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15 best iPad and iPad mini keyboards (hands on): Fall 2013

There are quite a few keyboards available for the iPad and iPad mini. Most take the form of covers and folio cases made of various materials. Here are the best of them.
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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 31 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Hands-on guide to keyboards for iPad and iPad mini (Fall 2013)

The iPad ecosystem is thriving with third-party accessories, and for those wanting a keyboard to use with Apple's tablet there are many to choose from. There are new keyboards released all the time, so figuring out which one might work best is almost as hard as finding a good app in the App Store.

This collection of iPad keyboards is unique in that I have used all of them except for two. I have used lots of iPad keyboards in my work, and these are the best of the bunch. Three new keyboards from major accessory makers are included in this collection.

Most of the cases in this group are shown closed for thinness and open for business. With the one exception mentioned, all of the keyboards charge via micro USB, and will last for months on a charge. A micro USB to USB charging cable is included with these keyboards. They all connect to the iPad via Bluetooth.

In addition to ten good iPad keyboards, there is a bonus for iPad mini owners. Five keyboards for the iPad mini are also included in this collection. These keyboards work remarkably well with the little iPad mini, even supporting rapid touch typing. I have written over 50,000 words using these keyboards so I know they work.

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Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case

The Ultimate Keyboard Case has an aluminum bottom and a black plastic top with a faux leather insert. It weighs less than a pound and is only a little thicker than the iPad. It has a Bluetooth keyboard that supports fast touch typing and, most importantly, it can support the iPad in three different viewing angles to suit any situation.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 245 x 197 x 18.8 mm (9.6 x 7.75 x 0.74 inches); 411 gm (0.9 pounds)
  • Key travel: 1.6 mm (0.06 inches)
  • Key spacing: 2.8 mm (0.11 inches)
  • Keyboard thickness: 6.9 mm (0.27 inches)

Belkin uses three strips of magnets above the keyboard that grip the iPad for viewing. These provide three viewing angles, all of which are good for using the keyboard. It's easy to move the iPad to any of these positions and to close the case for transport. When the iPad is gripped by one of these magnets the keyboard automatically turns on and when the magnetic seal is broken, the keyboard is powered off. No power switch is needed for this reason.

The Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case for the iPad is available in black and in white. The black model, as reviewed, is $99.99 and the white model, which is aluminum on both the top and bottom of the case, is $129. The white model should be slightly lighter than the black one.

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Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case

In addition to the magnetic grips for standing the iPad, the Ultimate Case also lets you slide the iPad forward for use as a tablet. The iPad covers the keyboard in this position so the keys are not exposed. This works surprisingly well for using the tablet without removing it from the case, as is the norm for other cases.

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ClamCase Pro

Those who prefer a laptop form will like the ClamCase Pro. Once the iPad is popped into the lid (an easy process), it becomes a MacBook Air-like laptop without a trackpad. Magnets in the ClamCase turn the iPad on and off when opened and closed.

The typing experience on the ClamCase Pro is the best of all the keyboards in this collection. It is also the most expensive of the lot.

The screen can be folded under the keyboard for using the iPad as a tablet without removing it, although this is not very comfortable in practice. The keys are exposed to the hand holding the unit, which feels a bit weird. They are deactivated, so there are no inadvertent keypresses when using the iPad this way.

Dimensions: 7.88x9.68x0.85 inches; 1.5 pounds.

$169 from ClamCase.

See the full review by James Kendrick on ZDNet

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ClamCase Pro

The iPad fits securely in the lid of the ClamCase Pro, and is very much like a laptop in use. The keys have a nice tactile feedback with good key travel.

Apple doesn't support trackpads with the iPad, so it's no surprise that it is missing on the ClamCase Pro. The space where a laptop trackpad would normally be found is a good palm rest on the front of the keyboard.

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Logitech FabricSkin Folio

Logitech is a premier maker of keyboards, and it has leveraged that experience in the design of the FabricSkin Folio. The FabricSkin is a folio that provides protection for the iPad, guarding it from the knocks of travelling. It is made of a durable combination of "fabric" and plastic that completely encloses the expensive iPad.

