I’ve looked at a lot of Bluetooth keyboards and keyboard cases for the three versions of the iPad I’ve owned. Usually I find the on-screen keyboard is okay for a quick email, but I can’t type well enough with it to enter anything longer than that. I don’t often need to enter large amounts of text on my iPad, but it would be nice to have a compact case for my iPad that would serve as both a stand and a keyboard for those occasions when I might need it. I’ve seen many nice cases with a good design and nice construction that all suffer from the same thing – an undersized keyboard with a non-standard layout that still isn’t easy to type on.
ZAGG sent the Gadgeteer a Bluetooth keyboard and case combo that understands that you may always want a case for your iPad, but you don’t always need the weight of a keyboard. Their ZAGGfolio iPad 2 and new iPad Keyboard case is a protective case and stand for the iPad 2 or new iPad. The front cover has a rail that lets you slide in the ZAGGkeys Solo Bluetooth keyboard when you need it, and the keyboard becomes a part of the case. It seems like the best of both worlds. Let’s give it a look.
When you order from ZAGG, you can order the keyboard and the case individually or as a set. There doesn’t seem to be a discount for ordering both pieces together, though.
ZAGGkeys Solo Bluetooth keyboard
Let’s start with the keyboard. The ZAGGkeys Solo Bluetooth 3.0 keyboard is available in silver, black, or white. I received the silver. It measures 9.5″ X 6.7″ X 0.4″ and weighs 11.5 ounces. It’s pretty hefty, but that’s important because the Solo can be used outside the folio case. The weight of the keyboard counterbalances the weight of your device and makes a sturdy stand.
The keyboard comes with a USB-to-microUSB cable used to charge the internal 510mAh lithium-polymer battery. ZAGG says you can expect several months of use between chargings. I plugged the keyboard up to a wall charger; when I checked a couple of hours later, the keyboard was fully charged.
You’ll notice a channel along the length of the keyboard. Put your device in this channel, and the keyboard serves as a standalone keyboard and stand. There’s a rubbery strip along the channel that protects your device’s screen from scratches. Unlike some standalone keyboards reviewed on The Gadgeteer, you’ll notice there’s no lip or channel around the outside edges. This keyboard will not fit over your iPad to act as a protective screen cover while you’re carrying it in your gear bag.
You’ll also notice that the keys are low-profile, but they do have a good feel and tactile feedback.
At the top are a power switch, a Bluetooth-pairing button, and a couple of status lights. After the keyboard charged, I found that pairing with my iPad was a snap. I entered a 4-digit code on the keyboard to complete pairing. You can only pair with one device at a time, but I found that my iPad and the keyboard retained their pairing even after they had both been turned off.
You’ll also notice two black, oval pads at the top of the keyboard. These rubbery pads protect the iPad’s screen when the keyboard is used in the folio case.
If you click on the above image, you’ll be able to see that there are iPad-specific keys where function keys are located on other keyboards. These keys perform functions like: volume control/muting, media playback, cut/paste/copy editing functions, starting Spotlight Search, starting a photo slideshow, or bringing up the on-screen keyboard. There’s even a Home key and a lock key that will put your iPad to sleep. These keys worked well with my new iPad.
The ZAGGkeys Solo Bluetooth keyboard is designed to work with many devices other than just the iPad. You can see from the compatibility chart I found on ZAGG’s website, the Solo keyboard will also work with iPhones, iPod touch, and various Android smartphones and tablets. (I believe the poor ratings are because the device is unsteady l in certain orientations.) You’ll also notice an Android icon on the bottom left of the keyboard. I don’t have an Android device to test this keyboard with.
Okay, so how does it type? Surprisingly well! If you check out the earlier photo, you’ll notice the punctuation keys are where you expect them to be. This isn’t true of most of the Bluetooth keyboard cases I’ve tried in the past, which all have the letter keys in the normal arrangement and the punctuation keys squeezed in strange places. Also, keyboards in these cases are constrained by the size of the iPad, so they have undersized keys, too. I find them difficult to type on because I’m a touch-typist, and the keys aren’t where I expect them to be when I reach for them. The Solo keyboard felt more normal when I tried it out. I did some measurements comparing the key sizes on my 11″ MacBook Air, my HP Mini netbook, and the Solo.
These are not my finest photos, because it was hard to hold the tape measure in place and snap a photo. They are out of focus, but you can still see that the Solo keyboard is very close in size to the netbook keyboard. I measured from the left edge of the A key to the right edge of the apostrophe key on all three keyboards. (This is the home row of keys on a QWERTY keyboard.) The home row on the Air measures 8.15″ (top image), the HP Mini measures 7.5″ (middle), and the Solo keyboard measures 7.25″ (bottom image). Granted, it’s undersized compared to the Air’s full-sized keyboard, but it’s not much different from the netbook I use for my editing job. I have trouble with the spacing when I first start using the netbook, but I can quickly adjust to it and type pretty well. Because the keys are where I expect them to be, I found that I could adjust to the Solo keyboard pretty quickly, too. I don’t type as fast on the Solo or the netbook as I can on the Air, but I do well.
