April showers apparently brought May iPad Bluetooth keyboards, as I reviewed a ton of them during the month. The month of June is starting off with a duo of iPad mini keyboards from ZAGG, the ZAGGkeys Cover and ZAGGkeys Folio (both priced at US$99.99). While these two keyboards aren't available for purchase yet, this review may keep you from buying a competing iPad mini keyboard in the meantime.
Let's talk about the difference between the Cover and the Folio first. The Cover is exactly what the name implies -- a keyboard that covers the screen of the iPad mini when not in use. The Folio, on the other hand, provides a keyboard and a back cover to shelter your mini.
The ZAGGkey Cover is really a marvel of engineering. I was stunned with how thin it is -- 6.3 mm, or just less than a quarter inch thick. It's also lightweight at just .68 lb (308 grams), identical to the weight of the mini alone.
The Cover is made of thin aluminum in black, although it looked more like a dark gunmetal blue to me. Nonetheless, it's quite attractive. When installed, it also works as a magnetic on/off switch for the iPad mini. It can be easily removed and placed behind the mini for "tablet mode" use.
Now here's the amazing thing; this little keyboard not only has a very usable layout, but it's backlit. And not only is it backlit, but you can choose from seven different backlight colors. The backlight automatically shuts off when you don't type for a few seconds, then power back up when you begin pounding the keys again.
The Cover comes with a standard USB to micro-USB cable for recharging; battery life is expected to be about three months in normal usage. There are also four stick-on rubber pads to be installed in the corners of the Cover -- more on that in the Functionality section of this review.
As for the ZAGGkeys Folio, it's a much more traditional folio type design with a leatherette cover that the iPad mini snaps into. Pop open the folio and the mini turns on, close it and it shuts off. As with the Cover, the Folio also has those amazing backlit keys. It weighs in at exactly .69 lb, just a tiny amount more than the aluminum Cover, and is only 6.9 mm (.27 inch) thick when installed on the iPad mini.
There's really no better way to test a keyboard than to type up a review with it, so I used both the ZAGGkeys Cover and Folio to write this review. The keyboards are essentially the same in layout, backlighting, and feel.
The layout is very traditional in most respects, which is probably why I took to typing on it very quickly. The only real difference from the standard Apple layout is that the caps lock and tab key are the same, and the Q key has been stretched to also provide access to the accent/tilde key that is usually to the left of the 1 key.
Some other underused keys are also combined in special ways - the dash/underline key usually sits next to the equals/plus sign key, while on this keyboard they're all combined on one key. To access the equals sign, you use the function (fn) key in concert with this combination key, while a fn-shift gives you access to the plus key. It's the same way with the right brackets and slash keys; they're also combined into a larger key that works with the fn and shift key.
What I like about this layout is that the delete key is now full-sized -- something that isn't true on some other iPad mini keyboards. I tend to use the delete key a lot when writing, so that's a big plus.
The top row of the keyboard contains (from left to right) a home key, lock key, dictation/Siri key, keyboard key, copy and paste keys, and play and volume keys. The alt key is also used to check your battery level. Tap the fn and alt keys, and the power LED will flash green three times to indicate more than 50 percent charge, yellow three times to warn you that you're at between 25 and 50 percent, and red three times for less than 25 percent. When things get critical, the red light flashes once every five minutes.
That LED is also used during the pairing process, which is fast and simple. I turned on the keyboards, tapped a tiny pairing button that is right next to the power button (the LED turns blue), and the pairing was complete as soon as I acknowledged it on the iPad mini.
The ZAGGkeys Cover and Folio also have a set of arrow keys that are great for working on spreadsheets. Used in concert with the fn key, they're also used to turn the keyboard backlighting on or off, and to change the color of the backlight. Those colors include white, blue, cyan, green, yellow, red, and purple. I could almost get used to green backlighting... Oh, and I almost forgot -- there are three levels of brightness with the backlighting, so you can adjust it to a comfortable level.
With the Cover, you have the option of taking the keyboard completely off, turning it around, and then plugging the mini back in so that it sits in front of the keyboard -- perfect for using the mini as Steve Jobs intended, as a tablet.
You don't have that same freedom with the Folio, but it does protect the entire mini when closed. If you want to pop the iPad mini out of the Folio for game play, that's quite easy to do.
I had one minor gripe with the Cover; I noticed after just a little bit of use that there were some bare spots on the anodized aluminum on the bottom. That's apparently where the rubberized feet are supposed to go; why ZAGG doesn't just install them at the factory is a mystery.
When it ships this summer, the Cover will be available in silver or black. The Folio will initially be available in black or white, with more colors coming this fall.
ZAGG has a pair of winners on their hands with the upcoming ZAGGkeys Cover and ZAGGkeys Folio for iPad mini. By combining little-used keys and placing those that are used more frequently in the familiar places, the company has created a tiny keyboard that is exceptionally typist-friendly. Keyboard backlighting is the icing on the cake; the ability to adjust the brightness and color of the backlighting is the bright burning candle on that cake.
At the time of publishing, these keyboards are not yet available for sale. If you have an iPad mini and want a keyboard, I'd suggest that you wait the Cover and Folio are in stores to buy one or the other. Seriously, I never thought that anyone would be able to design a keyboard for a device as small as the iPad mini that would be so usable -- congratulations to ZAGG on accomplishing what no netbook maker was ever able to do!
Extremely thin and lightweight
Backlit keyboard can be adjusted to any one of seven colors and three brightness levels
Excellent battery life
Fast and easy Bluetooth pairing
Typist-friendly feel and layout
Both the ZAGGkeys Cover and Folio are stylish and really complement the design of the iPad mini
Rubber "feet" on the ZAGGkeys Cover should be pre-installed
Who are they for?
Any iPad mini owners who are looking for an affordable and comfortable keyboard