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Hands-on: 5 wireless keyboards for the iPad

September 21, 2011 06:00 AM ET

Logitech Keyboard Case by Zagg for iPad 2

Logitech's Keyboard Case is a metallic, iPad-size keyboard that, when not in use, snaps onto the front of your tablet to protect the screen for carrying around; it detaches for use as a keyboard and includes a groove for doubling as a tablet holder.

iPad keyboards
Logitech's Keyboard Case also snaps onto the front of your tablet to protect the screen for carrying around.

The Keyboard Case is well designed for portability. You can rest the iPad in the keyboard's central groove in either portrait or landscape mode, giving it almost a netbook feel. I preferred to have something behind the tablet when it was in landscape mode, though, since the center of gravity seemed a bit too high for comfort, making me feel as if it might tip backwards.

The keyboard case has a high metal ridge around more than three-quarters of it, limiting where I could rest my hands. That may not an issue for you if you type with two fingers or use an unorthodox hunt-and-peck method. But if you rest your hands in the classic QWERTY keyboard touch-typing position, you're likely to find your hands feeling a bit cramped. After fiddling a bit, I found that placing the keyboard on top of a thin paperback on my keyboard tray gave me enough wrist support to type with a fair amount of comfort.

It's not as easy to snap the iPad in and out of this case as Logitech's newer and pricier Foldout Keyboard. Pushing the iPad in was easy enough, but prying it out again got me a little nervous at first. "Place the iPad 2/Keyboard Case vertically on a non-slip surface," the instructions advise. "Place one hand on each side of the Keyboard Case, securing the Keyboard Case with one thumb and the iPad 2 with your other thumb. Apply slight downward pressure to the iPad 2 and separate the Keyboard Case from the iPad 2." I did eventually get used to it, but I'm still not sure how that would work on an airplane tray table.

The keys themselves have a nice feel -- soft enough to not require pounding, yet offering enough physical feedback when pressed. If the keyboard itself didn't have to be so restricted in size, it would be close to ideal.

Price: $99.99
Dimensions/Weight: 9.7 x 7.5 x 43 in. / 0.8 lb.
Mobility: Very good
Keyboard function: Very good
Keyboard ergonomics: Fair to good
Best for: Typists who want a convenient mobile keyboard and don't mind a metallic case.

RightShift Bluetooth iPad 2 Keyboard Case

Solid Line Products' combined case and rubberized keyboard is a portfolio that opens up to include both iPad holder and keyboard. Because it's leather and not metal, it feels as if it should be lighter than the Logitech and Apple keyboards, but actually isn't.

iPad keyboards
The RightShift case has a form factor that seems more like an organizer than electronic device.

However, the RightShift case is still convenient for taking the iPad onto a plane or into a meeting, with a form factor that seems more like an organizer than electronic device. That may have particular appeal for those who want to hand-carry their tablet someplace without advertising that they're walking around with a $600 electronic device.

Unfortunately, the rubberized keys required me to make the most adjustments to my usual typing style. I felt I needed to type more deliberately and not as quickly as I might with a more conventional setup. I had several unwanted repeat letters (and spaces) as I was using this keyboard, as well as some letters that didn't print when I tapped them.

And of course it has the same issue as any other keyboard/iPad cover -- smaller than full-size real estate.

I had better results with this keyboard when switching from touch typing to two-finger hunt and peck, which slowed down my typing considerably -- although it was still faster than using the on-screen keyboard. I also felt the need to hold the iPad with one hand whenever I needed to tap or swipe the screen, since the way the iPad stands up in the portfolio case feels secure for viewing but not when touching the screen.

Price: $99.00
Dimensions/Weight: 9.7 x 8.0 x 1.0 in. / 1.0 lb.
Mobility: Very good
Keyboard function: Fair
Keyboard ergonomics: Fair to good
Best for: Slower, hunt-and-peck typists who value a folding portfolio form factor.

Bottom line

Each of these units has pluses and minuses, so your choice should come down to which factors are most important to you -- and where you're willing to compromise. Since keyboard feel and relative light weight are my two biggest concerns, I ended up buying an Apple Wireless Keyboard, even though it's not quite as convenient to carry around as most of the others.

If traveling with two separate pieces is a non-starter for you, and keyboard feel and ergonomics are still important, consider the Belkin Folio, which had the best feel of all of the less-than-full-size keyboards I tested. However, keep in mind that it adds more than a pound and a half to your iPad -- in fact, it weighs more than the iPad 2 itself.

Finally, if only a full-size keyboard will do and you also want to tote it in a single unit with your iPad, you may want to look at the Logitech Fold-Up -- if you don't mind a pound or so of added weight, a higher price tag and a somewhat flexible keyboard base.

is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her e-mail address is smachlis@computerworld.com. You can follow her on Twitter Twitter @sharon000, on Facebook, on Google+ or by subscribing to her RSS feeds:
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