Review: Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover

Logitech attemps to make iPad keyboards more portable. (April 26th, 2012)

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Product Manufacturer: Logitech

Price: $99.99

The Good

  • Doubles as tough screen protection when not in use
  • Easy to transport, thin
  • Quiet keys, comfortable layout
  • Handy iOS shortcuts
  • Sturdy, magnetically-locked iPad stand
  • Matches iPad's design aesthetics

The Bad

  • Doesn't protect iPad's back
  • May not work with some rear shells
  • Adds significant weight when attached
  • Too heavy to treat as folding lid
  • iPad may tip forward at extreme angles

One of the iPad's main weaknesses has always been productivity. It's not a question of apps; while it has taken a little time for a native iPad library to develop, there's usually been some way of getting essential tasks done. It's that even with those apps, the iPad's technical limitations can make things unnecessarily difficult. Bluetooth keyboards can simplify writing, but options have so far been limited to either separate peripherals or full-sized cases, which carry their own tradeoffs. Logitech's Ultrathin Keyboard Cover attempts to bridge that gap -- in our review, we'll judge whether the gear is as convenient as its maker hopes it is.

Core Design

The product's name explains the basics. Rather than tagging along in a bag, or demanding that you fit an iPad into a clamshell, the Ultrathin can actually replace any front cover you might have. This offers several advantages: it not only keeps the keyboard with you at all times, but protects an iPad's screen, while eliminating the excess weight that might come with a regular keyboard case.



To function this way the device depends on two things. The first is an iPad's built-in magnets, which latch the Ultrathin to the front when not in use, with the keys facing inward. The keys are recessed enough to prevent them from scratching a screen, and the magnets are strong enough to ensure the keyboard won't fall off. The linking point is an extremely long magnetic hinge, which in theory lets you treat the Ultrathin as a book-style lid -- in practice, though, the keyboard is too heavy to make this comfortable for more than a minute.



The other essential invention is the "ultrathin" part. As heavy as it might feel, the keyboard is still remarkably thin, with even less depth than the tablet it's attaching to. It could easily have been heavier, and its dimensions prevent it from feeling too cumbersome or outsizing any bag or sleeve you might be using. If you can fit an iPad with a standard case into what you're carrying, you can fit the Ultrathin.

Although much of the keyboard is plastic, its weight comes from an aluminum shell which matches the look of the iPad's own. This offers one definite plus in the sense of more (front) protection than just about anything else you can buy. At the same time it means suddenly having to worry about scratching not one but two metal surfaces, and carrying around a combined load that feels as heavy as a small notebook, defeating part of the point of having a tablet.

Writing

When it comes to actual typing, there are two options. You can just pull the Ultrathin off and use it separately, but the obvious intent is that you place your iPad into a magnetic slot that keeps the screen propped up at a convenient viewing angle, whether in landscape or portrait mode. The slot's grip is a lot stronger than you might expect -- in testing, there was almost no way an iPad would tip over backward without taking the entire keyboard with it. Forward is another matter, so you do have to worry a bit about typing at extreme angles. Laying relatively flat on a lap or a tabletop however, the Ultrathin should prove more than secure.



The keys themselves are as quiet and responsive as you'd hope for with any modern design. A dedicated Home button sits in one corner, and other common iOS commands (cut/copy/paste, volume up/down, etc.) can be accessed by holding down Function and tapping another key in the top row. Perhaps the most useful ones though are Select Left and Select Right, which along with some other keys make selecting text much more practical than with a touchscreen alone.

I was initally worried that the key layout would be cramped, but I'm relieved to say that it's fairly comfortable. A full-sized keyboard is always better, naturally, but unless you have extremely thick hands, you should be able to type at a good clip -- certainly faster than a touchscreen allows. Like any iPad-compatible keyboard, having the Ultrathin turned on also gets you more screen space back since the onscreen keyboard automatically toggles off.



Portability

Ironically, the one area where the Ultrathin is somewhat deficient is portable use. It accomplishes its main goal, which is to stay close at hand by serving double-duty as protection. As I mentioned though this comes at the cost of weight, which isn't such a problem when you're traveling, but means you'll probably want to take the cover off completely when you arrive.

One obvious problem is that it leaves the back of an iPad completely exposed. The only alternative is to buy a separate skin or shell, and even then you may run into problems. Some shells may not have cutouts that fit the size of the hinge on the Ultrathin -- be sure any back will match up before you spend the extra money.

The battery on the keyboard is claimed to last six months on a full charge, at a rate of about two hours of use per day. It's impossible to test this in a normal review, but if it lives up to expectations, the keyboard should be very practical for road warriors so long as they turn it off between sessions. A bundled micro USB cable can be used for recharging.

Conclusions

The Ultrathin is a highly original, well-designed product, just with very specific limitations. It's not for people who demand constant or complete protection, or maximum convenience, for that matter. If you're the sort who does a lot writing though, it may be far more appealing than some of the other keyboard options out there. If you need any more evidence -- most of this review was written with it.

by Roger Fingas


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