The iPad can be an incredible tool for the serious writer, but only if paired with an external keyboard. Which of the countless alternatives out there is the right keyboard case for you? Its simple: Go for a quality keyboard that fits your writing style. This guide discusses three things you should consider about your writing style, and it reviews ten of my personal favourite keyboard cases.
Before going into the details of quality and writing style, you might wonder what makes the iPad a great tool to do some serious academic writing? I have written a complete post about the benefits of writing with the iPad that I encourage you to check out. In short, during the warmer months I frequently use my iPad to write my dissertation “in the wild” or, as you might call it, the city park. I find this change of place to boost my productivity, and the iPad helps me to get into the flow and stay there. There are other reason that make the iPad a fine machine for academic writers (e.g., battery life, health, comfort, focus, and even screen estate), but an external keyboard is a must.
While any bluetooth keyboard will do the job, a dedicated keyboard case has a couple of benefits. Having an integrated solution makes transport easier, and most keyboard cases (but not all) give you more flexibility in where you can set up your mobile office. Also, unless you already have a keyboard and a separate case lying around, a dedicated keyboard case is often cheaper while offering the same or even better protection for your iPad.
What makes a quality keyboard case?
While the design of the case itself (e.g., material, color, added bulk) are certainly important, the quality of the keyboard is certainly the most important aspect of any iPad keyboard case. After all, the reason you are buying one is because you want to write a lot, and for heavy users such as academics, a good keyboard is… key.
A good quality keyboard case features a keyboard that is almost full size. That means that the keys are about the same size and the same distance apart from each other as you are used to by standard keyboards. Furthermore, you want to be sure that the keys are made out of hard plastic (not rubber), and if you are super picky, you might want to consider a keyboard with an aluminium base for extra stability.
Keyboards that fit these criteria will make it much easier to type on them because your fingers are used to the layout. In general, it is therefore a good idea to consider your current keyboard (especially the spacing between the keys) and look out for a keyboard case that matches its look as closely as possible.
The iPad accessory market is rapidly evolving, and over the last few months we have seen the release of really high quality keyboard cases. All ten listed below have received plenty of praise for their keyboards, so how can you further limit your consideration set?
Fit the keyboard case to your writing style
When searching for the best iPad keyboard case, I recommend that you ask yourself the following questions about your writing style:
- In what orientation are you planning to use your iPad when doing serious writing: landscape or portrait?
- Do you want to detach your keyboard from the case to improve posture or to sometimes travel light?
- Where do you want to write on your iPad: sitting at a table, sitting on a bench, or lying in the grass?
These questions evolved from my post on using the iPad for mobile academic writing, in which you can find some more details on why these are the important questions to ask. Using these three questions, I categorized my favourite ten iPad keyboard cases into three groups: (1) cases that let you write in portrait orientation, (2) cases with a detachable keyboard, and (3) laptop style cases.
Cases for writing in portrait and landscape orientation
Personally I prefer using my iPad in portrait mode when doing serious academic writing. Most of my writing is done in distraction free writing apps like ByWord, which on the Mac display text in a narrow column that is about as wide as the iPad in portrait position. I like that, because I don’t have to move my eyes as much while following my writing (its the same idea as with reading).
However, not all tastes and tasks are alike, and for some apps (e.g., MacJournal or Apple’s own Notes and Mail app), the landscape orientation is more suitable. There is no need to worry though, because all cases in this category let you work in both portrait and landscape orientation. The reverse isn’t true, so these are the only keyboard cases that I would recommend if you are planning on writing in portrait orientation.
One case that looks really slick is (1) Logitech’s Ultrathin Keyboard Cover ($99). It is a minimalist typing and stand solution that almost looks like it comes from Apple itself.
The keyboard is of very high quality, as this first-hand review of iLounge attests:
“typing on the Ultrathin Keyboard is really very solid; in fact, the experience is so similar to using a very modestly smaller MacBook Air keyboard that users can expect nearly flawless touch typing from moment one, with only very brief moments of adjustment to get used to slight differences in key spacing and positioning.”
