability to turn on/off certain features, adjust screen brightness, open the camera, among other things. It is impossible to swipe this menu up with the case on. So if you are like me and go from inside to outside a lot, prepare to be annoyed that you can't quickly adjust the screen's brightness. The only time you can is from the lock screen, as there is a small bar on the screen to grab, but even then I found the case makes this a very hit or miss process.
Then there are the odd quirks.
Unlike iOS's touchscreen keyboard, when you first tap into a text field to start typing something the Typo 2 never capitalizes the first letter. You have to do it manually. After that, it auto-capitalizes.
While the backlight is handy for typing at night, you have to press a key to activate it, which registers as a key press on the device. So if you have your phone unlocked and the backlight goes to sleep, you need to press a key and then backspace whatever you just inputted to turn it back on.
Another small annoyance is that if you hit your home button to check for any notifications on the lock screen, you can't just hit any button on the keyboard to do the same. That will bring up the passcode-entering screen, hiding all would-be notifications from the screen. The only way to get around this is to press the phone's power button to check for notifications.
I also kept finding myself hitting the keyboard's home button when I'm looking for the Alt button. This may be a non-issue over time, but I did find myself cursing when I'm trying to put in a comma and instead closed the application I was typing in.
In terms of battery life, Typo also suggests plugging your keyboard in to charge every seven to 14 days. I found myself running on empty around the six-day mark though, which is a substantial difference.
Nitpicking aside, the Typo 2 is a great way to get the physical keyboard experience while having full access to Apple's large selection of apps and a strong device ecosystem.
But you must remember that this is an add-on and the iPhone isn't designed to work with it natively, so you have to make significant sacrifices in your overall experience to get the physical keyboard. These oddities will slow down your overall phone efficiency, even if it might make you a faster typer in the moment. Plus, again, it does add size to an already bigger iPhone.
Others will definitely notice a Typo 2 on your iPhone though. I was constantly asked about it during meetings and even out in public.
These sacrifices mean it's for serious button lovers only. If you're happy with your onscreen keyboard, the Typo 2 is more of a novelty. In which case, get it while you can: there's a chance BlackBerry could succeed at litigating the company out of existence.