A NEAR-AIR EXPERIENCE: Logitech Keyboard Case by ZAGG for iPad 2 Review

Logitech / ZAGG’s front shell / keyboard combo may be just what you need to turn your iPad 2 into a Macbook Air facsimile

iPad 2 with Logitech / ZAGG Keyboard Case

One of the more pressing issues in moving from a notebook/netbook to a tablet lies in what’s missing from your tablet computing experience. Tablet-style computers stress features like mobility and streamlined design over common notebook features like integrated keyboards and covers.

Consequently, you can spend a fair amount of time trying to figure out the best cover for your iPad, then wrestle with a pop-up on-screen keyboard that works well for short texting and tweets, but isn’t so great for a word processing / page layout program like Pages.

My own case fiasco began after I got my iPad 2; foregoing a Smart Cover until later, I picked up a third-party back cover, then the Smart Cover, only to find out that they didn’t like each other. If I used the back cover, the Smart Cover fell off. Later I found a back cover that works with the Smart Cover, but won ‘t work with the iPad 2 dock. So it goes.

But the real issue with the iPad – for me, at least – is in how the form factor of a notebook goes missing in the design. Sometimes the iPad display appears to be a detached screen, almost as if the lower half of the computer, the part with the keyboard, just isn’t there.

For traveling, I’m used to a small netbook; open it up, and it’s ready to go, keyboard and all. It’s hard to replicate that experience with the iPad and other tablets.

However, Logitech and ZAGG have come up with an interesting case design that takes a stab at addressing these issues. The Logitech Keyboard Case for iPad 2 is a padded aluminum shell with an integrated Bluetooth keyboard. It holds the iPad face down in a snug grip, and pops up into a two-position keyboard stand for both portrait and landscape modes.

My $99 review model came in an unassuming box – Logitech and ZAGG can take a design cue from Apple, whose relatively high-priced peripherals at least come with interesting packaging. From looking at the box, you can’t even tell there’s a high-quality aluminum shell inside.

Box for the Keyboard Case

Opening the box up, I found the keyboard/case all in one piece, as well as a USB/microUSB charger cable for the case’s integrated battery and a set of transparent rubber feet for the bottom of the ZAGG shell. The charger cable worked well with Apple’s iPad 2 – USB charger, and/or you can plug it into a spare USB port on your computer.

The terse set of instructions didn’t help me set up the keyboard very well. The instruction sheet jumps into how to separate the iPad from the case, but there’s nothing that told me how to get it in (just line up the port cutouts and press it in firmly). To get it out, you have to apply a firm amount of pressure, but at least your iPad isn’t going anywhere once it’s engaged.

Once you remove it from the case, there’s a small stand that pops up to support the iPad in a portrait or landscape orientation.

It wasn’t apparent to me at first that the ZAGG case didn’t feature a way to keep the iPad connected as it flips up; this would have been a nice touch, and would have made the case work more like a netbook. As it works now, the iPad has to come clear of the case, then you have to set it down on the stand. This isn’t so hard when you’re sitting at a table or desk, but in a moving vehicle or when walking around, it can be a handful. It’s like having your screen and the bottom of your netbook come apart as a part of opening it up. Not good.

The other aspect of the disconnection between the Logitech Case and my iPad is that there’s no dock connector. True, the integrated Bluetooth keyboard doesn’t need one, but still, it would have been nice for the case to have a dock connector with a pass-through port that would allow you to charge the iPad while it’s in the stand. This type of design change would add a bit of length to the overall design of the case, and you’d need a way to rotate the iPad for portrait use, but it shouldn’t be impossible to do. (Note that in landscape mode, you can use a dock connector cable to attach to a power supply / computer while your iPad is in the Keyboard Case.)

On the positive side, pairing the keyboard to my iPad was a snap. Just make sure Bluetooth is on in the iPad’s Control Panel, then look for the Logitech keyboard to show up, and click on connect. You’ll get an access code for the case that you enter via the keyboard, and that’s it – the keyboard/case connects more or less permanently after this step.

