The Freedom i-Connex Combi iPad case and stand with Bluetooth keyboard solves three common needs for either a heavy user of the iPad 2 or newer user. In one package, you get a “smart cover” that also can contort into a stand in either portrait or landscape orientations, a heavy-duty, rubberized case, and a decent but compact rechargeable Bluetooth keyboard that stows in the case when not in use. You could probably assemble a suite of products that would do each of these functions, but in this case the i-Connex Combi is greater than the sum of its parts.
I have to admit when I opened the box and spread out the contents, there was a moment when I wondered if there had been a mistake, since there was no keyboard in sight anywhere.
The case consists of a hard shell for the iPad, a smart cover attached via Velcro (so you can remove it, if you want to use an Apple Smart Cover), a mostly unnecessary user’s manual, and a mini-USB cable.
Flipping the case over revealed the Bluetooth keyboard neatly stowed into the back of the hard shell case. Mystery solved! The USB cable is used to charge the keyboard.
It’s a Case
The first blade in this Swiss army knife is the Case. Your iPad 2 or later will snap into the shell. Once snapped in, it stays put and is protected by the padded material inside (and outside) of the shell. The exterior of the shell has a pretty good grip, so the iPad feels secure in hand.
The smart screen cover functions perfectly – turning off/on the iPad as expected. One slight flaw in the design or perhaps the strength of the magnets in the cover is that if you flip the cover all the way around so it rests flat against the back, it will turn off the screen. Simply folding the edge over solves that problem, but it was a little odd the first time I flipped the cover around and the screen shut off.
The cover has cutouts for all the ports, as expected.
This is an area where the thickness of the back (which has to be thick enough to stow the keyboard) works against the case. The ports and switches are pretty deeply recessed inside the case, so they’re less accessible than they would be on a thinner hard shell case. It’s just a tradeoff of being able to stow the keyboard inside the case.
It’s a Bluetooth Keyboard
The keyboard slots into the back of the case and is held in place without a latch. Simply lift up and it comes out. That said, no amount of shaking could get the keyboard to fall out by itself. So however it’s held in there, it’s secure.
The keyboard is just a hair under 9″ X 5″ and all of 6 ounces in weight. The bottom is covered with the same rubbery grip material, so it stays put when you put it on most any surface. The battery life is claimed at 100 hours of use, and 300 hours of standby. I can’t verify those times, but without a doubt the keyboard will go for many days of hard use, and weeks between charges.
The top row of keys include dedicated iOS keys – search, brightness down/up, cut/copy/paste/undo, reverse/play-pause/fast forward, mute, volume+. volume-, and the Home button. Coupled with the arrow keys in the lower right, you really can go for long stretches without even touching the iPad.
Of course, it’s also a standard Bluetooth keyboard, so you can use it with any Bluetooth device that supports the HID profile. It includes keys that would be useful for Mac OS or other standard operating systems as well as on the iPad.
The keyboard looks to be roughly 75% of the size of a full keyboard, but there is decent spacing between keys and even my big mitts were able to become fairly proficient at typing on it.
The keyboard (and the keys) are very thin, at 0.3″, but the keyboard only flexes a bit, and the keys have decent travel and a satisfying level of resistance. In short, it types like a keyboard. The home row even has small bumps on the F and J keys, for you touch typists.
The top of the keyboard has a physical on/off button next to the mini-USB charging port.
The button on the right lights up blue when the keyboard is on and connected. You press it to put the keyboard into pairing mode.
When you attempt to pair, the keyboard indicates a PIN to type in. Once paired, the keyboard will reconnect automatically. I had no issues with paring the keyboard to multiple devices, nor with the range of the keyboard.
It’s a Stand
The cover has one more trick – it’s scored such that it can be folded to form a stand for the iPad in either orientation.
On a hard surface this provides a stable stand – and since the cover is attached to the shell case, there is no risk of the iPad sliding off. You could set this up in a laptop configuration, but it’s more likely you’ll use it something like this:
Summing the Parts
The Freedom i-Connex Combi is a combination that tries to do three things – be a case, be a stand, and be a Bluetooth keyboard. The keyboard itself has no compromises other than being small – and as small keyboards go, it’s quite usable. The case suffers from the thickness needed to house the keyboard, but not unduly. It’s not much thicker than the keyboard it holds. The smart cover does a passable job as a cover and a stand – and if you decide you’d rather not use it you can always take it off and use an Apple cover.
All in all, the various tradeoffs are managed well, and the Combi does pull it all together into a single solution that does provide all three features in one package. If you’re not a fan of glass typing – and I surely am not – then finding a way to have a keyboard with your iPad all the time is the key to being able to use it as more than just a consumption device. The Combi achieves this quite well. The keyboard rides along in the back of the case where it’s out of the way, but it’s actually with you all the time. When you need it, you’ll have it. When you don’t need it, you’ll still have it. The key is to make having it when you don’t need it not be too much of a burden, and that the Freedom i-Connex Combi pulls off quite well.