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Apple iPad Keyboard Dock review: Apple iPad Keyboard Dock

Apple iPad Keyboard Dock

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Donald Bell
Donald_Bell.jpg

Donald Bell

Senior Editor / How To

Donald Bell has spent more than five years as a CNET senior editor, reviewing everything from MP3 players to the first three generations of the Apple iPad. He currently devotes his time to producing How To content for CNET, as well as weekly episodes of CNET's Top 5 video series.

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The touch-screen keyboard built into the Apple iPad is more than sufficient for typing out a quick e-mail or jotting down a to-do list. But if you intend to use the iPad for writing pages of text at a time, or simply don't like the idea of propping the iPad on your lap for typing out daily e-mails, a keyboard accessory makes sense.

OVR
6.7

Apple iPad Keyboard Dock

The Good

The iPad keyboard dock provides a sturdy, full-size keyboard to accommodate typing-intensive apps, such as e-mail and word processing.

The Bad

It isn't cheap, and the integrated iPad stand makes it awkward to slip into a bag. Editing chores, such as cutting and pasting, still mostly rely on the iPad's touch screen. The dock only supports one screen orientation.

The Bottom Line

Apple's keyboard dock for the iPad offers a functional and elegant solution for anyone who finds the touch-screen keyboard too limiting, but it does not transform the iPad into a proper computer.

Apple's keyboard dock accessory for the iPad ($69) offers one of the simplest solutions for adding a hard keyboard to the device. It still can't compete with a laptop or desktop computer when it comes to professional typing and editing capabilities, but many will appreciate the familiar functionality of using a full-size keyboard.

Design
The keyboard measures 11 inches wide and 4.5 inches deep, and stands just 0.65 inch tall toward the back, sloping down to a mere 0.25 inch at the spacebar. The white plastic dock fused to the back of the keyboard gives the accessory a total depth of 7.25 inches.

The dock's integrated iPad stand measures 2 inches tall, making it a tough fit for many roll-away computer desk keyboard trays. That said, a desktop is the natural habitat for this keyboard. With its grippy rubber base and 1.4 lbs, heft, the whole thing has been purposefully designed to stay put and reinforce the iPad against tipping over while you poke at the touch screen.

As keyboards go, the iPad keyboard dock is fairly typical among today's Mac keyboards--which is a good thing. The keyboard is comprised mostly of half-inch-wide plastic keys that jut out from a plank of aluminum. Just like the keyboard found on Apple's Macbook laptops, these keys have a shallow action of around an eighth of an inch, which may take a little adjustment if you tend to wale on keyboards like a typewriter.

Because it is a Mac-style keyboard, Apple's Command and Options keys supplant the Alt and Windows keys found on a typical PC keyboard. If you're accustomed to PC keyboard shortcuts for Undo, Cut, Copy, and Paste (Control-Z, X, C, and V), you'll need to train your brain to use the Command key instead of Control.

You'll also notice that the Escape and Function buttons found at the top of a typical keyboard have been replaced with 13 keys that control iPad-specific features. For example, the key in the upper leftmost corner (where you'd typically find the Escape key) takes you back to the iPad's home screen. Other buttons include search, brightness, picture frame, touch-screen keyboard toggle, iPod track control, volume, and screen lock. Each function is represented with an intuitive icon.

If you've already spent some time with the iPad's touch-screen keyboard, you probably won't think twice about missing Escape and function keys. Instead, you'll be overjoyed at the return of the cursor arrow keys and Caps Lock control, which are absent from the iPad. Little things, like not having to switch menus just to type a number or exclamation mark, feel oddly liberating.

Features
Beyond the keyboard, there's not much to know about this iPad accessory. The dock fused to the back of the keyboard is identical to Apple's $29 standard iPad dock, and includes a minijack audio output on the back, along with a passthrough 30-pin dock connection.

You can use the connection on the back to connect to a power supply or to a computer, but no cables or power adapters come included. On the upside, the fact that no power is necessary for the keyboard dock to operate is an advantage it has over wireless Bluetooth keyboards, which are also compatible with the iPad but require batteries.

The passthrough port can also be used to host iPad-compatible accessories and adapters, such as the Apple Camera Connection kit, or VGA video adapter.

Performance
In general, the keyboard feels natural, and typing becomes as effortless as with any other computer. Editing your text, however, is awkward. If you're at the end of a document and decide your intro paragraph needs a little work, instead of reaching for a mouse, you reach for the iPad's screen, poke the screen where you want to drop the cursor, and make your changes. Want to move a paragraph to the end of your document? Again, instead of selecting text with a mouse, you're selecting text using your finger on the iPad's touch screen. It's hard to say whether the awkwardness of touch-screen editing is just a learning curve or something inherent to devices like this, but you're in for a bumpy road either way.

Keyboard dock vs. Bluetooth keyboard
The iPad keyboard dock isn't the only game in town when it comes to equipping the iPad with a hard keyboard. With Bluetooth support for wireless keyboards (including Apple's own $69 model), the iPad has plenty of options available, and many sure to come.

There are advantages to using a wireless keyboard instead of Apple's keyboard dock. For starters, a Bluetooth keyboard is fairly universal and can be shared across several devices, making it a better overall value. Because a wireless keyboard doesn't hold or dock with the iPad, you're free to orient the device in portrait or landscape view. A wireless keyboard also allows you to keep your iPad in a case or sleeve while typing--something the dock's unyielding design doesn't tolerate.

That said, a wireless keyboard comes with its own set of issues. Without a dock, you'll still need some kind of stand to prop up your iPad. Bluetooth pairing never works out as quickly or seamlessly as we'd wish. Standard wireless keyboards will typically include incompatible function keys. And if Murphy's Law holds true, your Bluetooth keyboard's batteries may die when you need it most.

The Apple keyboard dock isn't a perfect solution for typing on an iPad, but compared to a wireless keyboard, we appreciate how simple, reliable, and sturdy it is. At half the price, it would be an easy iPad accessory to recommend generally, but as it stands, only those looking to do some serious text entry need apply.

OVR
6.7

Apple iPad Keyboard Dock

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7