I’m typing this column on an iPad mini, using an accessory physical keyboard. Despite my best efforts to maintain a normal typing posture, my hands are squeezed comically close together because the keyboard is so tiny.
I wrote a similar review a year ago, using a keyboard for the regular-sized iPad. For me, having the tactile keys changed the iPad from a media-consumption device to one I could use for work, and I gave the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover from Logitech the thumbs-up.
More recently, I’ve become a fan of the iPad mini — it has essentially replaced the standard 10-inch iPad for me — but I still use the 7.9-inch device almost entirely for reading books, playing games and browsing the Web. So I wondered: Could an accessory physical keyboard change my mind again?
With that in mind, I’ve been trying out four keyboard cases for the iPad mini: Logitech’s $80 Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, Logitech’s $90 Folio Keyboard, Zagg’s Zaggkeys $100 Cover Keyboard and the Zaggkeys Folio Keyboard, also $100. (I should note that I was, at first, accidentally provided with the Logitech Folio for the regular iPad, and was unable to use the Folio for iPad mini as much as I would have liked.) The Logitech keyboard cases are available for purchase now; the Zaggkeys products will ship in July.
All three keyboard cases connect to the iPad mini via Bluetooth, and offer a variety of handy shortcut keys. They all claim a battery-life expectancy of about three months.
Throughout the week, I’ve taken notes, responded to emails and written blog posts using these keyboards. My pick out of these three is the Zaggkeys Folio keyboard, despite the fact that it’s $10 more than Logitech’s Folio keyboard and $20 more than Logitech’s Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. I did run into one glitch with the Zagg, but the company said it would be fixed in the shipping models.
The Folio styles cover both sides of the iPad, while the Cover styles only cover the screen of the iPad — leaving the tablet’s backside exposed and vulnerable to scratches. The Zaggkey’s Keyboard Folio felt sturdy and durable, and yet pretty lightweight. It’s just 16.75mm thin compared with the Logitech Folio, which is 25mm.
But, more importantly, Zaggkeys products have a much better keyboard layout than that of the Logitech Keyboard Cover and Folio for iPad mini. The Logitech keyboard cases for iPad mini leave a lot of empty space in their designs, forcing cramped keys on both of them. The Zaggkeys designs devote about 30 percent more space to the actual keyboard. When you’re dealing with such small keyboards to begin with, even a little bit of extra space makes typing feel more natural.
Technically, you can use a larger Bluetooth keyboard with the iPad mini, as well, but it wouldn’t be as compact for travel or storage.
I’m still not hooked on using the iPad mini for work. It’s just a little small for me.
But let’s say you use it in transit quite a bit, whether you’re commuting daily on a train or taking frequent flights for business; or you prefer carrying the iPad mini to meetings over your larger laptop. Here’s what you need to know about these cases.
Logitech’s $80 Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad mini is strikingly similar to its Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the regular iPad. It has a little magnetic trough that the iPad mini snaps into; the keys are laid out below that. The iPad mini can then be removed from the groove and attached to the hinge of the case — also magnetic — and folded over to cover the screen of the iPad.
The $90 Logitech Folio, on the other hand, holds the iPad mini in a plastic pocket built within the top flap. This flap is totally bendable: It can jut forward to hold the mini upright over the keys, bend over backwards to use the mini tablet-style, or close over the keys to use it as a full wrap-around cover for the mini and keyboard.
The keys on these cases are smooth and glossy, but small compared to the keys of the cases for the larger iPad. I didn’t particularly like typing on them. While the alphabet keys are about the same size as Zaggkeys, the Logitech number buttons are the size of my pinky nail; the space bar, function, control and command buttons are squat compared to the Zaggkeys; and ancillary keys, like brackets and backslash, are squeezed.
The Zaggkeys keyboard cases are more spacious. The plastic keys feel velvety and springy, and Zagg has managed to fit an entire row of specified function keys above the number keys. I was able to activate Siri by typing the microphone button, and copy-and-paste using designated buttons for those actions — no function button needed.
The Zaggkeys Folio, my favorite, is thicker than Cover cases, but offers full front and back protection of the mini. It’s made of a textured plastic that feels leathery and durable. Unlike the Logitech keyboard cases, you can adjust the angle of the iPad mini when it’s nestled in the case.
Zagg has made some sacrifices for space. The “1″ key is smaller than the other number keys, and the caps lock and tab buttons are squeezed onto the same tiny key on the left.
But, fortunately, the delete key is a normal size, unlike the delete key of the Logitech keyboards.
Another bonus is that both the Zaggkeys Folio and the Cover come with backlit keyboards, something that’s normally reserved for Zagg’s ProFolio+ line of products. The backlighting has varying levels of brightness, and can be changed to seven different colors, including yellow, red, purple and blue.
Again, it’s the little things.
I did encounter a glitch with the Zaggkeys Folio case: On a few occasions, the keys seemed to get “stuck,” but not physically, which leads me to believe there may have been an issue with the connectivity between the keyboard and the iPad mini.
For example, I would type as usual, but my notes would come out as, “Buttonnns … batteryyy life … keys areee doingggggggggggggg something strange???” When I asked Zagg about this, the product manager said it’s likely because I was using an early version of the keyboard; any glitches should be fixed by ship date, he said.
Typing on an accessory keyboard for the iPad mini was, for me, the equivalent of going for an annual physical exam. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but it was something I resisted doing until I absolutely had to. If I had to choose one of the three keyboard cases I used, I’d go with the Zaggkeys Folio.