The fabric in the model reviewed here is actually a durable rubber-type material that gives a solid grip when held in the hand. The keyboard is exposed when the folio is opened, and the iPad connects solidly above the keyboard by magnets. The magnetic connection is strong enough to allow picking up the assembly by the top of the iPad without separation.

Logitech has taken an innovative approach with the keyboard by molding the keys into the cover. This is similar to the Microsoft TouchCover, but Logitech's choice of using actual keys instead of the touch keys used by Microsoft is a better choice. As a result, the Fabricskin keys have good tactile feedback, facilitating fast touch typing.

Dimensions: 255x200x20mm (10x7.87x0.78 inches); 411g (0.9 pounds).

$149.99 from Logitech comes in multiple colors and cover materials.

See the full review by James Kendrick on ZDNet

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Logitech FabricSkin Folio

In addition to the standard typing configuration (shown above), the iPad can be placed over the keyboard for use as a tablet.

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Logitech Keyboard Folio

In addition to the FabricSkin case shown earlier in this collection, Logitech offers the Keyboard Folio. This foregoes the use of the keys molded into the lid for a standard keyboard with chiclet keys. The keys are almost full-size, which makes touch typing easier than on many iPad keyboards.

The portfolio case is constructed of durable material that both protects the iPad and provides a solid grip for carrying in the hand. The iPad is completely covered, and while not intended to protect the tablet from drops to the hard ground, the case will protect it from daily bumps.

Like the FabricSkin Folio, the keyboard of this Keyboard Folio attaches to the iPad with magnets. The tablet is quite sturdy in this configuration and the whole assembly can be carried while in typing mode without breaking the connection.

Dimensions: 248x198x25mm (9.76x7.8x0.98 inches); 639g (1.43 pounds).

$49.99 from Logitech.

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Logitech Keyboard Folio

The Keyboard Folio can be used in two configurations: the standard typing mode (pictured above), and with the iPad covering the keyboard for use as a tablet.

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Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio

The Solar Keyboard Folio has several unique features not found on most of the other keyboards in this collection. This case is a real portfolio that closes like a book. It also uses two small solar panels to keep the keyboard charged, so it requires no charging by the user. And last, but not least, it supports two different usage modes.

The solar charging keeps the keyboard charged, even in room lighting. The solar panels are on one side of the folio, so you have to make sure that these are exposed when the case is closed. Sadly, these panels are covered when being used as a keyboard, so it can't be charged while typing.

In addition to a typing position, the case supports a media viewing mode that puts the iPad at a comfortable angle for such activity. This position is also good for reading ebooks, in my experience.

Dimensions: 16.85x9.9x0.7 inches; 1 pound (without iPad).

$129.99 from Logitech.

Don't miss the full review by James Kendrick on ZDNet

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Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio

The rubberized keys provide a pleasant and fast typing experience. A row of iPad control keys is at the top of the keyboard.

The case senses when the iPad is in the typing position and turns on the keyboard automatically.

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Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio

When the iPad is placed in the forward position, as demonstrated in the photo, the keyboard enters into a media-playing mode. The one row of keys exposed below the iPad become special control keys for playing media.

This position is perfect for watching video on crowded airplanes.

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Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover

Those wanting a keyboard/case for the iPad that is the thinnest and lightest possible should look no further than the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. The iPad snaps onto the keyboard via a magnetic hinge that closes like a book when not in use.

Magnets in the Ultrathin turn the iPad on/off when opened/closed. To use the keyboard, the iPad must be detached from the Ultrathin and popped into the keyboard slot. This slot also has magnets that firmly grip the iPad once it is in place. It is so secure that the whole assembly can be picked up by the iPad without detaching.

The Ultrathin only covers the screen of the iPad, so it offers no protection to the back.

Dimensions: 7.47x9.5x0.39 inches (without iPad); 0.78 pounds.

$99.99 in several colors from Logitech.

Don't miss the video review by James Kendrick on ZDNet

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Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover

The Ultrathin keyboard offers a good typing experience for even the fastest typist. The key layout is standard, and it has a row of special iPad control keys, as is standard on all of the keyboards in this collection.

