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A second look at the Dock-It Pro iPad keyboard case ... and a giveaway

Last month, one of my fellow bloggers took a quick look at Parle Innovation's Dock-It Pro, a US$159 (introductory price of $129 still available) iPad keyboard case that's quite different from any other case on the market. I met the CEO of Parle Innovation, Mary Shulenberger, at Macworld/iWorld 2014 and she asked if it would be possible for the case to get the full TUAW review treatment, complete with a star rating. Well, the answer was "Yes!" and here's the review -- complete with a giveaway at the end.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 10-3/4 x 8-1/2 x 3/4 inches (27.3 x 21.59 x 1.91 cm)
  • Weight: 1.4 lbs (.64 kg)
  • Materials: Aluminum bezel, polycarbonate hard shell
  • Keyboard: Standard QWERTY with iOS-specific top row

Design Highlights

At the present time, the Dock-It Pro is available only for iPad 2 through 4, with an iPad Air version apparently in the works. The first thing you notice upon opening the Dock-It Pro box is that it is unlike any iPad keyboard case you've ever seen before. A piece of paper with a large red STOP sign on it is the first indication that you'd better pay attention. That warning is to keep you from breaking the Dock-It right off the bat by forcing it open like a laptop. Instead, tapping a button on the case releases the top portion that holds the iPad, and you then slide it down out of the way prior to lifting the iPad up into typing mode. You'll find a few reminder stickers on the Dock-It Pro as well, telling you to push down on the release button, slide the lid, and then lift it up.

Your iPad is held securely into place in the lid of the Dock-It Pro, and that's for a reason -- that lid rotates through a full 360 degrees, making it possible to you to use the tablet in a "laptop mode" with the keyboard, or have the screen facing out in a "strictly tablet" mode.

The keyboard is one of the larger ones I've seen on an iPad keyboard case. All of the keys are well-spaced and good-sized, and placed in their proper (i.e., similar to an Apple keyboard) locations. As noted in the specification list, there is a top row of keys that are used specifically for iPad functions such as locking the screen, launching Spotlight searches, pulling up a virtual keyboard even when you're using the "real" keyboard, cut/copy/paste, changing screen brightness or volume, and going back to the home screen from an app. The keyboard features a caps lock LED as well as a pairing LED.

The big feature of the Dock-It Pro is the rotating iPad holder, which makes it simple to use the iPad in "laptop mode" as well as in a more traditional "tablet mode", all without taking the iPad out of the case.

Functionality Highlights

Using the Dock-It Pro is actually quite simple as long as you follow those initial instructions and remember to press the release button to move the iPad from closed to keyboard mode or from tablet to keyboard mode. When the iPad is inserted into the holding tray, it locks in mechanically so there's no concern about it flopping out when you spin the iPad around from keyboard to tablet mode or vice-versa.

Unlike many soft cases or other keyboard cases, the Dock-It Pro actually uses a mechanical release mechanism as well. Just slide a button, and the iPad is unlocked and can be easily removed. That's a far cry from some cases with plastic trays that require a great deal of muscle to remove an iPad from.

All of the versatility of the Dock-It Pro comes at a price -- not the $129 price tag, but in terms of thickness and weight. With an iPad 3 installed in it, the Dock-It Pro weighs just over 3 pounds -- that's heavier than the 13-inch MacBook Air, which is a fully-functional laptop computer. Likewise, in the tablet mode the Dock-It Pro is over three-quarters of an inch thick, which could be uncomfortable over the long run. On the plus side, at least you can pop the iPad out in a second when you need to use it as a tablet.

It is obvious that the engineers at Parle Innovation paid attention to details, though. There is a pass-through grille for the single speaker of the iPad, a gap for plugging in the 30-pin connector for charging, and a pass-through port for the headphone jack. There's even a small pop-out stand about an inch high that puts the keyboard at a comfortable slight angle for typing.

I have to admit to agreeing to some of the comments made by Erica in her review -- while the Dock-It Pro is well designed and nicely built, I feels like it is a solution in search of a problem. For those who want to easily switch between tablet and keyboard modes on the iPad, there are much lighter solutions that are available today. The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad is available for pretty much every iPad ever made with the exception of the original, it's extremely light, has a very good keyboard, and it can be popped off in a second when the user wants to just have a tablet in hand.

Sure, the Dock-It Pro provides much more protection than a number of lightweight keyboard case solutions. But there are a lot of very protective keyboard cases that do offer as much or more protection without the thickness and weight. As a professional engineer, I also know that the more complicated a solution is, the more chances there are for something to break. That's why the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle is something that every designer should keep in mind. A keyboard case shouldn't require a five-page white paper to explain its design, and a properly designed case wouldn't need a bunch of warning stickers and fliers to keep users from breaking it.

That being said, what is the target audience for the Dock-It Pro? I think that anyone who needs to use an iPad primarily for typing would be very pleased with the keyboard and the protection provided by the case. I like the little pop-out stand, which gives the Dock-It Pro a slight tilt for comfortable typing, and the choice of iPad function buttons on the unit is top-notch.

Conclusion

For typing on an iPad, there's probably no better keyboard available at this time than the one built into the Dock-It Pro. At the $129 introductory price point, it's quite reasonably priced for a high-quality iPad keyboard case. However, the weight, thickness and mechanical complexity of the case may turn off some potential buyers.

Rating: 2-1/2 stars out of 4 stars possible

Giveaway

Have an iPad 2, 3 or 4? Would you like a versatile keyboard case with a really good keyboard? Then enter our giveaway of a Dock-It Pro courtesy of Parle Innovation and TUAW. 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 April 26, 2014 11:59PM Eastern Daylight Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • One winner will be selected in a random drawing and will receive a Parle Innovation Dock-It Pro valued at US$129.
  • Click Here for complete Official Rules.

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