With surprising swiftness, we're beginning to see new keyboard cases for the iPad Air. Two weeks ago TUAW featured two new keyboard cases from Belkin; this week, two of Logitech's products arrived. Today I'll take a look at Logitech's US$149.99 FabricSkin Folio for iPad Air as well as the $99.99 Ultrathin Keyboard Folio for iPad Air.
FabricSkin Folio for iPad Air
I have to chuckle at Logitech's naming conventions for these keyboard folios, since the FabricSkin Folio is actually thinner than the so-called Ultrathin Keyboard Folio by .09 inches. The FabricSkin Folio is just .70 inches thick, which doesn't sound like much but dwarfs the .29 inch thickness of the iPad Air. It also adds a bit of weight to the tablet, weighing in at .9 lbs (425 grams). But such are the sacrifices if you want to carry a keyboard with your iPad Air.
I have to admit that I'm more smitten with the FabricSkin Folio for the iPad Air than I was for the previous incarnation for the iPads 2/3/4. The keyboard folio comes in three flavors: Carbon Black, Mars Red Orange, and Urban Grey. The keyboards for the black and red-orange folios are white, while the keyboard for the grey folio is a bright, playful yellow.
Now, what makes the FabricSkin Folio for iPad Air different from the Ultrathin, other than the name and a little bit of thickness? The keyboard. While both of the Logitech keyboard folios have the same key layout, the one on the FabricSkin Folio is covered with a water-repellant silicone material. It has a soft touch to the fingers, but the keys provide excellent feedback while typing. That material can walk away from splashes and drips with no problem, and it can even be wiped off with a soaking wet paper towel if it gets dirty.
Both the FabricSkin and Ultrathin folios feature Logitech's new SecureLock system for holding the iPad Air in place. In my opinion, SecureLock is the best method of holding a tablet in place in a folio that's been invented so far. Two small curved plastic pieces hold the right top and bottom corners of the iPad Air in place; the left side of the iPad Air is free to move. This means that you can easily flop the keyboard under the tablet for those situations where you don't need to type, yet when you need to put the iPad Air in place for typing, it's securely held by magnets.
Magnets also turn the iPad Air on and off -- I noticed several complaints from early purchasers in the ratings complaining that the magnets didn't turn off the tablet when closed or turn it back on when opened. In my testing, this worked every time.
On the right side of the keyboard is a micro-USB port for charging; Logitech estimates a three-month battery life per charge based on two hour daily usage. There's also a recessed reset button and what appears to be a pairing button (the included documentation does not provide this information, and the online support is rather skimpy as well). I found pairing to be incredibly easy; I just put the iPad Air into the SecureLock holders, flopped it up into the upright position, and once the iPad Air "found" the magnets to lock into place, the keyboard turned on. A green LED indicated that the keyboard was on; it then turned to flashing blue until I went into the iPad's Bluetooth Settings and connected the tablet and keyboard.
Now, about typing on this keyboard. Unlike the Belkin keyboards tested earlier in November, the colon/semicolon and question mark/slash keys are in their proper places. However, in order to fit the keys into the keyboard Logitech has made five of the keys half-width -- those are the colon/semicolon, single/double quote, left brackets, right brackets, and backslash keys. While it's nice to have the keys in their customary English keyboard locations, the smaller size of these keys caused me to occasionally hit the wrong key.
On the left side of the keyboard there are some odd moves as well -- rather than having separate tab and caps lock keys, those keys are combined with the Q and A keys respectively. While I don't use the caps lock key much, I find the tab key to be useful in some apps for jumping between spreadsheet cells or moving to edit fields on web forms. Having to hold down the fn key to engage caps lock and tab is a bit annoying.
Oddly enough, I felt that the keys on both keyboards (they have the same layout) were almost too far apart compared to Apple keyboards. This could have been avoided by making separate tab and caps lock keys, which would have also alleviated my other problem with the keyboard layout -- it's off center.
What do I mean by this? Well, I've come to expect that a vertical line drawn between the G and H keys would pretty much bisect the iPad screen. With the Logitech keyboard layout, the keys are shifted a bit to the left side of the screen. That means that when I'm touch typing and looking at the screen, my hands tend to drift to the right a bit and get onto the wrong keys. Sure, there are slight bumps on the F and J "home" keys to get you aligned, but my visual cue for placement of my hands on the keyboard is gone.
I did, however, find the Logitech keyboards to be a delight to type once I got used to the slightly weird layout. The FabricSkin keyboard in particular is one of the quietest I've typed on, and the tight hold on the iPad from the magnetic "lock" makes it possible to type quickly even when the folio and iPad are sitting in your lap.
The exterior of the case has a wonderful fabric feel to it, and all of the ports and switches on the iPad Air are easily accessible. Magnets in the SecureLock keep the entire assembly closed tight when the folio is closed.
Ultrathin Folio for iPad Air
This section of the review will be quite short, as the keyboards are essentially identical except the one on the FabricSkin has that silicone covering. As mentioned earlier, the Ultrathin is thicker than the FabricSkin folio by .09 inches. The two folios are the same weight. The exterior on the Ultrathin Folio is a rather generic matte-finish plastic; the Ultrathin Folio comes in Carbon Black, Midnight Navy (with a red interior), Mars Red Orange (with a navy interior), and Gloss Veil (gray, with a gray interior). The keyboards are black, navy, navy, and gray respectively, with white lettering.
One thing I found odd with the Ultrathin Folio is that it has a separate on/off switch, although the same auto-on/off capability that is found on the FabricSkin Folio is built in. Why the two devices have a slightly different switching mechanism is a question that only Logitech can answer.
As with the other folio, the SecureLock makes installing the iPad Air a piece of cake, and pairing is insanely simple as well. It's possible to get up and running with this keyboard folio in seconds.
The Logitech keyboard we were not able to test at this time is the $99.99 Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad Air, which doesn't provide the same exterior protection to the back of the iPad. The Keyboard Cover acts as a fold-over cover for the iPad screen, and the iPad Air drops into a magnetically linked slot on the cover to "stand up" for typing. That cover is as thin as the iPad Air itself -- .29 inches -- and much lighter at .73 pounds (330 grams).
Despite a slightly off-center keyboard layout and some oddly-sized keys, the Logitech FabricSkin and Ultrathin Keyboard Folios are highly capable and well-designed keyboard cases for the iPad Air. In particular, Logitech's new SecureLock mechanism makes installing or removing an iPad a breeze, while keeping the tablet firmly in place.
While all iPad keyboard cases/folios add weight and thickness to the iPad Air, the FabricSkin and Ultrathin Keyboard Folios are relatively skinny and light compared to others we've tested
FabricSkin silicone covering on the keyboard is splash-resistant, cleans up easily with a sponge or wet paper towel
SecureLock mechanism on both folios is brilliant design
Auto on/off when opening or closing the folio is a battery saver
Excellent keyboard feel
FabricSkin Keyboard Folio is very quiet while in use
Spacing and position of keys might be off-putting to some typists
Who are they for?
Anyone who uses an iPad Air for work or school who desires a protective folio and a fast keyboard with a good feel to it
We're giving away a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Folio to one lucky TUAW reader.
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 November 25, 2013 11:59PM Eastern Standard Time.
You may enter only once.
One winner will be selected and will receive a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Folio valued at $99.99