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ZAGG Profolio+

ZAGG has been making keyboards for the iPad as long as any company, and the Profolio+ is the latest model. It is also the best one I have used.

This keyboard is also a full case for the iPad, offering protection for the tablet. It has a faux leather cover that makes it secure to hold. It is the thinnest folio from ZAGG to date, and has the same good keyboard as the others.

The keyboard is thinner than older models. It is not only backlit, but offers seven colors of backlighting. The colors can be changed at will, and each has three brightnesses to adjust to taste.

Dimensions: 7.5x9.75x0.81 inches; 1 pound.

$129.99 from ZAGG.

See the full review by James Kendrick on ZDNet

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ZAGG Profolio+

Like all of the keyboards covered, the Profolio+ is almost full size and provides a great typing experience. Even the fastest touch typists should be able to use this keyboard with little effort.

The case uses magnets to turn the iPad on/off when the case is opened/closed. Magnets also hold the case closed when not in use.

The backlighting on the keyboard may sound like a gimmick, but it came in handy quite often in my use.

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ZAGGkeys ProPlus

ZAGG produces some great keyboards, including several in this collection. The ProPlus is a thin cover that includes a backlit keyboard (7 selectable backlight colors). The iPad sits in a slot above the keyboard where it is held firmly by magnets.

The ProPlus supports Smart Cover technology and the iPad is turned on/off when the cover is opened/closed.

  • Length: 7.4 inches (189mm)
  • Width: 9.64 inches (245mm)
  • Depth: 0.24 inches (7mm)
  • Weight: 15.3 ounces (434 grams)

The ZAGGkeys ProPlus is available from ZAGG for $129.99.

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ZAGGkeys Flex

Those wanting a separate keyboard for the iPad will find the ZAGGkeys Flex to be an outstanding choice. The keyboard is slightly bigger than the other keyboards in this collection, and is very close to the size of a standard keyboard.

The black carrying case of the Flex opens to become a stand for the iPad. The separate keyboard means that it can be positioned wherever the user prefers for typing.

Since this is a separate keyboard, it can also be used with the iPad mini.

Android tablet owners may want to give the Flex a look, as it can be used with those tablets, too. There is a toggle to turn the row of special control keys into keys for Android tablets.

Dimensions: 9.4x5.0x0.75 inches; 11.3 ounces.

$79.99 from ZAGG.

Full review by James Kendrick on ZDNet

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ZAGGkeys Flex

The separate keyboard and stand means that the iPad can be used in portrait mode with the keyboard.

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ZAGGkeys Cover

There are two styles of keyboard covers for the iPad mini, the cover and the portfolio. The cover is a simple keyboard that clips onto the iPad mini to form a cover for the display in transport. The portfolio style is a simple folio case that has a keyboard on one side and the iPad mini on the other.

Due to its design, the cover style of keyboard is thinner and often lighter than its folio siblings. The ZAGGkeys Cover from ZAGG is such a keyboard model, with a sleek charcoal metal bottom that matches the iPad mini exactly.

The iPad mini is inserted in a slot above the keyboard and is held in place by magnets. The unique hinge of the ZAGGkeys Cover is what sets it apart from other keyboards as it can be adjusted to a good range of viewing angles. The iPad mini can be removed easily for use without the keyboard, another plus.

The keyboard is surprisingly good for touch typists despite the small size. Commonly used keys are almost as big as those on full keyboards, with lesser used keys smaller to fit everything on the little unit.

This keyboard is physically bigger than all other models in this collection with the exception of the ZAGGkeys Folio which follows.

At the time of this writing this is my favorite keyboard for the iPad mini.

Unique features:

  • Adjustable viewing angle due to special hinge
  • Easy to remove iPad mini for use without keyboard
  • Large keys
  • Lasts months on a charge

ZAGGkeys Folio -- $99.99 from ZAGG (also available in retail outlets)

See the full review by James Kendrick on ZDNet

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ZAGGkeys Cover

No wasted space on the small keyboard. Fast touch typing is possible, this writer has written thousands of words on this model.

