Gear Guide: Using an iPhone or iPod Touch as a Computer Replacement

With the release of iOS 4, iPhone and iPod Touch owners now have the option of pairing their devices with a Bluetooth keyboard. With rumors surfacing that Apple will soon make available a version of iWork for these devices, there’s definite potential for using these devices as an ultra mobile replacement for a computer. In this video, I’ll compare some of the products out there that that can help make that happen (it’s not a review or endorsement of any of these products, but more of an overview of what’s out there).

There’s two types of hardware that we’ll need to comfortably work. The first is of course, the Bluetooth enabled keyboard.

The Keyboard

Apple wireless keyboard – If you’re wanting to stick with Apple for your hardware, you can get this super thin aluminum keyboard for about $69. If you haven’t used an Apple keyboard recently, you may want to try this one out before jumping in – the low profile calculator style keys seem to inspire love or hate in a lot of customer reviews.

Matias folding keyboard – If you’re short on space, this keyboard by Canadian company Matias can be folded in half. Not quite small enough to fit into the pocket of your jeans, but probably small enough to fit in a small bag or purse. It also has the advantage of having a full number keypad, which is something the Apple keyboard doesn’t have. Macworld’s review noted that the layout of some keys are slightly odd, like the lack of a dedicated caps lock key.

Flexible keyboards – If you’re looking for a really cheap and durable solution, you may be interested in one of the flexible keyboards that are currently being made by a whole bunch of different companies. These keyboards can be rolled up for easy transport and easily cleaned if you spill your drink on them. You will, however, need a flat, hard surface in order to use it. You’ll also need to keep in mind that because the keys are soft, it’s a very different experience from typing on a normal keyboard. Based on some of the comments on this thread on Engadget, you really have to mash down on the keys in order to get it to register. Most of these sell for around $25-40.

The Stand

The second piece of the puzzle is a stand to prop up your device, and there’s no shortage of people out there looking to sell you a stand.

Elago M2 Stand – If you’ve got money to burn, this stand by Elago might be the quickest way to separate you from your cash. At $25-30, it follows much of the curvy aluminum look that Apple users have come to expect.

Elago S2 Stand – If you’re on a budget, Elago also makes this cut-out metal brick that sells for about $5.

Crabble folding stand – If you can live without the aluminum, this tiny plastic stand by Crabble folds up to the size of a credit card. It’s also $5.

DIY – If the talk of spending all this money on things that don’t actually do anything makes you queasy, there’s also no shortage of DIY stand designs. Here’s some of my favorites:

(I particularly like that last one for both nostalgic and ironic reasons)

The All-in-One Solution

Thanks this video put recently out by Andy Ihnatko, we also know that the iPad Keyboard Dock will work with an iPhone 3GS. Priced the same as the Apple Wireless keyboard, it has a stand built in and has iOS specific keys that will let you access the home screen, iPod controls, and display brightness. Unfortunately, you’ll only be able to use it in portrait mode, and the dock stand does seem to make the shape of it a little unwieldy for packing.

Anandtech has written up this very thorough review of the iPad Keyboard Dock.

Update 9/21 – Cervantes Mobile has announced today that their Journo folding keyboard (which includes a detachable stand) will be made available sometime in “early fall 2010” for $99. It folds into an incredibly tiny (though somewhat thick) square that could fit easily into a pocket or purse. At only 8.5 inches wide, it seems awfully small, so you may be better off trying one out before dropping any cash on it.

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