Still dreaming for a notebook form factor device that runs iOS? Apple’s MacBook Air with Lion may be a good idea, but there’s never been a better time to turn your iPad 2 into a notebook with just an accessory. Introducing the Aluminum Keyboard Case — a highly portable Bluetooth keyboard for use with an iPad 2, and acts as a case which protects the screen and sides of the iPad. It’s a phenomenal product, so we are pretty sure you would be interested on what does the thing feel like, and how’s that keyboard. And more importantly, how does it look like a MacBook Air? We have the answers to those questions — and many more — in our full review, so read on to find out!
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Why It Matters
For many people, the iPad can’t replace a full-fledged laptop. However, the ability to use an external keyboard makes it more laptop-like — and a more-than-suitable netbook replacement. Apple offers the iPad Keyboard Dock and the Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard as physical keyboard options for the iPad, but the Aluminum Keyboard Case is more portable. It is unique in that it’s a hard shell case and keyboard in one. It appears as a good looking piece of equipment but more importantly it helps us old “analog” guys who still like to get “QWERTY” occassionally, and only adds about a quarter of an inch (6 mm) to the thickness of the slimmed down iPad 2 and could be a more convenient solution than carrying around a separate keyboard – even if it’s a folding Bluetooth keyboard.
The hardware itself is very impressive. Considering the primary purpose of this device, let’s take a look at the keyboard, first. The keyboard is similar in size to what you would find on most 10-inch netbooks.
This definitely took a little adjustment on our part, since we’ve gotten used to the full-sized Apple Bluetooth Keyboard and most of us have pretty large fingers. Despite this, once we got used to the Aluminum Keyboard Case, we were able to type very quickly and accurately with it. It is charged via USB, connects to the iPad 2 via Bluetooth and comprises a full QWERTY keypad with special function keys for music, volume, slideshow, home and search controls (we will talk more about these exciting keys later). The keyboard layout is exactly what you would normally expect, and the keys are fairly flat to accommodate the iPad 2 in case mode.
The way it works is incredibly simple. During our first try, it was easy to set up and we got it working in 60 seconds, without reading any intructions. The first step? Position the iPad 2 on the Keyboard Case. We have to place the iPad (either in portrait or landscape mode) into the central groove of the case, and prop the iPad up to start everything. Next, we need to power on the Keyboard Case and pair with the iPad. On the Keyboard Case, we see a dedicated On/Off switch, Bluetooth connection button, charging and status lights.
The sliding two-position On/Off switch is a nice touch, as you can always tell whether the keyboard is powered on or not. This happens to be one of our few gripes with the Apple Keyboard, as it can be easy to accidentally turn it on and not realize it until you can’t pull up the iPad’s on-screen keyboard. So, we went ahead and slide the power switch on.
Before starting to sync the keyboard with the iPad, there’s one important button we have to press — the connection button. Yup, this button is only used when pairing, but again, it’s nice that it was included, as it insures that you don’t have to remember any shortcuts or key combination sequences to pair with your device. So, we press it and take a sip of coffee. The status light flashes blue and we are ready for the pairing.
The keyboard pairs quickly and easily over Bluetooth. On the iPad, we navigate to Settings > General > Bluetooth. At this step, our keyboard is on and discoverable. While the iPad is looking for Bluetooth device, we are prompted to type in a “secret number” on our keyboard to finish the sync. We got the keyboard synced, and start typing.
While we love the iPad 2′s on-screen keyboard, we do enough writing on the run that we find a hardware keyboard to be a necessity, especially for bloggers like us. While we were typing with the Keyboard Case, we found the keyboard response to be really good. The keys are solid-feeling plastics, and we are feeling lucky to see there’s no awkward space bar or arrow keys placement on the layout of the keyboard.
There is a lot of features on this thing we love. First, it looks great, feels great and works well. It has a lightweight design, provides the necessary stability and protection you need for both keyboard and case to function properly. The Keyboard Case is made from aircraft-grade aluminum with a bead-blasted, anodized finish matching the design, look and feel of the iPad. It feels sturdy when our iPad fits snugly and perfectly into the keyboard, the iPad never feels like it will slip out!
