Tech Lab Plus

Clip-on keyboard pushes the right buttons

 Touchfire screentop keyboard for iPad, by Touchfire Inc.
Touchfire screentop keyboard for iPad, by Touchfire Inc.

Touchfire screen-top keyboard for iPad,
by Touchfire Inc.

$49.95 at

It’s no fun trying to touch-type on the hard glass “virtual keyboard” of Apple Inc.’s iPad. Oh, wait a second — yes, it is fun after­ all. Or at least a lot better than it used to be, if you slap on this clever and effective new product.

Touchfire is a plastic sheet with raised sections that correspond to the positions of the keys on the iPad’s virtual keyboard. You just place the Touchfire over the iPad screen; magnets hold it in place. The knobby projections on each plastic key and the soft, flexible plastic combine to keep your fingers correctly placed for touch-typing. You don’t have to stare at the virtual keyboard to make sure you’re hitting the right keys; Touchfire lets you work as if you’re using a physical keyboard.

Granted, it’s not as comfortable. I wouldn’t want to compose “War and Peace” this way. But it works remarkably well. And Touchfire folds into­ a handy carrying case that will easily fit into your iPad bag.


The only downside is the price; pretty steep, considering that you can get a real keyboard for an iPad for about $100. For occasional bouts of casual typing, Touchfire is a good choice; cut the price in half and I’d rate it excellent.

iCade 8-Bitty smartphone game controller, by ThinkGeek

$29.99 at

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How popular are those old-school “8-bit” console games, the ones with blocky graphics that we used to play in video arcades? They’re so popular that a new Disney movie based on them, “Wreck-It Ralph,” just opened in theaters. And they are popular enough for ThinkGeek to invent a gadget to help you play these classic games on a smartphone.

8-Bitty is a game controller with a full suite of pushbuttons and a “D-Pad” for moving your character around the screen. It connects to a smartphone through a Bluetooth wireless chip.

Now all you need are some games. The 8-Bitty works with a limited number of compatible games. There are dozens that claim to be; find a link to a list of them at the ThinkGeek site. But several that I installed on my iPhone just didn’t work for me. After much trial and error, I

finally got the controller to work with a ridiculous little time-waster called Stupid Jones, which mainly involves dodging past razor-sharp blades of death. I died a lot, but 8-Bitty was hardly to blame.


You’d have to be pretty hardcore about this kind of game to spend $30 for a controller that’s as big as your cellphone. But Walt Disney thinks that there are plenty of you out there, and so does ThinkGeek.

Hotel Tonight travel app

Free for Apple iOS devices and Google Android devices

Can I get you two a room? It will take only a couple of minutes, thanks to a slick little app that’s designed to get you into a nearby hotel, fast.

Just download the app and sign up for a free account. You can use your Facebook logon to hook up. Hotel Tonight can let you search for rooms in dozens of major cities. Or you can set it to detect your location and ­automatically home in on the best nearby options.

The good news is that Hotel Tonight works with lodging establishments to get you discounts on high-quality rooms.

The bad news is that for now, its choices are rather limited. On a recent search, it offered­ a choice of just three Boston hotels. The company says that’s because listed hotels must measure up to its exalted standards.


Makes sense, but Hotel Tonight­ would be more useful if it were a little less choosey. Still, it’s a handy new way to find a place to stay.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at