The ZAGGkeys Solo Bluetooth Keyboard is the best iPad-sized keyboard I’ve tried. The keyboard alone is $69.99.
ZAGGfolio Case for the new iPad
The ZAGGkeys Solo keyboard works great all by itself, but it doesn’t do anything to protect your iPad while you’re transporting it, and you have two devices to keep up with. If you add the ZAGGfolio case, you can combine everything into one package. Best of all, the keyboard isn’t glued in to the case, so you can remove it when you won’t need it and want to travel light.
The ZAGGfolio case is a hard-shell case that’s been wrapped in either polyurethane or leather. The core is black plastic for either style. The polyurethane version is available in several colors for $29.99. I received the brown leather case, which sells for $59.99; it’s also available in black leather or alligator-embossed brown.
The folio case has a pleasant leather smell, and the surface has a grainy texture. The case measures 9.75″ X 7.6″ X 0.9″ and weighs 7.5 ounces. Combined the case and keyboard add 1 pound and 3 ounces to the weight of the iPad, meaning the new iPad in this case with keyboard weighs a whopping 2.6 pounds – more than my MacBook Air.
You can see the front right edge of the case has a snap closure that keeps the case closed, so you don’t have to worry about it flopping open in your bag and leaving your screen open to scratches. Other than the closure, the front is plain.
You can see the front is attached to the back with a leather strip. The entire leather covering seems to be a single piece, so there’s no stitching. The back side has a groove in the leather, which allows the case to fold into a stand for the iPad.
The inside is lined with a black velvety fabric that won’t scratch the iPad. The back side is molded to fit the iPad perfectly. The outer edge has rails around the side (molded into the plastic inner shell) that slide over the iPad to hold it securely in place. The inner edge of the case cradles the side of the iPad, but it doesn’t snap onto it. This allows the case to fold into the stand.
Here you see my iPad in the ZAGGfolio case. You can see that everything on the front is open and completely accessible. I can use the iPad in the case without the keyboard, and I can even fold it into a stand without the keyboard. The front cover has rails around the outer edges that you slide the keyboard under. The keyboard is held securely in place.
The ZAGGfolio case has magnets that operate the iPad’s automatic sleep/wake functions. This worked well with my iPad, and the snap closure means that the cover doesn’t slide around over the iPad, causing it to wake up in my gear bag.
The top has openings for the headphone jack, the microphone, and the sleep/wake/power button. I worried that the thickness of the shell and the shape of the opening around the headphone jack would interfere with using headphones, but I was able to plug in my Sony MDR-NC200D Digital Noise Canceling Headphones without any trouble. Although the sleep/wake/power button seems to blend in with the plastic shell surrounding it, I was able to operate the button with no trouble.
The camera lens opening on the back didn’t interfere with taking pictures. Again, the volume rocker felt like it blended in with the plastic shell, but I could easily operate it. I could use the screen lock switch easily, too.
Here’s the iPad being used with the keyboard in place. The stand works only for the horizontal orientation. You just bend the back of the case at that leather groove, and set the free end of the iPad into the groove on the keyboard.
You only have one viewing angle, but I found it to be comfortable for me. This arrangement was stable when using it on a table top or on a lap. I didn’t feel like my iPad was going to fall off my lap.
Just like the other keyboard cases I’ve used, you are limited in the ways you can use the keyboard/folio combination. You have a fixed distance between the keys and the screen and a fixed viewing angle. Unlike many cases, you can remove the keyboard and still use the folio as a stand for the iPad. You’ll be able to use just the keyboard on your lap while you iPad stays on the table, or you could elevate the iPad to a higher position to make viewing easier while leaving the keyboard on the table.
I like both the ZAGGkeys Solo Bluetooth keyboard and the ZAGGfolio iPad case together and separately. If you don’t need to travel with the keyboard, you could just leave it on your desk at home for those times when you need it, and you won’t have to worry about a separate stand for the iPad. If you want a sturdy hard-shell case for your iPad, you can use just the ZAGG folio alone, and you’ll have the bonus of a sturdy horizontal stand. (It’s also easy to slide the iPad out to use it caseless, while leaving the keyboard and folio behind when you want.) When you use them together, you have a protective keyboard case that has one of the best keyboards I’ve tried for touch typists in this form factor. At $100 for the keyboard plus polyurethane case, it’s certainly one of the cheaper keyboard case options I’ve tried. At $130 for the leather case with keyboard, you add a touch of sophistication for not much money.