Slimmer is better, provided you get your keyboard right. Belkin's Ultimate Keyboard Case is an attempt to beat competitors like Logitech at their own game by offering a slim keyboard and a cozy protective back cover all-in-one folio-like device. I saw this at CES, and it impressed me with its style.
Fast-forward to April, and I finally have a review unit; it still impresses. Unlike the very thick Logitech Keyboard Folio, the Ultimate Keyboard Case doesn't feel thicker than the standard iPad case. A plastic back merges with an aluminum-backed black plastic keyboard that, while feeling very inspired by Logitech's Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, has its own fit and finish.
With the Ultimate Keyboard Case on, it actually makes the iPad look like a little Chromebook. Some may find the laptop-ification effect unsexy, but I found it comforting, as if it promised no-nonsense easy productivity.
A white model with aluminum on the back and front costs a little more ($129). The black model ($99), which I reviewed, looks great -- but the MacBook-like aluminum shell on the bottom is prone to scuffing, like the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. Better it than your iPad.
True to its "Ultimate Keyboard Case" promise, this case has a few magic tricks up its sleeve. It turns on automatically when opened and docked, and it immediately Bluetooth pairs with the iPad when docked in one of three magnetic connectors, provided you've already set up Bluetooth and paired previously. And yes, three connector strips means three viewing angles, a killer mini-feature because it means you can adjust to a nonawkward angle on a table or your lap, something that's near-impossible to do with other cases.
The typing works, too. It's really good, even for a laptop user, and it held up over a weekend using it at home as a go-to laptop alternative. The chiclet-style square keys are a little closely spaced but all laptop-accurate, with none of the odd shifting like on the Logitech Keyboard Folio. There's no backlighting, but few keyboard cases I've ever seen offer that feature (Zagg now makes a ProPlus backlit keyboard/case; stay tuned for a future review).
The iPad (it fits the iPad 2 and third-/fourth-gen 9.7-inch iPads) snaps easily in the plastic upper case, much like a thick back shield. Holes are cut out for the camera, headphones, 30-pin/Lightning connector, and volume control. There's even a fluted-out hole around the speaker to help amplify sound. My only criticism is that it feels like the plastic construction could eventually crack or snap -- a problem I've had with previous back shields. But that's just conjecture, and it held up really nicely as I used it.
The Ultimate Keyboard Case can even flip into a keyboard-underneath position for tablet or in-flight use. Because Bluetooth automatically disengages, you won't end up accidentally pressing any keys underneath, and can swap back and forth between both modes easily. There's a hint of elevation from the angle of the fold.
An included Micro-USB cable plugs in on the side for recharging the built-in battery. Belkin claims 1,900 hours of battery life in active use and 4,300 hours in standby. All I can say is it held up perfectly well over a long weekend. You won't need to recharge for a good, long time.
This is the best iPad keyboard case I've ever reviewed, apart from the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, which beats it on price and compactness. But Logitech's Ultrathin solution isn't a full case. If you crave complete protection and a really sharp design, this is the best I've seen -- and I've seen quite a few. This is a case I'd actually consider keeping my iPad in all the time.