Over the years I have reviewed quite a few keyboards for mobile devices. My all time favorite is still ThinkOutside’s Stowaway keyboard which I reviewed over 12 years ago. I would pay good money for an iPad compatible Bluetooth version of their original model right now. But since I don’t have that luxury, I keep looking for a keyboard that will let me type easier on my iPad without adding tons of bulk. I first saw the Touchfire Screen-Top Keyboard last November by way of its successful Kickstarter campaign. I thought it was a genius idea and apparently I wasn’t the only one because the project had over 3,000 backers and raised more than $200,000. After several months waiting for an opportunity to try one, they are now available and I’ve been lucky enough to get an early one to review.
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Most iPad owners probably fall into one of two camps. People who pair physical keyboards with their iOS tablet and those who don’t. It’s not uncommon to hear people say things like: “The iPad is not a laptop, so quit trying to turn it into one”. But in my opinion the iPad is anything that you want it to be, from a ukulele, to a video editor, to a journal. Pairing it with a keyboard is just another way to enhance its abilities.
Instead of featuring physical keys like the majority of keyboards on the market, the Touchfire keyboard is a light weight transparent silicone rubber skin / overlay that does not require a Bluetooth connection or battery power in order to use it.
Although the overlay is thin, you can see that it has molded three dimensional keys with 4 inverted dimples on each key. There’s nothing mechanical about the Touchfire. It’s basically a soft molded overlay that fool your fingers into feeling like they are typing on real keys because it gives the button presses some tactile feedback.
To use the Touchfire, you just lay it horizontally across the iPad’s display. Magnets along the bottom edge automatically position the overlay so that it lines up with the onscreen keyboard perfectly.
You can store the Touchfire in the included plastic case and remove it anytime you want to use it and then put it away when you’re done, or you can use the provided magnet clips so that it sticks conveniently to the Apple smart cover.
Setting up the keyboard to attach to the smart cover takes about a minute. All you have to do is remove the sticker backing from the clips and position them on the magnetic side tabs as shown above. Then you shut the smart cover normally and press the edges over the magnet clips so that they stick to the underside of the cover.
Once installed, you can open the cover and the Touchfire will lift right along with it.
When you want to type, you can hold the tab at the bottom of the keyboard as you open the cover so that the keyboard will remain affixed to the iPad.
It can quickly fold out of the way when you want access to the full screen and the side magnets will hold it there.
The iPad has a decent on screen keyboard, but since it’s a completely flat display, it will never feel like a true keyboard to those of us are used to touch typing.
The Touchfire overlay lines up nicely with the onscreen keys. The F and J keys even have bumps to help your fingers find the home row.
I’ve been typing on and off with the Touchfire for a couple weeks and find that it really does trick your mind and fingers into making you think you’re typing on a physical keyboard. This is good, but it can also be bad for touch typists like myself who are used to the layout of a real keyboard. I never had a problem typing with the iPad’s onscreen keyboard as far as accuracy, because I always use a modified hunt and peck typing style. But as soon as I started using the Touchfire, I found that I was having more trouble than normal with typos. I realized that it’s the fact that my brain thinks I’m using a real keyboard and the layout of the keyboard doesn’t match a physical keyboard.
The home row is missing the :/; and “/’ keys that are typically located to the right of the L key. Instead, the Return key is there. So I was constantly pressing the Return key by accident when I meant to type an apostrophe for contractions like it’s, don’t, can’t, etc. The way around this problem is to train yourself to let the iPad’s predictive text feature add those characters for you. But that can be easier said than done sometimes and is obviously not the fault of Touchfire.
When it’s all said and done, I do think the Touchfire Screen-Top Keyboard is definitely a very unique and cool invention. It makes typing on a rigid flat screen feel more comfy. I like that it doesn’t require any power or connections and weighs in at only 1 ounce, so it adds almost no bulk to your iPad. But there are a few things I don’t like about the Touchfire, specifically that it attracts dust and lint, which make it look really nasty after barely using it. It is washable, but who wants to mess with that every day? Also, it’s meant to improve and/or enhance typing. That can mean different things for different people. But for me that means I want to be able to touch type with it just like I can on a normal keyboard. The layout of Apple’s on-screen keyboard prevents this due to the lack and placement of some keys. So if I can’t touch type normally, then I’ll resort to my old hunt and peck style, which means I really don’t need the Touchfire in the first place. If Touchfire could some how offer an alternative on screen keyboard that would have a traditional physical keyboard layout, I’d be all over it. I really wanted to love the Touchfire, but I’ll be placing this accessory into my cool but probably won’t use it pile o’stuff.
What do you guys think? Would you use Touchfire? If so, are you a touch typist?