What’s It Like to Use an iPhone With a Physical Keyboard? I Got a Chance to Find Out – CNET

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When the original iPhone launched, back in 2007, it marked a firm rejection of button heavy hardware like BlackBerrys and Palm Treos, and the overwhelming success of its onscreen keyboard virtually banished the physical keyboard from our phone lives. A startup company with a new iPhone case called Clicks is hoping to change all that.

Two popular YouTubers have debuted an iPhone case at CES 2024 that adds a physical keyboard with real buttons to the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Clicks is the kind of retro, “analog” tech that’s been making a splash with Gen Z, but that older generations might find nostalgic as well, harkening back to the days of early smartphones. I recently got a chance to try out the Clicks case in person to see what it’s like.

Read more: Best of Show: Our Most Exciting, Innovative and Impactful Tech Winners of CES 2024

As an iPhone user, I still find myself longing for a physical keyboard from time to time, particularly when my fingertips are damp after finishing a sweaty workout or handling a perspiring cup of iced coffee. I sometimes crave the precision typing that I get on my laptop, as well as the somatic satisfaction of smashing a physical keyboard with my thumbs. 

Here’s the thing: Not only has the iPhone never had a physical keyboard; it was revolutionary in part because it didn’t. Save for the home button and a few other controls, the iPhone celebrated its all-virtual keyboard.

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Watch this: This iPhone Case Gives You a Physical Keyboard

The Clicks case launches Feb. 1 for the iPhone 14 Pro, and later in the spring for iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max. Clicks cases are available for preorder now, ranging in price from $139 to $159. Color options include banana-yellow BumbleBee and a more tame, grayscale London Sky.

Model

Clicks case price

Ship date

iPhone 14 Pro

$139

Feb. 1

iPhone 15 Pro

$139

Mid-March

iPhone 15 Pro Max

$159, $30 deposit

Early spring

Here’s what I experienced when converting my iPhone 15 Pro into a keyboarded handheld smartphone for the first time.

Hands-on with Clicks keyboard case for iPhone Pro

Let’s get to the bottom line first, then dive into the details. The extra screen space while typing is a dream, the case was surprisingly light, and I acclimated to the additional keyboard shortcuts quickly.

The most immediate and obvious benefit to the Clicks case is the change in screen size when typing. Since the case already has a keyboard, the digital keyboard no longer appears on your screen while typing, giving you far more space. 

Clicks physical keyboard phone case at CES 2024

Two iPhone Pros, side by side, show the notable difference in screen space when the digital keyboard is no longer on screen.

Nick Wolny

It was weird in a good way, a real “wow” moment, and the extra screen real estate alone may be worth the investment. On the demos I saw, which showcased an in-progress Instagram Story draft, the difference was dramatic — certainly helpful for creators who don’t want to toggle back and forth to see how a draft post looks.

The best part? No spelunking in your Settings to update keyboard preferences; the change takes effect immediately as soon as you plug the case in.

I thought adding a case big enough for a keyboard would add a lot of weight, but the Clicks case was lighter than I expected. Stuffing my phone into either the front or rear pocket of my Levis was doable, although the case clearly jutted out. Since accessing numbers with the Clicks case attached requires either a Shift or number lock command first, you won’t have to worry about intra-pocket keyboard button mashing locking you out of your device. Some people may find the extra length clunky and opt to shed the case for everyday activities, such as taking a phone call without earbuds.

It was surprisingly easy to slip the Clicks iPhone case onto my phone, even though the USB-C port juts out at the bottom. Like the keys themselves, the case has a rubbery quality with a bit of stretch, so once the port was attached, pulling the lip of the case over the top of my phone was easy. To remove, I pressed gently on the back to pop the top of my phone forward, then slid my iPhone out.

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Clicks will debut with two colors to start: BumbleBee and London Sky. They’re available for iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max models.

Nick Wolny/CNET

The case has a MagSafe pass-through port at the bottom, so you’ll still be able to use charging wires or other accessories as needed.

Clicks comes with several preprogrammed keyboard shortcuts and lets you customize additional shortcuts of your own, for a total of up to 36 commands. I tested two shortcuts in detail: Command-H, to return to the home screen, and a spacebar shortcut, which scrolls down a web page when on a browser. When I asked SVP of Product Marketing Jeff Gadway whether this shortcut would also work on social media feeds, he said it depends on the app, rather than hardware preferences. 

Nevertheless, both shortcuts were deliciously convenient and easy to adopt — I had them down in just a few tries. I could see myself reading long articles or websites without having to move my thumb repeatedly, similar to how a Kindle or e-reader works.

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The iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max models have a USB-C port, whereas the iPhone 14 Pro model has a lightning port.

Nick Wolny/CNET

The Clicks keys are tactile with a bit of a rubbery quality, and lean more toward Tamagotchi than Magic Keyboard. The physical keyboard is laid out differently from your iPhone’s digital keyboard, mainly because of Clicks’ wider bottom row, which adds a command key, tab key and symbols key.

On the iPhone 15 Pro model I demoed, the physical keyboard was smaller than your phone’s digital keyboard. It was hard to tell how long it would take for me to acclimate to the buttons, but on my maiden voyage things felt a bit crowded. I ended up tilting my fingertips forward so I could type with my nails instead. I’m not sure I’d want to write an article on my phone (As I’ve been doing with this very story while on the CES show floor), but it’s hard to say after spending only 20 minutes with the device. The iPhone 15 Pro Max model I tried had a more spacious keyboard.

Clicks physical keyboard phone case at CES 2024

Back view of the Clicks iPhone case. 

Nick Wolny

My Clicks iPhone case takeaways

What surprised me most was that the change in keyboard interface was instant. It went into effect the moment I plugged the case into my iPhone, which had me wondering why someone else hadn’t thought of this sooner. Perhaps that’s the benefit of having two seasoned industry pros at the helm: Michael Fisher and Kevin Michaluk, known respectively as Mr. Mobile and CrackBerry Kevin on YouTube.

We’ll be able to give a more in-depth review of the Clicks iPhone case in the future, when the company begins fulfilling orders next month. But as far as first impressions go, this case might be a good fit for iPhone Pro users seeking a physical keyboard experience.

Clicks physical keyboard phone case at CES 2024

A close up of the back of the Clicks phone case.

Nick Wolny

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