Wayne Thorp will speak at the 2015 AAII Investor Conference this fall; go to www.aaii.com/conference for more details.
ClamCase Pro $169; ZAGGKeys PROfolio+ $129.99
A head-to-head comparison of two keyboard cases for the iPad 2, 3 and 4.
Anyone who's a regular reader of this column knows that there are a lot of accessories out there for Apple products (iPad, iPod, iPhone, etc.). Most have some level of utility, but few are what I call truly indispensable. The exceptions include my battery case for my iPhone and keyboard case for my iPad. While the iPad is a marvel, giving you a platform for reading books, watching videos, surfing the Web and sending emails, the on-screen "virtual" keyboard is a tripping point toward making it a true productivity tool. However, since I've paired my iPad with my first keyboard case, it has unlocked the full potential, giving a full-fledged writing tool. When I am traveling, except when on business, I no longer take my laptop or netbook with me. I am actually writing this review on my iPad, sitting at my mom's dining room table in Michigan over the Easter holiday.
Just a year or two ago there were relatively few companies that were making quality keyboard cases for the iPad. Logitech and Zagg have been the leaders in this category. But the landscape is getting a little more crowded. For this review, I am pitting two keyboard cases against each other: ZAGGkeys PROfolio+ and ClamCase Pro. Unlike the ZAGGkeys PROplus keyboard that I reviewed a few weeks ago, these cases offer wrap-around protection, which is something I missed after my first Zaggfolio keyboard case finally gave up after over a year of faithful service. Both of these keyboards were given to me for this review.
Perhaps the first thing you notice about the two cases is the difference in the materials used to construct them. The ClamCase tips the scales at 1.5 pounds, making it the heaviest. Its aluminum and polycarbonate construction give it the look and feel of a case that would protect your iPad from some serious bumps. The ZAGGkeys PROfolio+ is made of polyurethane, which is much more flexible. It also makes it lighter than the ClamCase Pro (16 ounces). While it isn't nearly as solid as the ClamCase Pro, my original ZAGGfolio did an excellent job protecting my iPad for over a year, and the PROfolio+ was made from the same materials.
As I mentioned, both of these keyboard cases offer full protection. You snap your iPad into the piece opposite the keyboard. This protects the back of your iPad when traveling as well as the display when you have the case closed. The ClamCase Pro's case was extremely rigid and removing the iPad from it was so difficult that I was worried I was going to break my iPad's display trying to pry it out. This is partly due to the fact that the ClamCase Pro probably offers the best protection. In contrast, installing and removing my iPad from the PROfolio+ was a breeze.
Both cases have the required cutouts to accommodate the rear-facing camera, headphone jack, charging port and power button. The ClamCase Pro had perforations over the speaker, something the ZAGGkeys PROfolio+ did not. Surprisingly, this didn’t have a negative impact on sound quality.
Sadly, neither of the cases offers a latch to keep the case closed for transport. Zagg, in my opinion, took a step back with the PROfolio+, as my first ZAGGfolio had a latch to keep the case securely closed when carrying it either in your hand or in a bag.
The ClamCase Pro has a hinge that holds the iPad upright for typing and viewing on a flat surface, whereas the ZAGGkeys PROfolio+ case has the same design as the ZAGGfolio case I reviewed in December of 2011: In order to set the iPad for typing or watching videos, you "pop" the lower portion of the iPad out of the case and rest it in a slot that runs the length of the keyboard section. In this regard, the ClamCase Pro offers better viewing angles with its 360-degree hinge. While I found the viewing angle to be more than adequate with the ZAGGkeys PROfolio+, you only have the one option and you cannot fold it on itself for easy holding when reading or watching videos.
Lastly, both cases come with a micro-USB charging cable, but neither offer a dedicated adapter. You must either plug the keyboard into a powered USB port on a computer or use a third-party USB charger.
