Remember my last keyboard case review where I told you it was going to be the last one for awhile? Well, that was before yet another manufacturer knocked on my virtual door and handed me a keyboard case. But this, my friends, is a keyboard case with a difference -- it also has a huge built-in battery pack that you can use to extend the working life of your iPad or charge your other hungry electronic devices. The name of this unit is the Props Power and Keyboard Case for iPad (US$109.95) from Digital Treasures, and I'll take you through a quick look at this case before giving it away.
The first thing I noticed when I pulled the Props Power and Keyboard Case out of its box was how light it is. That's not expected, since this is not just a keyboard, but also has an 8000 mAh battery pack hidden inside. How heavy is it? 1.36 lbs (.62 kg). Compare that to the keyboard-only CruxSKUNK that weighed in at 1.73 lbs (.78 kg) or the ClamCase Pro at 1.56 lbs (.71 kg). That's a pleasant surprise.
The Props case is similar to many of the keyboard folio cases we've reviewed, with a black bicast leather exterior with red stitching. A magnetic flap keeps the case closed for travel. The only external port is a micro-USB port for recharging.
Between the top of the keyboard and the back of the folding case are some buttons and lights. There's a button for turning on the external power if you wish to charge another device (including your iPad) -- that also serves to turn on LEDs that indicate the nearest amount of remaining capacity (25%, 50%, 75% or 100%) in the battery pack.
There's also a switch for turning the keyboard on and off so it doesn't keep communicating with your iPad, and next to that a pushbutton for pairing the Props with your iPad. Two LEDs provide an indication of the pairing status and power to the keyboard.
As you'd expect with a case that works with the last three generations of iPad, there's a back-facing hole in the case for the camera to peek through. There's a flap that protects the iPad screen from the keyboard when the case is closed up -- more about that in the next section. That flap also acts as a convenient wrist rest, which I think is the entire reason it was added to the Props case.
Since it's quite a bit like a lot of the leather portfolios on the market, that means that the iPad is slipped into the Props from the side. It's very easy to insert and remove.
The keyboard layout is pretty typical for an iPad keyboard case, with a top row of keys specific to iPad functions. One thing I thought was quite odd, though, was why Digital Treasures decided to include a Function key on the bottom row of keys, since all it does is activates Home, Page Down, Page Up, and End on the arrow pad. Those are functions that aren't widely used, especially when typing on an iPad.
The keyboard has a good typing feel; most of the current crop of iPad keyboard cases are probably using a similar keyboard mechanism.
Now, about the rest of the case design. As you're all well aware, most iPad cases take advantage of the magnetic auto-shutoff feature so that when the case is closed, the iPad shuts off. Open the case, the iPad turns on. That's the situation here -- but remember that wrist rest that also protects the iPad screen from the keyboard? Well, it also gets in the way of the magnetic shutoff feature. With the flap out of the way -- which isn't the way it's designed for carrying -- the magnetic shutoff works fine. WIth the flap in the recommended position, it doesn't work very well at all.
The keyboard pairs easily with the iPad, although it still requires a 4-digit pairing code to be entered. I'm getting spoiled by the newer keyboards that pair without the need for a code. The iPad only works propped up in one position on the case, and there's no positive retention of the device. Other keyboard cases use either a magnet, a slot, or Velcro to hold the iPad steady -- there's no such mechanism here. Most of the time that's not an issue, but if you try using the Props Power and Keyboard Case in your lap -- say while sitting on the couch or on an airplane -- there's a good chance that even a slight movement will cause the iPad to flop over backwards and bang into your knees. It did that several times while I was writing this review. This could be rectified by putting two tiny strips of Velcro in appropriate locations on the case.
As a battery pack, this case is excellent. As I mentioned earlier, it's actually lighter than other keyboard cases yet still contains an 8000 mAh battery. You can either use all of that power for 3,000 hours of uninterrupted typing (perfect during NaNoWriMo!) or to charge up other devices. Can that battery be used to top off your iPad? Certainly! There's a short micro-USB to USB connector that you plug into the case, and then you can use your favorite 30-pin Dock connector or Lightning connector cable to charge up the iPad, an iPhone or any other power-hungry device. The 4 blue LEDs give you an excellent indication of when you should stop charging all of those other devices to avoid running the battery pack out of juice.
The Props Power and Keyboard Case for iPad is a mixed bag. As a keyboard, it works fine on a desktop, but the iPad can flop over if you're using this in your lap. There's a nice wrist rest that's comfortable for typing, but it keeps the case from shutting off automatically. There's no positive mechanism for holding the iPad in place, so it can move around -- especially in a lap. But for all of the somewhat mediocre features of the case, there's one outstanding feature, and that's the 8000 mAh battery that seemingly adds no weight at all.
Internal 8000 mAh battery pack can be used to charge your iPad and other devices
LEDs give you a positive indication of charge remaining
Lightweight, even with the internal battery pack
Keyboard has an excellent feel to it
It's easy to put an iPad into the case or remove it
Price is very reasonable for a combo battery pack / keyboard case
Magnetic shut-off feature is hampered by the wrist rest
iPad isn't held securely into place, so it can flop over if the keyboard is used in a lap
Controls for the keyboard (on/off, pairing) and power pack (on/off and level indicators) are hidden behind the iPad when in use, making them awkward to get to
The addition of a Function key to the keyboard seems odd, considering it really performs no useful function
Who is it for?
Anyone who needs a keyboard case that they can use on a stable desktop surface and who wants the instant availability of up to 8000 mAh of battery capacity for charging devices
You've read the review; now it's time to give TUAW readers the chance to win a Props Power and Keyboard Case for iPad.
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 15, 2013 11:59PM Eastern Daylight Time.
You may enter only once.
One winner will be selected and will receive a Props Power and Keyboard Case for iPad valued at $109.95