Tablets like the iPad are quickly sneaking up on laptops as the preferred device for surfing the web while traveling. But one of the biggest drawbacks to the functionality of the iPad is its lack of a real keyboard. Typing anything longer than a Facebook status or a Tweet on your iPad can seem frustrating. The Smart Keyboard for the new iPad aims to solve that problem by integrating a Bluetooth keyboard and a ultra-thin protective case in one item. Check out our hands-on after the break! And a video!
Last year, we reviewed the Aluminum Keyboard Buddy Case that turns the iPad 2 into a MacBook Air look-alike. This year, we are introducing the same concept for the new iPad, but in a thinner form factor that looks more like the MacBook Air.
Sometimes, we can’t stand the iPad’s virtual keyboard. When working with the iWork apps, we think an external keyboard is needed for extended typing sessions and to make use of the new iPad’s full screen to show texts. In this case the Smart Keyboard has really helped us out.
The Smart Keyboard is an aluminum shell with built in keyboard. It is made of sturdy aluminum on the outside, and has a cushioned interior. It offers a flexible, folding hinge, which makes it easy to place the iPad in either portrait or landscape mode.
The plastic folding hinge will pop out when you push the open button beside it.
Although it has just a single viewing angle, we found the angle to be perfect for text entry and video viewing after all.
So the iPad wedges into a groove on the front of the keyboard and leans back either in portrait or landscape orientation. The keyboard base then becomes the platform to hold the iPad and use as a keyboard. This works quite well and is in our opinion the best method for typing. The solid base allows you to use this on a table or even on your lap, though using it on your lap with the iPad in portrait mode can feel a bit unbalanced.
The Smart Keyboard makes it possible to do heavy writing on the new iPad, but you may need some time to get used to the small keys. The keys do not have much spacing, like Apple’s offerings, but if you can type on a 10-inch netbook keyboard you can easily type on the Smart Keyboard with no problems. I have large hands so I need a short period of adjustment to the reduced size.
While it has very small keys, the keyboard uses the standard QWERTY layout. It has a double-width backspace, inverted T arrow keys, and all the function keys as well as number input. The keyboard also features some iPad-specific shortcuts.
As you can see on the image above, there are 14 iPad function keys (in order): Home button, Spotlight, Brightness down, Brightness up, Photo frame, Virtual keyboard, International Keyboard, Previous track, Play/Pause, Next track, Mute, Volume down, Volume up and Lock. Here’s what we like to do with the shortcut keys: Clicking the home button twice brings up the multitasking menu, and clicking the lock button makes the iPad screen go dark and come back when pressed again.
Overall the Smart Keyboard is wonderful to type on and is a breeze if you are used to traditional PC netbook keyboards. You will most likely find that you will type much faster with the Smart Keyboard than with Apple’s virtual iPad keyboard making it perfect for e-mail and productivity apps. In terms of traditional Mac and PC typing shortcuts we found that Command-A (select all), Caps lock, Command-C (copy), Command-V (paste), and Command-X (cut) all work perfectly. But really the best part is the arrow keys. That’s something I always miss when typing with my iPhone, the chance to move through the copy with the arrows.
Connectivity and Battery Life
Using the actual keyboard is much easier than expected. Simply charge the Smart Keyboard, turn it on, click the keyboard’s connect button, and do the rest from the iPad’s bluetooth settings pane.
Once you are in the iPad’s Bluetooth settings pane, your iPad will ask you to type a few numbers into the keyboard and then you will be ready to go. The Smart Keyboard does not only work with the iPad but also works on the iPhone and iPod touch, as well as Android phones and tablets!
The Smart Keyboard includes Apple’s dock connector on the side for charging with the included Dock Connector to USB cable. So, there’s no need for you to bring another type of cable if you are traveling with it. And it comes with a 350 mAh rechargeable lithium polymer battery that provides juice for a couple weeks of normal use.
True, the new iPad nestles into the frame of the Smart Keyboard smoothly, cradled by foam bumpers all around, and the keyboard case’s matte aluminum finish matches the iPad perfectly. However it exposes the back of the iPad, one of the most vulnerable areas for scratching. There will be possible scratching when you put the whole thing in the gear bag. Next, when you place the iPad face down inside the case, the iPad’s screen is protected against contact with the keyboard thanks to four rubberized padded strips at the four corners. Although the padded strips prevent the screen from being scatched, it still made us a little uneasy to place keys so close to the Retina Display.
And here’s one important thing to note. When you turn the case upside down, the iPad may fall out. While we wouldn’t drop it intentionally, we wish the manufacturers made it hold the iPad more securely.
It Really Look Like The MacBook Air
In keyboard mode, the Smart Keyboard disguises the new iPad as MacBook Air.
Don’t consider it a case; it succeeds when it’s in keyboard mode. You’d be better to think of it instead as a ultraportable Bluetooth keyboard that has its own stand and forms an attractive and functional package when placed on a desk. If you are concerned about the protection, you’ll still want to put this keyboard/iPad combo in a sleeve which is included in its package. Anyway, just treat it as a MacBook Air look-alike or a Transformer Prime look-alike.
You can find the Smart Keyboard over at M.I.C. Store, for just $50.
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