Thumbs-on!: Typo's BlackBerry case for iPhones

For iPhone owners yearning for a physical keyboard reminiscent of their old BlackBerry, this $99 slip-on case could do the trick.

Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt

Editorial Director / CNET Money, How-To & Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads the CNET Money, How-To, and Performance teams. A California native who grew up in Silicon Valley, she's passionate about connecting people with the highest standard of advice to help them reach their goals.

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LAS VEGAS -- If an all-touch screen smartphone has never matched the speed nor dampened the satisfaction of a well-executed QWERTY keyboard beneath your fingertips, then the Typo Keyboard Case for your iPhone 5 or iPhone 5S might very well be the best $100 you've ever spent on a cell phone accessory.

Designed to look just like the iconic BlackBerry keyboard with its ridged keys (yes, Typo's been sued) this plastic slip-on case proposes to join the best of both worlds.

All the keyboard trappings are there, and an extra button on the bottom right helps you navigate the iPhone's screen while the QWERTY obstructs the home button. It worked well and is easy to get the hang of.

Typing, however, wasn't as easy to get used to right away. I have fond memories of fingers flying on BlackBerry's best-in-class keyboard, but using Typo felt different. That's partly because the keyboard isn't solidly attached to the rest of the phone body, and perhaps partly because its width extends slightly beyond the iPhone's narrow borders.

Typo Keyboard Case: Hands-on with case that turns your iPhone into a BlackBerry (pictures)

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Total proficiency is something that would probably come after a few days acquainting yourself with the case's dimensions. Jonathan Goodrich, Typo's chief technology officer, says he rates about 70 words per minute.

Getting the words to appear on the screen doesn't happen by magic. A Bluetooth connection helps translate input from the QWERTY type pad to the iPhone's screen. The case was clearly made with some usability considerations, like the dovetailed top and bottom halves that slide snugly together, and the generous cutouts that leave ample room for the phone's controls, switches, and ports.

The underside of the case looks a little bizarre because of this open channel leading to the charger; another option would have been to build in extra ports through the case. At this point, though, there's no electrical connection to make the two devices simpatico. In fact, Typo even has its own Micro-USB charging port, though the device should last between 7 and 10 days on a single charge.

Typo's Keyboard Case for iPhone 5 and 5S rips the iconic BlackBerry keyboard. Sarah Tew/CNET

For my money, $100 is a lot to spend on a case I have to learn to use, but with a dearth of QWERTY alternatives at our collective fingertips, this one is at least a viable choice.