CES 2014: Hands-on preview with the Typo iPhone keyboard

The $99 (£60) Typo adds a BlackBerry keyboard to your iPhone. There's no way around it, as much as the Ryan Seacrest-backed startup tries to vigorously deny the fact. I've used all the modern BlackBerry smartphones, and I recognise these keys: The subtle sculpting on the edges to prevent mistyping gives it away.

That doesn't make the Typo bad. Far from it; it makes the Typo the best alternative for people who desperately miss popular QWERTY phones. Aside from BlackBerry with the Q10, nobody's making high-end QWERTY phones anymore, leaving the market for people who want to type on great physical keyboards sorely unserved.

I typed on Typo for a while, and it has everything going for it. It doubles as a case. It's made of an appealingly professional, yet tough, soft-touch material. It snaps over your entire iPhone 5 or iPhone 5S , dropping that four-row BlackBerry keyboard right below the screen. The iPhone's Lightning and headphone ports stay exposed; the Typo is really a Bluetooth keyboard, with its own 180mAh battery boasting about three weeks of battery life on a charge.

The feeling of typing on Typo is extremely familiar: It's just like typing on a BlackBerry Bold. It’s no surprise, then, that the startup's biggest problem is a lawsuit, where BlackBerry is claiming the case maker violates a BlackBerry patent on the shape of keys on a small hardware keyboard. Typo says its keyboard has been two years in the making – that's before the more relevant patent, issued in 2013, but long after the first similar BlackBerry keyboard came out on the Bold 9000.

Hopefully BlackBerry and Typo can reach a settlement, because this case turns an iPhone into the best of both worlds: A powerful, modern, mainstream smartphone with a world-class keyboard.

The Typo will go on sale in the next two weeks in the States, if the courts don't stop it; an Android version is in the works, but without a hard release date.