Wayne Thorp will speak at the 2015 AAII Investor Conference this fall; go to www.aaii.com/conference for more details.
Detachable, backlit Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad
In this column, I have reviewed a few different keyboard cases for my iPad. These accessories serve two functions: They provide a level of protection against the daily bumps and scrapes your iPad can experience, especially if you carry it in a bag, and they provide a full-function keyboard. Having owned an iPad for a few years now, I prefer a physical keyboard over the virtual, onscreen keyboard. I feel that these keyboard cases take the usefulness of the iPad to a whole new level. When I am traveling, I can take my iPad and have as much of the functionality as my old netbooks, but in an even smaller package. I can compose emails and even write articles much more easily than I can with the onscreen keyboard. Prior to attending CES in January, I had been using a ZAGGfolio for iPad 2 keyboard case. It had served me very well while at the same time protecting my iPad. After a year, however, it was starting to show its age. So, one of the first booths I visited at CES was ZAGG. There, one of the representatives was kind enough to give me one of their latest offerings: the ZAGGkeys PROplus keyboard. I am using it to write this review, and over the last couple of months, I have found it to be almost everything I enjoyed with my old ZAGGfolio, with more than a few improvements, including backlit keys.
The ZAGGfolio was, in effect, a one-piece unit. It was a plastic folio that you snapped your iPad into on one side, while the other side housed the keyboard, which was detachable. The ZAGGkeys PROPlus is simply a one-piece, ultra-thin keyboard made of aircraft-grade aluminum. The keyboard measures 9.64 inches by 7.4 inches by 0.24 inches and weighs just under a pound (15.3 oz.). In this regard, it is about four ounces lighter than the ZAGGfolio.
Also in the box is a micro-USB-to-USB charging cable and a Quick Start pamphlet.
On the four corners of the keyboard are silicone bumpers to cushion the front of your iPad when you put the two pieces together for carrying. The plastic edge that runs around the entire keyboard ensures the iPad is locked in place, while the magnets in both the keyboard and the iPad keep the two units connected. This lip does make it a little difficult to separate the iPad from the keyboard, but I would rather have this than the two becoming easily separated, especially if I'm carrying it in a bag. Unlike the ZAGGfolio, the ZAGGkeys PROplus does not offer wrap-around protection. When "locked" into the keyboard for carrying, the back of the iPad is unprotected.
There is also a slot that runs the length of the keyboard that you place the iPad in for viewing. It is deep enough to support an iPad in both portrait as well as landscape orientation. While I found the viewing angle to be good for typing and viewing, it does not allow you to adjust the viewing angle.
There is an on/off switch, a feature I wish all accessories had, and a pairing button at the upper right of the keyboard. On the right side of the keyboard is a micro-USB port for charging.
To get started, you must first turn on the keyboard. The keyboard was charged when I took it out of the package, so I was able to start using it immediately. If it isn't charged, it takes between two and four hours for a complete charge. Slide the power button to On and the backlit keys will flash and the blue caps lock light will illuminate for four seconds. However, the keyboard is still not on. Press the Pair button on the keyboard until the cap locks button flashes, indicating the PROplus is ready to pair. Next, go into your iPad's Bluetooth options within Settings. With Bluetooth activated on your iPad and the keyboard in pairing mode, select ZAGGkeys PROplus from the available Bluetooth devices and your iPad and the keyboard will pair. Once you have paired the keyboard with your iPad, the two should automatically connect in the future.
The ZAGGkeys PROplus features Bluetooth 3.0 wireless connectivity.
The ZAGGkeys PROplus sports a full QWERTY keyboard with chiclet-style keys. Having used the ZAGGfolio for over a year, I have become accustomed to the slightly smaller configuration of the keyboard. That being said, the keyboard doesn't feel cramped, despite its smaller size. No matter what, it is still a significant step up from the onscreen keyboard of the iPad. If you have big hands, you may have some trouble with the keyboard, but overall it provides an excellent typing experience.
The top row of keys is dedicated function keys, such as search, cut/copy/paste, home, media controls and lock.
The keys themselves offer good tactile feedback, with a slight click. They aren't soft or mushy like some other keyboards I've used.
Perhaps the most attractive feature of the ZAGGkeys PROplus is the backlighting. On the bottom row of keys next to the spacebar, there is a backlight control key. Press it once to turn on the backlighting from underneath the keys. There are three brightness levels, which you control by pressing the backlight key. Holding the backlight key and using the right or left arrow keys will cycle through seven different colors: white, red, amber, green, aqua, blue and violet. The backlighting is especially helpful when you are working in low-light conditions, such as when in bed or on a train or plane. If you don't need or want backlighting, the ZAGGkeys PRO offers the same features, but without the backlighting and for $30 less.
The ZAGGkeys PROplus has a 1,500mAh battery and, according to ZAGG, can last from 10 to 55 hours, depending on whether you are using the backlit keys and their brightness. I realize that the power draw will be greater with the ZAGGkeys PROplus because of the backlighting, but I can recall only once where my ZAGGfolio battery ran out, and that was in over a year's worth of use.
As a battery-saving feature, the backlighting automatically shuts off after 60 seconds of inactivity. If within the next 30 minutes you start typing again, the backlighting will turn back on. Otherwise, it will need to be turned back on by pressing the backlight key.
Also, iPad's on/off magnet will shut the iPad down when you snap the keyboard and iPad together and will turn it back on when you separate the two pieces.
ZAGG was one of the companies I was most interested in visiting at CES because of their new line of products, and they haven't disappointed with the ZAGGkeys PROplus. Having used this keyboard for the last couple of months, I have all but forgotten my old ZAGGfolio. The keyboard is well-spaced, making typing easy. I have used this keyboard to type more than a few feature-length articles and rarely do I find myself wanting my desktop keyboard. The backlighting is an added bonus. On the plane back from Las Vegas, I was able to type away without needing the overhead light.
The only real "shortcoming" I see with the ZAGGkeys PROplus is that it doesn't offer total protection. I came to appreciate the wrap-around protection that my ZAGGfolio provided my iPad. However, I have also come to appreciate being able to easily separate my iPad from the keyboard if I don't need to do any typing. So it really comes down to personal preference. ZAGG also has a new ZAGGkeys PROfolio+ that is supposedly a cross between the PROplus and the ZAGGfolio.
In the meantime, the PROplus has become my go-to keyboard for my iPad 2. If you are someone looking for an ultra-portable, but solid keyboard with backlighting that protects your iPad screen when carrying, you will be hard-pressed to find anything better than the ZAGGkeys PROplus. Furthermore, its ability to expand the iPad's functionality and utility makes the $129 price tag more than worth it.
ZAGGkeys PROplus Keyboard for iPad 2, 3 and 4
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of "Gadget Corner." All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.