Can Andy Ihnatko turn the iPhone 6 Plus into the mobile computer of his dreams?
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My portable, pocketable iOS workstation: the iPhone 6 Plus with the iWerkz folding Bluetooth keyboard.
I didn’t get the new iPhones early this time. I was perfectly fine with that … until Wednesday. It felt like it was Dec. 23 and I was heading out to the ice rink with my older brother’s old hand-me-down hockey skates again for a scrimmage and I absolutely knew that the big, heavy, square box under the tree was the new pair of state-of-the-art skates.
See, Wednesday was the day that Amazon announced their (genuinely interesting) new lineup of Kindles at a press event in New York City. For me, it was a busy one-day commute: train to NYC, walk straight to the event, straight from there to the New York Public Library to write my column, and then straight back to Penn Station, with nothing else except for lunch with a good friend.
It was the sort of job that I could have handled with my iPad. But I brought my MacBook and my good camera because if I’m going to have to carry a bag, why not enjoy the deluxe version of my field office?
Oh, boy, the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus would have been the perfect choice, if I’d had it.
I suspect that many folks are anticipating the 6 Plus for exactly this same purpose. There are times when I need my full Creative Genius Production Facilities at hand when I travel. Just as frequently, though, a “just big enough” screen with built-in Internet access and something that lets me type fast will do just fine. There are tradeoffs, but boarding the train carrying absolutely nothing — like James Bond — is a big win.
The only thing missing is a decent portable Bluetooth keyboard that’s small enough to fit in a jacket pocket. Because I can’t use speech-to-text in the New York Public Library and I’m too much of a sensitive artiste to try to write more than a hundred words on a touchscreen.
I’ve taken a look around and must declare that perfection — for now — eludes me. But there are at least three affordable, workable options, and one or two possible stunners over the horizon.
Apple Wireless Keyboard
I’ve been traveling with the iPad for years, I’ve tried every iPad keyboard and keyboard case under the sun, and I’ve concluded that the Apple Wireless Keyboard is the clear winner. It’s the same keyboard Apple includes with the desktop iMac and it’s even superior to the ones built in to the MacBook Pro line. If you’re going to have to schlep your iPad around the city in a bag anyway, why suffer with a compromised keyboard?
Particularly when the $30 Origami Workstation from Incase makes it into a portable delight. It’s a wraparound case that unfolds into a tablet stand. It’s as clever as self-spitting toothpaste and completely functional.
But it’s only at the extreme margins of “pocketable,” like the other mobile laptop-size keyboards on the market. I can carry it in the inside pocket of a winter coat, maybe, with the drawback of being stopped by undercover security every time I walk through a store that sells anything the size and shape of a keyboard.
iPad Mini keyboard covers
If the width is the major issue, can we suffer — with dignity — with a Bluetooth keyboard intended for the iPad Mini?
I have Logitech’s Ultrathin magnetic keyboard cover for the iPad Mini, about $60 online. And … it works. The only positive thing I can say about the size of the keyboard is that it provokes a rush of nostalgia for anyone who used a Timex-Sinclair 1000 computer as a kid in the ’80s. Jokes aside, the keys themselves are well-made and I find that I can write productively, even if I have to play closer attention to the placement of my fingers. The thick slot that supports and easels the iPad Mini does just as well for the iPhone 6 Plus.
It’s about the dimensions of a trade paperback (5½-by-8 inches), so we’re talking “men’s coat pocket-size” here. I note that Anker has something similar (though untested by me) for just $30.
It’s usable, but short of perfection. If only they redesigned it to put the batteries under the keyboard deck! Then it’d be narrow enough for even a suit jacket pocket.
Verbatim Wireless Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard
(As opposed to a Bluetooth keyboard with a cable? That’s really the name of the product, Verbatim? Let’s just call it “Verbatim Product No. 97537” to save ourselves a little dignity.)
What I really want in an iPhone 6 keyboard is something that fits inside a jacket pocket or even a pants pocket. I want the full discreet-carry capability of 007’s Walther PPK. Women, I’m sure, are more interested in the “fits inside the insanely tiny pockets that designers seem to think are sufficient” metric.
What about those flexible silicone keyboards that roll up? They stink. Sometimes even literally. End of Roll-Up Keyboard Review. Moving on.
Clearly we’re talking about a keyboard that folds up. As an engineering problem, this is similar to making a car that can also be a powerboat. Easily to do, almost impossible to do well, and the driver’s going to have to expect to get wet.
We’re finally on the right track with Verbatim’s folding keyboard. It’s 4-by-6¼ inches when folded, and a somewhat chunky ¾-inch thick. But it fits in the inside pockets of my sports coats just fine.
