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Five best iPad Air keyboards (hands on): April 2014

It’s a common sight to see folks using the iPad Air with keyboards and, with the introduction of Office for iPad, that’s likely to happen even more. These are the best we’ve tried.
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By James Kendrick on
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5 best iPad Air keyboards (hands on): April 2014

The vibrant accessory ecosystem for the iPad means a large number of keyboard accessories guarantee lots of choices for iPad Air owners. Adding the right keyboard to the iPad Air can open it up to a wide range of work functions, especially with the arrival of Office for iPad.

The keys to building a good keyboard for the iPad are:

  • Large keys
  • Key spacing
  • Good viewing angle for the iPad when propped in the keyboard

All the keyboards in this collection connect to the iPad Air over Bluetooth, and are rechargable via an included USB<>microUSB cable. Run-time is typically several months on a single charge, and all of the keyboards go into standby mode after several minutes of inactivity.

We've used dozens of keyboards since the original iPad was introduced. This experience gives us a rounded view of which keyboards make the grade and which fail.

The keyboard/cases in this collection are the best we've tried so far for the iPad Air. Each keyboard is shown in three poses to give a good idea of what buyers can expect. Links to the full reviews on ZDNet are provided where available.

Don't miss ZDNet's outstanding coverage of Office for iPad:

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Kensington KeyCover

Mobile accessory maker Kensington offers several models of keyboard cases for the iPad Air. The company takes the minimalist approach with the KeyCover, a device that is essentially a thin keyboard with a brushed metal back.

The iPad Air snaps into the precisely tooled KeyCover for transport, protecting the screen while leaving the iPad's aluminum back exposed. The tablet is easily popped out of the case and propped up in a magnetic slot above the keyboard.

This design has a fixed viewing angle and, while it's worked well in our testing, it may be less acceptable for some.

The keyboard is a very good one, with fast touch typing easily accomplished. Key spacing is good and key travel offers decent tactile feedback.

The row of LED indicators on the rear of the KeyCover (power, CAPS LOCK) are poorly located. They are not visible when using the keyboard with the iPad Air in place.

The magnetic slot where the tablet is inserted for typing holds the iPad securely, and permits using the tablet in landscape and portrait orientations.

The Kensington KeyCover is available at major retailers and from Kensington for $69.99. There is a slightly more expensive model with backlit keys.

See the full review of the Kensington KeyCover on ZDNet

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Kensington KeyCover

The keyboard is slightly cramped due to the number of keys, but touch typing is easily accommodated.

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Kensington KeyCover

The iPad Air is held magnetically in the slot above the keyboard. It's strong enough to pick up the entire assembly by the iPad. The viewing angle of the iPad Air is not adjustable.

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Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover

Logitech first introduced the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover early in the iPad's history, and it has continued to produce updated versions for each new iPad model. The Ultrathin for the iPad Air is the thinnest keyboard case we've seen, and is a good fit for the thin tablet.

Like the Kensington model previously detailed in this collection, the Logitech cover fits the iPad Air precisely, with the tablet snapping into the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for transport. The iPad's screen is protected in the cover with the back exposed. The brushed aluminum of the Keyboard Cover matches that of the iPad Air.

Typing on the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover is a joy, with adequate key spacing yielding a comfortable and efficient typing experience. The iPad Air can be used in either portrait or landscape orientation with this keyboard.

The top row consists of special function keys for controlling iPad operation.

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover specs:

  • Dimensions: (L x W x H): 240mm x 169.5mm x 7.3mm, 9.44in x 6.67in x 0.29in
  • Weight: 330g, 0.73lb

The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover is available at major retailers and from Logitech for $99.99.

Don't miss the full review of the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover on ZDNet.

 

 

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Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover

Key travel is decent and spacing supports fast touch typing.

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Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover with iPad Air

The iPad Air sits in a slot above the keyboard for use. This arrangement only allows for one angle, but it's comfortable.