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ZAGGkeys Cover

The side view shows how compact the unit is when being used.

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Belkin FastFit Keyboard Case

At only 7mm (0.27in) thick the Belkin FastFit Case is thinner than the svelte iPad mini. It completely protects the expensive iPad mini screen during transport and turns into a solid typing machine with just a flip.

Like other keyboard cases for the iPad mini, Belkin has designed the keyboard on the FastFit with nearly full-sized keys that make it possible for touch typists to type at a decent speed in spite of the small size of the keyboard.

The case comes in white or black and is available from Belkin for $79.99

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Belkin FastFit Keyboard Case

The iPad mini is held securely in the FastFit by magnets; the magnets use smart cover technology that turns the iPad mini on/off by opening/closing the case.

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ZAGGkeys Folio

This keyboard case is similar to the Cover model in the previous slides. It has the exact same keyboard which is good, yet adds a folio case to completly cover and protect the iPad Mini.

It is a little thicker than the Cover model, but weighs about the same. It also has the same unique hinge which allows adjusting the viewing angle of the iPad mini to taste.

The iPad mini snaps into the lid so it is a little harder to remove for use outside the case than the Cover model.

Unique features:

  • Adjustable viewing angle due to special hinge
  • Completely protects the iPad mini
  • Large keys

ZAGGkeys Folio -- $99.99 from ZAGG

See the full review by James Kendrick on ZDNet

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ZAGGkeys Folio

The side view shows how little bulk this case adds to the iPad mini for transport. It completely protects all sides of the expensive iPad mini.

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Logitech Keyboard Folio Mini

Logitech has produced a real winner in this folio case. It has a denim material on the outside making for secure handling of the case. It is extremely light making it easy to transport, while completely protecting the iPad mini.

This case lacks a hinge that supports various viewing angles for typing, but the one angle is comfortable. The iPad mini connects to the keyboard via magnets.

Logitech has incorporated a design that has large keys for the alphabet keys and smaller ones for lesser-used letters and symbols. It is possible to type accurately with speed.

The iPad mini can be folded down over the keyboard for easy use as a tablet.

Unique features:

  • Magnets secure the iPad mini for typing
  • Large keys
  • iPad mini can be easily used as a tablet while in the case

Logitech Keyboard Folio -- $89.99 from Logitech

See the full review by James Kendrick of ZDNet

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Logitech Keyboard Folio Mini

Due to the magnetic connection of the iPad mini above the keyboard, the case is very stable in typing position.

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Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover mini

The Ultrathin Keyboard Cover (detailed earlier in this collection) has long been a thin, capable keyboard for the iPad. Logitech recently brought the style to the iPad mini and added a selection of colors for the keyboard.

The Ultrathin for the mini is only 0.29in thin and comes with the good keyboard that Logitech has perfected for its iPad mini cases. The cover attaches to the mini via a magnetic hinge.

Height 140.7mm (5.54 inches) 
Width 200mm (7.87 inches) 
Depth 7.3mm (0.29 inches) 
Weight 208g (0.45 pounds) 

The Ultrathin Keyboard Cover mini is available from Logitech for $79.99.

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ZAGG Mini 9

The ZAGG Mini 9 may look like the Profolio+, but this one has a big difference. It is a keyboard and case for the iPad mini. It has the same size keyboard as the iPad keyboards, so it provides a good typing experience. Unlike the other ZAGG keyboards, the iPad mini doesn't fit in a slot for typing. There is a stand that pops out of the back of the case for propping the tablet up for typing.

The iPad mini pops easily in and out of the Mini 9, and totally protects the tablet when in the case. This keyboard turns the little iPad mini into a decent production machine for writing.

Dimensions: 8.13x5.75x0.88 inches; 10.5 ounces (without iPad mini).

$89.99 from ZAGG.

Don't miss the full review by James Kendrick on ZDNet

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ZAGG Mini 9

The keyboard is outstanding and turns the iPad mini into a decent writing system. The case is larger than the iPad mini to provide a keyboard as large as those for the bigger iPad, so it's not as portable as the Logitech Keyboard Folio mini shown earlier in this collection.

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