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Logitech Ultrathin is a good, but cramped, keyboard for the iPad mini

One of the things I never thought I would miss when I made the switch to an iPad mini is my keyboard case. I loved using my Jot Writer 2 Plus with my iPad 2, and the friend who subsequently inherited that iPad also loves the case. I never thought I would need or want a keyboard to go with the iPad mini.

But, there are a growing number of keyboard cases for the iPad mini. Steve Sande took a look at the Belkin Portable Keyboard Case for iPad mini, but found it a bit frustrating to use because of certain key placements and the stand. I'm taking a look at the $79.95 Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard for iPad mini, and if I was to recommend any keyboard case for an iPad mini, this one would be it -- even though it has its own quirks.

Design

If you're familiar with the larger Ultrathin Keyboard Case for the iPad, then the mini version doesn't add anything new. This is a svelte case, thinner than the non-keyboard cover I'd been using on my iPad mini and weighs around 7.33 ounces.

Like Apple's Smart Cover, it attaches to the front of your iPad by magnets and activates the iPad's sleep/wake function by opening and closing the lid. The resulting sandwich of iPad and case is still thin. I keep the mini tucked in the back pocket of my normal purse (a Rickshaw Bags mini commuter messenger) with the case on with no issues. If you want to use your iPad without the keyboard, you'll need to detach it. Just make sure not to lose it, and turn the keyboard off so you're not wasting the power.

It comes in two models: all black and white/aluminum. There is a deep, notched groove that will let your iPad mini stand in landscape or portrait mode. A power button, Bluetooth-pairing button and micro USB charging port are on the upper-right of the keyboard. It does a good job at protecting the front of your iPad, but I found that the aluminum got dirty quickly when I was using it on different tables. The nature of the keyboard case means the back of your iPad mini will be unprotected, so you might want to take a look at a skin to use with it if you want to avoid scratches.

Functionality

When it comes to scaling keyboards down for the iPad, and especially the iPad mini, there are some sacrifices that have to be made. A lot of keyboard makers cram multiple functions onto a single key, forcing you to stop and stare at the keyboard for a moment to figure out what combination you need to hit to do a quotation mark.

Logitech tries to make those changes minimal on the iPad mini, despite the much smaller working area. Instead of pairing some of the punctuation marks with other keys, it placed chiclet keys the size of a normal function key on an Apple keyboard. This enabled more of a normal keyboard layout. The caps lock and tab keys are subfunctions of the A and Q keys. Number keys will activate iPad shortcuts when used along with the function key. The nicest shortcuts are the ability to activate Siri and the ability to toggle among world keyboards you have installed. However, the Siri key is a bit redundant, since holding down the Home hotkey does the same thing.

Logitech Ultrathin is a good, but slightly cramped, keyboard for the iPad mini

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Case overlaying my 13-inch MacBook Air's keyboard

When it comes down to it, whether or not you'll like this case depends on how much you tolerate the tiny keyboard. When he reviewed the Griffin keyboard case, Steve Sande was OK with its smaller keyboard, other than the punctuation keys. I was chatting with Macworld's Lex Friedman about his experience on Twitter, and he found that the keyboard could be detrimental to touch typists. His writing speed on the Logitech keyboard dropped from 110 words-per-minute to roughly 30. The cramped keys hampered former TUAW staffer David Chartier as well.

I'm not a touch typist, but I'm not entirely a hunt-and-peck person either. When I started using the Ultrathin, I had a hard time getting used to it, and I have little hands. It got better after a couple of hours of heavy use, and after three days I was typing at normal speed and not making many errors. The biggest problem I have typing with the tiny punctuation keys. But, I vastly prefer them over the alternative of hunting down specific punctuation under a function shortcut.

The other issue I had with the case is the placement of the groove. The groove holds your iPad pretty securely, and I've carried my iPad mini across the room in it without no issues. However, the angle is a little steeper than I'd like, and you can't adjust it like with the Belkin case. I had to sit cross-legged to use the iPad mini and case comfortably in my lap, and I wonder what the experience will be like on an airplane when you can't compensate for the person on front of you leaning their seat back.

Conclusion

I wrote this review in Drafts on the iPad mini using the Ultrathin, and once I got comfortable with the keyboard, the experience was mostly pleasant. It's made me reconsider my stance on having a keyboard with the mini, and I can see it being a good companion when I want to do some writing away from home and not carry my laptop with me.

But, if you have large hands or you're a touch typist, this keyboard might not be for you. If you have the chance to test the Ultrathin before purchase, I recommend you do so.

Pros

  • Thin and light, the stand supports the iPad mini in portrait or landscape mode and can be used on a table or in your lap.
  • You can access most keyboard punctuation without having to use the function key.
  • The iPad shortcuts, such as Siri and world keyboard switching, are useful.

Cons

  • Because of the tiny keys, you might not enjoy typing on a keyboard designed for an iPad mini.
  • The stand might be a bit steeper than some people would like.

Who's it for

  • iPad mini users who want to use the iPad as a portable writing machine or want a good keyboard.

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