I love the iPad, but I don’t always love not having a hardware keyboard at hand. You could carry around Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard, or another alternative, but adding additional devices and giving yourself more to carry around and keep track of sort of defeats the purpose.
That’s why I find the concept of the keyboard case so appealing. Build a Bluetooth keyboard into an iPad case and you have a single-package solution that keeps everything nicely organized on the go. At least, that’s how it works in theory. I was recently able to see if that theory would pan out with the new Kensington KeyFolio for iPad. I’ve been using the KeyFolio with my iPad for a little over a week now. During that time, I haven’t removed the iPad from the case once, so I feel confident I gave it a fair shake.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The Kensington KeyFolio presents a nice face. It looks good, and the fake leather is both animal-friendly and easy on the hands. Some padding means your iPad feels more secure, and the fit and a clever foldback tab ensures the iPad isn’t sliding out anytime soon.
My only problem with the case aspect of the KeyFolio is that my iPad doesn’t screen doesn’t sit in the window quite where it’s supposed to. The top of the screen is right to the edge of the window, while there’s extra room at the bottom, and the home button is almost right at the edge of the groove provided for it. It’s close enough that it works, but for the absolute perfectionist, it might be annoying.
It’s around 90 percent the size of a full keyboard, like you’ll find on most netbooks. It has rubberized keys to prevent damage from spillage, and to prevent the keyboard itself from harming the iPad screen in any way. It’s a weird feeling, but it makes for quiet typing. I did find that once in a while I’d get double-presses because of how sensitive the keys were, though.The keyboard is the one we saw from an FCC filing towards the end of summer. In fact, the KeyFolio is the KeyCase rebadged by Kensington for the U.S. market. At least one other manufacturer is using the same keyboard part for sure, and Sena was supposed to, but has since removed the case from its list of offerings.
Connecting the iPad to the keyboard is a breeze; just flick the hardware switch on the case to “on” and press the connect button. Go into your Bluetooth preferences in your iPad’s Settings, and pair the device there. You’ll have to type a code on the keyboard followed by “Enter,” but that’s it.
Once you’re paired, the keyboard should simply work. I say “should” because I encountered some hiccups. Sometimes, the keyboard would drop and regain the connection without warning, which would pop up the on-screen keyboard briefly. A manual on/off reset using the switch usually fixed this, though, and it may have been because I was testing iOS 4.2 on the iPad I was using. Either way, it wasn’t a big enough problem that it would cause me not to use the case.
You don’t have to manually turn off the keyboard unless you want it to not connect, since it sleeps after a period of disuse. Battery life is said to be around 100 days in standby mode, or 90 hours of actual usage. It takes around four or five hours to charge. I haven’t managed to burn through a charge yet, so I think the claims are pretty accurate.
The way the case folds for typing is perfect, in my opinion. It takes up very little space, and even provides a stable enough base that you can use it on your lap without an additional support surface. It only provides one viewing angle, but in my usage I felt no desire to adjust, no matter where I was using it.
I grew to love using the KeyFolio. I often use my iPad primarily as a chat client, and that became a lot more pleasant with a hardware keyboard. So did managing my email from the couch, and working with the device on the train and subway to get some serious work done.
Combined with Pages and even blogging sites in Safari, the KeyFolio is a road warrior’s best friend. It isn’t a new MacBook Air (and in fact, it might weigh more than one combined with the iPad), but it’s a lot cheaper even at $100.
There were the rare connection issues I mentioned, but there’s also the keyboard itself, which requires some getting used to. There’s no shift key on the right, and if you happen to use the apostrophe key a lot, which I apparently do, you have to train your fingers to look down below the period key. I actually picked up the trick pretty quickly, but it’s still a bit of a pain.
Finally, keeping your iPad in the case does take away a bit from its own design benefits. It’s heavier, and harder to use as a tablet. I found turning off the keyboard and folding it behind worked fine, but it still didn’t feel as good as using the iPad on its own. Also, you’re stuck with landscape mode when you’re using the keyboard, something which didn’t trouble me as much as I would’ve thought.
The Kensington KeyFolio may seem a tad expensive at $99.99, but consider that most iPad folio cases cost around $50 on their own. That means you’re really only paying an extra $50 for the Bluetooth keyboard. Even Apple’s own will cost you $70. I recommend it, especially if you’re someone who likes to work with their iPad while travelling, or you just want your tablet to be even more of a laptop replacement. The KeyFolio isn’t yet available, but you can pre-order yours from Kensington’s site.
Disclosure: The Kensington KeyFolio tested was provided by the manufacturer for testing and review purposes.