As a former enthusiast of PDA-style devices such as the Nokia N810 and PalmPilot, moving to the iPhone was a revelation for its slick, seamless UI and vast choice of apps, though I did miss having a physical QWERTY keyboard. However, like most new iPhone users, I was soon surprised to find the on screen keyboard much more usable than I had imagined.
Still, I have often wondered if a small iPhone keyboard would be useful, so when given the chance to try the iPhone 4 compatible Nuu MiniKeyboard, I seized the opportunity to take it for a spin.
When first unpacking the Nuu MiniKey, it’s fair to say I was impressed. Though constructed from plastic, the build quality is excellent. An iPhone 4 slots securely into the top of the MiniKey and once safely housed in the cradle, the whole mechanism snapped shut with a satisfying click, feeling solid and well designed. The keyboard acts as a case for the bottom half of your iPhone (at least for mild bumps and scratches anyway, I wouldn’t want to drop it) and all your iPhone’s buttons are accessible, as is the camera. To be sure, the MiniKey adds a significant size to your iPhone, making it roughly twice the depth, though this is to be expected due to the design of the device.
Holding the MiniKey is a little awkward compared to the compact elegance of the iPhone 4, but not overly so and the keys are well laid out. The only complaints I’ve got is that my unit’s keys seemed a little too stiff for comfort and the placement of the apostrophe was awkward. The MiniKey is powered by an internal rechargeable battery which is charged via a small USB lead, I found it to be excellent and it didn’t fully drain from a full charge in the five days I used it.
Using The Keyboard
The MiniKey works via a Bluetooth connection to the iPhone 4 and this is achieved simply enough with the usual technique of adding a Bluetooth device. The MiniKey has an intelligent method of sleeping and conserving battery and I didn’t notice too much of a drain on the phone. It also has an excellent backlit display, which is a nice touch and one which helps highlight its higher quality when compared to some cheaper competitors.
At first I found it very difficult to type on the keyboard after being used to Apple’s on-screen virtual keyboard. However, after some time spent persisting using the MiniKey, I found that I eventually got the hang of it and began to type at a reasonable speed, albeit with significant!y more typos than I would usually expect. Though a completely unscientific and subjective test, I wanted to try the keyboard on some other people so asked a few tech-savvy friends to try the MiniKey for a few minutes: On average, these friends seemed to adapt to the small hardware keys much quicker than myself (though I do have very large hands).
A big plus point when using the MiniKey is that you reclaim a quite considerable area of screen real estate due to the virtual keyboard no longer popping up and this helped compel me to use it even when I felt the virtual keyboard would be quicker.
As one might expect, the MiniKey is fully compatible with iOS and works well with all your favourite apps like Simplenote, Writeroom and Taskpaper, etc – though bear in mind that Apple inexplicably does not allow Pages to be used in landscape mode so the MiniKey cannot yet be used effectively with that app, not through any fault of Nuu, it has to be said. Using the MiniKey does not feel like a ‘hack’ and it is really quite a slick experience overall. Features like a button which toggles the virtual keyboard on and off and small touches like the timed backlit keys all help to strengthen this impression.
Who Should Buy The MiniKey?
Despite being impressed with the MiniKey, I can’t quite bring myself to recommend most people rush out and buy it. It really is a testament to the iOS virtual keyboard design that it’s preferable to a well made hardware keyboard almost all of the time, but that is the case.
However, if you’re an iPhone 4 owner who has never quite gotten the hang of a virtual keyboard, or you just want a physical one for whatever reason, I feel it’s reasonable to state that the MiniKey appears to be the best currently on offer and probably as good as an attachable iPhone keyboard will get in the near future – at least unless Apple does the unlikely and makes its own.
After almost a week of using it at home and on the move, I can’t say that the MiniKey has enabled me to become very much more productive, though it certainly had made me see my iPhone from a different perspective and I’ve enjoyed the experience. Does the MiniKey grant my wish of making the iPhone into a real word processor capable of serious work? Not yet. Though the MiniKey is a product which I really like, it doesn’t quite beat the iPhone’s own virtual keyboard and thus is not all that useful, at least for myself. For those who struggle with a virtual keyboard however, it might be worth considering purchasing a MiniKey.
The Nuu Minikey can be purchased from a variety of online and offline stores, click here for more details.
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