Accessory manufacturer Belkin has been rolling out new iOS products like crazy lately, and today I'm going to take a look at a new product that has just arrived for the iPad mini -- the Belkin FastFit Keyboard Case (US$79.99). And stick around after reading the review -- we're doing a giveaway!
I have to admit that when I saw the box for the FastFit Keyboard Case, I was dubious that there was a keyboard in it. That's how thin this thing is -- a scant 7 mm (.28 inches). It's also one of the most lightweight keyboards I've tested at 195.6 grams (6.9 oz.).
Installing the FastFit Keyboard Case onto your iPad mini is literally a snap. There's an auto clasp mechanism that works like Apple's Smart Cover to magnetically attach the mini to the keyboard -- place the edges of the mini and the FastFit in close proximity to each other and snap! They're connected just like that. When installed, the silver exterior of the case (which has either a white or black interior) matches the appearance of the back of the mini.
Unlike some of the true keyboard folios that we've reviewed for the mini (the backlit ZAGGkeys Folio, for example), the FastFit doesn't protect the back of your iPad mini. That's either a benefit, if you like showing off the Apple logo on the back of your device, or a detriment to keeping your mini scratch-free.
For typing, you simply pull off the iPad mini and place one side into a slot in the keyboard. That slot is also equipped for magnetic latching, so there's little chance that your iPad mini is going to flop out of the keyboard unless you're really pounding on the keys.
The keyboard layout is described in the next section, but for the most part, it's rather compact. The number keys are also used in concert with a function (fn) key to perform common iPad functions, and they're smaller than the letter keys. There are full-sized Shift, Enter, Tab and Caps Lock keys in the usual spots.
Pairing the FastFit Keyboard Case to the iPad mini was fast and easy. You literally just turn the keyboard power on while in the Bluetooth settings on the iPad, and it pairs. That's it. Very fast, and no need to type in any characters.
Once you're paired, it's time to start typing. I had a bit of a problem finding the "home keys" (F and J) as the usual telltale bumps were rather small, but once I got my fingers in the right place it was a fairly fast keyboard with a good feel.
Belkin uses a keyboard layout called TruType that attempts to put most of the most-used keys in familiar places. Unfortunately, that means that some of the keys -- semicolon/colon, quotes, and question mark -- move away from their usual spots. This is a different layout than that used by ZAGG on their keyboard cover, where they left the keys in the usual locations but made them smaller. The keys on the Belkin FastFit are a bit smaller than those on the ZAGG Folio as well, which almost made the TruType keyboard seem cramped by comparison.
I think in terms of usability, I found this keyboard to work well when I was just typing a lot of text without a lot of punctuation. Once I needed to start adding punctuation, my fingers tried to go to the familiar places and failed.
As for battery life, Belkin claims that the FastFit can be used for up to 40 hours between charges or live up to 60 days in standby mode. The keyboard has magnets in all of the right places to shut off the iPad mini when it is "closed" over the screen.
iPad mini owners who are looking for an affordable and lightweight keyboard that also provides screen protection should consider the Belkin FastFit Keyboard Case. While the keyboard layout might not work for everyone, Belkin has come up with a way to put the most frequently-used keys in their proper position for easy typing.
Less expensive than some competitors
Aluminum back matches the iPad mini's back perfectly
Easy and fast Bluetooth pairing
Lightweight and very thin
Magnetic clasp makes installing the keyboard as a cover a snap
Some punctuation keys are in unfamiliar locations
Who is it for?
The iPad mini owner who wants an affordable Bluetooth keyboard that can also provide a measure of protection to the device screen
Have an iPad mini? TUAW and Belkin want you to put that little tablet together with a FastFit Keyboard Case.
Here are the rules for the giveaway:
Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and older.
To enter, fill out the form below completely and click or tap the Submit button.
The entry must be made before June 26, 2013 11:59PM Eastern Daylight Time.
You may enter only once.
One winner will be selected and will receive a Belkin FastFit Keyboard Case for iPad mini valued at $79.99