Kensington KeyFolio Keyboard iPad case: Netbook killer or added baggage?

Finally, there's an iPad case with a built-in Bluetooth keyboard, but is it any good?

There are many differentiating factors between an iPad and a Netbook, but none so obvious and useful as a physical keyboard.

We've remarked several times since owning the iPad that the addition of a dedicated Bluetooth keyboard really helps the little slate become a pretty good mobile writing tool. Though a virtual onscreen keyboard does the job fairly well, especially in conjunction with a raised case like Apple's own microfiber one, it's no substitute for the rapid-fire feel of physical keys. I use an Apple Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad, and it's a great combo; the only problem is, even with its small size, carrying yet another gadget around ruins the appeal of the iPad's simplicity.

We've wondered why Bluetooth keyboard cases weren't immediately conceived for the iPad from day one, but six months later we've finally got one that's real. The Kensington KeyFolio is a leather-bound booklike case that bonds a thin silicon-covered Bluetooth keyboard to its inner lid, unfolding to turn an iPad into a veritable mini-workstation. For $99, the KeyFolio is cheaper than the sum total of most keyboards and cases on the market. Is it worth the investment? And more importantly, could a keyboard case turn an iPad into a valid Netbook replacement ?

Does a keyboard case help the iPad, or harm it?
Does a keyboard case help the iPad or harm it?
We had high hopes for this product, and in our first few moments with it we had those hopes slightly dashed. The case seems to have good overall construction quality, but it's considerably thicker than other iPad cases--a necessity when fitting in a keyboard. It turns a wafer-thin iPad into a bundle that's as thick as an 11.6-inch Lenovo ThinkPad x100e.

The keyboard is small--smaller, even, than on a 10-inch Netbook. Sewing the keyboard into the case required extra edge margins, eliminating the possibility of edge-to-edge keys. The reduced space feels more like what you'd expect on a 7-inch Netbook. The keys are also very soft. Again, this is to protect the iPad, since the keyboard face also acts as the inside cover to the iPad's case, making contact with the glass screen when closed. Keys don't click so much as they softly compress. Those looking for tactile feedback will be jarred.

On the other hand, the keyboard works responsively, and we found ourselves writing well once we trusted the ergonomics and feel. The keyboard doesn't physically attach to the iPad at all; instead, it pairs via Bluetooth with the iPad. Initial setup is simple, though the device shows up as "wireless keyboard" on the iPad and requires a code to be entered on the keyboard before pairing activates. However, on subsequent uses, we found that our iPad didn't automatically pair with the KeyFolio; we had to "forget" the pairing and re-enter a code instead. Our unit was prerelease, so there's a chance this will be fixed in the final product, but it was distracting.

The keyboard can be recharged via a mini-USB port on the side, along with an included 4-pin-to-8-pin USB cable. A single large connect button controls pairing, but a physical switch on the side will also turn the keyboard on and off to conserve battery life.

Overall, the KeyFolio could be a clever case for people who truly use their iPad continuously for writing on the go, but it also weighs down the iPad and isn't good for casual use such as reading or video viewing. Use at your discretion.

 

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