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Crux360 raises the bar for iPad 2 Bluetooth keyboard cases

Just yesterday, I reviewed the Qmadix Portfolio case for iPad 2 and was favorably impressed. It's too bad I didn't wait a day, because I could have done a smackdown between it and the new Crux360 (US$149). Both keyboard cases are a sign that manufacturers are doing their homework, listening to consumers, and producing innovative new designs to protect and enhance the iPad 2.

Design

The Crux360 comes in an attractive box that when opened, reveals the case wrapped in a reusable monofiber drawstring bag. Power is provided to the keyboard's lithium-ion polymer battery through a standard micro-USB to USB connector that can be plugged into an iPad 2 power brick or any Mac or PC USB port for charging. While charging, a bright red LED just above the keyboard glows; it's helpful, but you can't tell when charging is done if you have the lid of the case down.

The Crux360 is a hard shell keyboard case, not a soft leather portfolio like the Qmadix. It can be used in four different modes: laptop mode, where the keyboard and iPad work together as a mini-laptop; movie mode, propping the screen up in landscape orientation for easy video viewing; tablet mode, where you're using the iPad in its native mode; and carry mode, in which the case is closed and protecting the iPad from scratches and dings.

The hard shell of the case has a soft-touch finish, meaning that it is easy to grip and not likely to slip out of your hand. The hinge that connects the "screen" portion of the case with the keyboard is the namesake of the Crux360, as it will rotate through a full 360°. This hinge is very stiff, which allows the case to hold your iPad in the assorted modes without the various props and velcro tabs that you see on so many other cases.

Inserting an iPad 2 into the case is a cinch -- the top of the case is in two parts, so you just pop the iPad 2 in, press the two parts together until they click. This takes a little force, but you will feel confident that the iPad isn't going to fall out of the case.

What's interesting about the design is that the keyboard has four "feet", one in each corner. Sure enough, when you're using the Crux360 in movie mode or have it flat on a table in tablet mode, those feet keep the keys from being accidentally depressed. Of course, you'll probably want to turn off the keyboard if you're using the Crux360 and iPad in your lap.

The Crux360 keyboard has a power-saving mode that makes the most of the 510 mAh battery by switching to a low power setting after two minutes of non-use. Touching any key brings the keyboard back to full life. As with the Qmadix keyboard yesterday, the Crux360 has replaced function keys with a bunch of iPad-specific keys. There are 17 altogether on the Crux360, six of which provide the same music-related track/play/volume functions. The copy and paste buttons are accompanied by select all and cut buttons, and there's a special button for changing the language on the iPad.

Finally, the Crux360 works like the Apple Smart Cover, automatically turning on your iPad 2 when the case is opened and turning it off when it's closed.

Functionality

How did the Crux360 do in my tests? Very well, thank you. As with the similarly-priced Qmadix keyboard case, the Crux360 has a very high-quality feel to it. While I'm not sure how long a "normal" charge takes, I was able to charge up the Crux360's battery in about 90 minutes prior to testing.

Turning on the keyboard just takes a five-second press on the dished On button. The red power light glows for a second, letting you know that the keyboard is on. To pair the keyboard with an iPad 2, there's a small button that makes up part of the power light. Pressing it for several seconds puts the keyboard in discoverable mode, at which point pairing with the iPad is done quickly.

The hinge on the Crux360 is almost infinitely adjustable and holds the iPad in place in a variety of positions. Crux Case says that the hinge is good for up to 10,000 open/close cycles, so it should outlast most iPads.

The keyboard has a good feel, but is a bit loud in operation. One thing I didn't like was the size of the delete button -- on the Qmadix Portfolio, the delete button was almost normal sized. Here, it was the size of any of the regular letter or number keys. In addition, there were three command keys, as well as two shift keys on the right side of the keyboard. Right next to the Enter / Return key is another Enter key. There's nothing wrong with the extra keys, but the placement and number of the keys just seems ... odd.

Putting the case onto an iPad 2 is really quite simple, as everything slides into place. Pulling the iPad 2 back out of the case was another matter -- I had to enlist my wife's help in holding onto the keyboard side of the case while I pulled the iPad out with the other. Crux Case notes that you may need "extra hands" available when removing the case, and they certainly weren't kidding.

The Bottom Line

The Crux360 is a very versatile and well-made keyboard case for the iPad 2. The solidity of the case is excellent, and the price is not out of line with other keyboard cases. Other than the odd placement of several keys on the keyboard, I was able to quickly start touch-typing on it. As an iPad stand, the Crux360 also does a good job although it doesn't work in portrait orientation.

If you're considering using your iPad 2 as a laptop replacement, you might want to wait for a few months. Crux Case is coming out with a new case called the Crux Loaded that will feature a Bluetooth trackpad for actually controlling the cursor on the iPad screen. Crux plans on charging a steep $249 for the Crux Loaded, which means that the total price tag for a mid-range iPad 2 and the keyboard case would start getting into the range of an entry level MacBook Air.

For a student or commuter who wants to protect an iPad 2 while having a Bluetooth keyboard on hand for fast typing, the Crux360 is perfect.

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