Belkin makes a few different external Bluetooth keyboards and keyboard cases for the full-size iPad, so it's hardly a surprise that the accessory maker has ventured into Mini territory with its simply named Portable Keyboard Case for iPad Mini ($79.99 list).
Let's start with the good stuff. Belkin's done a nice job of making a keyboard case that's pretty trim and protective at the same time. At first glance, you wouldn't even know that there was a keyboard inside, and when I showed the case to people, they were surprised to see the keyboard when I opened the case up (the flap adheres magnetically and stays shut).
To be sure, this isn't nearly as light as the plethora of slim cases that are available for the Mini. It weighs in at 11.2 ounces, a tad more than the 10.9-ounce Mini itself; that means it effectively doubles the weight when attached. But it's still nicely styled, and its faux leather finish has a rubberized texture to it.
I also liked how the front cover folds back into a stand. To make that happen, you have to fold down the top part of the case, which seems a little tricky at first, but ultimately is simple enough. You then end up fiddling around with the cover a bit, trying to make a triangle with the flap and making the magnet on the flap stick in just the right place. Once you get it right, your iPad is supported nicely at around a 60-degree angle.
The keys are made of hard plastic and are pretty tactile, with some spacing between them. Overall, it's not on par with an Apple Bluetooth keyboard, but at least the keys aren't too tiny.
Pairing the keyboard via Bluetooth was also easy -- it charges with an included USB cable -- and there's an on/off switch to conserve battery life. Belkin says you can get up to 155 hours of "active" battery life. I only used it for a few days so I can't confirm that number, but Bluetooth keyboards sip power pretty slowly.
The biggest problem with the keyboard is that it isn't a true, full-size keyboard. My hands felt a little cramped using it, and often when I hit the spacebar the edge of my thumb would catch on the outer edge of the keyboard just below it. The apostrophe/quotation mark key is also missing. As a workaround, you have to hit the Function key to make an apostrophe, which is awkward. For some it will be quite irritating while others will be able to deal with it.
There are some other small keyboard-layout choices that folks may take issue with, but the apostrophe and cramped size of the keyboard were the biggest issues for me. Finally, it's worth noting that if you're used to having a lighter cover on your iPad Mini, this case will seem heavy when you're not using the keyboard. You can hold your iPad vertically (with the keyboard flipped around back) and just use the touch screen as you normally would. But the whole thing just feels heavier than it should. In other words, this keyboard case is only for someone who plans on doing a lot of typing on an iPad Mini.
To make a compact keyboard case for the iPad Mini, Belkin had to make a few sacrifices, most notably leaving off a dedicated key for apostrophes and quotation marks. That, plus a couple of other small design flaws and its somewhat cramped size and shape, make this keyboard less appealing to use than your standard-size iPad keyboard case. That said, the case has a lot of positives, including a relatively trim design for a keyboard case, which keeps your Mini from becoming too bulky.
While I think the design could be improved a little, the truth is any keyboard case for the iPad Mini -- unless it has an extendable butterfly design -- will likely have some shortcomings.
In other words, this is one of the better iPad Mini keyboard cases that you can buy at this time, but it's not exactly ideal. For those who take notes and do a lot e-mail on their iPad Minis and don't like using the onscreen virtual keyboard, this is certainly a viable choice, especially if you don't want to lug around an external Bluetooth keyboard, even a compact one. I liked it, but it does have a few niggling issues.