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Test-driving the Belkin Portable Keyboard Case for iPad mini

I'll admit that when the iPad mini first appeared, I wasn't the biggest fan of the little tablet. But during Macworld/iWorld 2013, I saw a number of the devices and a hands-on session with Megan Lavey-Heaton's iPad mini turned me into a believer and owner. Now I'm starting to look at the pint-sized accessories that are appearing for the iPad mini, and the first item to grab my attention was the Belkin Portable Keyboard Case for iPad mini (US$79.99).

Design

Like most keyboard cases for the full-sized iPad, the Belkin Portable Keyboard Case features a folding design with a keyboard on one side and a "holder" on the other for propping the iPad mini up in a landscape orientation.

As you'd expect, this case is lightweight at only 9.2 ounces. And since the case is the size of an iPad mini, the keyboard isn't full-sized -- more about that in the next section of this review.

There are three clips that hold the iPad mini into place. Two grab onto the left side of the mini, while a third clip wraps onto the middle of the right side of the tablet. When you're using the keyboard, you need to undo the third clip to fold the back down and prop up the iPad mini. This is a bit different from some cases that separate the "holder" and the "stand", but this not only works, but keeps the weight and thickness of the case down.

The keyboard features the usual set of keys you'd expect on an English keyboard, but condensed down into a very small space. However, Belkin managed to build in a full complement of function keys that work with the standard features of the mini. The Fn key is also used to add the ability to type some characters that are usually on the right side of the keyboard -- brackets and quotes.

There's a USB to micro-USB cable included for charging the keyboard, an on/off switch, and a button used to pair the keyboard with your mini.

Functionality

When I pulled the Portable Keyboard Case out of the box, my first thought was "Oh, no -- this is going to be like typing on a netbook keyboard." Back in the latter part of 2008, I had an experience with a Dell Mini 9 that I converted into a hackintosh. That device traveled with me on a trip to Africa in 2009, and by the time I returned to the US I was ready to destroy it. Why? It was fairly fast and ran most OS X apps, but I couldn't stand the keyboard.

So with trepidation I set up the Belkin keyboard and started typing away. Fortunately, the keys are spaced nicely despite being small, so my fingers readily adapted and I was able to type at my usual fast pace. Where I did run into issues was typing quote marks and apostrophes -- normally I just tap the appropriate key, but on this keyboard, I needed to pause typing, hold the Fn key, and then find the proper key to type the punctuation mark. I'm sure that over time, one could get used to the need to toggle the Fn key for certain punctuation.

Belkin estimates that the battery will last for 155 hours of use. As with most other keyboards of this type, leaving the keyboard on and accidentally bumping a key will turn your iPad mini on, which means that if you're carrying your device around you may find that the mini's battery is drained. I recommend turning off the keyboard after use to prevent this issue.

As for the way that the Belkin Portable Keyboard Case holds up the iPad mini, I found that it worked fine on a desktop or table. However, when I tried to use the keyboard with the iPad mini propped up in my lap, the "stand" promptly collapsed every time I started typing. That means that the Belkin case will be of limited utility for anyone who wants to use it for taking notes while sitting in a chair.

Logitech's design, which places the iPad mini into a slot in the keyboard that holds it upright, provides a nice, solid base that can be used to type on a lap-based mini. Logitech's design, which is available for pre-order at the same price as the Belkin unit, also includes magnets in the proper places to turn the iPad on and off when the cover is opened or closed -- something that isn't available on the Belkin unit.

Logitech's keyboard also comes in two colors; one that matches the black mini and another that is perfect for the white and silver model. The Belkin unit only comes in black.

Whenever I work on a review, one question I always ask is "Would I buy one of these for myself?". Although the Belkin Portable Keyboard Case does what it is designed to do, there are enough quirks that I'll probably wait for the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard mini to hit the market before thinking about buying one. For the most part, I don't plan on using the mini for a lot of writing, so having a keyboard for it isn't a given.

Conclusion

Belkin's new Portable Keyboard Case for iPad mini is a surprisingly light Bluetooth keyboard with keys that are spaced widely enough to allow for fast touch typing. However, the lack of a rigid support for the iPad mini makes the case almost unusable when used in a lap.

Pros

  • Very lightweight and slender
  • Keys are spaced for fast touch typing
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Need to use function key to access commonly used punctuation marks (note: this is true of all "mini"-sized keyboards)
  • Case does not have magnets embedded in the cover to turn the iPad mini on and off
  • The design of the stand in the case doesn't work well when trying to use the mini as a "laptop"
  • Doesn't come in a white/silver model to match the white iPad mini

Who is it for?

  • iPad mini owners who want the lightest Bluetooth keyboard possible and who will have access to a solid surface to place the Portable Keyboard Case on for typing.

Giveaway

Just because I had some issues with this keyboard doesn't mean that some iPad mini-owning TUAW reader isn't anxious to get one as soon as possible, so we're giving one away! Here are the rules for the giveaway:

  • Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and older.
  • To enter, fill out the form below completely and click or tap the Submit button.
  • The entry must be made before February 18, 2013 11:59PM Eastern Standard Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • One winner will be selected and will receive a Belkin Portable Keyboard Case for iPad mini valued at $79.99.
  • Click Here for complete Official Rules.

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