Azio Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard hands-on

Built for iPads (but also suitable for iPhones and Macs), this finger-friendly keyboard is a fine alternative to Apple's portrait-only Keyboard Dock.

The Azio Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard is a winner, offering quiet, comfy keys and easy pairing with an iPad, iPhone, or Mac.

Can an iPad really take the place of a laptop? For many users, the answer would be: "Not without a real keyboard."

I hear that. Though I'm able to manage some basic touch-typing with the iPad's onscreen keys, my fingers don't fly nearly as nimbly as they do with a real set of QWERTYs.

Apple's iPad Keyboard Dock is one option, but it forces you into a portrait orientation--and costs $69. For something a little more affordable, check out the Azio KB333BM Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard. (As opposed to a wired Bluetooth keyboard, I guess.)

Priced at $49.99, the Azio keyboard offers a full set of perfectly sized, perfectly spaced keys. It's actually quite like a Mac keyboard, and in fact can be paired with a Mac (and an iPhone, and probably anything else that accepts Bluetooth input).

Having spent some time composing notes, e-mails, and other documents, I have this to say about the Azio: it rocks. The keys are comfy, the feedback is just how I like it, and the Bluetooth pairing works beautifully. Even if I haven't touched the keyboard for a week. A couple of "wake-up" taps instantly re-establish the connection with my iPad. (The battery-sipping keyboard goes into standby mode after two hours of inactivity.)

Many of the available extra keys (like F1-F16, Command, Home, etc.) are useless in iPad apps, but others--like the play/pause/volume controls doubled onto some of the function keys--work very nicely.

I think my only complaint with the keyboard is that it's not particularly portable. I mean, it's thin and fairly lightweight, but also considerably longer than the iPad itself. You could toss it in a carry-on bag, but Azio doesn't provide a case or anything else to keep it protected.

Even so, if you want to get one big step closer to the dream of using your iPad as a laptop, the Azio KB333BM is an excellent start. I really, really like it.