Pairing the two keyboards is very easy and all follow the same steps as with any Bluetooth device. You turn on the keyboard and make sure Bluetooth is activated on your iPad. With the ZAGGkeys PROfolio+, you press the Pair button next to the On/Off switches at the top of the keyboard. The ClamCase Pro has a dedicated Bluetooth button above the right arrow key at the bottom of the keyboard. When the keyboards enter pairing mode, the ZAGGkeys' Caps Lock light flashes and the ClamCase Pro's power light flashes. You then go into the iPad's setup menu, go to Bluetooth and look for the keyboard name (ClamCase Keyboard or ZAGGkeys PROfolio). Once the keyboard is paired with your iPad, it will automatically connect each time it is turned on and Bluetooth is active on your iPad.
The keyboards themselves had similar layouts, with slightly different placement of various keys. All three have a top row of iPad function keys with the typical array, such as copy/cut/paste, home, search, volume up/down and forward and reverse playback.
The two cases each have chiclet-style keys. I prefer more of a clicky-key-style keyboard and found that the ZAGGkeys keyboard provided more tactile feedback than the ClamCase Pro, which had keys I found to be a bit "mushy" with less feedback. The keys of the two keyboards are almost identical in size. As far as typing speed goes, I found I was able to go a bit faster with the PROfolio+ because the keys were more responsive.
Perhaps the biggest difference in the layout of the three keyboards is the availability (or lack thereof) of a wrist-rest. The ClamCase Pro offers a true wrist-rest, which makes the typing experience slightly more comfortable. It is able to achieve this because its On/Off switch is positioned on the side, while the ZAGGkeys case has the keyboard power button (and pairing button) above the keyboard keys. While this positioning does allow ClamCase to move the keys up on the keyboard and offer a write-rest, I did find that the keyboard was accidentally turned on when carrying it in a bag because of the side positioning of the power switch. On ZAGGkeys PROfolio+, the power button is covered when the case is closed for carrying.
What sets the the ZAGGkeys PROfolio+ apart from the ClamCase Pro is its backlit keyboard. 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 pressing the backlight key again after turning it on. Pressing down on the backlight key and using the left or right arrow keys will cycle through seven different backlight colors: white, red, amber, green, aqua, blue and violet. For someone who works a lot when riding on an airplane or train, as well as someone who prefers darkened work spaces, the backlighting is a really advantage over the other keyboards. If you don't need or want backlighting, the ZAGGkeys PROfolio is available for $30 less.
ClamClase says it takes two hours to charge the Pro, which in turn will give you 100 hours of use or six months of standby time. ZAGG says that the PROfolio+ can go "months per charge." Having used ZAGG keyboards extensively over the years, I don't doubt this claim. The bottom line is, both will give you a significant amount of use before you need to recharge them. Adding to the battery lives of all three cases is their ability to go into "sleep" or standby mode when they go an extended period without being used.
Both cases also preserve your iPad’s battery life by shutting off the display when you close them.
The more I used these two keyboards, the less I found there to be a clear-cut winner in the performance category. Each does something better than its competitor, making an overall winner come down to the question of taste and need. The ClamCase Pro case is more useful for those who use their iPad primarily for reading or watching videos, where you don't need a keyboard. That is because their 360-degree hinges allow you to fold it on itself so all you see is the iPad itself. The PROfolio+ isn't very conducive to holding for watching videos or reading. However, you can get your iPad in and out of this case the easiest. In fact, perhaps it comes out too easily, as my iPad wanted to slide out of the case whenever I propped it up for typing.
For those looking for the best protection, my nod goes to the ClamCase Pro. Its aluminum and polycarbonate body is definitely built to withstand some significant knocks. However, this protection also makes it the heaviest (and the most expensive at $169). If you are more of a "quiet key" kind of person, the ClamCase Pro is also the closest in that regard.
Having used the ZAGGfolio without any damage to my iPad, I am confident that the PROfolio+ can handle all but the most severe drops. The backlighting of the PROfolio+, for me, is the difference maker. Having lighted keys, especially in low-light situations, is a real benefit. Furthermore, I prefer the tactile feedback I get with the PROfolio+. At $130, I feel the ZAGGkeys PROfolio+ offers the best combination of features, protection and value.