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Logitech's Ultrathin Keyboard Cover: The best iPad keyboard case yet (Updated)

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Logitech's Ultrathin Keyboard Cover (US$99) has been out for a while, but TUAW didn't receive a review device until last week. After a weekend of happily pounding on the keyboard and giving this shiny new product a workout, I'm pleased to say that it's the best iPad keyboard case I've reviewed so far. (Note: This review has been updated. Please scroll to the end to read the update.)

Design

Logitech appears to have started with a clean sheet of paper when they came up with the design for the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. While the rest of the teeming mass of accessory manufacturers have pretty much all chosen to take a folio case and throw a keyboard -- removable in some cases -- into it, Logitech took the unique idea of making the keyboard the case cover.

The thin (.31 inch) and light (11.6 ounce) keyboard has a Smart Cover-like hinged magnet on one side. Drag that magnet against the left side of an iPad and it snaps into place. The Ultrathin also has magnets on the right side to turn the iPad 2 or third-generation iPad on or off.

The back of the Ultrathin is made with aluminum that matches the material of the iPad. If you'd like to customize your Ultrathin, Logitech provides free laser engraving if you order the keyboard from its online store.

When the keyboard cover and iPad are mated together, they form a nice curvy aluminum shell about .68 inch thick. That just so happens to match the maximum thickness of a MacBook Air. The combined weight of the Ultrathin and third-generation iPad is 2.185 lb., .2 lb. (3.2 oz.) less than that of an 11" MacBook Air.

The right side of the keyboard has a small Bluetooth button (used for re-pairing the device), an on-off switch, and a micro-USB port for recharging the battery. The port isn't going to get much use, since Logitech manages to squeeze six months of battery life out of the keyboard based on two hours of use each day.

Once the keyboard is flat on your desk, you see a white angled slot above the top of the keys. That slot is where your iPad fits in, either in landscape or portrait orientation. If the iPad is placed in that slot with the left side down, magnets hold the iPad in securely. That keeps the iPad from sliding out if you're holding it on an uneven surface like a lap.

The keyboard is almost identical in terms of key placement to the Apple Wireless Keyboard, which is my personal standard by which all other keyboards are measured. The only exception is the number (top) row of keys, which serves not only to provide the standard numbers and characters but also performs a variety of functions when used in conjunction with the fn key.

Those functions include home, search, virtual keyboard enable/disable, select, cut, copy, paste, and volume controls. The bottom row of the keyboard is a bit taller than the others, making the space bar almost identical in size to that on the Apple keyboard.

Functionality

When it comes to Bluetooth keyboard functionality, there's really only one thing that I'm interested in -- the feel of the keyboard. If it has a good feel, good positive feedback, and the keys are spaced properly, I can type quickly. That's the case with the Ultrathin.

With most other keyboard folios and standalone keyboards for iPad, the spacing and placement of the keys is all wrong. Since typing is mainly all muscle memory at work, those other keyboard really throw off my typing until I have used them for a while. I had no such issues with the Ultrathin; it felt so much like my Apple Wireless Keyboard that I was able to type at full speed almost immediately. Kudos to the engineers at Logitech for creating a keyboard with such a perfect touch.

As a protective device, the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover provides just as much care for the screen on your second- or third-generation iPad as the Smart Cover; possibly more. If you would like for the back of your iPad to be protected as well, you won't be happy. I tried using one of the many lightweight iPad shells to protect the back and found that it made the iPad too thick to use with the Ultrathin. You might be able to squeak by with a film cover like those made by Zagg. However, there's one thing missing, and that's the ability to prop the iPad up in several configurations. I wasn't used to using my iPad in a "standup" mode similar to that of a laptop screen, but fortunately it didn't take long for it to me to get used to that configuration.

Of course, the angle at which your iPad is standing cannot be changed; it's fixed to the angle of the slot on the keyboard. I found myself occasionally grabbing the iPad to change the angle, as if it was the screen on my MacBook Air. If you can stand a little more thickness and weight, you might want to look at Logitech's Solar Keyboard Folio ($129.99). It's adjustable to a variety of angles and never needs to be plugged in.

Researching some other reviews of the Ultrathin showed that some bloggers have seen issues where a key will stick and/or repeat when the iPad is pumping out a lot of Wi-Fi traffic. This never happened to me personally, but it's worth reporting as a possible issue.

We've had the debate about iPad + Keyboard versus MacBook Air quite a few times here at TUAW so I won't repeat it. For some of my work, I still require Mac OS X and the MacBook Air as there just isn't a viable solution on the iPad. However, the introduction of high-quality, lightweight keyboards like the Ultrathin is rapidly decreasing the number of situations where I need a full laptop. If the TUAW content management system provided a way for me to upload images from an iPad, I'd seriously consider using the iPad and Ultrathin Keyboard Cover as my "laptop".

Speaking of TUAW, blogger Richard Gaywood mentioned that he uses the UK version of the Ultrathin -- "Can I add a small point to your review? Mine came with a UK keyboard layout -- a £ sign on shift-3, and (more importantly), a double-height (as opposed to double width) return key. This is really great for people used to UK keyboards, and it wasn't at all obvious from Logitech.com that that would be what I got -- all the press pics are a US keyboard layout. Many no-name iPad keyboards only offer US layouts so that was a welcome surprise"

Conclusion

The ultimate convergence of laptop and tablet might not be here yet, but products like the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover are making it easier to blur the lines every day. Combining the protection of Apple's Smart Cover and the typing ease of the Apple Wireless Keyboard into a wafer-thin cover is a great idea, and Logitech's execution of the concept is essentially perfect. Without a doubt, this is the best iPad Bluetooth keyboard on the market at this time.

Update

After using the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for about a month, I decided that it was time to write a quick update to this post with some changes, both good and bad.

First, the good. I still think that this is the best iPad Bluetooth keyboard in terms of the feel of the keys and ease of typing. As expected, I've never had to plug it in to recharge, and the case gets a lot of questions from curious passersby. You can't complain about that.

Now the bad news. Three times since I started using the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, I've accidentally forgotten to turn it off before placing it face down onto the iPad to protect the screen. The result? The iPad turned itself on (while the magnets should put it into sleep mode) and stayed on, causing it to reach a temperature where it was almost impossible to hold in my hand. As this never happened before I started using the Ultrathin, it is my opinion that this is an issue that occurs when the keyboard's power switch is not turned to the off position before placing it on the iPad.

Sure, it's human error. I should remember to shut the keyboard off every time I'm done using it. But I think this points out a flaw of this case -- it should shut itself off when not in use, and provide a way to keep the iPad from being "awakened" by the Bluetooth device.

I'm also use to other cases that I've used that provide more of a good grip on the iPad. The smooth aluminum exterior of the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover is attractive, but actually quite slick.

Will I continue to use this keyboard? At this point I'm considering going back to a keyboard-less configuration. I use my iPad too much to have it be damaged by an overheating situation caused by a keyboard.



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Accessories iPad

Logitech's Ultrathin Keyboard Cover (US$99) has been out for a while, but TUAW didn't receive a review device until last week. After a...