Earlier this year, I looked at some Logitech and Belkin iPad keyboard cases as part of an iPad accessory survival guide. The nature of this article was more of a summary of several product categories than an in-depth review of each item.
As I mentioned in this article, we barely scratched the surface in the Keyboard Folio category, which brings us to this day where we'll take a closer look at both of the above, in addition to another popular choice, the Zagg -Folio for the third and fourth generation iPads.
Modern tablets were designed primarily as media consumption devices. More recently, devices like the Asus Transformer and the recently released Microsoft Surface have questioned this idea with optional keyboards for each slate. Microsoft in particular wants to show consumers that Surface can serve as a legitimate productivity machine. This is one of the main reasons we wanted to revisit the iPad keyboard category.
Zaggs Folio is essentially a full-cover case with an integrated keyboard. The exterior consists of a hard shell in carbon fiber optics. There are cut-outs in all the required places around the perimeter – volume rocker, camera, power switch, microphones, loudspeakers and docking connector.
The folio folds out like a book. The iPad glides safely on one side – maybe a little too safely until you're loosely working it – while the Bluetooth wireless keyboard is on the opposite side. The back cover behind the iPad is curved so you can tuck the bottom (or left edge in portrait orientation) of the tablet into a rubber-coated groove just above the top row of keys on the keyboard.
There are two padded bumpers on top of the keyboard that protect the iPad's screen when the case is closed. Directly below the right pad are the status and power LEDs of the keyboard as well as a physical Bluetooth connection button and an on / off switch for the power supply.
According to Zagg, the keyboard probably only needs to be charged a few times a year. Because of this, the company decided to "hide" the micro-USB charging port on the right side of the keyboard. You must remove the keyboard from the folio to access it. At first I thought this was a design flaw, but Zagg says this was done for aesthetic reasons. The company includes a 20-inch charging cable that plugs into a standard USB plug.
Speaking of which, you can also remove the keyboard from the case and use it separately if necessary. The iPad is still in the slot above the top row of buttons, either landscape or portrait.
Unlike the other two boards, the Zagg range has a silver base with black keys. Each button is raised a good bit from the base – about as much as the Belkin. The button layout is more similar to the Logitech board with a small delete / backspace key and a shortened Enter and Shift key on the right. At the top of the row of numbers used for various hotkeys is a sixth row of buttons.
Because of the thick outer shell, the Zagg Folio gives the iPad a considerable amount of weight and thickness. Also, note that the latch that holds the folio closed can sometimes be difficult to open.
Logitech ultra-thin keyboard cover
If you're reading the iPad survival guide, you are likely already familiar with the Logitech ultra-thin keyboard cover. If not, I'll give you a quick refresher before diving a little deeper.
Unlike the Belkin or Zagg offerings, Logitech's product is exactly what it says in the name – a cover. It's not a complete protective cover for your iPad. Think of this more like a solid version of Microsoft Keyboard Cover. Similar to the Smart Cover from Apple, the tablet is connected with a magnetic hinge. Once installed and transported, the iPad lies face down over the keyboard, with the back of the tablet fully exposed to the elements. That said, it's obviously the lightest of the group and adds the least thickness to the iPad on the go.
When you want to use the keyboard, simply remove the iPad from the magnetic hinge and, like with the Zagg board, place it along the groove above the keys in the top row. Logitech's keyboard also supports landscape or portrait orientation. The Bluetooth connection button, the power switch and the charging station are located on the right edge of the circuit board. There is an LED display directly above the delete button. The back shell of the keyboard is made of brushed aluminum and fits the back of the iPad.
Logitech claims the keyboard should last up to six months on a single charge when used a maximum of two hours per day. Note that the charging cable requires a USB port, so you either need another computer or you can use the iPad's charger. It should also be noted that, in keeping with the Apple shape, Logitech offers a ridiculously short charging cable. The one included in the retail package is about a foot long.
Logitech also includes some iPad-specific hotkeys on its board, but they are not dedicated buttons. Instead there are only five rows of keys. To access the hotkeys, you must first press the function key. It's not a big deal compared to the other two boards with dedicated hotkeys, but it's worth pointing out.
The keyboard layout is very similar to what Zagg offers, which is not exactly my favorite. The buttons on the right side of the board are just too short and too small for my taste. I prefer a sizable Enter and Delete / Backspace keys. two things that are not present on this device. The buttons are also a bit shorter than the other two units, but whether this is a big shutdown depends largely on personal preference.
Belkin Keyboard Folio
Belkins Keyboard Folio is another fully protective product that is similar to Zagg's Folio. The exterior of my sample is gray with an almost soft, suede-like feel. It definitely seems like a quality case with intricate stitching around the edges. The name Belkin is embossed on the front and of course there are cutouts around the perimeter that allow you to use the iPad without removing it from the case.
There is no latch, clip, velcro, or magnet holding the front cover closed. As I briefly touched upon in the Survival Guide, the Belkin Folio reminds me of a transformer in that it takes several steps to convert it from an iPad case to a keyboard case – lots of "moving parts," you might say.
Even after working with it for a while, it still feels awkward. It would take a minute or two to find out if you are completely new to this. One of the good things about this folio is that you can adjust the screen angle exactly where you want it. The other two units are essentially stuck at a fixed angle.
Belkin's keyboard doesn't appear to be removable from the case like the Zagg range, but the keyboard itself is my favorite. The keys have a lot of space. The whole board is a little wider than the other two. It's about half an inch wider than the Zagg and ¾ "wider than the Logitech. That extra real estate means Belkin was able to put the Enter, Backspace, and Shift keys on the right side.
In addition, there is space above for a sixth row of dedicated hotkeys directly below the on / off switch and the charging LED. The micro USB charging port is located on the top left of the keyboard.
Belkin includes a charging cable that is approximately 5.5 feet long. We learned that the keyboard should last for around 60 hours while in use or around 2,000 hours in standby mode.
Doesn't sound like a broken record, but it's worth repeating: if your plan is to easily write or edit text on the iPad, a keyboard will make your job a lot easier. However, if your work consists of serious word processing tasks every day, it is best to stick to a notebook.
If you fall into the former category and already own an iPad, a keyboard is certainly a worthwhile investment. Choosing the right board for your needs is unfortunately not as easy as it sounds. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preferences. For what it's worth, I ran multiple typing tests on each keyboard and got an average WPM (words per minute) score as a measure of how easy it is to type on it. The Zagg Folio I averaged 70.8 WPM, the Logitech Ultra-Thin Keyboard 61.6 WPM and the Belkin Keyboard Folio 65.9 WPM.
I found Logitech's offering to be more sleek and sophisticated than the other two, but the keyboard layout is a bit dubious. In addition, the device only covers the front of the iPad, which can damage the back.
Belkin's offering is "more complete," but it just feels awkward and clumsy because of all the "moving parts". It's a well-built case, however, and the keyboard feels solid under the fingers. The case offers all-round protection for the iPad and the keyboard is the best.
However, in my opinion, Zagg's range is probably the most comprehensive. Sure, the case adds a lot of bulk and weight to the overall package, but it seems like it is the best way to protect the iPad from everyday life. The case is easy to use once you step inside, and despite the sub-optimal keyboard layout, the board works fine. Between the three, I'd nod slightly to Zagg's solution.
I was able to find Logitech's ultra-thin keyboard cover and the Zagg Folio online for just under $ 80, while the Belkin Keyboard Folio was $ 15 cheaper at $ 65.