(Do keep in mind, o gentlemen of fashion, that I buy my blazers and suits in 6-per-pack polybags at the Dollar Store. Also, my body type is optimized for winter warfare. The size of your blazer pockets may vary.)
The Verbatim is kind of chunky but its size is a true, notebook-type keyboard. The keys are full size and have plenty of travel; as individual keys, they’re just as comfortable as any notebook keyboard I’ve used.
It takes a little while to become accustomed to the layout, though. Some of the middle keycaps are narrower to accommodate the otherwise subtle gap for the hinge. The bigger problem is the spacebar. Of course it’s split in two, but even as a pair, it’s only about three keycaps wide. It’s just narrow enough that my right thumb keeps missing it.
Not a deal-breaker, but it’s something to be aware of.
The Verbatim also includes a clever little mousetrap-like phone easel that folds out and stores inside the keyboard when not in use.
My current pick: iWerkz Folding Bluetooth Keyboard
This is more like it. It’s along the same idea as the Verbatim. The iWerkz is the full width of a notebook-size keyboard and its keyswitches have the feel and travel of a notebook keyboard. It folds in half to make it pocketable.
But it’s slightly narrower. About 3¼ by just under 6 inches, it’s almost exactly the same size as the iPhone 6 Plus. Any pocket I’ll carry the iPhone 6 Plus in should be able to hold this keyboard as well.
It’s clad in metal and comes in a hard plastic slipcase that doubles as an adjustable easel.
The gap between the halves of the keybed on the iWerkz is wider than the gap in the Verbatim. But the bifurcated spacebar is wider, which is why I find the iWerkz more comfortable to type on. I can’t type at my full notebook speed, for sure, but after five minutes of adjustment I had no difficulty in writing 1,200 words with it.
I confess that I was unfamiliar with the iWerkz galaxy of consumer electronics hardware until last week, when I hit Amazon to fish for folding keyboards. I bought it for the same reason why I’m recommending it: It’s available online for about $35, in a range of colors. That’s certainly affordable. You can roll the dice on this without taking it for a test-type, and it’s also cheap enough to justify a keyboard that maybe you’ll only use once or twice a month.
It’s also cheap enough that you won’t blink if a better keyboard comes along in a few months.
The iPhone 6 Plus on top of the iWerkz keyboard, when it’s all folded up and ready for the pocket.
Better keyboards to come
The iWerkz/iPhone 6 Plus is a workable field-computing combo. It’s Friday morning as I write this, and I’m writing this last section on the just-arrived-minutes-ago iPhone 6 Plus and the iWerkz. As my testing with my iPhone 6 Plus Stunt Phone (an old Galaxy Note II I had in the office) indicated, it’s a perfectly suitable setup for a few hours of writing or editing.
But it could be lots better, and I’m certain that the sudden appearance of a Honkin’ Big iPhone will spur accessory makers to either pull old pocketable designs out of mothballs or design new ones.
My old Targus Stowaway keyboard, attached to my iPaq Windows Mobile PDA. We’re talking OLD.
There’s the legendary Stowaway folding keyboard that Targus used to sell, with a built-in stand and dock for Palm and Windows Phone devices. Which should tell you how long ago that was and whether such a thing will work with an iPhone over Bluetooth.
Aha! But I’ve spotted identical keyboards for sale, under a different name: the Lapworks Amigo. They want $140 for it, which is clearly a “This had better work and it had better be something I use all the time” price. I’ve put in an email to see if I can borrow one for review. Check it out if you’re curious, in the meantime.
There are what appear to be knockoffs of the Stowaway available on eBay, for about 50 bucks, shipped from China. Which seems … like it might possibly not be the genuine article, so I haven’t bit yet.
Then there’s this marvelous-looking folding keyboard that was funded on Kickstarter a few years ago: The Jorno looks like it means business and is eminently pocketable. Problems? It’ll cost from $80-$100 and shipping dates have been delayed many times (as Kickstarter projects often are). I’ve emailed those folks, too, hoping to take one for a spin.
So stay tuned. This iWerkz keyboard works well. And yes, I’m writing this last section of this very column on it. It’s surprising how quickly I’m getting used to it. I’m even touch-typing with it.
But there are exciting times to come. This iPhone 6 Plus only arrived at my house an hour ago and I can already sense that this might be the mobile computer of my dreams.
I shall cherish that thought, as over the next week I mercilessly thrust that lovely thought into the blast furnace of deep testing and multiple attempts to make this thing fail. Yay!