Touch and type: 3 keyboard covers for the iPad Mini

Covers from Belkin, Logitech and Zagg offer both protection for your iPad Mini's screen and a keyboard for your fingers.

There's an old adage about software projects that says you can optimize for only two out of three factors: quality, speed and cost. Portable keyboards seem to have a similar restriction, generally scoring well in, at most, two out of three features: mobility (a form factor and weight that's easy to tote around), function (keys that have a nice feel) and ergonomics (a design that's not cramped and doesn't force your hands into an uncomfortable position).

So if, like me, you're finicky enough to want something that's good in all three, it can be a bit of a hunt.

A couple of years ago, I tested out 5 keyboards for the iPad 2 and found one -- the Apple Wireless Keyboard -- that excelled in two areas: keyboard function and ergonomics. Another -- the Logitech Fold-Up Keyboard for iPad -- was quite good in mobility and ergonomics but didn't match the Apple in key function.

But what if you're looking for something to fit the iPad's smaller cousin, the iPad Mini? I test-drove three new keyboards -- the Belkin FastFit, the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad Mini and the Zaggkeys Cover -- to see how they compare. Here's what I found.

Belkin FastFit

The Belkin FastFit is a slender, lightweight keyboard/cover with a magnetic hinge. The keyboard, which comes in either black or white with a silver back, has a groove above the keys to rest the tablet in, and a silver magnetic hinge that folds out and attaches to the tablet when you want to use the keyboard as a cover.

Belkin FastFit
Belkin FastFit

When the FastFit serves as a case, the magnetic hinge feels quite strong and secure. But because all of the cover isn't magnetically attached, it doesn't feel like the case will necessarily stay closed in, say, a backpack. I'd likely put my iPad Mini with this keyboard inside a separate zipper case for a business trip, something I didn't feel a need for with the Zaggkeys Cover.

In order to use the keyboard, you detach the iPad Mini (it's easy to snap your tablet in and out of the hinge) and pop it into a magnetic groove on the keyboard. The magnetic hold inside the groove isn't quite as strong as the hinge, or as that of the Logitech Ultrathin (which uses a similar setup); when I lifted the iPad Mini, it didn't always bring the keyboard along.

Placed in the groove, the iPad screen tilts farther back than the other cases reviewed here, which are closer to a 90-degree angle. In general, I preferred the more laptop-like 90-degree tilt. (The larger FastFit for the full-size iPad offers two viewing angles; this has just one.)

Keyboard impressions

The keyboard is quite close to a standard layout on the left side, with a normal-size "A" key and separate caps-lock key. On the right side, though, there's no colon/semicolon or apostrophe/quote keys at all. Instead, the enter key is where a touch-typist would expect the colon/semicolon. While I use an apostrophe considerably less often than many other letters, it was a bit disconcerting for me to have to use a key down by the space bar for every contraction and possessive.

One small design plus I liked on the FastFit: The on/off switch is on the keyboard just above the keys instead of being hidden on the side, making it more likely you'll remember to turn it off (and easier to find to turn it back on again).

The Belkin keys had a bit of a "harder" feel for me, with an action that seemed a little less smooth than the Ultrathin. That's largely a matter of personal taste; but for me, a difference that might be barely noticeable on a full-size keyboard stood out more in a more cramped space, and I preferred the Ultrathin's smoother key action.

Bottom line

The FastFit is slim and light with a mostly standard keyboard layout excepting colons and apostrophe/quotes. If weight matters to you and you don't mind a harder key action (a lot of people don't), this 7-oz keyboard cover could be worth a look.

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