How to ‘Pro’ your iPhone 4, part 2: NUU MiniKey packs a BlackBerry style QWERTY

Last month I wrote a piece entitled Keyboard Buddy case transforms your iPhone 4 into an iPhone Pro, in which I took a look at a nifty iPhone 4 accessory that added a slide-out QWERTY keyboard to the iPhone 4. Shortly after the piece was published, a Boxwave competitor reached out to me and offered up a similar product for review. I was skeptical, to be honest, as typically such requests come from companies with inferior products desperate for coverage. In this instance, however, that was certainly not the case.

Hong Kong-based NUU is about to release an iPhone case called the MiniKey, and as has likely already been gleaned, it includes a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. I won’t bother going over the basic concept and function again — feel free to see my earlier post for the broad strokes. Instead, I’ll run through the good points and the bad points as compared to the similar case I reviewed earlier.

The Good

The keyboard on the MiniKey is pretty terrific in general, and for my taste it’s far superior than the QWERTY on the Keyboard Buddy case. The buttons are much more BlackBerry like and substantial; the four-row arrangement, though not staggered, is much more logical; and the Function and Shift commands stay active until another key is pressed — with the Buddy, you have to keep holding either key while you press a second key, as though you’re using a full-sized keyboard.

NUU’s iPhone 4 keyboard case also has another feature the Keyboard Buddy was lacking: backlighting. As a result, the keys are visible in any light. There are also very handy LEDs that indicate when the Function, Shift or Command keys have been depressed — just like the HTC Arrive has on its keyboard.

The look of the MiniKey tops the Buddy case in my opinion, simply because it looks like one unit as opposed to two separate pieces as was the case with the odd design of the Buddy. You can see better images of the case when closed in the image gallery. The case has a rubberized finish that is very easy to grip.

Finally, I love that the MiniKey case goes to sleep when the iPhone goes to sleep. After a period of inactivity, the Bluetooth connection will automatically be severed and the case will go into standby mode. This obviously conserves a great deal of battery life. When you’re ready to use the keyboard again, simply tap a key and it will reconnect in an instant.

Battery life, by the way, is rated at 30 days of standby or up to a week of usage per charge. A full charge takes roughly three hours, and the MiniKey takes a standard microUSB charger, thankfully.

The Bad

There’s no home button on the MiniKey and that was one of my favorite features on the Keyboard Buddy. Having the ability to close apps or open the app switcher from the keyboard was great. I also miss the dedicated Spotlight button from the Buddy.

The space button is centered as opposed to being positioned off to the right as it is on the Buddy, and it works quite well as long as you catch one of the corners when you tap it. If you hit the center of the space key however, it takes much more force to depress it than it does with other keys. The result is often a missed keystroke and the need to back up to add a space.

NUU’s MiniKey buttons click very, very loudly. It’s great that there’s audible feedback but the manufacturer went a tad overboard in the department. It’s hardly a deal-breaker, of course, but I wouldn’t recommend using the MiniKey in a quiet room.

There is a dedicated button to pull up the iPhone’s virtual keyboard, which is a good thing, but the placement of the button is a tad bit weird. It’s on the side of the device and can be seen in the image above. I like that it’s accessible whether the keyboard is slid open or closed, but its location is not overly convenient in either position.

Last but definitely not least, the MiniKey holds the iPhone 4 nice and tight, which is a good thing until it comes time to remove the phone from its case. Hopefully the grip will loosen a bit with age because as it stands, it’s almost painful to pull the iPhone from the MiniKey’s grasp. The only way I’ve found to work consistently without causing damage to the case, the phone or myself is to poke my finger through the space left for the camera while digging my fingernails into the side of the case and prying. It’s annoying and it’s even a little painful. As great as the MiniKey is, I still want to shed the added bulk from time to time and it would be nice if I could do that without injuring myself.

The NUU MiniKey begins shipping on March 28th, and it will cost $79.99. Check out NUU’s website for more information.

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