If you’ve not tried using an iPad with a bluetooth keyboard there are some little subtleties that you’d not be aware of. Generally the experience is a good one but the little extras that manufactures are now adding to the products in this category make all the difference.
No matter how much of a keyboard warrior you are you can’t do everything via the keyboard. There are many actions for which you have to still interact with the touch screen and this can be a little annoying at times.
For example, in iOS7 to start a new app you can swipe down to use spotlight, enter the app’s name but pressing <enter> on your keyboard does not finish the job. Hands off the keyboard to touch and make the selection. In reality it’s not the fault of the keyboard / case makers it is in fact functionality missing from iOS itself.
I’ve been road testing a case by Rock (it’s available here at MobileZap). Specifically made for the iPad Air there is a lot of thought that’s gone into this to make using it a great experience.
The case side of things
Like many cases you start by gently easing the iPad into its molded holder, it fits well and feels secure when in place. The first surprise was that even thought the case is packing a bluetooth keyboard it doesn’t add much thickness to the entire package. I had been using a hard case by Dodocase until now and the Rock is pretty much the same size although it does feel just a little heavier.
There’s an elastic strap that folds over the case when closed that keeps everything in place.
When I first closed the case I thought that the keys on the keyboard were touching the screen but upon closer inspection the keyboard has little rubber stoppers that are positioned to stop this from happening.
There is a number of poses that you fix the case and keyboard ombination into, take a look at the images below for some of the ones that I’ve tried.
The Bluetooth keyboard
In order for a keyboard to fit into a case and be the same size as the iPad there has to be a compromise in size. The keys are certainly smaller that a standard layout but still usable. I touch type pretty well, after about 20 minutes using the bluetooth keyboard I was up to a reasonable speed.
All the keys are where you expect them to be even if they are smaller and closer together. I think this is a big plus, keyboards that have special combinations in place or weird layouts to accommodate for the lack of size not as good.
iPad specific keyboard shortcut
There’s a functions key bottom left of the layout which enables some of the keys in the top rows to have specific purposes for iPad.
The first one, a little square is the equivalent of pushing the home button on the iPad. Press once and your back to the home screen, press twice and it activates the multi-tasking abilities of iOS 7.
Next up you have a padlock that does what you’d expect, locking the iPad and then a little keyboard symbol that shows and hides the keyboard in most iOS 7. Finally you’ve got control for mute, volume up and down and skip controls for when playing music or videos.
Overall the usage of these functions is obvious which is a good thing, you don’t want to have to learn strange combinations to get things done.
Charging the keyboard
I’m not one for reading instructions.
When unpacking the new case there was a USB cable included, for which I thought “why??” and left it at that.
Only after using the case for a couple of days I wondered where the battery is, this thing is not going to last forever. Then I twigged (ok perhaps I’m a bit slow on the take up!). The keyboard is recharged over USB. Plugin it in at the same time that you’re charging your iPad!
A mobile keyboard is a piece of the puzzle
I use Pages and Numbers via iCloud a lot these days and the ability to open a document that was started on the laptop, then continue on the iPad is a very productive workflow for me. Certainly keen to see the new features of iOS 8 that will only enhance this situation even more.
Over all pro and cons of a case / keyboard combination
I spend a lot of time doing keyboard intensive work on my iPad. Regularly I’ll start blog posts and plain text before moving them into WordPress to layout. Often I’ll resort to a laptop when doing this because the iPad onscreen keyboard it just a little to slow to get the words out.
Using the iPad for some of this kind of work is a great alternative and the bluetooth keyboard in a case such as the Rock really makes the difference. Regularly it’s after normal office hours or on the weekend that this combination really comes into it’s own. If I’ve already spent a good number of hours at a desktop computer it’s nice to take some work to the lounge or bed!
Update: after a week using the new case / keyboard combo
I have a Mac Pro laptop as well as an iPad Air. Which one I use more does change from time to time with my mood, the work that I’m doing and location. The availability of a keyboard with the iPad has resulted in a shift in the equilibrium.
It’s definitely the catalyst for much more usage of the iPad to do real work, I really like the ability to just open it anywhere around the house and bang out some quick notes or an idea that I’m working on.