My original thought was that I would write this review actually using this new iPad bluetooth keyboard for the iPad Mini, but it was not to be.
The Bluetooth keyboard and case looks neat enough. A friend mentioned the keyboard looked a bit like the ZX-81 from back in the 1980’s, and I’m inclined to agree: it’s a silicone sealed affair with what have to be the tiniest keys I’ve ever seen.
Opening the case, there’s the usual accoutrements: An outer case which is faux-leather, a silicone keyboard, chargeable with micro USB cable (more on that later), and a flexible plastic sleeve for the iPad Mini itself. There’s a magnetised flap at the keyboard end to use as a clasp when you close the case to keep it shut.
I could see a few immediate issues.
First, the magnetised flap folds back up so when the case is open, it is in the way of the spacebar and lower row of keys.
Second, I’ll quote from the user manual:
Using the USB charging cable
1) plug the Micro USB cable into the mini USB port on the keyboard. Plug the other end of the cable into a powered USB port on a computer.
So the assumption is you’ll have a computer sitting around you can charge off of in case the battery goes. This is counter to the entire point of the iPad: you don’t want to be carting a computer around if you’ve got a svelte tablet now do you?
A tiny bit of experimentation however, shows that the keyboard can be charged from an iPad power adapter so that’s a little more lightweight an option: I carry around the adapter as a matter of course and into this I plug the Lightning cable that came with the device.
Ultimately I’d have preferred that there wasn’t a mini USB cable but instead the unit used the Lightning charge cable which I carry around anyway. That way I wouldn’t have an extra cable to cart around with me.
The packaging says the battery lasts up to 30 hours; there’s no indicator lights so I can see how much charge I’ve got left either. I’m not sure how I can measure battery life other than to build a lego mindstorms machine to randomly press keys for 30 hours to see if this is true.
Finally, my housemate asked if the keyboard had been designed for squirrels, as the keys were so small.
Putting it together
I had to seriously wrestle to get the iPad into the unit. The plastic sleeve is super-snug, which is great to keep the iPad from falling out, but damn hard to get it in first-time around.
Overall the weight of the iPad is now doubled with the case. It looks like a leather-bound book more than an iPad, possibly useful so as to avoid it being pinched by the first miscreant that wanders by and sees it sitting on the table.
Pairing the keyboard with the iPad seemed relatively easy: turn on bluetooth on the iPad, turn on the keyboard and press the bluetooth signal button (which has the wireless symbol on it rather than the bluetooth symbol which is a bit of a silly thing to do). The iPad tells me to enter a code on the keyboard and press enter and it’s working.
Trying it out
It’s slightly awkward using the bluetooth keyboard and case. First you have to pull out the clasp that holds it shut. Then you have to turn the whole thing over and pull out the stand. As already mentioned the closing clasp sticks up and is in the way for a good third of the time. Future improvements to the unit would include a better stand and clasp because, frankly, these are sub-optimal. Certainly they do the job, but they’re not particularly elegant to use.
I tried the case on my lap first, and it really wasn’t a good fit. My legs, clearly, were not long enough to use the unit without having to pull my arms back to push against the chair. If I didn’t and pushed the case forwards even a little the whole thing fell on the floor.
Using it on a table was marginally better. I could actually get at the keyboard without having to become a contortionist.
I thought I’d try taking the keyboard out of the case, as it says on the box that it can be removed. My advice on this is don’t do it unless you want to reassemble the keyboard: the back of the keyboard is stuck to the case with quite strong velcro which was — for me — pulling the keyboard apart as I pulled on it.
Suffice to say, I didn’t pull any harder otherwise I’d have nothing further to review.
But these issues are as nothing to the keyboard itself.
Using the keyboard
The keys on a sealed silicone keyboard consist effectively of a dome inside which there is a contact at the top. At the bottom is a circuit board over which the silicone keyboard sits, and where there is another contact. When you press down on the dome (the key in this case), the two contacts touch creating a circuit, and a keystroke is registered.
The problem with this keyboard is that the contacts internally must be too small. I had to very carefully press each key in turn to get an accurate contact, and even then it was anyone’s guess as to what would really come out the other end.
The spacebar has at least three contacts on it, but none at the edges, which means you have to hit it directly over the contacts otherwise you get nothing. I swear I pressed the spacebar five times at one stage with no result, until I moved my finger about two millimetres to the left and suddenly had the intended result. The other keys also seem to work intermittently. Indeed, the only way to accurately register a keystroke is to press each key very, very deliberately. If you get the pressure wrong, nothing happens. If you press a key from any angle other than directly above, nothing happens.
The final thought
I could just about live with everything but the keyboard in this unit.
The faux-leather seems well constructed, the sleeve for the iPad Mini itself is snug enough to mean it won’t fall out. Even the clasp and back stand I could deal with if I had to.
The keyboard though is really poorly designed. About the only positive thing I can say about it is that the bluetooth works. Oh, and it charges; That’s two. Unfortunately, there are at least 26 other issues with it, together with ten digits and a bunch of additional function and abbreviation buttons.
And don’t try to pull the keyboard out of the case because you’ll need to reassemble it. Most likely with superglue.
The bottom line is if you’re a very patient two-finger typist that looks at the keyboard while typing, then well and good. For anyone else, stick with the keyboard that is in the iPad itself or get a mechanical keyboard instead.
Rating: 1/5 (The case is fine, but the keyboard itself leaves a lot to be desired)
Where can you get it
You can get this and other iPad cases at the Mobilezap website. I’m actually currently using the official Apple smartcover which MobileZap sell and which does the job admirably!
I received this unit free of charge from Mobilezap.com.au for review purposes.