iPad Gear: Hands-on Apple's accessories

Summary:Honey, you need to accessorize! We purchased all of the official iPad accessories from Apple and put them to the test

Special Report: Apple iPad

Honey, you need to accessorize! We purchased all of the official iPad accessories from Apple and put them to the test (click on the photo to enlarge)

What good is a boy without his toys? The iPad is a great device, but it's pretty bare-bones without some essential accessories. We made a shopping trip to the sales tax-free nirvana of Southern New Hampshire last week and purchased all the iPad accessories we could find. Here's the lowdown.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

The Official Apple iPad Case

The official iPad case is one of the few accessories I didn't buy in retail, I ordered it in advance when placing my online order with Apple in February, along with the 6' power cord and additional charger.

At $39.00 I expected Apple's accessory case to be somewhat overpriced for what essentially amounts to a piece of foam rubber, but I wasn't going to risk using the device without some kind of protective case. Indeed, the case seems to do an adequate job of protecting the screen and cushioning the unit, as well as providing some friction when holding the device.

However, I cannot recommend this case to anyone, and frankly I'm extremely disappointed in the Apple product designers for not testing it adequately and noticing it has some major flaws.

One of the reasons why I chose this case was that I assumed Apple knew how to make a good case for its own device, and at the time when I ordered it few were available from 3rd-parties. Several weeks after launch, there are now many cases available and you have your choice of premium vendors.

Unfortunately I suspect that many iPad buyers will walk into a retail store and pick this case up because it has an Apple logo on it, and was an easy choice.

The biggest problem with this case, as you'll see in the video, is that the material very quickly collects dust and other particulates -- what I would refer to as a schmutz magnet.

This is such a significant issue that it's basically a deal breaker. The case requires very, very frequent cleaning.

You basically need to suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in order to keep the case looking unblemished, and cleaning it more than once a day is impractical.

I've gotten to the point where I've been giving it a spritz of Windex or industrial kitchen degreaser (both excellent products for cleaning the iPad case and the iPad screen, I find also Fabuloso works well and makes your iPad fruity fresh) every three days or so.

That's not enough to keep it pristine looking on a day to day basis, but enough to stave off mass accumulation of crud.

My suggestion is to go elsewhere for iPad cases. Move along. As soon as I find a better option that fully encloses the iPad and is more protective, I'm throwing this case straight in the garbage.

The Apple Wireless Keyboard

Of the iPad accessories I purchased, the Apple Wireless Keyboard ($69.00 retail, $60-$65 street) was my favorite, even though it wasn't actually designed for the iPad in the first place.

Indeed, Apple does sell a Dock/Keyboard combo specifically made for iPad ($69.00) but it restricts you to using your iPad and typing in portrait mode, and it has to be physically connected to your unit.

There are times where I'd rather just dock the iPad to charge it and perhaps not travel with the keyboard, so I went for a standard dock ($29.00) and the Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard, which was originally made for the Mac, but is fully compatible with iPad.

The wireless keyboard, which is made out of brushed aluminum and plastic, comes with two standard AA batteries pre-installed, and can also take rechargeable AA batteries.

Pairing the keyboard with the iPad was easy -- I simply went into the Settings app, enabled Bluetooth, and the iPad found it right away and prompted me to enter a pairing code on the keyboard. In seconds, the keyboard was functioning. It works with all iPad applications that can take text input.

A few of the Mac-specific keys on the wireless keyboard don't work, such as the Expose and Dashboard keys, but that's to be expected as the iPad doesn't multitask or have a Dashboard equivalent yet. It would be nice if there was a way in software to re-map these functions, but as of yet you can't. Other controls, such as volume and brightness level and the iTunes controls work just fine.

The keys are flat but not quite chicklet style. Certainly not as nice as a full buckling spring keyboard but definitely not completely clicky or mushy, it has a decent amount of tactile feedback to it. For a very small, portable keyboard it does the job more than adequately.

The Apple Wireless Keyboard is a nice product and I'd recommend it heartily to anyone looking for a physical keyboard input solution for their iPad.

Dock Connector to VGA Adapter

The Dock to VGA connector is the iPad accessory which had the most amount of promise but failed miserably.

When I saw Steve Jobs demo the iPad during the product announcement, I actually thought this product was going to allow me to do the same thing, which is to project the entire screen contents onto a monitor or a HDTV with a VGA connector. Having bought the product without reading any reviews, I thought that this was exactly what this accessory did. It doesn't.

The VGA to Dock connector currently only supports slide show output from Keynote and Photos, videos from YouTube, as well as videos in iTunes.

However, there are additional restrictions when playing videos with iTunes, as virtually all the video content you can download and pay for is HDCP restricted, thus requiring a native HDMI or DVI-D connection.

Since the VGA adapter output is Analog, you'll get a nasty error message whenever you try to play this sort of content. Hopefully we'll see an DVI/HDMI version of the Dock Connector at some point, as I'd love to be able to buy movies and play them on a larger screen.

Right now, I'd only recommend using iTunes with the VGA adapter if you have lots of home movies or self-authored content that you've uploaded to the device.

Currently the VGA adapter doesn't support any 3rd party applications, such as Netflix. Here's hoping that more developers will take advantage of this accessory and allow us to bring more iPad output to bigger screens.

Which iPad accessories are your favorites? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, iPad, Mobility

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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