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Hands-on: Touchfire Screen-Top Keyboard for iPad

updated 11:46 am EDT, Wed July 11, 2012

Add-on claims to speed up iPad typing

Recently MacNN was sent a sample of the Touchfire, an accessory for the iPad meant to solve a recurring problem: typing accuracy. Because the tablet lacks any sort of default feedback when you're typing, it can be extremely easy to hit the wrong key; by extension, this forces you to look down at the onscreen keyboard, slowing down work even more in some cases. The Touchfire is a transparent overlay which adds depth and texture to the keyboard, and also lets you rest your hands on it without triggering any commands.

On a basic level, at least, it works. In testing it noticeably sped up writing in PlainText, since your fingers naturally settle into the proper position when aiming for a given key, at least so long as you know where that key is supposed to be -- adjusting to the iPad's layout can take some time, but that's Apple's doing, not the Touchfire's. The accessory, though, does have problems that make it hard to recommend.

The first is that it's only useful when an iPad is in landscape mode and the keyboard is onscreen. For some people this won't be a bother, but it relegates the product to extended typing work, since you'll be taking it off every minute or so otherwise. You can attach bundled clips that allow quickly securing it to an Apple Smart Cover (or something very similar), but this is obviously meaningless for people who have a different case or none at all.

The Touchfire also feels flimsy. Edge pieces containing the alignment magnets are made of low-grade plastic, and the overlay itself seems like it could potentially tear, although it might take exceptional circumstances to make that happen. The product does come with a travel case, but it's very thin, and the Touchfire is so awkward to roll up that making it fit can be a chore.

The biggest obstacle, though, is pricing. We were sent the add-on without any reference to how much it would cost; as it turns out it costs a whopping $50, which is mind-boggling considering that you can buy dedicated Bluetooth keyboards for as much or less --or in some cases, whole cases with keyboards built in. Under those circumstances, it just doesn't make sense to get a Touchfire unless space is at such a premium that even a condensed Bluetooth keyboard is too much.




by MacNN Staff

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