If there's one thing that's missed more than anything else in today's smartphones, it might be the hardware keyboard. Once a staple on every smartphone produced, the physical keyboard has all but disappeared, showing up on a handful of BlackBerry devices that no one actually buys. Some companies, like the Ryan Seacrest-backed Typo, have tried to bring the hardware keyboard to modern phones, but without much success.
Never content to sit on the sidelines, Samsung is now trying its hand at blending yesterday's hardware keyboard with today's modern, slab-style phones. A new accessory for the just-announced Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge+ brings back those tactile keys that so many people have long forgotten.
Unlike the Typo keyboard, which communicated with the iPhone over Bluetooth and extended the length of the device to unwieldy proportions, Samsung's keyboard case snaps on top of the phone's display, effectively blocking half of the screen. The phone recognizes the keyboard and adjusts its user interface accordingly, shrinking everything to the top half of the screen. Keypresses are sensed by the screen underneath, eliminating the need for any batteries or Bluetooth pairing hassles in the keyboard itself. You can pop the keyboard on and off pretty easily, and if you want the full glory of an unobstructed display, you can snap it to the backside of the phone for storage.
It's definitely a novel and different idea, unlike anything I've seen before. Unfortunately, in the few minutes I spent demoing the keyboard, I didn't find it particularly easy to type on. The keys are not very well separated, and they kind of all blend together under my thumbs (the skeptic in me thinks that it was specifically designed to avoid looking like a BlackBerry keyboard and the inevitable lawsuits that would come with that), and I missed the conveniences of a virtual keyboard like tracing. But if you're a die-hard physical keyboard fan and don't want to venture into BlackBerry's world, Samsung might be your only ticket in town.
Samsung couldn't tell me when the keyboard case would be available or how much it would cost, but I expect it will hit shelves around the same time as the Note 5 and the S6 Edge+. And can you really put a price on tactile keys?
Verge Video: Hands on with the Galaxy Note 5