The on-screen keyboard in iOS does the job for short bursts of text, but if you want to use your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch for long-form writing, you're better off using a discrete keyboard.
Even for shorter things, such as text messages, instant message chats or brief emails, a separate keyboard speeds you up no end.
As well as actually typing, you can manipulate your text more quickly because iOS lets you use shortcuts for commands such as copying and pasting, and Shift+arrow keys to select text. You can also use the arrow keys on their own to move the cursor around, so no more dragging your finger and squinting at the on-screen magnifier to position it.
Apple sells a dock for the original iPad with a keyboard attached to it, but a Bluetooth model gives you more freedom, both in terms of the devices you can use it with (these keyboards should work with Macs and PCs, too) and when it comes to your setup.
So you could pop your iPhone in a dock on a shelf at eye-height and the keyboard on your desk. Or, when you're on the train with your iPad, stand it on the table and pop the keyboard just in front. The possibilities are endless, and you'll be able to type away for hours, provided you pick the right keyboard for your needs.
Do you need something that's small and easy to slip into a bag, or does size not matter, so long as you can type on it for long periods? Four of these run on batteries, so make sure you carry spares with you. The only exception is the iGo, which has built-in batteries that charge using a micro-USB connection. Lastly, the iGo Bluetooth Keyboard was also formerly known as the Adapt ADK-200; some sites still sell it as this.
What we tested...
Apple Wireless Keyboard - £57
Freedom i-Connex - £60
iGo Bluetooth Keyboard - £62
KeySonic KSK-3201MacBT - £38
Macally BTKeyMini - £70
We spent long periods typing on each of these keyboards to find out just how usable they are for extended reams of prose. How comfortable are they on the fingers? How fast can you type and how many mistakes do you make?
To be able to type quickly and without errors, you need the keys to be where you'd expect them to be, especially things like the punctuation and numbers. And in trying to squash so many keys into a small and folding unit, the i-Connex becomes tricky to use.
We found ourselves making a lot of mistakes, and to compound matters, then missed the very small backspace key. The number keys along the top aren't exactly where you expect them to be in relation to the rest of the keys, either.
The KeySonic model, on the other hand, despite the key area being the same size as the i-Connex, is simply a slightly shrunk version of a full computer keyboard, and is far easier to use. We quickly found ourselves typing away at speed, with few mistakes. The action of the keys is wonderfully light and they're all where you'd expect them to be.
The same is true for the Apple model, although the keys are in fact the same size as a regular computer keyboard, so you won't need to get used to a smaller size – simply set it up and start typing. Again, the key action is perfect – just enough resistance to let you know you've pressed the keys, but light enough not to place too much strain on your fingers.
The Macally keyboard, despite being very light and compact, doesn't lend itself to fast or error-free typing (you'd be amazed at the number of errors we made typing this sentence alone on it). Like the i-Connex, in squashing all the keys into a small space, Macally has taken liberties with key placement, most irritating of which is the apostrophe. While it's not far from where you'd expect it, we kept hitting Enter instead – intensely annoying.
Lastly, the iGo has also shifted a couple of keys around, and indeed done away with the right Shift key altogether, causing much angst for your Mario Teaches Typing-trained reviewer. But since the majority of keys are where you'd expect them to be, and because the key action is just so pleasant, we actually found ourselves rather liking the keyboard. The slightly rubberised keytops feel great to type on and the action is the lightest of all those on test here – something for which our RSI-prone fingers were thankful.
When it came to portability, we looked at the size of the keyboard, of course, but also at how rugged they felt and how comfortable we were shoving them into a rucksack. Keyboards are notoriously susceptible to crumbs and other junk getting stuck under the keys, so it's important you shield them in your bag.
In this respect, the KeySonic and Apple will need some form of protection – such as a sleeve – to ensure that dust doesn't get anywhere it shouldn't. It's also worth noting that these two are both (largely) white, so the dirt that they'll inevitably come into contact with is more likely to show up on them.
The Macally, iGo and i-Connex keyboards are all black and generally better designed for flinging quickly into bags without too much care. The first comes with a protective case that doubles as a stand for your device – a really good idea for when you're on the road and need to prop up your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch but don't want to lug around even more kit.
Whichever device we plonked into the stand stayed upright firmly (which is more than could be said for some other, achem, stand-alone stands we've tried). And the i-Connex protects itself from dust in your bag by folding in half, though there is still a gap between the two segments where stuff can get in.
The iGo is probably the best when it comes to portability, though, because its keys are sealed around the edges, so no dust can make its way where it's not wanted. Add to this that it's the thinnest and lightest package on test here and you've got pretty much the ultimate portable travel companion.
The only small issue we found was that the rubberised surface on the front and back did attract dust and other unwanted junk, which, while not affecting performance, doesn't do much for the aesthetics.
KeySonic KSK-3201MacBT - £38
Whether it's a text, email or thesis you want to type, this little keyboard will be your best friend
The fact that you're considering getting an external keyboard for your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch suggests you're having to do a fair bit of typing on it.
With that in mind, let's get one thing clear: go for the very best there is for long-form typing. Your fingers (and stress levels) will thank you. Because of this, we can't recommend the Macally, even though we like the stand it comes with. As a keyboard, it's simply too small and typing on it produces too many errors.
Similarly, while we like the full-size main keys on the Freedom i-Connex and its folding design, its unintuitively positioned keys – notably backspace – caused our stress levels to rise considerably while we were using it. Not what you need when you're trying to hammer out that essay or meeting plan with only a few minutes spare.
Indeed, it's this irritating moving around of keys that does for the iGo as well – not to mention its omission of the right Shift key – because it's otherwise really nice to type on and almost flawless when it comes to portability.
So with the choice between one keyboard with full-size keys (Apple) and another with smaller ones (KeySonic), you might think that we'd go for the former, based on how easy it would be to type on. But in practice, we didn't find that the smaller keys on the KeySonic hampered us at all. In fact, when it comes to portability, its smaller size and slightly lighter weight are virtues.
Even if you do plan to use it mainly just sitting at your desk, the smaller footprint leaves you more space for your papers, stationary holders and photos of your nearest and dearest. The other big thing the KeySonic's got going for it is its price. It's £20 cheaper than the Apple model, but you don't feel that you're compromising on style or quality.
Even though it's plastic, it still looks the part alongside your iOS device and feels robust and durable. Sure the little trackball and mouse buttons are (currently?) useless with iOS, but you could also pair this keyboard with a media centre PC or Mac to let you control it from your sofa.