Hands-on: ThinkGeek TK-421 iPhone keyboard case

Probably the closest you'll ever get to an iPhone with an actual keyboard. Unfortunately, design flaws kill the appeal of this otherwise cool accessory.

"TK-421, why aren't you at your post?" Whoops, wrong TK-421.
"TK-421, why aren't you at your post?" Whoops, wrong TK-421. ThinkGeek

Back in September, beloved gadget seller ThinkGeek announced the TK-421 iPhone Case with Flip-Out Keyboard . At the time, I was jazzed about the idea of trading my iPhone's cramped onscreen keyboard for a roomy set of tactile keys.

Now that I've had the chance to try them out, I'm still jazzed about the idea--just not the execution.

The TK-421 provides a two-piece wraparound plastic casing for your iPhone 4 or 3GS (be sure to order the right version of the case for your model). All the usual cutout holes are there, but the outer shell is so thick that it's harder to press the volume and power buttons.

The five-row, 49-key keyboard swings out from below (where, incidentally, it blocks the iPhone's camera--meaning you'll have to flip out the keyboard every time you want to take a photo). You'll immediately notice how top-heavy the contraption is owing to the weight of the iPhone. Unless you squeeze the keyboard tightly between your palms, the whole thing could easily topple out of your hands.

Also, on my review unit at least, the hinge didn't effectively lock the iPhone in its raised position. The tiniest nudge knocked it askew.

Another design flaw: the power switch is nestled so deeply behind the hinge that it's virtually impossible to slide. The fact that it's extremely stiff and hard to move doesn't help.

The keys themselves aren't bad. They're stiff and clicky, and large enough that you shouldn't have to worry about fat-fingering them. But the Space bar is too small for my liking. I wish ThinkGeek had ditched the functionally useless Alt and Ctrl keys right next to it and made the Space bar wider.

I had no trouble pairing the Bluetooth-powered TK-421 with my iPhone 4, and the keyboard definitely worked as advertised in all the apps I tried. The more I used it, the more I liked it, though I never did get completely comfortable with the weight imbalance.

The TK-421 is available now for $49.99. While other users--especially those who really dislike the iPhone's onscreen keyboard--may be more forgiving of its faults, I have a hard time recommending the product.

 

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