Keyboard Layout

At the top of the case is a large padded bar, with the tilt stand located directly in the middle. It was a little tricky trying to unsnap the stand, and the instruction sheet didn’t give me a clue on how to do it, but I finally figured out that the stand comes hinged in two parts, and unfolds/locks into the front position.

Directly below that, to the left, is the case’s on/off switch, status lights for charging/Bluetooth and a Bluetooth connection button. Below that, on the keyboard itself, I found a set of dedicated iPad keys at the top left, like function keys on a full-scale keyboard. These allow you to access common functions like the Home and Search screens, the Virtual Keyboard, and a Slideshow; double-clicking on the Home button launches Multitasking view, where you can see your currently running apps. There are also helpful word processing keys for cut/copy/paste and undo/redo functions. To the right of these keys are a set of iTunes control keys, and a sleep/wake lock button. Added to the standard U.S.-layout keyboard, these keys went a long way to keeping my fingers on the keys, not on the screen, and increased the overall netbook experience.

The keyboard itself is a fairly good size, comparable to a netbook keyboard, and with the same type of mechanical design. Not too many complaints there, although the dedicated Apple keys (Control, Option and Command) are a bit cramped, and the lack of a escape (ESC) key is a hindrance.

In an informal speed test, I was able to shave a minute off a basic résumé editing task in Pages using the Logitech Keyboard. Editing the fields in the short Photo Résumé template document took around 2:30 with the physical keyboard, as opposed to 3:35 using the pop-up Virtual Keyboard included in the iPad iOS. At least for me, this shows that there’s a substantial benefit to having a detached keyboard, instead of one existing only in software that expects to share screen space with your app when you’re using it.

If you plan to switch between the Keyboard Case and the Virtual Keyboard for a test like this, or any other reason, be sure to first turn off the external keyboard or you’ll find that it is still active when the iPad isn’t in the stand. Of course, you can use this feature to access the iPad in another stand or dock, like any other Bluetooth keyboard.

Exposed iPad 2 back, as docked with the Keyboard Case

In terms of design style, the aluminum shell case works really well – it’s one of the few iPad accessories I’ve seen that seems to get the right look and feel. The deep padding protects the iPad well, and the sturdy metal construction helps the keyboard have the right solid base. The only issue lies in the exposed back – the iPad’s back area is open. It seems that an add-on ZAGG skin would go well here, although it would have been better to have something in the box that covered this issue, like the little rubber feet that come to protect the aluminum ZAGG side.

Another way to deal with the exposed iPad back is to use a sleeve case, like the Incase iPad 2 Neoprene Slip Sleeve Plus.  I found that the iPad / Case fit into it fairly well – the material stretches far enough, though it’s a tight fit – and the fluffy fake fur interior keeps both metal sides from being scratched.

Ipad 2 in the Keyboard Case, fitted into the Incase Neoprene Slip Sleeve

The only other design caveats I had are as mentioned earlier: this case seems jammed between being a real iPad/notebook adapter that would allow an iPad to rival a MacBook Air, and being just a stand with a keyboard addition. A little design rev would make this a killer product; as it stands now, it’s close, but not exactly right.

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Tips:

You can set the Logitech Keyboard Case at an angle, using a paperback book or some other kind of prop (like a deck of cards). Slide the book under the back to get the tilt angle, being careful to watch the iPad’s center of gravity (so it doesn’t tip over).  This slight tilt puts the keyboard at a good angle for typing on a flat surface.

Keyboard tilt, using a paperback book

I was also able to position the tilt stand all the way back, so that my iPad sat it in at a sharper downward angle. This is good for using the keyboard and the iPad while standing. To do this, fold the stand together, then push it back against the back of the case, then set the iPad into the stand.

iPad tilt, using the stand in back position

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Logitech Keyboard Case by ZAGG for iPad 2

Aluminum back shell with integrated stand / Bluetooth keyboard

1-year warranty

$99, at major retailers

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