Earlier this year, I heard about a Kickstarter project for an iPad add-on called "TouchFire." The idea sounded intriguing: A flexible silicone-ish keyboard that magnetically attached to your iPad screen, providing tactile keys that worked with the iPad's soft keyboard.
I investigated, and decided to get in on the project, which entailed "investing" some money in the project for an opportunity to reserve one of the units when they began shipping. I put my money down. About a month ago, I received my keyboard and it is pretty cool. But it isn't perfect and it probably won't be a hit for everyone so I decided to write a brief review of my experiences here.
What you get
For $50, you get a TouchFire keyboard, a carrying case (it folds up pretty small and fits nicely in the case), and some adhesive magnets that attach to your smart cover, if you have one - more on why you need those magnets in a second.
How the TouchFire works
The TouchFire keyboard has strong magnets built into it, and it "snaps" on to your iPad, and aligns itself much like Apple's smart covers do - this makes it easy to get the keyboard into the right position over the on-screen keyboard.
This also makes it easy to flip the TouchFire down (toward you) if you want to temporarily gain access to your full iPad screen such as when you want to draw on the screen or use your fingers to perform operations. Then you can simply flip it back up over the screen when you want to type.
Another cool aspect of the TouchFire's flexibility and ease of removing the keyboard is that it can fold up inside your smart cover to completely get the TouchFire out of the way without risking that you'll leave it behind. This is where the adhesive magnets I mentioned come into play.
- When you first get your TouchFire, you go through a short process to position and mount a couple of magenta to the underside of your smart cover.
- After that, if you don't want to use the TouchFire, you simply lift it with the smart cover the next time you open it up, and the magnets will hold the keyboard against the smart cover, as shown in the picture at right (you can see larger versions of these pictures at the TouchFire site).
Typing on the TouchFire is pretty nice - you get exactly the same layout as the iPad keyboard, but how you have tactile keys that can help you type more quickly, especially if you are a touch typist. You will need to experiment a bit to see if you like to type flat or if you like to type at an angle, which you can achieve by propping it up with the smart cover.
The TouchFire seems pretty durable so far, and you can easily wash it if it gets dirty (I've washed mine once after I got a bunch of dust on it).
There is one complaint I have about the TouchFire. Apparently, I "drag" my fingers over the top of the keys ever-so-slightly when I type and it took a while to get used to raising my fingers up higher - the jelly-like feel of the TouchFire's keys grabbed my fingers enough to slow my typing down and annoy me. I don't have that issue with "normal" physical keys.
On a related note, you may find the TouchFire to be very sticky at first. Give it a few days and that stickiness calms down, in my experience.
By the way - if you're interested in seeing it in action, I encourage you to watch the video that got me excited about this:
Pros and Cons
Here are the pros and cons from my perspective.
- Very lightweight
- Easy to "install" and remove (clear instructions are provided with the TouchFire)
- Nice carrying case, and extra magnets are provided
- Enables touch typing using Apple's touch keyboard, which means spellcheck / autocorrect work the same as with Apple's keyboard
- Integrates with Apple's smart cover
- No batteries or other moving parts
- Jelly-like feel of keys may not work for your typing style (see my notes above).
- When you switch to alternate symbols on the keyboard, sometimes it's hard to see which key is which since they soft keys are now covered by the TouchFire. You can kind of see through the TouchFire, but it's not completely clear.
For me, the bottom line is that I am happy I bought a TouchFire, because I regularly use it when I'm trying to travel very light. However, for productivity and typing speed, I still find myself gravitating back to my Logitech keyboard case - even if it weighs more and has to be recharged once a month.
Another aspect I like about the Logitech - when I'm taking notes with it, the iPad screen is upright kind of like a laptop screen, which means I can take notes without allowing others to read what I'm typing. Obviously, typing on a near-vertical surface just isn't practical using the onscreen keyboard.
If you end up getting a TouchFire, let me know how you like it - I have two friends that absolutely love the TouchFire, and would like to hear more from other people.