Posted on 27 December 2011.
Best iPad keyboard case
The original iPad and iPad 2 are wonderful tools for working on the go: they’re lighter than laptops and have great battery lives that will put most laptop computers to shame.
Bung them in protective cases and off you go: your perfect portable office.
But if you’re doing loads of typing on your iPad, the on-screen keyboard isn’t ideal; an external one is faster and more comfortable to work on.
So why not kill two birds with a single stone, or, in this instance, a case with a built-in Bluetooth keyboard? This way, your iPad is protected when you head out the door, and you’ve always got a keyboard with you when you want to do some serious typing.
There are a few cases available, especially for the iPad 2, so we’ve picked a selection to try out for you.
You connect the keyboard to your iPad wirelessly using Bluetooth. First time round, you’ll need to pair the two by switching the keyboard into pairing mode (the instructions will tell you how to do this), and then going into the Settings app on your iPad, tapping General, then Bluetooth. The keyboard will appear in the list. To use it, tap its name, wait a moment, then type the passcode that appears on the iPad’s screen on the keyboard and press Return.
You’ll only need to do this the first time round – each subsequent time, as soon as you switch on the keyboard, your iPad will pick it up, enabling you to get started instantly. Just remember to keep the batteries in the keyboard charged!
Remember that using Bluetooth puts a bit of added strain on your iPad’s battery, so it may be worth switching it off (in Settings > General > Bluetooth) if you’re running low on power and don’t need to use the keyboard at that time.
The Bluetooth link means you can use the keyboards with the iPhone and iPod touch too, of course, as well as with a PC or Mac if you wish.
Some of these iPad keyboard cases are iPad 2-only, others solely for the original iPad, and one will, unofficially, work with both. But many manufacturers offer similar versions for the other iPad, so if one of the iPad 2 cases particularly takes your fancy but you have an original iPad, there may be a version for that available, too.
The Zagg ZAGGmate is designed for the original iPad, though there is a similarly built version for iPad 2 (£90).
The Adonit Writer also comes in versions for both iPads; we tested the iPad 2 edition but the one for the original (£90) is the same, bar the differently shaped cradle. The WeKreat TypeRider is iPad 2-only, as is the iLuv iCK826.
The Kensington KeyFolio Pro is advertised as being for the iPad 2, but it will fit an original iPad – it sticks out of the side a bit and a minute portion of the top of the screen is obscured, but this doesn’t affect its use.
Test one: Ease of typing
The keyboard’s the most important thing here; if it wasn’t, why would you be buying a keyboard case rather than one of the hundreds of other iPad cases out there? To help you make the right choice, we spent a long time typing on each one of the cases in this test to get a proper feel for it. The question at the forefront of our minds was this: how fast could we type on each keyboard without making (too many) mistakes?
Even though these keyboards all fit within the confines of an iPad case, they’re not all the same size: the Adonit Writer is the smallest, followed by the equally sized WeKreat TypeRider, Zagg ZAGGmate and iLuv iCK826, and the Kensington KeyFolio Pro is the largest.
None are the size of a full desktop or laptop keyboard (the KeyFolio Pro is around 2cm shorter), but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There will inevitably be a short period of getting used to the smaller keyboard, but we found ourselves typing away fairly quickly on most of these. Moreover, they’ve all got some form of iOS shortcut keys along the top, giving quick access to your Home screen, music controls and more.
If you have larger hands, you may struggle using any but the Kensington KeyFolio Pro, especially with the Adonit Writer, but having done a lot of typing on each of these, we don’t dislike any of them. Each has its own quirks and minor annoyances, but we were able to type reasonably error-free fairly quickly.
There are irritations, however. The TypeRider’s Delete button is only a single key wide, and some in the office really disliked the ridge in front of the spacebar.
The ZAGGmate’s arrow keys are arranged in an L-shape rather than the traditional (and intuitive) inverted T, but the flipside of this annoying arrow key arrangement is that you get a longer (and therefore easier to hit) right Shift key; on the iLuv iCK826, TypeRider and Writer, it’s only a single key wide and sits alongside the up arrow, which meant we often hit the latter by mistake.
And while we’re on the topic of the ZAGGmate, the protective ridge around the edge had a tendency to get in the way of the outsides of your hands when you reach for the keys around the edge.