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Kensington KeyFolio Pro

Those wanting a full folio to carry the iPad Air should take a look at this model from Kensington. It's made of soft faux leather and completely encases the iPad for transport. There is a magnetic flap that holds the unit securely closed.

There is no smart cover technology in the KeyFolio Pro, unlike all the other keyboards in this collection. Opening and closing the folio does not turn the iPad Air on and off.

The keyboard in the KeyFolio Pro is removable, and held by magnets in the case. This configuration supports using the keyboard in different settings, removing and positioning the keyboard as appropriate. It is also possible to leave the keyboard back in the home or office and use the just the folio.

The keyboard has a good feel when typing and supports the iPad Air in several viewing angles. The tablet is held magnetically in any one of the three slots offering different angles.

Given the soft folio covering, this is the heaviest and thickest case in this collection.

The Kensington KeyFolio Pro is available from Kensington for $79.99.

Don't miss the full review of the Kensington KeyFolio Pro on ZDNet.

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Kensington KeyFolio Pro

The keyboard is removable, allowing for positioning as best fits the work space.

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Kensington KeyFolio Pro

The iPad Air is supported in any one of three viewing angles.

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ZAGGkeys Folio

ZAGG has been making keyboards for the iPad for years, and the patented hinge on the back of the  ZAGGkeys Folio makes it operate much like a little laptop. The hinge supports using the iPad Air in a range of viewing angles, and its position allows ZAGG to spread out the keyboard.

The Folio encases the iPad Air completely for transport, although it's not ruggedized. It's easy to pop the iPad Air in and out of the ZAGGkeys Folio as desired.

The keyboard on the Folio is as good as any, with nearly full-sized keys producing a very good typing experience. Pressing keys feels as good as it does on many laptops, and very fast touch typing is possible.

The top row of keys has control keys for iPad operation, along with Copy, Cut, and Paste keys.

The keyboard is backlit, with seven colors selectable in three brightness levels.

ZAGGkeys Folio for the iPad Air specs:

  • Length: 6.82 in (173.2 mm)
  • Width: 9.55 in (242.6 mm)
  • Depth: 0.697 in (17.7 mm) closed with iPad
  • Depth: 0.299 in (7.6 mm) keyboard only
  • Weight: 18.87 oz (535 grams)
  • Battery: 950 mAh rechargeable lithium polymer

The ZAGGkeys Folio is available from major retailers and direct from ZAGG for $99.99.

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ZAGGkeys Folio

The backlit keyboard has seven colors and three brightnesses to choose from on the fly. This backlighting can be turned off to conserve battery consumption.

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ZAGGkeys Folio

The special hinge on the back of the keyboard makes the Folio work just like a laptop.

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ZAGGkeys Cover

This keyboard case is like the previous ZAGG model in this collection, but trades the folio style for that of a simple cover for the iPad Air. The ZAGGkeys Cover uses the same outstanding keyboard as the Folio, and has the same functional hinge on the back of the unit.

The ZAGGkeys Cover is used like a laptop, with variable viewing angles to fit the situation. It is very thin and adds little bulk and weight to the iPad Air.

The base of this unit is weighted just enough to provide a stable configuration no matter how far back the iPad Air is pushed. It can be used in the lap just like a laptop as a result.

The keyboard is backlit, with a choice of seven different colors selectable on the fly. The backlighting has three brightness levels to suit any work environment.

ZAGGkeys Cover dimensions:

  • Length: 6.82in (173.2mm) 
  • Width: 9.55in (242.6mm)
  • Depth: 0.299in (7.6mm)
  • Weight: 0.8lbs (368.5gm); (1.8lbs with iPad Air)

The ZAGGkeys Cover is available at major retailers and from ZAGG for $99.99.

Check out the full review of the ZAGGkeys Cover by ZDNet.

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ZAGGkeys Cover

The keyboard, along with the ZAGGkeys Folio, is the best of the keyboards in this collection, and the author's primary keyboard for the iPad Air.

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ZAGGkeys Cover

The operation of the iPad Air and the ZAGGkeys Cover rivals that of a small, thin laptop.

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