It seems many people see their tablets as a laptop replacement. Tablets work fine for most things that people do with a computer, but their on-screen keyboards leave a lot to be desired when you need to enter a lot of information. Accessories manufacturer’s recognize this, and they have produced a lot of keyboard cases for various tablets. I’ve reviewed quite a few keyboard cases for the iPad and iPad 2 that I’ve owned, and I’ve seen quite a few others here on The Gadgeteer. One thing most of these keyboard cases have in common – they all seem to cost $100 or more. What about those people who need a keyboard case, but don’t have $100 budgeted for it? CELLMACS, a mobile accessories company, has a $40 iPad 2 Leather Case with Removable Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard that’s a good alternative to the more expensive offerings. I was selected to try the CELLMACS case they sent to The Gadgeteer.
Most images in this review can be clicked for an enlargement.
The exterior is made of pebbled brown leather. Stitching is very even and straight, and it’s done in a contrasting light cream thread. The leather seems to be thin, especially if the straps are any indication. There’s a faint chemical smell, but it’s really only noticeable when I put my nose right against the case.
The case measures about 9.8″ long X 7.75″ wide X 1.15″ thick. It weighs about 18.5 ounces with the keyboard in place and 9.25 ounces with the keyboard removed.
The front of the case has magnets that work with the iPad 2′s automatic sleep/wake function. There’s a strap sewn into the front edge that wraps around to the back.
The strap closes with a magnetic snap. An easel-style stand closes flush into the back, and it’s held in place by magnets. There’s a cutout for the iPad 2′s camera and a grid of holes at the bottom edge for the speaker.
The iPad 2 is held in a leather frame. This frame is very thin, especially the tab that holds the iPad 2 in place (seen at top, right). There’s no snap or Velcro to hold this tab in place, and I was afraid it wouldn’t be sufficient to hold the iPad in place. There are notches cut into the frame for the front-facing camera and ambient light sensor and for the home button.
The interior is lined with a fuzzy, suede-like fabric.
The keyboard is also covered in leather, and it has a wrist rest area where you’ll find the LED status lights and the pairing button. The lights are in the little silver rectangle, and the Bluetooth pairing button is under the embossed circle beside the silver rectangle. I found the pairing button was a bit difficult to use when I paired the keyboard with my iPad 2. Once I found the button, Bluetooth pairing was very quick and required only that I enter a 4-digit code on the keyboard. The keyboard uses V2.0 standard Bluetooth.
You can see some wrinkles in the leather over the wrist rest area. The keyboard seems to be sturdy, though.
The keyboard is held into the case with more magnets, and it can be lifted completely out of the case. You can use the keyboard up to 10 meters away from the iPad 2, or you can just take the keyboard out to lighten the load if you know you won’t be needing the keyboard for a while.
The keyboard is smaller than a standard keyboard. Most of the keys are where you’d expect them, but a couple are in unexpected places. The keys are low-profile and fit flush with the wrist rest. They are flat, with no dimple for your fingers to fit in. The nubs on the home keys (f and j), are so small and flat as to be nearly useless to touch-typers. I couldn’t tell easily by touch when my hands were in the correct position. The smaller keyboard meant my wrists were more bent than normal, and I did have a bit of trouble typing on this small keyboard. That’s true of all these under-sized keyboard cases, though.
The keys don’t click when depressed, but you can hear them as you type. Once your fingers get used to the size and placement, the keys operate well and quietly.
There are some iPad-specific keys that control media playback, volume, and screen brightness. Other keys perform edit functions: select, copy, cut, and paste. There’s also a home key, spotlight search key, and a lock (sleep) key. There’s even a key to launch a photo slideshow and one to bring up the on-screen keyboard when you’re in an app that can use the keyboard. These keys worked well for me.
The side of the keyboard has the power switch and charging connector. This keyboard charges using the same Apple charging cable used by your iPad 2. I think this is a fantastic idea. You’ll only need to carry one cable in your gear bag, but you’ll only be able to charge either your keyboard or your iPad 2 at a time, of course.
The keyboard has a 450mAh lithium-ion battery inside that charges in about 3-4 hours. Once charged it promises up to 90 hours of continuous typing time. I haven’t used it long enough to test that claim, though.
The iPad 2 fits snugly inside the leather frame. I found that the thin leather tab at the top opening was capable of holding the iPad 2 securely inside the frame. I even tried shaking it out of the case (over my bed). The iPad 2 slid up a bit, but it would take quite a lot of shaking to get it out of the case.
The sides of the frame are thin, and they tend to curl up from the iPad 2. This doesn’t make the iPad 2 less securely held, but it can interfere with touching the very edges of the touchscreen. I normally use the iPad 2 in the horizontal orientation, and I had trouble touching the very top of the screen when I wanted to jump back to the top of the page. I’m hoping the sides will eventually flatten out with use.
I could use the home button with no trouble, and the cutout for the camera/ambient light sensor was large enough that it didn’t interfere.
The case didn’t interfere with the back camera, either. The cutouts for the speakers, combined with the opening in the side of the leather frame, allowed the sound to pass through without noticeable muffling.
Most ports and controls were accessible. The hard edge of the case that extended beyond the edge of the iPad 2, combined with the thin profile and curved shape of the iPad 2, made it a little difficult to get your fingers in to use some of the buttons, though. The microphone, located at the top center of the iPad 2, was covered up by the flap that holds the iPad 2 in place. I made a sound recording while the iPad 2 was in the CELLMACS case, and the flap didn’t interfere with the microphone. My recording was clear and loud.
The leather of the case is flexible enough that you can fold the front all the way to the back. If you have the keyboard in place, the magnets in the keyboard are strong enough that they put the iPad 2 to sleep – and you can’t wake it up until you open up the case to move the magnets away from the iPad 2. If you take the keyboard off before you fold the front back, the iPad 2 will stay awake. Of course, this is much thicker than the iPad 2 itself, but I find it easier to hold the case this way than holding it like an open book.
There’s some extra room inside without the keyboard in place, but you can use it as a folio case and only add the keyboard in on days when you know you’ll need it.
You can also easily see how the long sides of the leather frame pull away from the iPad 2 in this picture.
I know I’ve mentioned some problems with using the keyboard, but all keyboard cases have these same problems for me. They’re all undersized, have non-standard placement for at least some of the keys, and feel different in some way from typing on my laptop. Still, you’ll get used to the differences with use, and any physical keyboard is better than typing on the on-screen keyboard, for me at least.
I think the CELLMACS iPad 2 Leather case with Removable Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard is an excellent solution for people who want a keyboard case for their iPad 2 but don’t want to blow the budget on a $100+ case that most likely won’t be useable with the next generation iPad.