The iLuv iCK826′s keys, while they offer a lovely light action, offer little tactile difference between them, which means we sometimes hit the wrong key or pressed two at once. Let’s be clear though, these are minor irritations.
You’ll have noticed that the Kensington KeyFolio Pro has been conspicuous by its absence so far. That’s because it’s easily our favourite keyboard here. The large keys require less acclimatisation than the other models’, while they’re nicely spaced so as to prevent you hitting two at once. A lovely, lovely keyboard.
Test two: The case
Test two: the case
When you take your iPad out and about, it’s going to get knocked around a bit, so you want a case that’s going to protect it, ideally without adding too much bulk.
The ZAGGmate adds the least by way of weight to the original iPad, although it doesn’t cover the scratch-prone back of the device, leaving it vulnerable.
And the Kensington KeyFolio Pro, while covering the back, leaves the corners a bit exposed. It doesn’t have a way of staying shut either, and though it isn’t the fattest case here, it feels very tubby. It will, however, allow you to stand the iPad in portrait as well as landscape orientation, adding to its versatility when you’re on the move.
The Adonit Writer is beautifully thin and its magnets keep it snugly shut when you’re carrying it around. It’s rare in offering all-round protection for your iPad, slotting into a plastic frame (which has some nasty sharp corners).
The soft front cover’s edges do feel a bit vulnerable, though; we worry that the outer coating and inner lining could split apart with repeated use. And setting the stand up is a tad fiddly, with the magnets that hold the keyboard to the inside of the case making it tricky to set up.
None of the above three cases lets you remove the keyboard, which means you can’t put your iPad up at a comfortable height for viewing and type at the same time.
This is what sets the iLuv iCK826 and WeKreat TypeRider apart, because these both let you take out the keyboard. The iLuv iCK826 is the fattest case, but it feels so solid. Granted, the corners of your iPad are left exposed, though less so than with the Kensington KeyFolio Pro.
The WeKreat TypeRider is nice and thin and houses your iPad in a plastic grip, which helps protect it on all sides. However, it leaves the top edge largely exposed, and the shell isn’t actually that robust – the thin bit next to the camera opening snapped while we were testing it. Furthermore, when you shut this case, the keyboard rests against the iPad screen because the back of the case bends slightly.
Sometimes, after testing several products, there’s a clear winner. But not this time, and your buying decision here is down to where you’re willing to compromise: the keyboard or the case.
If we could combine several of these, we’d put the Kensington KeyFolio Pro keyboard in the iLuv iCK826 case and slim it to the size of the WeKreat TypeRider to create the perfect product.
The Kensington KeyFolio Pro has the best keyboard, no contest. We also appreciated being able to spin the iPad into portrait orientation, and that the case will fit an original iPad or an iPad 2 – if you upgrade, you won’t need a new case. We’d recommend it over the Zagg ZAGGmate for the original iPad.
Sadly, the excellent keyboard is let down by the case it’s in and the glue binding the two together. Not being able to remove the keyboard means you’re forced to peer down at the iPad as you type – not always a bad thing, but at our desk we wanted the iPad higher up for more comfortable viewing. And the case, though well made, is chunky and has no way of keeping itself shut, which is a big oversight.
We like the WeKreat TypeRider too – indeed, when we put it up against the iLuv iCK826 in a Twin Test recently, we preferred it, due to its thin design and nicer keyboard. But a combination of the ridge in front of the spacebar (which irritated several of our friends, but not us), the bendy front cover and the fragile plastic shell means we don’t feel comfortable recommending it any more.
The best iPad keyboard case is…
So the gong of best iPad keyboard case goes to the iLuv iCK826. Yes, it’s the fattest case here, but it’s a price you pay for good protection, and it certainly feels like the most solid offering. There’s no worrying that the case will snap, like there is with the TypeRider. The use of a magnet in the clasp is clever, making it easier to open and shut than the TypeRider, too, which uses an elastic strap.
We also really like the way the keyboard is removable and is built into its own leather-like enclosure, which gives you a comfy wrist-rest wherever you’re using it. The flat-topped keys aren’t ideal – it’s too easy to knock the key next to the one you want – but with a bit of care, we were able to type on it quite happily, and the key action is nice and light, so it won’t place much strain on your fingers even with prolonged use.