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Adonit Writer: Taking iPad keyboard cases to a higher level

When I'm working at a desk or a table, I can type fairly well with the iPad's virtual keyboard. If I really want to write extensively, I can use the Apple Wireless Keyboard [link fixed]. However, it's difficult to use either solution to write anything longer than an email when I'm sitting with the iPad on my lap. Plus, carrying the Wireless Keyboard around kind of defeats the portability of the iPad.

When I first saw the Adonit Writer, I knew I had found the solution. The Writer is a gorgeous Bluetooth keyboard, stand, and case hybrid. It's built to be an ultraportable solution for those of us who do a lot of writing on the iPad in many different environments.

Zach Zeliff and Kris Perpich -- formerly from Microsoft and Apple -- had the vision, creativity and dedication to design the Adonit Writer and turn it into the real product I'm typing on right now. The Writer is also another crowdfunded Kickstarter success story; its original goal was to raise US$10,000 to get off the ground, and by the end of the campaign on February 3, it had reached nearly $27,000.

A few days ago my eagerly anticipated Writer arrived, and I began the unboxing and testing ritual that accompanies all great hardware. First of all, the packaging is gorgeous, and while it's a different style than Apple's, it has every bit as much flair. The Writer itself looks and feels like it could be an Apple product -- from the materials used down to the careful engineering of every piece (with one exception that I'll talk about later).

The Writer case is made up of four main components: a protective black polycarbonate exterior cover, a soft tan fabric interior that folds around the keyboard and the iPad, a hard black plastic frame that holds the iPad securely, and the aluminum keyboard. The colors and materials are attractive and complement the iPad perfectly. When the case is folded up, the black-keyed keyboard is set to go to sleep in order to keep from draining the batteries.

One thing I really admire about the Writer is that it has been built from materials that are either recyclable or biodegradable. The individual pieces are easy to separate so that they can be sorted for appropriate recycling at the end of the product's life.

Easy AnglesThe protective cover folds under the keyboard and can be moved forward and backward to adjust the viewing angle of the iPad. This provides a lot of freedom to find the perfect orientation for your device. Both the keyboard and the cover have magnets built in so that the orientation stays secure once you're done adjusting it. This system makes the Writer one of the most flexible and secure designs I've used compared to other stands and cases.

When folded up, the polycarbonate exterior and cloth interior do a great job of protecting the keyboard and iPad from scratches and minor impacts. The plastic frame around the iPad adds further security from impacts around the edges, but I wouldn't recommend dropping it a few feet onto a concrete floor or tossing the iPad out of an airplane.

Personally, I hate using a case with the iPad when I'm sitting around browsing, reading or gaming -- there's just something wonderful about how the iPad has been designed that makes it a shame to cover so much of it up. However, I want to keep my iPad safe and pristine, too. The Writer offers the perfect compromise for me. The plastic frame holds the iPad protectively when folded and in the typing configuration, while letting you eject or insert the iPad back into the Writer effortlessly.

Even with the keyboard, the entire Writer folds up into a fairly discreet size that doesn't feel bulky or as large as I expected. At 1.1 pounds, weight isn't much of an issue either.

The keyboard feels fantastic. It isn't a full sized keyboard -- the keys are a bit smaller than normal, but even with my large hands, I adjusted to it pretty quickly. After a few hours of practice, I can type comfortably at nearly my full speed with only a slight increase in errors compared to a normal keyboard. The keys are springy and responsive, and they give a nice audible click when pressed, but aren't distractingly loud to the people around you.

The Writer doesn't skimp on the available keys. Shift, Control, Option and Command are on both sides of the keyboard, and Function is correctly placed at the bottom left. All of the usual symbol and number keys are included with only minor optimizations to standard placement and sizes. I love that there are four arrow keys -- it's great for small editing adjustments without taking me out of my flow to reach for the screen. While it's a little thing, it makes a huge difference for me.

There are seventeen function keys along the top row: Home, Spotlight (F1), lock-screen photos (F2), toggle the on-screen keyboard (F3), Media controls (F7-F9), volume controls (F13-F15) and a lock/unlock key. The on-screen keyboard key is particularly useful if you don't want to go into settings to turn off Bluetooth whenever you eject the iPad.

The keyboard also includes three soft rubber pads to separate and protect the iPad screen from the keys. So far I've never noticed them while I'm typing. Someone I was showing the Writer to said it got in her way, but it would be easy to adjust to. I wish my MacBook Pro's screen was as well protected.

It should be pretty obvious by now that I adore the Writer. However -- as I alluded to earlier in this post -- there's one small problem with my Writer. I can't get the battery compartment open. Three AAA batteries are designed to be inserted into a hollow section at one end of the cylindrical hinge, but the cap is jammed.

Not wanting to put this review on hold, I took drastic measures and ended up pulling the back off the keyboard, attaching a power supply where the batteries would have made contact.

Given the precision engineering and high quality of everything else about the Writer, I contacted Adonit to see if this was an isolated issue, and here's the response Adonit sent back to me:

The problem is isolated in the sense that it only occurs in some of the keyboards in the batch of 50 that were delivered in the beginning of May. This problem was missed in a quality control inspection because of the speed with which we were trying to fulfill the orders. Since the first issue was reported, all consequent Writers are now evaluated twice and the tooling has been modified to fix the problem, so it won't occur in any other Writer. We have since produced [a] couple of hundred units and none has this issue. Although we obviously hate seeing our product having issues, it does give us an opportunity to fine tune our customer service :)

Adonit is sending a replacement for the keyboard component to fix the problem. In spite of the flaw, I have reviewed the Adonit Writer very positively given the overall quality. Knowing that they've already fixed the issue and having now experienced their superb customer service, I have no hesitation giving the Writer my highest recommendation. It's already changed how I use the iPad and made serious writing not only viable, but also comfortable. So much for the iPad being only a content consumption device.

The first generation Writer was designed and built for the original iPad. Since the announcement of the iPad 2, Adonit has begun working on a new version of the Writer designed for the latest iPad model. For iPad 2 owners, I have little doubt that the new version will be worth the wait.

Right now, Adonit is working to fulfill all of the orders that were made during the Kickstarter campaign. The Writer should be available for the original iPad soon at a price tag of $99.99 during the first month. That price will be raised to $109.99 after the first month of sales are complete. You can sign up to get a notification of availability of the Writer on Adonit's site, or follow the company's Twitter feed for updates.

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