Hands-on: Zaggfolio Bluetooth keyboard case for the iPad 2

A well-designed keyboard/case combination lets you both type on and tote your tablet.

The Zaggfolio for iPad 2 is a well-designed case that includes a removable Bluetooth mobile keyboard. As a result, it can be used as just a case (by removing the keyboard), as just a keyboard (by pulling the keyboard out of the case and slipping your iPad into a groove just above the top row of keys) or as a combined case/keyboard.


In fact, when used together, the case and keyboard turn the iPad into something that resembles a netbook. To accomplish this, slide your iPad 2 into the inside cover of the carbon-fiber Zaggfolio in landscape position. The top half of the tablet is held securely by the rim of the cover; the bottom portion is held by releasable corners. When you want to use the tablet, bend the bottom of the holder at an angle; the bottom of the iPad will then rest in a groove in the keyboard with the cover bracing it from behind.

It's a sturdy setup; I didn't feel the need to brace my tablet any further (although I might want to lean the whole setup against the back of a seat if I were on a turbulent plane ride). This design also means that the Zaggfolio is one of the few iPad-specific keyboard/case combos that can work with at least some other devices. While my husband's thicker Toshiba Thrive tablet wouldn't fit in the keyboard groove, any mobile device that's at least as thin as the iPad 2 could go in there, although it wouldn't necessarily be at an ideal viewing angle. For example, my Samsung Galaxy S II phone also slid into the keyboard groove holder and paired with the Zaggfolio -- not that I'd want to do that if I also had my iPad, but it could be convenient to allow others traveling with a different device to access a Bluetooth keyboard.

The keyboard itself was a pleasant surprise for a touch typist like me, who usually finds iPad-sized keyboards too cramped. My fingers definitely had less room to maneuver than on a full-sized keyboard. But the layout was good enough for me to do conventional touch typing without experiencing many more errors than I would when using conventional keys.

The feel of any keyboard is definitely a matter of personal preference, and I found the Zaggfolio's keys to be a bit on the hard side but certainly acceptable. Would I want to spend an eight-hour workday pounding this keyboard? Probably not. But for an hour or two of writing emails and brief reports while on the road, it certainly beats using the iPad's on-screen, built-in keyboard.

I did hit one difficulty: When I wanted to remove my tablet from the Zaggfolio, it took me a while to slide the iPad out of the Zaggfolio's cover. I finally figured out a way to hold the tablet and case so that removal doesn't take too long. Unfortunately, that involved bracing the keyboard against my leg, placing the iPad-holding inside cover above and parallel to the keyboard and then pulling the tablet out -- something that might not be useful for long-term wear and tear on the cover.

Zaggfolio vs. Belkin Folio

How does the Zaggfolio stack up against the competition? Of the others I've tried, the Zaggfolio is probably most comparable to the Belkin Keyboard Folio, which I reviewed last month. The two have similar "folio" form factors when closed, but they are different once opened.

The Belkin has a more flexible but somewhat confusing three-panel design, allowing you to alter your viewing angle but not allowing you to use the tablet in portrait mode. In contrast, the Zaggfolio allows you to slide the iPad into its keyboard groove in portrait mode when the keyboard isn't attached to the Zaggfolio's cover. (Portrait mode, however, felt decidedly less secure, and I'd likely only do this with something sturdy behind it.) The Zaggfolio viewing angle is fixed, unless you want to pull out the keyboard and use a stand of your own, but I was satisfied enough with it that I didn't feel compelled to try to change it.

Overall, I preferred the useful, less fussy design of the Zaggfolio case.

Zaggfolio from Zagg

Price: $99.99

Dimensions/Weight: 9.7 x 7.6 x 0.9 in. / 1.2 lb.

Mobility: Excellent

Keyboard function: Excellent

Keyboard ergonomics: Very good

Best for: People who want protection for the iPad, the portability of an iPad-sized keyboard/case combination, a good keyboard experience, and the flexibility of using the case and keyboard either separately or as a single unit.

In addition, while the Belkin's faux suede exterior material is nicer as a business folio to tote around the office than the hard shell of the Zaggfolio, the latter seems like it would provide more protection -- not only because of its hard polyurethane shell, but because it snaps securely shut. The Belkin cover folds over without any sort of clasp.

Interestingly, while there is a slight difference in the official weights of the two devices -- the Belkin weighs 1.7 lb. while the Zaggfolio weighs 1.2 lb. -- both weighed exactly the same on my home scale: 19.75 oz. (or 1.2 lb.). They both list for $99.99.

For actual typing, I preferred the Belkin -- its keys felt a bit more spacious and had a softer, more pleasing touch. (For more alternatives, see our roundup of iPad 2 keyboards: Hands-on: 5 wireless keyboards for the iPad.) Overall, though, the Zaggfolio does a good job of managing the competing demands of portability, keyboard functionality and flexibility. If you're in the market for an iPad 2 keyboard/case combo, the Zaggfolio is definitely worth considering.

Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her e-mail address is smachlis@computerworld.com. You can follow her on Twitter @sharon000, on Facebook, on Google+ or by subscribing to her RSS feeds:
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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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