Monday, April 14, 2014

Spike iPhone keyboard

I am writing this review on my iPhone. No, it's not some form of punishment for Lent. Rather, I'm demonstrating the usefulness of the Spike keyboard for the iPhone.

4/25/14 UPDATE: see below re "problems encountered"

As a former blackberry user, I like the iPhone but I detest the keyboard. Sometimes it works ok but sometimes it is just horrible. I'll be in the middle of typing something then the phone will incorrectly register a key that's not even close. The one I hate the most is when it incorrectly thinks i pressed the send button, then a half-finished message would be sent.

There have been a few keyboards for the iPhone but to my knowledge they have added significant bulk to the phone and have required a battery of some sort (either its own or the iPhone's).  The Spike is a case for the iPhone with a built-in swiveling keyboard that doesn't require an energy source and is also very compact.  It is available for the iPhone 4, 4S, 5, and 5S.

Originally, there were 3 models of Spike: Model 1 is a basic model where the keyboard doesn't swivel.  Instead you detach the bottom and flip it over then reattach it.  The advantage is low cost.  Model 2 is the model where there is a keyboard that swivels from the back to the front of the case when in use.  Model 3 is a limited edition with an engraving option.  Currently, Solomatrix sells only the Model 2, which is the one I got.

The Spike is made of a lightweight plastic, similar to the kind of plastic used for SD cards for example.  Although the plastic is light, it feels relatively sturdy.  My impression is that it is slightly more durable than the plastic used for the Otterbox Defender's frame, although I don't plan on testing this.

The Spike comes in two parts that enclose the iPhone.  Installation is as simple as fitting the top part over the iPhone, then sliding the bottom of the Spike to attach to the top part.  The top part is very snug while the bottom is just.  (I suspect this is a legacy from having Model 1 units where the bottom was designed to be detached and reattached.  The top part needed to be very snug so that the phone wouldn't fall while you removed the bottom part to reattach it.)

Once attached, the keyboard stays out of the way behind the iPhone.  The ports remain available, although some thicker 3rd party accessories (like adapters and earphones) might not fit.  [One of my headphones doesn't fit, so I got an adapter like this.]  The case doesn't add much to the thickness of the iPhone.

When you're typing a message, the keyboard swivels from the back of the phone to the front. The keyboard has small magnets in it, to trigger the iPhone's capacitive touchscreen.

The keyboard feels pretty good, somewhat similar to the feel of a blackberry keyboard, although a little bit stiffer. The keyboard can be used with the alphabetic or numeric layouts. 

The keyboard is accurate.  The exception is if you start typing with the onscreen keyboard first and then switch to the Spike keyboard, in which case, the letters might not correspond with the buttons because the iPhone recalibrates when you use the onscreen keyboard.  When that happens, you have to pause for about 5 seconds before using the keyboard.

4/25/14 UPDATE: I found that on my unit, the 'A' button is less responsive than the other buttons. Sometimes I press it and there's no input.  Without the Spike keyboard, I can press the 'a' on my iphone screen and there are no issues.  I've emailed Solomatrix about this but did not receive a response.  4/28/14 update:  I received a call from Spike. They offered to send me replacement unit.  I'll update this post with how well the replacement works.  5/5/14 update: I received a replacement from Solomatrix and it works perfectly.  All keys are responsive.

Another issue is that the attachment between the upper and lower part becomes less secure over time.  I often have to remove the lower part on my unit in order to use my aftermarket charger.  I've noticed that the lower part now detaches more readily than before.

- Doesn't add much to the thickness of the iPhone.
- No batteries needed.
- Easy to switch between using the keyboard and storing the keyboard.
- Mostly accurate entry.
- The case provides some protection against bumps against the sides and corners.


- The keyboard doesn't work with screen protectors.
- No holster available for the case.
- Not cheap ($60 as of this time).
- Supply and availability is unpredictable because it's a new company (I ordered mine 3 months ago and only got it now).  SoloMatrix reports the following availability at the moment:
"FYI, Estimated Shipping Dates are as follows:
iPhone 4/4s Spike 1 & 2: 4-8 weeks
iPhone 4/4s Spike 3: 8-12 weeks
iPhone 5 Spike 1 & 2: 12-16 weeks
iPhone 5 Spike 3: 14-18 weeks"
- The keys are not backlit, although the light from the uncovered part of the screen provides just enough light to use the alphabetic keyboard IMO (the numeric layout in blue is too dark to see in total darkness).
- A tiny bit of excess glue in a couple of places behind the keyboard on my unit.

If you want a keyboard for your iPhone, Spike's keyboard works pretty well.  It is relatively low-profile and stays out of the way when not in use.  When I need a keyboard it is easy to flip it onto the screen.  Text entry is accurate and reliable.  The biggest challenge for some users may be the unpredictable amount of time it takes to get one.

Disclosure: I have no relationship with Solomatrix (the makers of Spike). This is an independent review based on a unit that I ordered by myself using my own money with no discounts or incentives.

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