GEDC0093A few days ago, I was contacted by Chih-Chin Sun of Flygrip, an iPhone/e-reader handgrip accessory made by a company that began selling its products in February of this year. Ms. Sun had read my post about seeking a one-handed e-reading solution for my mother, who had her right arm amputated on New Year’s Eve, and wanted to send my mother and me each one of the Flygrip devices gratis—for my Mom to try out, and for me to review. She noted that the device already had a number of quite satisfied one-handed (and two-handed) users.

After looking at the material she sent, and the Flygrip web site, I was skeptical that I would want to pay $29.95 for such a device—it seemed a little much for a bit of plastic that size—but I was curious enough to want to try one for free. And it did look like it might be useful for Mom. So my mother and I accepted the offer, and the devices arrived this weekend. I put mine on my iPod Touch last night, and put my mother’s on her Kindle Touch today.

GEDC0092The Flygrip is basically a cleverly-designed spring-loaded two-finger grip that attaches to the back of a smartphone, tablet, or e-reader with a strong adhesive. Once it has set (the guide recommends waiting 30 minutes before you try it, and 48 hours before heavy use), you slide your middle and ring fingers through the slots where they fit snugly, leaving your thumb free to tap on the device. For those who already hold their iPhones or iPod Touches in a one-handed grip, this is a familiar mode of operation (in fact, the reason the iPhone still only has a 3.5” screen is because that was the largest the screen could be and still allow the thumb to reach every bit of it), and the only difference is that the Flygrip makes it harder to drop the device by accident while twiddling it with your thumb.

But the Flygrip is also designed with a groove that you can slot the top of the finger grip into, turning it into an easel stand that lets the device stand up like a picture frame in portrait or (a bit more shakily) landscape alignment. (At least if you put it on a smartphone/media player-sized device. This wouldn’t work so well on something larger like a Kindle.) When not in use, it snaps tightly shut, adding only about a quarter inch bump to the back of your device.

GEDC0082The Flygrip is packaged in a cute little box with a pink rubber handle on top, like one of those rubber bracelets teenagers are wearing these days. Aside from the Flygrip itself, it includes a rubbing alcohol swap for cleaning the back of your device (though if you use it up, a cotton swab or ball and a bottle of rubbing alcohol will work just as well), a spare adhesive pad if you decide you need to remove and restick it (you can order three more for $2.49 from the web store), a couple of foam rubber inserts in case you need to pad it for smaller fingers (both my Mom and I have fingers large enough that we were able to use the Large size without any problem), and of course instructions.

Installation was simple: clean the device with rubbing alcohol, then peel the backing from the Flygrip and hold it firmly in place for 30 seconds. Then let it be for half an hour, or 48 before heavy usage. I chose to put mine on the back of the Contour hard-shell case I’ve used ever since I got my original iPod. The device is almost never out of it, and it’s not much thicker than a current model iPhone, so I couldn’t see any reason not to.

When I tried the device a half hour later, I was overall quite happy with how it worked. I did have to adjust to holding my iPod Touch in a different way—my fingers don’t go as far around the iPod as they did when I held it in my palm, and are at a slightly different angle—but it wasn’t hard to do, and I think it actually gave my thumb a little more freedom of motion in reaching the right side of the iPod screen. And since it is placed in the middle of the back, I can use it equally well with either hand—useful for if I’m writing something with my left hand while consulting the iPod in my right.

I do have to be a little careful about how I use it—if I accidentally pop my middle finger out the top notch, the device loses its support and falls off. But my finger fits snugly in there that popping it out actually takes some doing. I didn’t have any need for the foam spacers. (Which makes me worry a little about how well the “large”-sized Flygrip (they also have “small” and “medium”, with a sizing chart on their store) might accommodate someone with thicker fingers than mine, which I don’t really think are that much larger than the average. Perhaps they can come out with an “X-large” size?)

GEDC0087The other Flygrip, we put on my Mom’s Kindle Touch today, about halfway down on the left side. I had wondered whether we might ought to put it closer to the top to make it easier for my Mom to reach the menu tap zone with her thumb, but she decided on the whole it would be best just to have it comfortably balanced for holding and paging forward and back—the screen is large enough she would have to take it off her fingers to tap the menu options anyway.

And even though the Flygrip’s optional function of easel simply won’t work with this asymmetrical placement, I think the gadget may actually be more useful here (in terms of providing greater flexibility of device usage) than on a smartphone-sized device. After all, you can already hold and work an iPhone reasonably safely in one hand—the Flygrip just lessens the chance you’ll accidentally drop it. But something the size and weight of a Kindle Touch is really tricky to hold and use in one hand. If you’re using your thumb to turn the page, the Kindle’s weight and heft will try to pull it right out of your hand. You can extend your hand across the back of the device to balance, but it’s kind of awkward, and if someone accidentally jogs your hand, off it goes. We two-handed folk can just hold it in both hands to turn the pages, but that’s not an option for my Mom—or, for that matter, for a two-handed person who wants to read while drinking a cup of coffee or eating a hot dog at the same time.

GEDC0090But the Flygrip changes that. It works just as well for keeping the Kindle safe and close to hand as the iPod Touch. I might worry a little over the adhesive supporting the extra weight, but it seems quite sturdy, and presumably there would be some danger signs before it gave way completely at any rate. I don’t know whether I’d trust it to something as heavy as my first-generation iPad, though.

Of course, a drawback to this placement is that the Kindle Touch will no longer sit level on a flat surface, and may not fit some cases, but it seems like a small price to pay if you’re going to be holding it most of the time anyway.

So, is the Flygrip worth the $30 price tag? It depends on how important being able to hold and use your gizmo one-handed is. Even though she got it for free, I think my Mom will definitely get at least $30 worth of use out of it. (She hasn’t used the Kindle much at this point, since the accident happened right after she got it and she hasn’t had much time to sit down and figure out how to use it, and she’s also busy reading a 13-book paper book series right now. But she expects to be reading her Kindle a lot more in the future now that it’s easier to hold, and has even floated the idea of buying another Flygrip if she gets a smartphone.) Another one-handed person of my acquaintance, from work, says that texting one-handed on his iPhone is often awkward, and I expect he will be very interested when I show him my iPod Touch with Flygrip next time I see him.

If someone took my (free) Flygrip away and told me I’d have to pay $30 to get it back, it might be a hard decision but I’m definitely more likely to say yes at this point than I was before I actually tried it out. It’s not that it makes it possible to use my iPod Touch in a way that I couldn’t before (except for the easel stand mode, of course, though that’s relatively minor), but it makes it a whole lot safer to use that way. I don’t have to worry as much about how I’m holding it, which means I could pay more attention to the hot cup of coffee or whatever else I have in my other hand.

One factor in the price might be the fact that the Flygrip is made in the USA, rather than taking advantage of cheap labor in China. With that in mind, $30 might not be so bad after all. At any rate, it seems like a sturdy and well-designed little innovation. The Flygrip is available in a variety of colors (my Mom and I both independently chose black) and the three sizes mentioned above. I seem to recall seeing something about ordering customized designs on the site, but couldn’t find it again when I looked for this review so it may not be available. Apparently they will also throw in a free iPhone case with a Flygrip order.

The slogan on the box says “You do not know that you need it until it is invented.” And that’s really true in this case. Before I heard of the thing, I couldn’t imagine needing something like it. But now that I have it, I would be rather reluctant to give it up.