[UPDATE: May 23rd – I got the final production release this week, and as promised I’m updating my review, but not in a negative way. It’s all positives. Original review was written on March 27th 2013. Update is at the bottom of the post, and it’s all in bold and italic typeface.]
So, here’s me typing on the Belkin competitor to the Logitech and ZAGG keyboard cases that we’ve all come to know and love over the past couple of years. And, I’m delighted to say, it’s every bit as good as those two and has a few tricks up its sleeve too.
Kindly, the folks over at Belkin sent me over a pre-release unit* to try out before the official announcement today. Since then, a few improvements have been made. Mostly to the fit and finish.
What we’re looking at here is a $99/$129 keyboard folio available in black or silver, compatible with iPad 2/3/4, measuring in at an impressive 6.4mm thin and weighing only 411 grams.
The battery is built to last 160 hours of use, or 1,900 hours 6 months of standby). Similar to the Logitech Ultrathin, the keyboard is – for the most part – made of plastic, but has an aluminum alloy sheet on the front to give it a more premium look and feel.
The iPad is held in place by plastic shell, which covers the entire rear side of the tablet and grips to all four edges of your tablet’s frame. To help it appear less ‘plasticcy’ Belkin’s added a flexible but strong leather-ette tab/hinge. It not only adds to the aesthetic and tactile appeal of the case, it has a practical use too.
If you want to hide away the keyboard and not use it, you can fold it behind the iPad and hold it there. Although it’s not as comfortable to hold as just gripping the iPad naked, it’s not as unbearable as you’d expect. I wouldn’t recommend it for long periods though.
This design of having the iPad inserted in to a plastic shell certainly allays any fears of your iPad flying away once you open it, and is a much more convenient method than either of the two top brands’ offerings.
Although, that could be considered a positive or a negative. For setting in place to type, the action of lifting it open and placing it down is much more fluid than other examples as it’s always attached. If you ever want to detach the iPad from the keyboard completely, it takes more effort.
Both Logitech and ZAGG opt for magnets to hold the iPad in place when closed, making it a little too easy to detach when carrying it around in a bag. Another slight downside is that the rear shell used to house your iPad does add a little thickness to the product when closed, making it noticeably thicker than using either of its main competitors.
My favorite thing about the Ultimate Keyboard Stand is its unique implementation of magnets to give three different viewing angles. Instead of having one long ridge to set your iPad in, there are three magnets embedded in the body of the case.
The first is almost directly behind the the row of number keys on the keyboard. The next is about a thumb’s width behind it, with the 3rd a thumb’s width behind that one. I wish I could tell you how convenient that is, and how much of a refreshing change it is too.
Being able to have my iPad sitting a good two-inches away from the keyboard is a huge boost for me and not something which should be passed off as inconsequential. You seriously need to try it versus its competitors to appreciate it.
The keyboard itself took very little time to get used to. Virtually full-sized keys are nicely spaced apart on the surface of the case, and each gives a reassuringly generous amount of travel and feedback. It’s not loud by any means, but the gentle click and slight resistance makes it a joy to use. I didn’t once feel cramped. Any touch typist will adjust almost immediately I’m sure.
As with most iPad keyboards, it features the usual dedicated iOS buttons. Home Button, Lock, volume up/down, play, pause, skip track, cut, copy and paste are all there. Sadly – like the Logitech – they’re all incorporated in to the number keys on the top row, instead of having a dedicated row to themselves like the ZAGG PRO.
This requires pressing the function key, situated in the bottom left of the keyboard. On the subject of buttons, it’s nice to see dedicated buttons for voice dictation, “@” symbol and the web browser all given front row seats.
All in all, there are a lot of things I like about Belkin’s Ultimate Keyboard Case. It has a great typing experience, I love the variety in viewing angles, and it’s very lightweight and slim.
The only real downside is that if I want to take my iPad and leave the keyboard, it requires me removing it from the plastic shell, which isn’t as convenient as removing it from the Logitech Ultrathin (which uses a magnetic hinge) or the ZAGG.
That said, it’s a compromise I’m completely willing to make if it means I can have the choice of viewing angles that it offers me thanks to its well-placed magnets.
- Sturdy, convenient laptop opening feel
- Great keyboard/typing experience
- 3 viewing angles
- Great battery life
- iPad holder adds bulk when shut
- No dedicated on/off switch (check update note*)
- iOS shortcut keys don’t have dedicated row
I’ll have the comparison between this, the ZAGGkeys PROplus and the Logitech Ultrathin published at some point soon. But, I can say with complete confidence, that by no means does Belkin’s offering fade in to the shadows.
It’s easily as good as either of the market leaders, and has brought Belkin front and center in the iPad keyboard/case market.
Pre-order yours from Belkin direct, it’s $99.99 for the black and $129.99 for silver.
*As I mentioned, this is a pre-release model I’ve been using and it did have a few issues which I haven’t mentioned specifically. Once I’ve received the final product, I’ll look over the same areas and if they still exist the rating and review will be edited accordingly.
[UPDATE – May 23rd 2013
I thought I was impressed enough with the pre-release model of the Ultimate Keyboard, and there were some issues with it which I left out purely because I had a hunch they’d be smoothed out by the time the public release model came through my door. And I was right. There were some manufacturing issues, where the aluminum shell was coming apart from the keyboard which affected how typing felt, and meant it didn’t sit straight on any surface. Thankfully, those have been ironed out, and I’ve never been as impressed with a keyboard case like I am with the Belkin.
The build quality and materials used are fantastic. It feels tight-knit and well made, the leatherette strip holding the polycarbonate shell to the keyboard base adds a very luxurious touch.
*What I didn’t realize the first time around was that the magnets on the body holding it at three different angles also act as the on/off buttons. As soon as they detect the iPad sitting in place, the keyboard switches on and connects to the tablet. This not only takes the hassle out of remembering to switch it off after use, it also saves a lot of battery. What an ingenious idea.
It’s the best keyboard case on the market. Bar none.
So, in a slightly unorthodox move, I’m changing my score. My only negative was that the iPad is quite hard to remove from the shell, taking it one mark off perfection.
Final rating: 9/10]