ZAGGkeys Folio for iPad Air: Closest thing to a workhorse laptop experience on iPad yet [Review]

“Can the iPad replace a laptop?” Is a question many ask, and one that so far remains unanswerable as a general statement. There are far too many unique people with differing needs and use cases to say “yes” or “no” absolutely. Apart from the limitations of iOS as an operating system, one thing that remains a stumbling block for me is the onscreen virtual keyboard. For my line of work, where I need to type full articles (some long, some short) I just can’t get away with it. I need a physical keyboard.

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I have to confess, I have no laptop at home. I have an iMac and – currently – three iPads. So, my portable options are limited to an iOS tablet. Two of those are minis, one is the iPad Air. Due to the size of the screen, and the size of keyboards designed to go with them, the Air is really my only option if I want to head out for a couple of hours, get a change of scenery and type up an article from a coffee shop. It’s why I’m constantly on the lookout for the best keyboard solutions. For me, it has to be a keyboard case. Loose keyboards, no matter how good, are inconvenient to carry around and set up. It’s far easier to grab the keyboard case-equipped iPad, open it up and start working.

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 16.59.53The iPad Air has only been out a few weeks, but already manufacturers are announcing and releasing compatible offerings. This Folio by ZAGG is the first I’ve got my hands on for this model iPad, so far.

Due to its design, the Folio and iPad basically become one unit. It has a plastic rear shell to hold your tablet, which opens up to reveal the full QWERTY keyboard. Both the front and back of the Folio are covered in a vinyl faux-leather. It adds a nice texture and distracts you from the plastic material used to make the bulk of the case.

Unlike a lot of last generation models, the ZAGGkeys Folio has a neat hinge feature. Instead of having to use a stand or magnet built in to the keyboard base, you just open up the case, and you’re ready to go. It’s equipped with magnets to auto-wake your iPad, so there’s no faffing around. It’s very convenient. And it offers a good range of angles. You can tilt it from 90 degrees back to around 45 degrees. So, no matter what height you are or how you’re looking at the screen, you should be able to find an angle that suits.

I mentioned the plastic build of the Folio already, but it’s one thing I need to get off my chest. It is poor. The shell around the iPad doesn’t fit perfectly, and the plastic body does feel like it wouldn’t fare well with rough treatment. Despite the poor choice of material, it’s still been put together well, and the hinge on the front cover feels strong. It holds the iPad well, and doesn’t feel like it’s every going to give in and fall back on itself. One nice touch was the use of four small rubber rounded pads, one in each corner. When closed, your iPad’s precious glass face rests on these and keeps away from the keyboard.

Like every other keyboard case, it connects using Bluetooth. To pair your ZAGGkeys Folio, all you need to do is flick the power switch on the right hand edge and press the unmarked pairing button right next to it. Then go to Settings>Bluetooth on your iPad, and you should see the keyboard in the available devices list. Tap the name of the keyboard and it pairs straight away. No PIN required. I’d complain about these on/off and pairing buttons being too fiddly, but once you’ve used them once, there’s really no need to ever touch them again. The battery life is that good, you don’t ever need to switch it off.

The ZAGGkeys Folio is a fantastic keyboard case. The typing experience is as good as any of the others I’ve tried. Keys are well spaced out considering the lack of space, and they’re a good size too. In fact, touch typing wasn’t an issue even though my hands did have to get use to having a little less room to move around in. My only errors to begin with were hitting the “enter” key on the right-hand side of the keyboard instead of “shift”. It didn’t take long to adjust to get that right. All the keys respond well and give reassuring feedback to being pressed and don’t feel loose at all. Despite my misgivings about the plastic, when typing and resting my hands on it, the base feels very solid.

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 17.00.16Of course, the keyboard has all the usual iOS-centric buttons along the top in its own row. Having its own row makes it easier to lock and unlock the iPad as well as copying, pasting and controlling the music player. Let’s not forget, it’s also backlit. It has four levels of brightness with 7 different color backlight options to choose from. Swapping between colors is as simple as pressing the bespoke backlight key and the right cursor arrow.

Then there’s battery life. It lasts for ages, even with the backlit keys on. ZAGG states on its site that you’ll get “several months use” out of it. Understandably, I didn’t have anywhere enough time to test that to the full. You can check your battery level by pressing the battery button on the keyboard, the number of times it flashes indicates how full the Lithium polymer battery is. The more times it flashes, the fuller it is. When you eventually need to charge it, plug it in to a wall adapter or computer using the USB to MicroUSB cable supplied.

Overall, I have to say I am very pleased with the ZAGGkeys Folio for iPad. The iPad’s narrower frame meant ZAGG could rethink the design of its case, adding a hinge right on the edge. Apart from it being more convenient, the iPad sits just the right distance away from the keyboard. With previous generation models, using a design like this would mean the iPad screen was too far away from where you’re typing.

Although it could do with feeling a bit more premium, your $99 will get you a fantastic typing experience built in to a convenient keyboard case that’s easy to get along with. I’d almost go as far as to say this is better than any keyboard case I used for previous generations of iPad. It’s the closest thing to a laptop experience on an iPad to date, and feels like it belongs on the iPad Air. It has one or two faults, but all-in-all, it’s brilliant.

You can buy the ZAGGkeys Folio from ZAGG.com in either black or white for $99/£99.

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  • utrph77004

    Nice review, but I have one question. Do I have to initiate a Bluetooth connection inside the settings app, every single time I want to use it? One thing I loved about my Logitech solar folio KB was that it automatically connected every single time I put it in the upright position. If so, that’s a deal breaker for me. Please clarify.

  • TiP_Cam

    utrph77004 No, once it’s paired, it’s paired. If the keyboard is switched on and Bluetooth is switch on on your iPad, it’ll be connected automatically.