Some of us can pick up an iPhone and master its virtual on-screen keyboard in a matter of minutes, but for others, it takes a bit of time — especially if you’ve just come from a BlackBerry or another smartphone that has a physical keyboard built-in. For those of you in that latter group, the NUU MiniKey for iPhone 5 is here to help.
Category: Keyboard Case
Works With: iPhone 5
The MiniKey is a clip on case with a special feature: a slide-out physical keyboard that aims to give those who don’t like typing on glass a more traditional solution. Its keys are “designed to match the ergonomics of typing with both thumbs” in an effort to help you type faster and more accurately.
The MiniKey has a built-in Li-Pro rechargeable battery (380mAh) that charges via USB, and like most wireless keyboards, it connects to your iPhone via Bluetooth. It boasts 42 backlit keys, with functions for media playback, numbers, common symbols, and more.
I reviewed the MiniKey’s predecessor for iPhone 4 a couple of years ago, and I was pretty impressed with it, so I couldn’t wait to try out the latest model and find out whether it’s worth its $60 price tag.
Setting up the MiniKey is super simple — just switch it on with the small switch alongside the keyboard, then pair it like you would any Bluetooth device. From there, you’ll be able to use the MiniKey inside any iOS app — even third-party ones — in place of the virtual keyboard.
The MiniKey has all the keys you’d expect — and more.
Not only does the MiniKey have all the keys you’d expect, but there are some additional ones, too, like the navigation arrows and a shortcut to your home screen. What’s more, nearly every key also has a second function which you can access by holding down the “fn” key.
Those functions include basics like numbers and common symbols, as well as media playback controls and the ability to alter the brightness of the MiniKey’s backlit keys. You’ll find pretty much everything you need here, though you will need to switch back to the iPhone’s virtual keyboard to add special symbols that aren’t on the MiniKey, or things like Emoji icons.
I’ve found battery life on the MiniKey to be pretty great. It’s not that easy to gauge with a device you don’t use all that often, but mine’s gone over a week without a charge on numerous occasions. That’s with some pretty heavy use, frequently replying to text messages, emails, and writing up the odd note in Evernote.
Having the MiniKey light up when you need it to is great, and it means you can continue to use the MiniKey in the dark. Without the backlighting, the keyboard would be pretty much useless in low light conditions. Thankfully, you can turn the backlight off during the day to preserve battery.
When it comes to design, I think the new MiniKey is a step backwards. It’s nowhere near as elegant as its predecessor, and in places it feels a little cheap. For example, the old MiniKey has a wonderful soft-touch finish all over, while the latest model only has it on its back — and it doesn’t feel as nice.
The latest model also has a horrible gap between the case and the slide-out keyboard. The edges aren’t straight, and they don’t sit flush like they do on the old model (see the comparison shot above). I don’t know what the reason behind this change was, but it wasn’t a good one.
The new MiniKey is harder to type on.
And because of that gap, I found the MiniKey collected all sorts of dirt and dust inside the keyboard with daily use, and I kept having to blow it all out before using it.
I also find the new MiniKey is a little harder to type on. The keys are just as good, but because the keyboard itself is wider to accommodate the iPhone’s taller form factor, you need to stretch your thumbs a little further to reach the keys in the center.
For such a small battery, the MiniKey takes forever to charge.
That might not be an issue if you have big hands, but I don’t, and I found it uncomfortable.
The other issue I had with the MiniKey is its charge times. For such a small battery, it takes forever to charge — between three and four hours. That’s almost double the time it takes to charge the iPhone 5 itself.
Apple’s never going to make an iPhone with a physical keyboard, so you have a few choices: either buy a BlackBerry instead, get used to using a virtual keyboard, or add your own physical one.
For those who choose that last option, the MiniKey is probably the best on the market right now; the only other physical keyboards I can find for the iPhone are cheap knock-offs on eBay.
Having said that, it’s far from perfect, and if you owned the previous MiniKey for iPhone 4, you’ll be disappointed with the latest model.
Unless you really, really need a physical keyboard, the MiniKey isn’t worth your $60. Spend some more time getting used to the iPhone’s virtual keyboard and you’ll be much better off.
Product Name: MiniKey
The Good: Adds a physical keyboard to your iPhone 5, is easy to set up, and has good battery life.
The Bad: Poor design, big and bulky, takes too long to charge.
The Verdict If a physical keyboard is a must, then the MiniKey may be worth your cash. But I’d recommend spending more time on mastering the iPhone’s virtual keyboard instead.
Buy from: NUU