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Hands-on: 5 wireless keyboards for the iPad

September 21, 2011 06:00 AM ET

Belkin Keyboard Folio for iPad 2

The Belkin Keyboard Folio for iPad 2 was by far my favorite keyboard/case combo for actual typing. At 9.1 x 1.1 x 11.9 in. and 1.7 lb., the Folio isn't a full-size keyboard, but its layout is close enough that I could touch type on it almost as quickly as on the Apple wireless. When Belkin claims this offers "well-spaced TruType keys for comfortable typing," it's not kidding.

iPad keyboards
The Belkin Keyboard Folio feels close to a good, standard keyboard.

Pairing the keyboard with the iPad took about five seconds. It took a bit longer to figure out how to unfold the keyboard and get the iPad properly set up with it (the unit came with a six-step diagram that should have made the process clear, but didn't).

In addition to the iPad holder, keyboard and cover fold-out sections, Belkin has included a flap that folds under the keyboard when it's being used to make the whole setup more secure. It also makes the iPad's screen angle adjustable -- you move the bottom of the screen along various indented areas in the flap to change angles. I didn't feel the need to brace the screen either with something behind it or with my hand when tapping the screen, as I do with some other stands.

However, while the Belkin portfolio isn't bulky to carry around, it's not something I'd enjoy using for non-keyboard use. I prefer my iPad to have its original, slim form factor when I don't need the keyboard, and it turned out to be a bit of a pain to pull the tablet in and out of the Folio -- there's a snug fit, and the holder's backing material tends to keep it in place. Also, for all its multiple flaps, the cover doesn't close securely over the iPad screen, an odd oversight for something meant for travel.

On the plus side, I'm pretty picky about how keys feel, and the Belkin Keyboard Folio is surprisingly close to a good, standard keyboard. This is a keyboard I could easily see using for several days of writing on the road. This may be the best combination of tote-ability and type-ability of the bunch -- with the caveat that it's somewhat inconvenient for switching between keyboard and non-keyboard use unless you want to always keep it in the portfolio.

Belkin Keyboard Folio for iPad 2 from Belkin International
Price: $99.99
Dimensions/Weight: 9.1 x 1.1 x 11.9 in. / 1.7 lb.
Mobility: Very good
Keyboard function: Excellent
Keyboard ergonomics: Excellent
Best for: People who want a typing experience close to a full-sized keyboard with the portability of a iPad-sized keyboard/case combination.

Logitech Fold-Up Keyboard for iPad

Years ago, I had a portable folding keyboard for a Palm PDA; in a couple of steps, it unfolded from a PDA-size enclosure to a full-size keyboard and dock. The recently announced Logitech Fold-Up does something similar. Snap in your iPad and fold out two tucked-in wings, and you've got an attached, full-size keyboard with iPad stand.

iPad keyboards
The Logitech Fold-Up Keyboard: Snap in your iPad and fold out two tucked-in wings...

The Fold-Up Keyboard is a well-thought-out design, with some nice touches -- for example, the keyboard turns itself on and off when popped out or folded back up. It's also easier to pop the iPad in and out of than the Belkin Keyboard Folio.

The Logitech keyboard/case combo snaps together with the iPad at the back of the tablet, but it doesn't offer a cover to protect the iPad screen. Instead, it's designed to accommodate the Apple iPad Smart Cover that snaps on and off magnetically. If you already have one of those covers and like the way it safeguards the front of the tablet and automatically turns the iPad on and off when you raise and lower it, you won't have to give that up. If you don't have one, you'll need to come up with something to protect the front of your iPad if you plan to use this as a travel case for your tablet.

iPad keyboards
...and you've got an attached, full-size keyboard with iPad stand.

Like the Apple Wireless keyboard, the Fold-Up is a true full-size Bluetooth keyboard. However, the feel of the two are rather different. While Apple's is a conventional wireless keyboard (except for a few missing keys), you'll know you're typing on a portable accessory when using the Fold-Up. To shave weight, the Fold-Up has been given a nonmetallic base, and I found that even moderately robust typing caused the keyboard to bend and flex. This was a bit disconcerting for a touch typist, since the two sides of the keyboard flexed at different angles and times.

On the other hand, compared with many portable options, the keys' full size and spacing make typing a lot easier for those whose finger memory is used to a standard keyboard. And the Fold-Up's iPad holder seemed quite secure despite the reasonable 1.1 lb. weight of the overall package -- about 8 oz. heavier than the full-size Apple wireless keyboard. For that extra weight, the Fold-Up offers a more secure stand than Apple's iPad Smart Cover (although the viewing angle is not adjustable).

The Logitech Fold-Up Keyboard could be a welcome tradeoff for frequent travelers who would happily give up the firm feel of a desktop keyboard in exchange for the Fold-Up's convenient one-piece form factor. Just keep in mind that the single-unit tablet-and-keyboard iPad will be a pound heavier than the iPad alone, and you'll be paying roughly $60 more than you would for the unfoldable Apple keyboard.

Price: $129.99
Dimensions/Weight: 9.8 x 0.8 x 7.7 in. / 1.1 lb.
Mobility: Very good
Keyboard function: Excellent
Keyboard ergonomics: Good to very good
Best for: Those who want an easy-to-carry full-size keyboard folded into a one-piece form factor and don't mind a little extra weight.


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