Since the case is made of aluminum, we were worried if it will scratch the sides of the iPad. Well, all of the aluminum edges that touch the iPad are completely covered with a form fitting rubber gasket. This material both protects the iPad, and gives it something to grip against when it is pushed down against the keyboard, which helps to hold it in the case securely. Cool!
The wide variety of dedicated shortcut keys really amazed us. Above the row of number keys, you have shortcut buttons for the Home Screen, Spotlight Search, Slideshow, Virtual Keyboard on/off, Previous Track, Play/Pause, Next Track, Mute, Lower Volume, and Raise Volume! On the bottom row, there’s a Command key! We can press the Command key and the “c” key at the same time to copy words, press the Command Key and the “v” key to paste words, press the Command key and the “a” key to select all words. Awesome, just like what we do on our Macs and PCs.
The built-in longer-lasting Lithium Polymer battery provides a very impressive battery life to the Aluminum Keyboard Case. The manufacturer states that the device should last for “several weeks” on a charge, and after our use, we would believe it. We typed this entire review, and more on this keyboard, and never had a battery warning. Moreover, we like the feature of the Keyboard Case charging over USB, so you never need to worry about replacing batteries. When the time to charge does come, there is a micro USB cable included to do the honors. What’s more, the included Sleep Mode turns out to be a valuable feature that helps to preserve the Keyboard Case’s battery life. For those times that you walk away from your keyboard with the switch turned On, it will time out after several minutes of inactivity. When it’s time to get back to work, just tap on a key to wake it back up and resume typing.
And here’s the best thing we like. The Aluminum Keyboard Case has a magnet in it to shut off/turn on the iPad just like the smart cover!
This thing is not perfect. There are drawbacks, and the fact that the viewing angle is not adjustable really annoyed us. Using the iPad in either portrait or landscape mode on the Keyboard Case is not satisfying our needs, we desperately want to adjust the viewing angle. And we were a little disappointed that there wasn’t a wall outlet adapter included, but that would bulk up the packaging, and those are pretty easy to come by if you are an Apple user.
Here’s the thing we dislike the most — no back protection for the iPad. The biggest issue here is that, while your screen is very well protected, the back of the iPad remains exposed. The case offers no protection for the iPad’s back. And if you are user of Apple’s Smart Cover for the iPad 2, you have to accept the fact that the Aluminum Keyboad Case is not compatible with the Smart Cover. So, if you have already invested in a Smart Cover, then you should consider that you will have to remove it to use the Keyboard Case as a case. As far as keyboard usage goes, the Smart Cover can actually remain attached when using the iPad 2 without any issues. One more thing, if you personally use screen protectors for all of your electronic devices, and we would recommend using one with the Aluminum Keyboard Case, as an extra layer of protection. This will just give you a little extra insurance to prevent scratching due to debris that might get between the keyboard or rubber surface and the iPad’s screen.
The Aluminum Keyboard Case for the iPad 2 does exactly what it promises, offering a compact wireless keyboard for use with an iPad; however, it’s a better keyboard than it is a case. The idea of joining the Keyboard Case with the iPad seems to be similar with the Asus Transformer, and we are extremely pleased with it. The case is very streamlined and elegant, adds minimal bulk and weight to iPad. The action on the keyboard feels really nice, we enjoy typing on it even though it is a small netbook sized keyboard. You may ask, why do I need this when I already have the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard? Well, the main drawback with the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard has been the lack of an easy way to carry it with the iPad on the go. With the Aluminum Keyboard Case, you can attach the keyboard to your iPad as a case, and start typing by separating the case from the iPad. It provides the necessary stability and protection you need for both keyboard and case to function properly. For just $49.90, it is the most physically appealing, slimmest, most portable keyboard option for the iPad 2.