However, three things need to be said about this keyboard case. First, Logitech goes down the same route as Apple’s Smart Cover by leaving the back of the iPad completely exposed. This is not a big deal while using the iPad, but for carrying it around you might want to consider using a sleeve. Luckily, Logitech’s Ultrathin is really thin, so you shouldn’t have any problems to fit both iPad and cover together into a sleeve.
Second, this keyboard case is best suited if you are writing at a desk, but not so much when your are planning to writing on a bench or in the grass. This is especially true in the portrait orientation, because there are no magnets on the short side of the iPad that will securely attach the iPad to the keyboard case (the fit should be more secure in landscape orientation). Last, the Logitech keyboard case also only has one fixed viewing angle. Many of the other iPad keyboard cases discussed below, especially those who adopt a laptop style, are much more flexible in terms of where you can use them and in what angle you want to look at the screen.
If you are planning to write in portrait orientation but you are not sure whether you will enjoy the luxury of a table, the (2) Kensington KeyFolio Expert might easily be the best option for you.
There are several things that I like about this keyboard case: First, like the Logitech you can use this case with the iPad in landscape and portrait orientation. In addition, the Kensington case comes with proper back protection and you can adjust the viewing angle depending on your preferences. With currently $69 (normally around $100) it is also cheaper than the Logitech case.
But watch out! There are two versions of this case floating around: One uses micro-suction technology to attach the iPad to the case, while another one uses a frame to to the same. I like the micro-suction solution more, because it is both forward and backward compatible (even first-gen iPads!). The version with the frame might not work with future iPad generations that have different dimensions.
If you trust neither the micro-suction nor frame technology and would like to have a little bit more protection around your iPad, you can check out (3) Kensington’s KeyFolio Pro Performance Case that currently goes for around $50 (normally $100) or the (4) Targus Versavu Keyboard case for $93.
These two cases are okay if you are looking for a bargain or if you prefer to have the edges of your iPad covered. However, unlike the Kensington KeyFolio Expert these cases have a fixed viewing angle. I personally like the Kensington KeyFolio Expert (number 2) therefore much more.
Cases with Detachable Keyboard
Another important consideration when deciding what keyboard case fits best your writing style is whether it is possible to detach the keyboard. You might want to do this in order to improve your posture while writing by placing the iPad a little bit away from the keyboard and more on eye level (e.g., by placing it on a thick book). This setup would make it less likely that you hunch over your iPad, thus decreasing back strain.
In addition, a detachable keyboard might be desirable if you want to travel light with your iPad in the case without the keyboard, or if you want to use the keyboard for other devices (like your MacBook) as well.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found a keyboard case that combines portrait orientation with a high quality detachable keyboard. So if the option to detach the keyboard from its case is important to you, you are stuck stuck with writing in landscape mode. (Of course, there is always the option to just use the detached keyboard with an iPad dock or stand when you are engaging in longer writing sessions, but then you would need a table again.)
If you don’t worry about portrait orientation too much, the (5) Adonit Writer Plus might easily be the best keyboard case for you.
Adonit is an innovative company with great products. I know Adonit from using their Jot Flip stylus (review is coming soon), and their Writer 2 Plus keyboard case has just won iLounge’s Best in Show 2012 award. If it wasn’t for the missing portrait orientation, Adonit’s Writer Plus keyboard case would be a no brainer for me (but then again there is the option to use the detached keyboard with a dock).
Its ultra slim aluminium keyboard closely mimics the touch and feel of the Apple wireless keyboard, and a hinge lets you adjust the iPad to any viewing angle you prefer. When you are done, you can close it like a laptop computer, and the magnets on your iPad 2 and new iPad will send both iPad and keyboard to sleep.
