The debate over the iPad being a device for content creation or merely for consumption is over as far as I’m concerned. There are plenty of great iPad apps for writing, drawing, creating business graphics, managing projects and more. If you still think the iPad is only for consumption, you’re probably holding it wrong.
What does stand in the way of productivity, though, is the virtual keyboard. Yes, you can type on it and it works surprisingly well. But the lack of tactile feedback (key presses), the hard glass surface, autocorrect strangeness, auto-capitalization, no arrow keys for moving the cursor and the lag in responsiveness introduced with iOS 4.2 prevent it from actually replacing a physical keyboard. It works for short notes or emails, but for real work I find myself consistently grabbing my 11-inch MacBook Air.
Until now, that is. The recent months have introduced a slew of cases for the iPad, not few of them featuring a keyboard, turning the iPad into somewhat of a netbook running iOS. Some of these cases are a bit bulky and add way too much weight and size to the iPad. But one case/keyboard combination seems like the perfect balance: the ZAGGmate with keyboard.
First Impressions and Pairing
The ZAGGmate comes in two flavors: with and without keyboard. They differ $30 in price, and the model without a keyboard offers multiple angles for propping up the iPad, while the keyboard model isn’t adjustable. Otherwise they’re more or less identical, save for the higher weight of the keyboard model.
Pairing the ZAGGmate with the iPad is a matter of seconds: Use a pen or a paper clip to press the button for activating pairing mode on the ZAGGmate, go into Bluetooth preferences on the iPad, select the ZAGGmate and enter the prompted 4-digit code on the ZAGGmate’s keyboard. Done.
The ZAGGmate comes with four self-adhesive rubber feet that you stick to the aluminum backside and that support the ZAGGmate on flat and slippery surfaces such as a table or desk while typing. It’s a good idea to install them before you do any typing, otherwise you might risk scratching the ZAGGmate. Time will tell how long they stick. My guess is they’ll fall off eventually, like these things usually do.
To set the iPad and the ZAGGmate up for typing, you raise the support hinge on the ZAGGmate, fold out its front “leg” and lock it into place. Then you insert the iPad into the central groove, either horizontally or vertically and rest it against the hinge. The angle of the hinge, as mentioned above, isn’t adjustable, but the fixed angle provides that the iPad is always stable, even when you tap and swipe on the screen.
The keys of the ZAGGmate’s keyboard are, surprisingly, exactly the same size as those on Apple’s desktop and MacBook keyboards (appx. 15x15mm). But they don’t have any spacing between them, so the keyboard is in fact quite a bit more cramped than regular ones. I’m not a touch typist, so I can’t say if you can reasonably touch type on the ZAGGmate. I’d say the keyboard is about the size of what you get on a netbook. Not great, but not too bad either.
During the little amount of typing I have done so far I did experience a number of typing errors, mostly hitting two keys instead of one, due to the lack of spacing between keys. I’m not sure if making the keys smaller and adding some spacing between them would have been better. The keys have a surprising amount of travel for such a slim case, though, and give you a nice tactile feedback. All in all the keyboard is probably the best one can do, given the amount of space available.
The top row of the keyboard features dedicated keys for the Home button, search, activating a slideshow, hiding/showing the virtual keyboard, sleeping/locking the iPad (what you’d usually do via the button on the top right of the iPad itself), playback controls for the iPod app and volume/mute controls. On the far right there’s also a button for switching between multiple international keyboards, should you have set up more than one on your iPad.
When you’re done typing, simply fold down the support hinge and insert the iPad face-down into the ZAGGmate. The rubbery material around the inner edge keeps the iPad firmly secured and cutouts for the sleep and volume buttons prevent accidental activation. To take the iPad out of the case again, you set it up vertically on your lap, grab the iPad by its dock connector port and pull out the iPad while applying slight downward pressure. It’s a good idea to do this carefully as you don’t have much to hold the iPad by while detaching it from the ZAGGmate. It could accidentally slip from your fingers. ZAGG seems to be aware of this possibility, as the ZAGGmate’s manual gives you very clear instructions for the procedure.
The ZAGGmate’s battery, which gets charged via the included USB cable, is not user-servicable. ZAGG says it will last months on standby and if you’re not using the keyboard, there’s an actual, physical on/off switch. Shiny.
One of the biggest advantages of the ZAGGmate over keyboard cases like the Clamcase, is that you can prop up the iPad in both horizontal and portrait mode. That makes the iPad just that much more versatile, as notebooks or netbooks usually only offer a horizontal screen orientation (except for some exotic and expensive tablet-style notebooks with the screen attached to a swivel).
What’s more is that the ZAGGmate adds almost nothing to the size of the iPad. It does add weight, but the whole package is just barely 10mm thicker in height and 2mm thicker around the edges than the iPad by itself. And since it’s made of a material very similar to the iPad’s back side, it looks like it came included in the box.
If you’re looking for a keyboard case for your iPad, give the ZAGGmate a really close look. I think it’s the best balance of price, size, weight and functionality.
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