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Review: ClamCase Pro turns the iPad Air into a MacBook

In a world that has many keyboard options for the iPad, it's great to find one that stands above the rest.

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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 9 James Kendrick/ZDNet

ClamCase Pro for the iPad Air

Given how many keyboards I’ve tried for the iPad Air, I missed the most unique one of them all. I wasn’t that impressed with the ClamCase Pro for older iPads, but the newest model for the iPad Air has changed that.

Older versions of this keyboard case were too bulky for my taste. The latest model for the iPad Air has been redesigned and gives a much different user experience than those older versions. It is as thin and light as other keyboard cases while giving the experience of a full laptop, something competing products fail to do.

Hardware specs of the ClamCase Pro for the iPad Air:

 Dimensions 7.30 x 9.74 x 0.75 inches
 Weight  1.2 lbs
 Battery  100 hours usage, 6 months standby, 120 minutes charge time

The construction of the ClamCase Pro for the iPad Air is first-rate. There is a polycarbonate shell that protects the iPad Air, and the base with the keyboard is brushed aluminum reminiscent of the MacBook. The bottom of the keyboard is white polycarbonate like the lid. These two pieces are connected by a soft, grippy hinge to form what looks like and works like a laptop.

When closed the ClamCase Pro does a good job protecting the iPad Air. I wouldn’t want to drop the iPad, but I feel comfortable that the case would protect the tablet in normal situations.

Three modes of operation

Opening the lid furthers the impression that this is a little laptop. The process turns on both the iPad and the ClamCase Pro. Closing the lid turns everything off to save battery on both the keyboard and the iPad Air. The keyboard connects to the iPad Air via Bluetooth.

The ClamCase Pro can also be used in a stand mode with the keyboard on the table and the iPad Air facing the user. This is good for giving presentations or watching video.

Flipping the keyboard behind the iPad forms a configuration for using the tablet alone. The soft hinge material provides a good grip for handling the case in tablet mode. It's easy to remove the iPad Air from the case to lighten the load if that is preferable when using the iPad Air without the keyboard.

The three configurations (laptop, tablet, stand) are like many convertible notebooks in the Windows world. What makes this work nicely on the ClamCase Pro is how thin the case is.

It's all about the keyboard

Fancy configurations aside, what makes the ClamCase Pro work so well with the iPad Air is the keyboard. The chiclet keys have deep travel when pressed, more so than most keyboards for tablets. Just as important, all of the keys are placed where you expect them to be, unlike many keyboards for the iPad that have keys located in strange places to fit the small size of the units.

This is why typing on the ClamCase Pro is so darn nice. Keyboards are important for my writing work, and this one is better than all others I have used. I can touch type rapidly as well on the ClamCase Pro as I can on my MacBooks, which is significant. While writing this review using the ClamCase Pro, I forgot I wasn't using a real laptop. There are no compromises for touch typists with this device.

There is an LED indicator above the keyboard that serves multiple functions. It indicates when the keyboard is plugged in and charging, and turns green when fully charged. Pressing the battery key (located near the arrow keys) causes the indicator to flash up to four times to show remaining battery life. The most useful function of the LED is indicating when CAPS LOCK is enabled.

The top row of keys includes all of the expected keys to control the iPad from the keyboard. These include Home, media player controls, and cut/copy/paste.

The keyboard is not backlit, which will disappoint some folks. I rarely look at the keyboard when I am typing, so it's not a big deal to me. Backlighting hits the battery hard, anyway.

Good package, with one design flaw

After using it for a while, I have come to realize that I can type so well not only due to the nice keyboard, but also because of the palm rest. The size of the ClamCase Pro leaves room for a decent palm rest in front of the keyboard, and this makes using it more like a laptop.

Typing for long periods is comfortable due to having a place to put the hands on the same level as the keys, something missing on most keyboards for the iPad. While it looks strange, the lack of a trackpad leaves all of this space in front of the keyboard for the palm rest, and the longer I use the ClamCase Pro the more I like using it.

The only thing I wish was different on the ClamCase Pro for the iPad Air is the size of the cutouts for iPad controls. The cutout for the Lightning connector in particular is so tiny that only an Apple cable will fit. This leaves me high and dry as I use a certified third-party six-foot cable due to the ridiculously short Apple cable for the iPad.

The third-party cable has a slightly wider connector than Apple’s, and it won’t fit through the ClamCase Pro cutout. This is a serious design flaw and the ClamCase folks should never have done this. They should have changed it as they surely saw this in testing before release.

In addition to the Lightning cable not working, three different headphones fail to fit through the small cutout for audio. I can see taking a dremel tool to both cutouts in the near future.

Favorite keyboard for the iPad Air

The case and keyboard work very well otherwise. The keyboard turns on when opening the lid, and off when the lid is closed or passes 180 degrees. This is how the stand and tablet modes are possible without inadvertently hitting keys.

As good as the ClamCase Pro for the iPad Air is, it is expensive compared to other options. It does have the aluminum base and elegant design, but the MSRP of $169 is more expensive than the keyboards from the competition.

I find that the ClamCase Pro is worth the high price, as it has already become my favorite keyboard for the iPad Air. It is the closest to a laptop keyboard I have used, and it's bumped my previous favorites from ZAGG as my go-to keyboard for the iPad.

Pros:

  • Good design
  • Nice keyboard
  • Multiple viewing angles

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Cutouts for iPad controls too small

Reviewer’s rating: 9.5 out of 10 (would have rated 10 but for the cutout flaw)

See related:

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2 of 9 James Kendrick/ZDNet

ClamCase Pro for iPad Air side view

From the side this looks like a MacBook.

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3 of 9 James Kendrick/ZDNet

ClamCase Pro for iPad Air stand mode

The case rotates 360 desgrees, making the stand mode available for watching video.

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ClamCase Pro for iPad Air tablet mode

Rotate the keyboard under the iPad for using the iPad Air as a slate.

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ClamCase Pro for iPad Air tablet mode

The unit is light enough for short sessions in the hand in tablet mode.

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ClamCase Pro for iPad Air palm rest

In front of the keyboard is the comfortable palm rest.

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ClamCase Pro for iPad Air keyboard

The layout is exactly what you expect, with no keys moved around as is common with other keyboards.

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8 of 9 James Kendrick/ZDNet

ClamCase Pro for iPad Air closed

The iPad Air is in the case in the image above and it is just like a small laptop.

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9 of 9 James Kendrick/ZDNet

ClamCase Pro for iPad Air bottom

The bottom of the case is white polycarbonate like the lid.

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