Earlier this month, Chinese firm iPhone5mod launched its innovative EX Hybrid Controller for the iPhone 5. As I noted in my coverage at MacRumors, the product consists of a thin magnetic cover for the back and sides of the iPhone, with separate 2-mm thick plates offering keyboard and gamepad options for users.
We don’t really do reviews at MacRumors, but iPhone5mod sent me a sample of the accessory set after I wrote about it and I thought it was worth a post to give a quick hands-on impression of the product.
First, the positives. The plates really are thin. Extremely thin, and yet the keys and buttons are clickable under the aluminum surface of the plate and raised ridges between them help you stay on target. Each plate of course also contains a battery and Bluetooth hardware inside, and it’s really remarkable that it all fits in such a slim profile.
Key responsiveness is about on par with what I expected for such a thin device. You simply can’t generate significant key travel in such a thin profile, but the keys do generate a distinct clicking or popping as they are pressed. As with similar keyboard add-ons for phones, the key layout is more compressed and in a different alignment from traditional keyboards, but with a little practice typing becomes fairly natural.
The magnets are pretty strong. I felt comfortable holding my iPhone by the magnetically-attached keyboard in both landscape and portrait orientations, although it is obviously still more prone to being knocked out of your hand if you bump it against or get bumped by something.
iPhone5mod’s promo video on the product page shows a user stacking both the keyboard and gamepad plates on the back of an iPhone, and if you choose to use the device with both plates attached, it is advisable to keep the two plates together when moving into active mode. Leaving one attached squarely to the back of the phone and only moving the other one of them into the usable position results in a significant weakening of the magnet attraction, increasing the possibility of the device being knocked loose.
There are a few negatives as well, most notably that the charging station for the plates suffers from some quality control issues. I received two charging stations from iPhone5mod, and one of them simply doesn’t work. Plugging in the micro-USB cable to the station yields a brief flash of the red power light, but then it fails to charge. The other charging station works fine.
It is also quite difficult to remove the keyboard and gamepad plates from the charging station. They sit down in a depression and are held in by magnets in order to ensure proper alignment of the charging contacts. There is a cutout at one end of the charging station that is intended to facilitate removal of the plate, but it is not deep enough to allow you to get a finger under the plate and pry it loose. Some flexing of the charging station will let the plate be removed, and it helps if you stick the rear shell of the case (with or without iPhone) to the plate first to help free it from the charger.
Overall, the EX Hybrid Controller is an interesting product to evaluate. I don’t generally have a need for a physical keyboard or gamepad on my iPhone, but I can see how it might be an appealing option for those that do, offering a remarkably thin keyboard that also includes a shell to give some protection for the iPhone. At a current price of $59.90, it is a significant investment and pricer than some other options, but it does seem to offer a much thinner and lighter profile than the competition, an important consideration for a device that most people keep with them throughout the day.