The iPad has surged in popularity because it's great for surfing the web, watching video, playing games, and navigating beautiful apps. No one will dispute that.
But work? Real work, like typing emails, writing documents, creating presentations? That's a bit harder on a tablet. And no one will dispute that either.
While the on-screen keyboard is fine for basic typing here and there, when it comes time to type a longer draft you will likely find yourself reaching for the laptop. The virtual keyboard can be difficult to type on for a long time. It takes up half the screen, and many can't type on it as fast as a real keyboard, with keys that click and clack.
That's where an iPad keyboard accessory fits in. There are a bunch of options that pair with the tablet via Bluetooth. But which one will let you get the most real work done?
Let's start with the one that Apple makes -- the Apple Wireless Keyboard. The Bluetooth keyboard wasn't made only for the iPad -- it also works with Macs -- but it works like a charm with the tablet. Of all the keyboards I've tested here, I was able to type the fastest on it because of its wide footprint. The keys are spacious and the size of the ones on Apple's MacBook Pro laptops. I typed most of this review on the keyboard and got out an impressive 86 words per minute. It really was just like typing on a laptop.
But while the keyboard was fine at my desk, it wasn't great when I left the desk. It doesn't latch on to the iPad in any way. You also have to have a separate stand for the iPad, though Apple's Smart Cover can do the trick. Still, while it is the best for typing on in one place and is only $69, there are much more mobile options out there.
The ZaggFolio is an all-in-one keyboard and case for the iPad. Inside the plastic (or polyurethane) folding case is a Bluetooth keyboard which is very easy to pair with the iPad. (The basic on / off button might not seem like the best design, but the simplicity can't be beat.) The cover protects the back and front of the iPad, and the top folds up to help prop up the iPad. There is also a slot to hold the iPad in place above the keyboard itself.
Speaking of the keyboard, it isn't as wide or large as Apple's but the keys are well spaced for their size and are firm and sturdy. I was able to type fairly fast on it at 73 words per minute, though the small Delete key did bother me. However, the iPad-specific shortcut keys make up for that. They include volume controls, search, and copy and paste, all along the top row. The case is a tad heavy, but at $99.99 it's a good value.
Another plus? It comes in number of different colors, including black, red, pink and blue.
If your mission is really to turn your iPad into a laptop or netbook, the ClamCase might be the best solution. You can put your iPad in it and close it up and it looks like a little laptop.
But the design is versatile. You can also flip the screen around and turn it into a stand without the keyboard showing. However, there is a major sacrifice for all that: it is a clunky and heavy case. On the one hand, the iPad stands up vertically and very solidly, but on the other, you have a package that weighs 1.7 pounds -- and that's not including the iPad.
I also didn't love the feel of the keyboard. And for $150, I was actually hoping it would feel better-made. The keys seemed flimsy and mushy. That said, I was still able to type quickly on it at 76 words per minute. It also has iPad shortcut keys along the top, which are very helpful.
The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover might be the one that gets it just right. Like Apple's Smart Cover, the Ultrathin Keyboard has magnets on its edge and the keyboard latches on to the side of the iPad to fold right over it. When folded up, it is very thin -- ultrathin, even -- just 0.5 inches.
The keyboard dock is basic -- there is the keyboard with a slot above it in which to stand the iPad. The plastic keys are very comfortable, but, like the Zagg, it has a shrunken Delete key. Also, because the panel is thin the keys don't depress as much as on other keyboards. Still, I was able to type fairly quickly at 71 words per minute. There are also dedicated function keys and a large space bar. For $99 I found it to be the best blend of all of the units I tested.
This isn't really a keyboard dock or a full keyboard, but it is a typing companion for the iPad. The Touchfire is a piece of transparent rubber you can put over the touch keyboard on the iPad's screen to give you physical feedback when you type. The rubber (yes, it sounds and even looks like a condom) has imprints of keys to make them easier to find for touch typists -- those who don't have to look at the keyboard while typing.
It's an interesting concept, but I just couldn't type as fast on it as the others. Actually, my words-per-minute count on the Touchfire -- 43 -- was only about half what I got from other keyboards.
Also, when you change screens on the iPad -- away from one that doesn't have the keyboard -- you have to remove the keyboard from the screen. Touchfire does compensate for that with magnets that clip on to the side of the iPad and onto a smart cover, but it's still an extra step. It is priced at $50, less than its competitors, but that's actually a lot for a piece of rubber, and I would say the others are worth the extra money.
|What to Buy?|
After spending time with each of the options above, I came away liking the Logitech Ultrathin the most. For $99, it has the best mix of portability, comfort, and build for the price. The ZaggFolio is also a good choice, as is the Apple Keyboard if you aren't looking for high portability.
Now, go get some work done.