With this review, I think that we're just about through the Spring 2013 crop of iPad Bluetooth keyboard folio cases, and it appears that I've saved the best for last. The ClamCase Pro for iPad (US$169, currently available for $20 off with coupon code SPRING20) was a pleasant surprise, providing the best keyboard I've ever used on an iPad along with some of the best protection to be found on any of the new keyboard folios.
The ClamCase Pro is designed to look like a little laptop computer. The area around the keyboard is solid aluminum, and the keyboard itself uses black keys with white lettering. The top and bottom of the case are encased in white polycarbonate, which lends a very clean look and provides excellent protection. The iPad is held securely into place with two barely visible clips on either side of the device, and that design makes it simple to remove the iPad when necessary.
On the back of the case is a perforated "grille" so that sound isn't muffled, and there's a lower opening that accommodates either a Lightning or 30-pin Dock connector. As you'd expect, there are openings for the camera and headphone port, as well as the a small one for the iPad microphone. The on/off/sleep/wake button and volume toggle have their own pass-through switches; there is not a pass through for the seldom-used mute/rotation lock switch.
The big difference with this case from all of the rest is the hinge mechanism that connects the bottom (keyboard and battery) section with the top (iPad) section. This hinge can actually rotate through a full 360 degrees, meaning that you can swivel the keyboard around to the back of the case when you want to just use your iPad as a tablet, or put it into a literally infinite number of angles for typing.
There's one button on the ClamCase Pro, a small power switch on the left side as you look at the keyboard. The battery, like those on most of the other cases we've tested, is recharged via a USB to micro-USB cable that is included. One charge should get you through about 100 hours of typing; that, of course, is longer than your iPad battery is going to last. The ClamCase folks say that the device will fully charge in about 2 hours, and that a case has a battery standby time of six months.
When you want to check the battery life, there's a small "battery" key on the keyboard located near the arrow keys. Push and hold that button, and the white power light located in the upper right corner of the keyboard flashes up to 4 times (meaning fully charged) or just once to indicate that you'd better plug it in.
The keyboard itself has a standard QWERTY layout, which is nice to see. Unlike the new Logitech cases with their EasyType keyboards, there's no need to type "Fn-Q" to hit the Tab key or "Fn-A" to go into Caps Lock. The keys are just there. There's also a separate top row of keys so that you don't need to use a function key to perform tasks like changing the volume on your iPad or cut/copy/paste.
The ClamCase Pro had one interesting effect on me; I kept thinking that I was typing on an 11" MacBook Air and continually tried to use the non-existent trackpad. It has that solid feeling of one of Apple's diminutive laptops. I never once had the feeling that the screen was going to flop over, and although I'm not going to try it out, I think this case could protect your iPad from a drop quite well.
Previously, my favorite iPad keyboard was the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. Well, move over Logitech. The keyboard on the ClamCase Pro actually feels better to me than my favorite Mac keyboard -- Apple's Wireless Keyboard. Since I spend my life sitting at a keyboard, I can tell almost immediately if I'm going to love or hate a keyboard, and my first impression of the ClamCase Pro was very positive. Writing this post on a third-generation iPad using Daedalus cemented that impression -- this keyboard has wonderful positive feedback, quiet keys, and a touch that encourages typing.
ClamCase's website cites an ABC News test that shows that the keyboard can result in a higher number of words per minute typed, and I can entirely believe that. My fingers didn't need to search for certain keys like they did on the latest crop of Logitech cases; everything was exactly where I expected it to be.
If there's one downside to the ClamCase Pro, it's the weight. This thing weighs 1.5 pounds, which means with the iPad added in you're looking at a total weight of just about 3 pounds. That's almost identical to the weight of a 13" MacBook Air and almost .6 pounds more than an 11" MBA. The ClamCase Pro, like any other keyboard folio case, is going to add thickness to your iPad as well. It's .85 inches thick, which is .17" thicker than a MacBook Air.
This brings up the old debate about whether one should buy a light MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, or just use an iPad with something like a ClamCase. There's certainly no lack of applications in the iPad world now, and with a top-notch keyboard like that in the ClamCase Pro you can definitely get your work done efficiently. Price-wise, someone could buy a 64 GB Wi-Fi iPad with Retina display and ClamCase Pro for $868, less than the $999 cost of a 64 GB 11" non-Retina MacBook Air.
The ClamCase Pro pairs with your iPad with the press of a Bluetooth button that's on the keyboard and a tap on the ClamCase Pro name in the Bluetooth settings on the iPad. It has magnets to shut off your iPad when closed, and turn it back on when you pop the top open again. However, this doesn't help you when you flip the keyboard over into "tablet mode," as you can end up knee-typing. So, when using your iPad as Steve Jobs intended, be sure to hit the power switch.
There's one little quirk I noticed with the case design. There are four little rubber feet on the bottom of the case that are probably designed to keep it from sliding on a desktop. That works fine, provided that the case is closed. When you open it, the hinge extends down onto the surface you have the case on and pushes two of the feet off of the surface, making it susceptible to sliding.
Excellent keyboard, one of the best I've used on Mac, PC or iPad
Completely unique 360-degree hinge holds the "screen" in place regardless of how you have the case configured
Probably the sturdiest iPad keyboard case TUAW has ever tested
Very fast pairing process, built-in battery level capability
Good battery life; much longer than your iPad battery is going to last
Power button is easy to find and shut off, making it easy to power down the keyboard when using the iPad as a tablet
Fairly heavy; with the iPad installed, it's about the same weight of a 13" MacBook Air
One of the most expensive iPad keyboard cases we've tested; however, it's worth every dime
Who is it for?
Professionals who are thinking about using an iPad and keyboard case as a replacement for a traditional laptop or anyone who wants the best possible experience with a keyboard case.