Because the Adonit Writer Plus conforms to the size of the iPad, it cannot have a full size keyboard (which is a bit longer than the iPad is high). But it surely gets pretty close, so your learning curve and mistake rate will be as flat and low as possible. Gadgetmac explains:
“Adonit has finally done what we’ve all been asking for, a spacious keyboard. Look at all that spaciousness going on. The keyboard layout is now much more spaced out … The chubby keys of the Writer 2 were scrubbed off for these chiclet style keys you’d find on that of a Apple Wireless Keyboard. Not exactly as identical, but close enough. After all they are a bit smaller still due to the compact form factor.”
There are different versions for the iPad 2 and the new, third-generation iPad, so be sure you pick up the right one for you. Prices for the Adonit Writer Plus on amazon are in between $85 and $110, depending on the colour (silver, red or blue) and the model you pick.
If you find the iPad in Adonit’s Writer Plus too exposed, you might be happy with one of these cases that and offer a little more protection for the iPad. However, they don’t have aluminium keyboards, so you are loosing a little bit of keyboard quality as a tradeoff.
The main difference between these keyboards lies in the spacing between the keys (klick on the images above to enlarge): While Belkin has a chiclet keyboard similar to the other cases (and the Apple wireless keyboard) discussed above, the Solid Line and the iLuv keyboards have very little space between the keys. Depending on your preference and the layout of other keyboards you are using regularly, this might be a good thing. The iLuv also has a palm rest that creates a comfortable surface for typing.
I personally don’t worry too much about exposing the sides of my iPad. In contrast, I rather don’t cover them too much, because cases that do so tend to add a lot of bulk. For that reason, and for the best in class keyboard, the Adonit Writer Plus keyboard case is my definite favourite in this category.
Laptop style iPad cases
Last, there is an interesting breed of keyboard cases that pretty much turn your iPad into a laptop. The benefit of these cases is their sturdyness: You can easily carry them around and work with them on any surface – no matter how uneven it is. So if you find yourself to frequently going the way gravity demands from you (read: lying in the grass), these are great cases for your “writing style”.
But even if you just want to have a very sturdy solution for typing when sitting without a desk, or if you are very style conscious, a laptop style iPad keyboard case are a great idea.
The downside is that these cases are quite expensive. However, if it saves you the money for a laptop, even the most expensive keyboard case might be a bargain just as well.
The (9) ClamCase All-In-One Keyboard Case & Stand ($149) puts your iPad into a hard-cover enclosure that makes you believe you are actually using a laptop.
As iLounge remarks:
“typing [on the ClamCase keyboard] was a breeze. In fact, it was so comfortable that it actually felt like a small notebook computer; more than once we reached for the non-existent trackpad.”
I really liked the ClamCase at first look; however, I am not sure whether the hard plastic enclosure does match the iPad’s aluminium allure.
If you love the feal of metal on your gadgets (and money is less a concern for you), you can check out the following kickstarter project. (10) Brydge promises to be a really, really cool “keyboard case” (without a case) for your iPad, however, you bet that it is going to be the most expensive one in this list (it will retail probably around $200).
So here you have it: my complete guide for how to pick the perfect keyboard case that will turn your iPad into the ultimate writing machine. I hope the questions about your individual writing style (how to write in terms of orientation and distance between keyboard and iPad, and where to write in terms of location / available furniture) were helpful for making up your mind. Maybe you even found your dream keyboard case in one of the three corresponding categories? Or did I overlook one?
If you found this review helpful in nailing down your optimal keyboard case, and you don’t mind buying your case from amazon, please use the links provided in this review. They are affiliate links (see academiPad’s affiliate link policy), which means that you will help to keep academiPad running without any extra costs on your side.
Happy writing – wherever you go!
Disclaimer: Adonit Writer PLus keyboard closeup by Gadgetmac. All other images by the respective manufacturers. All amazon links in this article are affiliate links.