In the fall, I reviewed the Logitech Ultrathin Bluetooth Keyboard for iPad. A few weeks ago, Belkin contacted ProfHacker and asked if we would consider reviewing their Ultimate Keyboard Case. I’ve been putting this keyboard through the paces for three weeks now (disclosure: Belkin provided me with a pre-production model for review). Available in May, this bluetooth keyboard case will retail at $99 ($129 for the white version).
Out of the box, set up was very easy. The iPad snapped into the protective case, and the bluetooth pairing was intuitive (though instructions are provided). One of the features I find most attractive about the Belkin keyboard case is the fact that it protects the back of the iPad. The Logitech case, if you will recall, left the iPad aluminum backing naked and vulnerable to dings, scratches, and other catastrophes. Not so with the Belkin. The iPad fits nicely into the black plastic cover, which also blends nicely with the black edges of the iPad screen (if you have the black iPad model, of course–Belkin also offers a white version, which is slightly more expensive as noted above). The outer edge of black plastic back has a professional matte finish, and the center of the case has a leather-like finish which is easy to hold. There are openings for the camera, volume, screenlock and power buttons. There are also sound vents which are supposed to angle the speakers’ output towards the user. When my iPad is not muted, I’m usually listening to headphones, but I didn’t notice a difference between the audio output from the iPad on it’s own and the iPad in this case, which would seem to be an asset.
When opened, the case offers users a choice of three settings for the iPad, which alters the screen angle slightly and also changes its proximity to the keyboard. Magnets hold the ipad in place, though it doesn’t take much to knock the keyboard out of its notch (this activity quickly grew to be a favorite game for one of my cats, who wishes to add that the corner edges of this keyboard case are terrific for scratching cat chins and faces). The headphone jack is a little harder to access–Apple headphone jacks fit easily into the iPad with the case on, but if you need to connect your iPad to another sound system with a wider connector (in a classroom, for example), you might have an issue. The iPad charges easily while in the case, but using the keyboard restricts users to the landscape view of the iPad screen (typical of keyboard cases with attached covers). The cover also folds back so that it is entirely behind the iPad, if you want to view something in portrait mode. In this position, the keyboard automatically turns itself off so you don’t type anything accidentally. In fact, the keyboard turns itself off and on almost intuitively, and response time when “waking it up” is impressive. Battery life is also quite good. I have used the case for three weeks straight, and I have yet to recharge. When it is time to recharge, the keyboard uses a USB-to- microUSB cord (included).
The keyboard itself is very light and thin. The keys themselves have a matte finish and are almost flush to the shiny case. The benefit here is that the Belkin keyboard offers less opportunity for dust, crumbs, and cat hair to migrate underneath the keys. The keys are slightly smaller and closer together than a standard laptop keyboard, but I didn’t notice the difference in typing. There are a few extra keys, however on either side of the space bar, which did affect my typing. Sandwiched between the familiar apple command key and the spacebar on the left is a key displaying a microphone icon, which summons Siri on 3rd or 4th iPads, but on my 2nd generation device, it functions to activate search mode. On the other side of the space bar are a dedicated @ key and a key with a globe on it. I couldn’t figure out what the globe key should accomplish–on my 2nd gen iPad, it calls up the language setting (English U.S.) and nothing more. Lastly, the Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case includes magnets on the edge, which put your iPad to sleep when the case is closed. These magnets are strong enough that the case won’t open itself when jostled in a less-than-full backpack.
There is one major disadvantage to the Belkin Ultimate: while it is terrific if you are sitting at a table or desk, it is very unstable for lap users. I am a lap user. I can’t tell you how many times, my iPad came unmoored from its magnetic notch as I tried to grade papers. Less of an issue, but still a problem for me, was the lack of flexibility between landscape and portrait mode, though as I noted above, this is typical for keyboard cases.
There is much to love about the Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case. It is lightweight, attractive, easy to use, and provides ample protection for the iPad. But these added features do come with a few costs. The case is one of the more expensive options for a Bluetooth keyboard, and the added security means that some stability is compromised. Dedicated media keys won’t benefit users with 2nd generation iPads, but may well appeal to users with newer models. And if the thought of leaving your iPad naked to the elements, the Belkin Ultimate is worth a closer look.
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