There’s a lot of talk floating around about the latest Galaxy Note. From one perspective, it’s Samsung’s most beautiful phablet yet, porting the top-notch design of the Galaxy S6 to the Note family and bumping some specs in the process. From another, it represents a watering down of an iconic brand once partly known for its no-compromises feature load. We made the case for both sides on the latest episode of the Pocketnow Weekly podcast (coming soon) but there’s one thing we’re pretty sure most folks can agree on: that keyboard case Samsung’s selling alongside it is a very special flavor of crazy.
If you missed it amid all the hubbub, here’s a quick rundown: the Galaxy Note 5 keyboard case is … well, exactly what it sounds like. A rigid polycarbonate enclosure snaps onto the back of the phone, providing an anchor point for a removable hockey mask of a thumbpad that looks scavenged from one of Palm’s old Treo design labs. The keyboard itself is a full QWERTY affair with raised mechanical buttons featuring an asymmetric chiclet design, done up in one of three colors. In addition to the standard 26 alphanumeric keys, the case offers shift, alt and symbol toggles alongside replacements for the phone’s home/back/multitasking buttons that the case obscures when installed. It eschews the complexity of a Bluetooth connection for a simple mechanical arrangement: the keys make contact with a membrane when pressed, which in turn presses on the display beneath. When not needed, the case pops off and affixes to the back of the phone, restoring the full-size display of the Note 5.
As well-thought-out as some of its aspects may be, the Galaxy Note 5 keyboard cover still feels more like a throwback than an upgrade. For one thing, its keys aren’t backlit, so it’s effectively impossible to use in the dark. For another, it obscures the fingerprint sensor built into the Note 5’s home button, so you’ll either need to pop it off every time you need to unlock your phone, or choose a different security method entirely when you want to use the case.
Most egregious of all: it ruins the premium look and feel that Samsung spent so long crafting for its new phablets. The 7000-series aluminum and elegantly curved glass give way to an awkward, rounded matte plastic box whose look and feel don’t come close to living up to the Note 5’s $700+ price point.
For me, the biggest question of all is: who’s gonna buy this thing? While the aforementioned podcast gets the occasional piece of listener mail asking for a modern flagship with a physical keyboard, the majority of the world has moved on. Samsung’s on-stage example of slapping the keyboard case on to “bang out a long email” seemed especially out of touch, like a recycled line from a 2010 press event announcing the latest side-sliding QWERTY flagship.
The Galaxy Note 5 keyboard cover will go on sale “soon,” alongside variants for the Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 edge and Galaxy S6 edge+. To be fair, I’ll admit that I’m actually looking forward to trying it out – but that’s because I’m a sucker for nostalgia and a lover of novelty – and more importantly: I won’t need to spend any of my own money to give it a test drive. By contrast, Samsung’s asking the average consumer to dole out $80 for this curiosity – and maybe that’s the weirdest part of this whole casserole of weirdness. As always, for an official buy/no-buy recommendation you’ll have to wait for the full review … but I’ll go out on a limb and predict that you’re probably gonna wanna wait for the price drop on this one.