A mini keyboard case for the mini (October 27th, 2013)
Product Manufacturer: Logitech
- Maintains iPad mini's compact form factor
- Solid battery life
- Good build quality and protection
- Responsive,almost perfect small keyboard
- Puzzling waste of one inch of space
- Would be helped by more instructions
Since their introduction some years ago, iPads have always been subject to the question of whether or not they can truly perform as content production devices. A number of keyboard cases for the full-size iPad have brought that device about as far as it can go in terms of productivity in the absence of real moves in that direction from Apple. The iPad mini, though, is even more of a challenge: can one reliably produce more than a few lines of text on Apple's diminutive tablet? Logitech's new Ultrathin Keyboard Folio case aims to answer that question in the affirmative. It mostly gets there, but it raises some puzzling design questions of its own in the process.
The Most Important Part
The Ultrathin Keyboard Folio is faced with an interesting challenge: attach a usable keyboard to the iPad mini without sacrificing its most attractive feature, its portability. With regard to the keyboard, we can say that Logitech is 90 percent of the way there.
As some other manufacturers have done, Logitech has chosen to squeeze a fully functional keyboard into the space provided by the mini's form factor by merging some lesser-used keys with others. Thus, the Caps Lock function activates when one presses the 'A" key. That necessitates an extra keyboard combination before one can type an emphatic Facebook post, but it also means that one won't type a whole sentence only to realize it is all in upper case. Also, the Tab key shares space with the "Q" key, which isn't that much of a concern except when filling out Internet forms.
The top row of keys is home to the numbers, symbols, and assorted iOS functions. A long press on the home button key (located where the Esc key would be on a standard keyboard) will bring up Siri, just as a quick double-press of the button will bring up the multitasking feature. In all, these keys are pretty well realized. Remembering that it is the function key that activates alternate operations can be a bit difficult initially, but one grows used to that with practice.
The keys have a good feel to them, as does the rest of the device. Presses result in an audible click, and they have sufficient travel that one knows when a key has been pressed. Travel and sonic feedback are essential for touch-typing, and it shows that Logitech put some thought into the design of this accessory in order to make sure it had those two elements.
We have a few questions on Logitech's design choices for the mini's Keyboard Folio, but only one real complaint. In designing a keyboard for such a small device, every inch matters, and Logitech definitely wastes one inch. On either side of the keyboard, there is about a half-inch of space that is apparently wasted. This may be a necessity due to the device's internals, but it is absolutely puzzling if it wasn't absolutely necessary. That "wasted" inch makes for a cramped typing experience, which is a real shame considering the solid design that went into the rest of the device. That lost space, for instance, makes the pinky finger somewhat regularly come down on the Shift key when going for the "Z" key. Also, the semicolon and apostrophe keys are incredibly thin, many times requiring a pause to locate them before pressing.
For future versions of the device, we really hope that Logitech takes up as much of the available space as possible, similar to how Zagg does with its [keyboard mini]. A revised edition with a wider keyboard would allow for wider, better spaced keys, and the Keyboard Folio is literally fractions of an inch away from as ideal a typing experience as one can hope for while still being portable.
That complaint aside, the Keyboard Folio is pretty enjoyable to type on. Your reviewer has very large hands with thick fingers, but it was still no problem to hit a speedy pace in touch-typing after a bit of practice. Typically managing a typing speed of about 95 words per minute and about 98 percent accuracy on a full-size keyboard, your reviewer hit 79 words per minute with 98 percent accuracy on the Keyboard Folio. That is a sizable drop-off, indeed, but it is admirable for a device this size. Even given its design flaws, it is hard to imagine your average proficient typist being too disappointed with what they can produce on this device.
With regard to maintaining the mini's portability, the Keyboard Folio does an admirable job in all other aspects. The outer shell of the device achieves a fine balance between protecting the mini and making sure it stays... well, miniature. With the iPad inserted, the whole package is about two and a half times the thickness of the mini, a bit thinner than a paperback novel. It remains quite portable, making the mini an even more attractive device for the writer that likes to travel light. In our review period, we've regularly left the MacBook Air at home, instead stuffing the mini and Folio into a coat pocket and hitting the road.
The mini-Folio combination isn't too heavy, either. The keyboard case adds another 285 grams to the mini's frame, but it is hard to complain about that when all it does is bring the combo to a whopping 686 grams, or 1.5 pounds. It really is quite like carrying a book in one's pocket. A book that cost several hundred dollars and likely contains a good deal of one's personal life and vital information; but a book nonetheless.
The mini snaps into a plastic upper housing on the non-keyboard side of the device. The fit is tight and reassuring, but it is still easy to quickly remove the tablet when necessary. The housing leaves open access to the iPad's volume and screen rotation lock controls, and a button on it also allows one to lock the screen or power down the device. As to its own controls, the Keyboard Folio's power and sync buttons are easily accessible and unobtrusively located on the right side of the device, as is its micro USB charging port.
The exterior of the Keyboard Folio is something of a mixed bag. As we said before, it is built to protect the iPad while ensuring portability. In practice, that means a relatively stiff outer shell paired with a rubbery finish. The former will likely do an admirable job of protecting the mini from shocks, while the latter will make sure any spills don't soak through to the delicate electronics.
In terms of looks, the Keyboard Folio is passable, if nothing terribly special. It comes in a range of colors, and it adheres to the minimalist aesthetic of the device it pairs with, but we never got the feel that the look was a huge concern during the design process. That said, one need not fear being ashamed of pulling it out of a pocket, as it is spare and utilitarian almost to the extreme.
Connectivity and Battery Life
Pairing the Keyboard Folio with an iPad mini is just about as easy as snapping the tablet into the case in the first place. One needs only press the Bluetooth pairing button and the Folio will show up once the iPad's own Bluetooth function locates it. It almost doesn't bear mentioning, but we have had issues with assorted other Bluetooth products, and we were pleased to see that Logitech made no mistakes in this respect.
If one does remove the mini from the Folio, it is probably best to to turn the Folio off if staying within the Bluetooth range of 20 or so feet. Failure to do so doesn't introduce any real problems, but the device will assume that the paired Bluetooth keyboard is still an option if the Folio is paired and powered on. That means an extra tap or two in order to bring up the software keyboard if it comes time to type something.
The battery life of the device is also sufficient. Logitech says the Folio can get up to three months of operation on a single charge. We, of course, did not put it to the three month test, but we're sure even heavy users will be able to get by charging the Folio only once every several weeks at the worst. Even if not, the inclusion of a micro USB charger means that a quick power up is just a common connector cable away.
The best recommendation for this device comes in this (somewhat predictable) final passage. This very review was written almost entirely using the Folio and an iPad mini. It was an agreeable, if somewhat sub-optimal experience. The review was completed with only slightly more errors than we are used to on a full-size keyboard. Those errors, though, were all the more annoying given our certainty that the aforementioned slight widening of the keyboard would make for a much more enjoyable typing experience. That said, though, we completed the review in a reasonable amount of time, and its positives became only more apparent as we continued using it. The Keyboard Folio is not perfect, and it may be impossible for a mini-sized keyboard to achieve perfection, but we feel that Logitech's entry comes about as close as possible, and the result is a product that any writer should be more than satisfied with for on-the-go content creation.