The iPad promises to be a post-PC device to end your need for a desktop computer. But if you're still attracted to tangible keyboards, there are a range of special cases which can prep your iPad for heavy-duty text editing. So which is best?
We picked four popular Bluetooth keyboard cases based on reputation and forum recommendations. They're split into two distinct categories; the first are metal trays which simply prop up your iPad for desktop use, and the second is more akin to the regular folding cases we all know and love.
Each case earns its score based on whether the keyboard was fast and responsive to use, how it looked, and whether we would be tempted to use it for serious work. Each review was written on its respective keyboard using iA writer; an attractive distraction-free text editor which shines on the retina iPad 3 screen.
We were skeptical about the concept of keyboard cases before trying them because the on-screen iOS keyboard is such a breeze to use. Still, there's something about adding a physical keyboard to an iPad that helps you switch into 'work mode' -- and god knows we all need to focus sometimes.
The keyboards were less useful on apps like Safari, where old habits like tapping 'tab' to move the cursor to the search field don't work. On balance, it won't replace my beloved MacBook Pro, but I'd certainly keep one of the tray cases on a desk at home for smash-n-grab letter writing.
The Writer Plus is a popular choice on mac forums, but in reality it over-thinks its feature set and forgets to consider basic usability. Crucial keys like right-shift are ridiculously small, turning a simple paragraph into a quest worthy of a chapter in Lord of the Rings. The keyboard looks smart, but the metal frame feels sharp and manages catches your finger every time you hit a key. It's not uncomfortable, but it's constantly there like the smell of fat in a chip shop.
Putting these niggles aside, it's still a decent case if you want full protection. You can take the iPad out in literally a snap thanks to a well placed clip, and if security is your priority, it's £80 well spent.
Price: From £80
This is the only keyboard which feels utterly worthy of extensive use, with the effortless flow of a professional, well-designed keyboard.
It's just a shame about the ridiculous case it is glued to.
Let's imagine there are two designers at Logitech. One works on the keyboard, called Bob, who is a pro and always exceeds at his job. The problem is, his colleage Jeff works on the rest of the folding case. Jeff has loads of wacky ideas that sound great in emails, but in practise his designs go full-retard. And like any respectful actor, designers should know to never go full-retard.
The folding case sucks because it tries to be original when it simply doesn't need to. Unfolded, it's the length of a flag, apparently to offer plenty of standing positions. Guess what: writers only need the screen to sit in one position. They don't want a case which will slip and slide and blow off in the wind because they were stupid enough to sit outside a coffee shop.
That wouldn't usually rile me, but you're supposed to stick your iPad onto this weird sticky patch which will be probably covered in dust inside a week. When it loses its stick, your iPad is probably going to fall out and break, and that officially blows. I'd be glad to see the back of it, but like a bitter memory, it will probably linger as a sticky residue on the back of my iPad forever.
Price: From £66
This metal tray might not protect the rear of your iPad, but it's still twice as attractive as the above folding variants. On top of that, it has a well-conceived layout with decent-sized shift and delete keys (hooray!).
And yet, I'm not sure I would keep it. The ridge around the edge is high enough to feel restrictive when your hands lean on it, and the only means to close and secure your iPad is to squash it down flat with only a thin line of foam to keep it in place. My hunch is that it won't be as secure after a few months of use, but if you're less of a sissy than me, it's the best keyboard case available.
Price: From £73 (but half price at Amazon for now)
There's no doubt this is a Logitech ripoff, but it still managed to find room for improvement. Unlike its muse, this unbranded case from Red5 doesn't have a tall uncomfortable ridge around the keyboard, and closes with a satisfying click.
So it's already more usable and secure -- but does that make it a better alternative? Based on the recommended retail price, yes. But if price isn't an issue, you might prefer to shy away from the smaller keys which are relatively cheap and sticky. Usable, but quite naff.
As a metal tray which merely balances the iPad in place, you can't use it on your lap, but I'd gladly keep it on my desk. Unfortunately for Red5, the Logitech is super cheap on Amazon right now, but if you can only find each model at their regular list prices then this is a no-brainer alternative.