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Computerized Investing > January 4, 2014
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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

$99.99

Bluetooth keyboard case for iPad Air with backlit keyboard.

If you read my review of the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad Air, you know that I wasn’t overly impressed with it, given that it placed the iPad too close to the keyboard, which resulted in my hands repeatedly hitting the screen and moving the cursor. So I continued my search for a keyboard case for my new iPad Air, which led me to the ZAGGkeys Folio with backlit keyboard. I have reviewed several ZAGG keyboards over the years and have found them to be reliable and enjoyable to use. Will this latest offering continue the trend?

Out of the Box & Design

When unpacking the ZAGGkeys Folio for my iPad Air, I was pleased to be greeted by a similar design to the ZAGGfolio for iPad 2 and ZAGGkeys PROfolio+, both of which I have reviewed, thoroughly enjoyed and used extensively with my previous iPads. The hard plastic shell is covered in faux leather, making it easy to grip and carry. The folio measures 6.82 inches by 9.55 inches by 0.70 inches with the iPad Air installed. The case does more than double the weight of the 1.05-pound iPad Air, weighing in at nearly 1.2 pounds. I don’t mind the extra weight, though, because this combination is still lighter than my lightest Ultrabook and the keyboard turns the iPad into a productivity powerhouse.

The iPad Air snaps into the folio case pretty securely, but I did find that my iPad stuck out a bit in the upper corners when using it in landscape mode. This is only a tiny complaint, as I never felt like the iPad was going to fall out of the case, something I did worry about with the ZAGGfolio and PROfolio+. The wrap-around protection is something I especially appreciate, protecting both the back and screen of my iPad Air.

One area where ZAGG did deviate from previous models is using a physical hinge. With the ZAGGfolio and PROfolio+ you had to “pop” the lower portion of the iPad from the case in order to place the tablet in the keyboard-side slot for typing or hands-free viewing of videos. This also meant you had no control over the viewing angle. With the ZAGGkeys Folio for iPad Air, you now have a 135-degree arc to find the desired viewing angle. My biggest disappointment with the Folio is that you aren’t able to fold the keyboard all the way around to use the iPad as a pure tablet, unless you remove it from the case. Having used other keyboard cases with 360-degree hinges, I think this is a significant oversight on the part of ZAGG and I hope they correct it with future versions of the Folio.

There are cutouts for all of the buttons and switches of the iPad Air, as well as for the rear-facing camera. These cutouts are sufficiently big enough that they didn't constrict operation. However, several reviewers have criticized the Folio for iPad Air for a lack of cutout for the bottom-edge speakers. While it is true there are no cutouts, upon further inspection you can see two distinct “channels” positioned over both speakers. Based on my listening experience, I feel that that they actually direct the sound back at you instead of allowing the sound to be directed off to the side.

The Folio itself has two buttons on the right side—a Bluetooth pairing button and a dedicated on/off switch. I would prefer that they reside on the keyboard itself, protecting them when carrying it in a bag, as is the case with the ZAGGkeys PROfolio+. Also on the right is a micro-USB charging port. ZAGGkeys provides you with the charging cable that you can plug into a powered USB port on a computer or third-party USB charger.

Keyboard Performance

When evaluating a keyboard case, I am most interested in the performance and usability of the keyboard. First, the Folio for iPad Air is backlit, a feature I now demand from my Bluetooth keyboards as well as my desktop keyboards. For anyone who travels and spends a lot of time in dimly lit trains or airplanes, backlighting is a lifesaver; it makes typing much easier in those environments. On the bottom row of keys directly to the right of the spacebar is the backlighting control key. Press it once to turn on the backlighting from underneath the keys. There are three brightness levels, which you control by repeatedly pressing the backlight key. Pressing the backlight key and the right or left arrow keys cycles through the various backlighting colors: white, red, amber, green, aqua, blue and violet.

The hinge mechanism of the ZAGGkeys Folio provides more real estate when it comes to the keyboard itself. The iPad is positioned on the very edge of the keyboard, as compared to being positioned in the upper third on the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad Air. This added space means that ZAGG didn’t have to combine function keys—there is a dedicated row of iPad function keys along the top of the keyboard. By not combining the number and function keys, however, ZAGG was forced to make the keys on the Folio for iPad Air a bit smaller. However, I didn’t find the keyboard to be overly cramped and I certainly didn’t feel that it made the typing experience unbearable. In fact, compared to the Logitech Keyboard Cover, typing on the ZAGGkeys Folio was a dream, because the iPad is far enough away from the keys that I never once accidentally hit the screen while typing.

The chiclet-style keys are not mushy and offered sufficient tactile feedback for my typing tastes.

Battery Life

The ZAGGkeys Folio for iPad Air has a 950 mAh rechargeable lithium polymer battery that, according to ZAGG, offers up to three months of battery life between charges (though using the backlighting will lessen the time between charges). Assuming that ZAGG didn’t seriously alter their batteries for the worse, my previous experience with their keyboards verifies this claim.

In addition, the Folio supports magnetic locking and unlocking. This means the iPad goes into “sleep” mode when you close the case and wakes up when you open it. This handy feature preserves battery life and keeps you from having to hit the power button to power the iPad up or down. I also found the magnets to be sufficiently strong enough that the case never opened unexpectedly in my laptop bag.

Another battery-saving feature is that the keyboard backlighting will turn off after a period of inactivity (about a minute). However, just start typing again and the backlighting reactivates.

Overall

While this is only the second keyboard case I have tested for the iPad Air, I feel confident in saying that this is a keyboard I will be using with my iPad Air for months and years to come. My past experience with ZAGG has led me to the conclusion that they are the premier Bluetooth keyboard maker for the iPad. Their products are built to last and are easy and enjoyable to use. If they were to make the hinge on the Folio a full 360 degrees, I think they may have an all-but-perfect product on their hands with wrap-around protection and a backlit keyboard. At $100, I also think the Folio offers tremendous value, not only for the level of protection it provides but the way it turns the iPad into a true productivity tool. If you have an iPad Air and are looking for a Bluetooth keyboard, the ZAGGkeys Folio with Backlit Keyboard should be at or near the top of your list.

Pros

  • Backlit keyboard with multiple color options
  • Long battery life
  • Wrap-around protection
  • Adjustable 135-degree viewing angle
  • Dedicated iPad keys

Cons

  • Lacks 360-degree hinge for “pure” tablet operation
  • iPad doesn’t fit tightly in upper corners of case
  • Doubles weight of iPad Air

ZAGGkeys Folio with Backlit Keyboard for iPad Air

$99.99 (currently $85.58 from Amazon.com)

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA is a vice president and senior financial analyst at AAII and editor of Computerized Investing. Follow him on Twitter at @WayneTAAII.


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