Test-driving Belkin's new iPad Air keyboard cases
Accessory manufacturer Belkin wasted no time at all getting a new series of iPad Air cases and keyboards out to the public, and they all look quite nice. TUAW was able to get two of the keyboards -- the QODE Ultimate Keyboard for iPad Air (US$129.99, will be available from AT&T for $99.99 with the purchase of a new device) and the QODE Slim Style Keyboard Case for iPad Air ($79.99). Let's take a closer look at these two "fresh from manufacturing" keyboard cases and how they work with Apple's slim iPad Air.
QODE Ultimate Keyboard for iPad Air
The QODE Ultimate Keyboard is -- hands-down -- one of the nicer keyboard case designs I've seen. It's quite slender, made of aluminum with some rubberized parts where the case needs to flex. It's also one of the easiest keyboard cases to use, with no power switches or pairing buttons. You literally just snap your iPad Air into the case where it's held by two neatly-designed clips on one side and a precisely-molded protective surrounding. Once the case is installed, just turn on your iPad Air, flip it up so that the left side snaps into one of three magnet-enhanced locking positions ready for typing. The keyboard turns on, with a small blue LED giving you the thumbs-up to begin typing. Of course, you'll need to do a one-time pairing from Settings > Bluetooth to establish the relationship between the two devices.
The case is remarkably thin, and weighs just 14.6 oz (413 gm). There are cutouts for all of the switches and ports on the iPad Air, giving you full access without having to remove the case. A small micro-USB port is visible on the right side of the case, giving you an easy way to charge the internal battery through an included cable.
Magnets are really the secret to this case. As mentioned earlier, the screen is locked into place in three separate positions by magnets. Magnets also help keep the case closed when you're not typing, and flipping the iPad Air into the typing position turns both the keyboard and iPad Air on. The case provides a good amount of protection, although it's not designed to protect your iPad Air from extreme drops and falls.
So, how's the keyboard? I found it very acceptable and fast, with comfortable well-spaced keys and a good layout. As opposed to some keyboards that provide six rows of keys to give a separate row for function and iPad-specific keys, Belkin's layout combines those function keys into the number row at the top of the keyboard. I actually don't find this to be too much of an issue, as I will generally use touch gestures or screen taps to perform many of the functions that those keys perform.
My only gripe about the layout is that it's slightly non-standard, with the colon/semicolon key being moved from its traditional spot next to the "L" down to the space bar row. While this isn't too big an issue for writers, it could cause a developer trying to code some real heartburn. In my case, I found that just about every time I wanted to hit an apostrophe, my finger ended up hitting the return key instead. It will take a little getting used to...
I did enjoy the placement of a Siri button on the left side of the space bar row. Rather than reaching up and double-tapping the home button, I can now just tap that button to invoke Apple's intelligent assistant.
The back of the case flops around so that if you want to use your iPad Air in one hand as strictly a "handheld" device, you can. Of course, having the case installed adds considerably to the thickness of the iPad Air. Fortunately it's quite simple and fast to just remove the iPad Air from the keyboard case for one-handed use.
The QODE Ultimate Keyboard Case for iPad Air is available for pre-order in white, silver, or black.
QODE Slim Style Keyboard Case for iPad Air
The "Style" in Slim Style is the main selling point for this keyboard case, as it's actually a bit thicker than the Ultimate Keyboard Case. As befitting a stylish case, it comes in five fashion-friendly color combos: white/topaz, black/black, white/purple, black/red, and white/sorbet.
The Slim Style Keyboard Case isn't as user-friendly as the Ultimate Keyboard Case in that it doesn't have strong magnets to hold the screen into place upright. Instead, there's a prop that flips out of the back of the case to hold the iPad Air up. While I found typing on the Ultimate Keyboard Case with the assembly in my lap to be quite easy, it wasn't as easy to do so with the Slim Style case. Likewise, there's an actual on/off button on the Slim Style Keyboard Case so you will need to go through the effort of physically switching it on and off. There's also a pairing button that needs to be depressed in order to initiate the pairing of the keyboard to your iPad Air.
Surprisingly, the keyboard layout is somewhat different on the Slim Style case. Instead of having just just five rows of keys, it has six. The top row consists of dedicated function keys for the purpose of controlling the iPad Air's functions. If you use special keyboard buttons like those on an existing iPad keyboard, then you may like the layout of the Slim Style keyboard better than that on the Ultimate Keyboard Case.
There's also more of a wrist rest on this keyboard. While the keys on the Ultimate Keyboard don't leave any room for your palms or wrists to rest on the keyboard, there's about a two-inch gap at the bottom of the Slim Style keyboard. Weight-wise, the Slim Style Keyboard Case is a bit more bulky at 1 lb., 1 oz (482 gm).
The iPad Air itself is held into the Slim Style case with a decidedly less high-tech method as well. Rather than the clip and magnet method used on the Ultimate Keyboard Case, the Slim Style uses a pair of faux leather "straps" to hold the iPad Air in place.
Maybe it's just my champagne tastes talking, but I really preferred the design and implementation of the Ultimate Keyboard Case much more than that of the Slim Style.
With the iPad Air only available for one week, it's amazing that Belkin was able to start production of these cases as quickly as they did. The Ultimate Keyboard Case for iPad Air is truly a well-designed companion for your slim new tablet, with light weight, strong materials, and intelligent integration being the points in its favor. For those who want something a bit more stylish, the Slim Style Keyboard Case for iPad Air provides a variety of color combos, but is a bit more pedestrian in terms of implementation.
My recommendation would be to go for the Ultimate Keyboard Case, as it can be used in a lap, is much more adjustable, and doesn't require all of the button-pushing of the Slim Style Keyboard Case. If most of your work is done on a desk or table top instead, then the Slim Style case is a solid and less expensive alternative.
We have a Slim Style Keyboard Case in the black/black color combo available for one of our readers to win. The winner will not only have protection for his or her iPad Air, but will be able to type quickly and efficiently on this Belkin keyboard.
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 November 12, 2013 11:59PM Eastern Standard Time.
- You may enter only once.
- One winner will be selected and will receive a Belkin Slim Style Keyboard Case for iPad Air valued at $79.99.
- Click Here for complete Official Rules
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