I’m really digging the iPad Mini. Like I said before, I think this is the ultimate writing machine. All the power of a full size iPad, but more portable. So it’s perhaps not a surprise that it didn’t take me long to try to turn it into a laptop.
I swung by the Apple Store and took a look at their keyboard offerings for the iPad Mini. I’m still pretty happy with Kate — my Logitech K810 — overall, but I was looking for something even more portable. Something that wouldn’t require a bag to carry. The only thing Apple carries in their stores like this is the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard for the Mini, and it didn’t impress me. It’s plastic, requires disconnecting it from the magnetic Smartcover-like hinge before sticking it in a slot with only one viewing angle to type, and because they needed room for the slot, the keys were cramped. I shrugged and went home. On the up side, I got in and out of the Apple Store without spending any money, which is rare.
Then as I was catching up on Amplified on the mighty 5by5 podcast network, Jim Dalrymple mentioned the ZAGGkeys Cover for the Mini. It seemed to solve a lot of the issues I had with the Logitech keyboard, and he picked up his in FutureShop, the Canadian version of Best Buy. So I thought it might be worth swinging by my local Best Buy to take a look at one in person. Before I went, I downloaded the Best Buy app and verified that they had some in stock. Remember when you had to just get in the car and go look? #likeananimal
For the most part, I’m very impressed. The keyboard is a smaller, improved version of the ZAGGkeys cover I had for my iPad 4. The big difference in this version is that it holds the iPad Mini by the edge in a rotating hinge like a laptop screen. Especially on a keyboard the size of the iPad Mini, this allows the keyboard to be much closer to normal size. Basically, it’s no worse than a netbook keyboard, and thankfully doesn’t try to cram the up arrow inside the right shift key, a common size hack a lot of portable Bluetooth keyboards used to use which made touch typing impossible for me, as every time I tried to capitalize a letter on the left side of the keyboard, I’d find myself typing in the middle of a word on the previous line.
Which isn’t to say this keyboard is without compromises. The 1, ;, ’, and [ keys are half-width, and the apostrophe key in particular is causing me some trouble as I tend to overreach and hit enter when I mean to type a contraction or possessive. Tab is also moved down to share a key with Caps Lock, and dash, underscore, equal and plus are all bunched on a single key requiring the Fn key to get to the latter two. But all in all, I’m not having too much trouble getting adjusted to it. The key action and travel are up to ZAGG’s usual high standards, and the keyboard is backlit with 3 brightness settings and a variety of colors. I tend to leave it on white considering it’s a white and silver keyboard mated with a white and silver iPad.
There’s a row of special keys across the top, since this keyboard has the vertical space for them. The usual media control keys, copy and paste — but oddly, not cut — and keys for home, lock, dictation/Siri and showing/dismissing the on screen keyboard for more esoteric characters. There’s also a “world” icon on the Command key that when paired with the Fn key, gives you access to other language on screen keyboards. I pretty much just use this for emoji, but it’s nice to have.
When closed, the keyboard matches the iPad perfectly and really does make it look like the world’s thinnest netbook. The keyboard is about a millimeter thinner than the original iPad Mini fits snugly. The extra weight is noticeable, but is definitely preferable to carrying a separate, detached device like the K810. As I tend to leave the full size iPad at home as a media device, this means when I leave the apartment I’m generally only carrying the iPhone, the iPad/keyboard and maybe my Anker battery pack for recharging them both if I expect to be really busy or away for the whole day.
I’m also finding myself keeping the keyboard attached when holding the iPad in portrait orientation for reading, using the keyboard as the left half a hardcover book. The whole kit is surprisingly comfortable to hold this way.
I really only have one quibble. The hinge holds the iPad by friction, not magnets, and I noticed a hairline fracture in the plastic on the outside edge. I was going to exchange it at Best Buy, but when I got there I took a look at two of the other devices on the shelf. Each had a similar fracture in the same place, and one had two. So it looks like it’s a very minor design flaw that I’m just going to have to live with. So far it hasn’t been a problem, but it’s something I’m going to watch out for.
I’ll also note that because the keyboard holds on to the iPad by friction and has a pretty tight grip, I’ve heard it doesn’t work so well with the just fractionally thicker retina Mini. But if you have a first generation iPad Mini and you’re looking for a quick and portable way to get some real writing done with it, I heartily recommend the ZAGGkeys Cover.