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Transformer-like Dock-It Pro provides quirky iPad keyboard case

Dock-It Pro

To call the Dock-It Pro (US$159) quirky is to understate the oddness of this product. This Parle Innovation device offers a flip-case that enables users to treat their iPad as either a mini laptop or a very, very heavy tablet. A well-designed keyboard represents its strongest feature, but the weight, compatibility issues, and awkward usability let a promising product down.

If you own an iPad air, this is not the product for you. It works only with the iPad 2, 3, and 4 form factor. To use, you slide the top element in a few directions (there are hints printed onto the product because it doesn't quite open like a laptop) and place your iPad inside.

In my testing, this process went very smoothly and I was delighted to find a notch that allows me to connect my old-style charging cable to my iPad 2, even while docked to the unit.

The built-in Bluetooth keyboard is battery powered, using a standard micro-USB charger -- which is exactly as hard to plug in as any other similar device. It helps to have good eyes and a steady hand. Now that I own Lightning products, I'm finding my patience wearing thin with some of these USB ports.

Your iPad and your case charge independently. Unfortunately in "laptop" mode, the battery connector and the charging port notch are on opposite sides of the product, making cord organization a bit of a hassle. This is especially notable because in "laptop" mode represents the times when you're most likely to make extended use of the product.

The built-in keyboard is my favorite part of this unit. Yes, the keyboard is small -- but so are all keyboard cases for iPads. And yes, the keyboard is chickleted, but it's a pretty decent chicklet keyboard with decent travel.

There will probably never be a portable keyboard with proper mechanical switches and high key travel, so my evaluation was limited to: "Is this usable?" and "Does it feel pretty okay?" It certainly does. How good? About as good as it gets in the as the top of the middle to the bottom of the top of the keyboard case keyboard product pack. Decent.

A set of handy function keys lines the top of the keyboard. At the very left, where the ESC key normally sits, is a home key equivalent -- very handy. Other built-ins include brightness control, volume control with mute key, and a lock key.

The product is most suited to someone who needs to move between the touch world and text entry world, presumably in work areas where dictation is out of the question. Compared to my MacBook Air, which I bought refurbished, it's heavier, and less capable, and with the iPad, costs about the same. The target market that would best benefit from a device like this -- such as medical personnel and sales persons on the road -- would probably balk at the weight and awkward use. The product is not ruggedized in any way, so I wouldn't imagine taking it into a construction zone.

In the end, I think the Dock-It Pro is probably a much better product concept than an actual product for sale despite its appealing keyboard and fun transformer screen.

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