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Kensington KeyFolio Thin X3 review: Keyboard for iPad Air with benefits

The KeyFolio Thin X3 keyboard for the iPad Air has all of the expected features, plus one found in no other model.
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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 7 James Kendrick/ZDNet

KeyFolio Thin X3 case for iPad Air

The KeyFolio Thin X3 keyboard case for the iPad Air is the latest from accessory maker Kensington. The protective portfolio is thin and light and has a good keyboard inside to help owners get the most out of the tablet from Apple. It has some useful features found in other cases, and one big one that is a first for a keyboard case.

I regularly use a keyboard with the iPad Air, and have tested most of the models from major brands. I require a keyboard that supports rapid touch typing, good battery life, and reasonable protection for at least the tablet screen.

See related: Seven best iPad Air keyboards (hands on): June 2014 | Review: Anker Keyboard for iPad Air competes with the big boys for $30Logitech Hinge and Turnaround: iPad cases with a twist (hands on) | Five best tablets of all time | Kensington KeyCover for iPad Air: Keyboard that's skinny and light (hands on)

The KeyFolio Thin X3 meets all of my requirements and more. The portfolio isn't ruggedized but it should be enough protection for most users. The material used on the outside of the portfolio provides a secure grip for handling the case. The iPad Air easily snaps into the polycarbonate tray on one side of the case, with cutouts exposing all iPad Air controls. The case is very thin and surprisingly light for a full portfolio.

The Keyboard

As a writer, the keyboard is extremely important to me on any device. The one on the KeyFolio Thin X3 is very good indeed, and I have typed thousands of words with ease. The key layout is exactly what you expect, something that other case makers haven't figured out is important. The size of the keys is large enough, spacing is nice, and the dedicated row of iPad control keys a nice touch.

Kensington has included a battery key that gives the status of the 1,650 mAh battery (that should last several months on a charge). The keyboard connects to the iPad Air via Bluetooth. To save battery, the KeyFolio Thin X3 automatically powers up when the iPad Air is placed in the slot above the keyboard. It turns off when the tablet is lifted out of the slot for closing, or for use as a tablet.

This keyboard is so good that I really enjoy working with it. I can open the case and get to work in just a few seconds without the need to manually wake the unit up.

Special features

In addition to the sensor in the iPad Air slot, Kensington has packed a few other useful features into the KeyFolio Thin X3. There are magnets embedded in the case that hold it securely closed for transport.

The feature that is unique to this case is what Kensington calls PowerLift Technology. This is the ability to charge a smartphone (1 amp) by plugging into the keyboard. It draws power from the internal keyboard battery by plugging the phone directly into the Thin X3.

A short dongle is included (also a USB cable) with the KeyFolio Thin X3 that plugs into the microUSB charging port on the keyboard, and has a full USB port on the other end. This enables charging virtually any smartphone while working with the keyboard.

This has demonstrated its usefulness on more than one occasion as my smartphone battery ran low. Plugging it into the Thin X3 for half an hour adds about 20 percent to the phone battery. This feature should be particularly useful for frequent business travelers who often find their phone battery depleted late in the day. It's done without a power outlet nearby, nor any power adapters.

Charging a smartphone regularly using the Thin X3 will no doubt take a hit on the keyboard battery, so it should probably be done sparingly. The unit hasn't been out long enough to get a good feel for how much it drains the internal battery when used as a phone charger.

The design of the KeyFolio Thin X3 is a good one for all the reasons mentioned. Another really good feature is the ability to fold the iPad Air over the keyboard for use as a tablet. This works well in practice as the portfolio doesn't add much weight to the iPad Air. My iPad Air hasn't been out of the case since receiving it, as tablet use is so nice.

Conclusion

Having tested many keyboard cases for the iPad Air, the Kensington KeyFolio Thin X3 is one of the best. A good keyboard in a protective case with so many features is a solid investment. Throw in the ability to charge your smartphone in an emergency and you have a case that is above the crowd.

Pros:

  • Charges your phone
  • Light
  • Great keyboard

Cons:

  • Keyboard not backlit
  • Only one viewing angle for the iPad Air (although comfortable)

Reviewer's rating: 9 out of 10

Check out the photo tour of the Kensington KeyFolio Thin X3 on the following pages, including the smartphone charging feature in action.

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2 of 7 James Kendrick/ZDNet

KeyFolio Thin X3 side view

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3 of 7 James Kendrick/ZDNet

KeyFolio Thin X3 closed

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4 of 7 James Kendrick/ZDNet

KeyFolio Thin X3 tablet mode

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5 of 7 James Kendrick/ZDNet

KeyFolio Thin X3 strong magnets

You can lift the unit up by the iPad Air due to the magnets in the tablet slot.

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6 of 7 James Kendrick/ZDNet

KeyFolio Thin X3 iPhone charging

This keyboard case is the only one to date that can charge any smartphone via USB with the supplied dongle and cable.

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7 of 7 James Kendrick/ZDNet

KeyFolio Thin X3 iPhone charging

This closeup shows the iPhone charging while plugged into the keyboard.

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