Imagine the keyboard of an old BlackBerry, but attached to the body of one of Samsung's 5.7-inch devices. It caused quite the stir when it was first shown off last month, but I've finally managed to get some hands-on time with it. And I really don't get it.
First off, it's not the best-looking product Samsung has crafted. Even though the Korean company's latest slew of phones has been built from glass and metal, the keyboard cover harks back to the plastic days of the Galaxy S4 and S5.
It slips onto the phone, covering the back – actually giving a nice added bit of protection to guard against scratches or cracks to the glass – and the keyboard sits about halfway over the display. The software knows when it's attached and shrinks down the UI, though I find that makes text way too small. It's still legible, but only just.
While most keyboards that attach to mobile devices connect via Bluetooth, Samsung's effort doesn't. In fact all it does is press down over the virtual keyboard that pops up normally. Remember the old Sony Ericsson P800 and its short-lived descendants.
This has benefits, notably that it doesn't need charging and you don't need to have Bluetooth always enabled on your phone, but it means it has to be much bigger so it covers all of the keys. As a result, it hangs slightly over the edges of the phone and makes the design seem even less impressive.
But looks I can forgive, if this seriously improves the typing experience. I remember, fondly, the days when I could knock out a text message on my old BlackBerry Curve in a matter of seconds. I knew all the shortcuts, tips and tricks and I still prefer the feel of tactile keys over virtual ones. Samsung has managed to create something that looks similar, but it doesn't offer that satisfying feeling that used to come with typing on a BlackBerry.
The plastic keys are soft and mushy, with little give when tapped. There isn't a tactile feeling, just a shallow squelch. Typing out a message results in plenty of typographical errors and I have to hit the tiny 'X' button far more than I like.
Even more annoying is that you can't just start typing from the homescreen to initiate a Google search. This seems like an obvious inclusion, especially with the Search widget ever present on the Android homescreen, so I'm not sure why Samsung decided against building it in.
I guess, if you spend your days using it then you'll get used to the keys. And once you've mastered it then maybe you'll save a few seconds. But is it worth ruining the look of the gorgeous Note 5? Not in my eyes.
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I could forgive the design missteps with the Samsung Keyboard Case if the functionality impressed, but it just doesn't. Mushy, tightly packed keys, a plastic construction and some odd software choices combine to create an accessory that lacks the polish I've come to expect from the new, design-focused Samsung.
One for die-hard QWERTY keyboard lovers, I think. Hopefully the final production samples will be an improvement.