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ClamCase Pro for iPad Air review: ​Turn your iPad Air into a MacBook Air lookalike...almost

The ClamCase Pro for iPad Air adds a great keyboard and has a clever bend-back design. It might be the best keyboard case available right now. Read the full review.

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Scott Stein
Scott_Stein.jpg

Scott Stein

Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

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4 min read

There are a lot of ways to add a good keyboard to your iPad. The ClamCase Pro might be one of the best at being the most versatile. Whether that justifies its lofty $169 price (UK and AU MSRP pricing not currently available, but it can be ordered online via various vendors), however, depends on how desperately you're trying to accomplish your iPad-as-near-laptop fantasies.

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8.2

ClamCase Pro for iPad Air

The Good

The ClamCase Pro for iPad Air is lighter and thinner than last year's version; it bends back into different modes, while automatically deactivating the keyboard; it has a solid polycarbonate shell and a very good full keyboard.

The Bad

It still feels heavy and bulky; it's expensive compared with other options; and the case's headphone-access hole doesn't work for all headphones.

The Bottom Line

The ClamCase Pro for iPad Air is a bendable multifunction keyboard case that doubles as a clever desk stand. It's the best accessory for fulfilling your iPad-as-laptop fantasies, provided you can live with a few drawbacks.

The original ClamCase Pro for the older, larger iPads added a solid aluminum keyboard with a complete MacBook Air vibe to a sturdy polycarbonate case. Open your iPad up, and you can type on it easily. From a distance, it even looks exactly like a MacBook.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The new version, for iPad Air, is even more compact. You push and click your iPad into the reinforced polycarbonate top shell, and lift a side edge to pop it out again. You don't need to remove your iPad again, if you don't want to: the ClamCase Pro's top half bends back and over so you can hold the iPad to read or do other tablety things on it. Or, you can even fold the keyboard back and turn the case into a adjustable-angle tablet stand. It can fold and flip just like the Lenovo Yoga and other bendable Windows 8 laptops. I tried the iPad Air version alongside an even smaller $129 ClamCase Pro for iPad Mini, and found both were really good. I actually liked the Mini version more because it's far rarer to find a good keyboard case for the Mini. The Air version, while also excellent, is one more good solution in a landscape full of alternatives.

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ClamCase Pro for iPad Air and iPad Mini: slightly different sizes. Sarah Tew/CNET

The ClamCase has a clever auto-pairing and disconnecting keyboard: once initially paired via Bluetooth with your iPad, it disconnects automatically when the case is shut: or, when the keyboard's folded back beyond 180 degrees, in stand or tablet mode. You won't accidentally press any keys, even though they're exposed on the back. Holding the iPad Air inside the fold-back case for casual reading is a little weird: the heavy, thick nature of the case turns the Air into more of a two-hander. It's best in the bend-back stand mode, which is perfect for airline fold-down tables or limited desk space. It's not perfect, though; the iPad Air wobbled a bit when touched and tapped, and you'll have to make sure your desk/table is properly wiped down just in case liquids or junk touch the keyboard beneath.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

In laptop mode, the ClamCase Pro feels great, for the most part. The keys were sometimes a little sticky, but the comfy layout and bonus row of iOS-specific buttons above the number keys felt great. It's deceptively just like using a real laptop: so much so, that my finger kept wandering to the space in the middle of the aluminum palmrest, expecting a trackpad. No such luck, of course: iPads don't support trackpads. It's a cruel tease, having that spare space on the ClamCase Pro, but what can you do?

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The top-heavy nature of the ClamCase also takes some getting used to. Even if it looks like a laptop, it's not centered like one. Bend that adjustable-angle top too far back and your iPad will swan-dive backward off your lap. And the bendable hinge, while sturdy, wobbled when tapping or touching the iPad while working; I wish the hinge were a little stiffer.

You can access most ports while the iPad Air is in the ClamCase Pro; there's a Lightning cable hole, grilles for the speakers, volume button pass-throughs, and even a rear camera hole. But the hole for the headphone jack is too narrow for many larger headphone plugs; it works with Apple's EarPods, but it didn't work with my other headphones. That's a drawback. The case charges via Micro-USB (cable included) and lasts months on a charge; I wasn't able to test that, but I haven't needed to charge it once yet, either. The keyboard case automatically goes into sleep mode when not in use for a few minutes, too, to conserve power: to activate again while in "laptop" mode, I just needed to press a key until the Bluetooth icon blinked back to life.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The ClamCase Pro weighs 1.2 pounds (545 grams), which along with your 1-pound iPad Air will add up to a 2.2-pound, 0.75-inch-thick object in your bag. That pushes into other netbook or hybrid-laptop territory, and certainly makes the Air seem less airy when popped in. The previous iPad 2/3/4 ClamCase Pro weighed 1.5 pounds, or nearly 3 pounds with iPad inside, so this one's definitely an improvement.

Despite some gripes, the ClamCase Pro for iPad Air is one of the best, versatile, sturdy, and functional iPad Air keyboard cases I've ever seen. It's beautiful and it's fun to use. But it's expensive, and it's a little heavy and bulky. I'm not sure if there's a full-fledged keyboard case I like more at the moment, but then again, I prefer popping the Air into a separate standalone keyboard. Your tastes may vary.

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8.2

ClamCase Pro for iPad Air

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8
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