Part of the iPad pilot plan was to give students a case and/or keyboard. Part of my participation, then, was testing various keyboards to see which one might work best.

I tested four:

1. Apple’s wireless keyboard with InCase’s Origami Workstation

2. Kensington KeyFolio iPad Case & Keyboard [site wasn’t working when writing]

3. ZaggFolio iPad 2 Keyboard & Case

4. Logitech Keyboard Case for Zagg

I had been using the Apple keyboard. It was nice to have when I needed it; writing long emails or longer documents for school made it worthwhile to have it on hand. And the Origami Workstation complemented it nicely, both covering / protecting it when not in use, and increasing the functionality of the iPad when using it by giving the iPad a nice place to stand (sit). The Origami Workstation doesn’t sit too easily in one’s lap; the corners of the stand and your legs have to match up well, but it was serviceable enough in this capacity. And of course Apple’s keyboard has a tremendous feel to it. The keys are natural and easy to use. The fatal flaw for me, however, was the mercurial nature of Apple’s keyboard’s bluetooth connection. I would put the keyboard away but the iPad would still be connected to it, and so I had to take it out again to turn it off (again) or turn off bluetooth on the iPad (which then made reconnecting more cumbersome). Ultimately, the power button and indicator are not intuitive on Apple’s keyboard; the push button doesn’t indicate when it has received the signal, and the indicator light seems inconsistent with the action of the button (both of which of course are related). This is something I wouldn’t necessarily mind dealing with but certainly not something I was going to have a class of 18 students deal with on a regular basis.

I next tested the Kensington KeyFolio and the Logitech Keyboard Case. I knew pretty immediately that the Kensignton wouldn’t do the trick. The pleather is just that: pleather, which feels and looks cheap. Not that that is a make or break factor but it didn’t help as a first impression. More problematic was both the keyboard itself and the angle / proximity of the iPad. The keyboard did not feel natural at all and the iPad seemed to close and too high for easy viewing and use.

The Logitech Keyboard Case is a great keyboard. The keys felt natural and responded easily. Most impressive, however, was the Bluetooth. Unlike the Apple keyboard, when the iPad was on and the on-screen keyboard appeared, it took the Logitech about four keystrokes to put away the on-screen keyboard and be recognized: no system preferences, no power issues. This ease becomes essential when distributing something to and using it with a group of students. My only criticism of this case is the tightness of the fit of the iPad. In case mode, the iPad slips into the four corners of the case, which mimics the iPad’s brushed aluminum appearance. This is both an attractive and effective means of protecting the iPad. On the other hand, separating the two felt more difficult than necessary or efficient. I had to tug (and I mean tug) to separate the iPad from the case, such that I was worried at times that I might somehow break it. A flaw that can be worked around but I didn’t love that.

The ZaggFolio was a late addition. My tech director found it and asked if I wanted to check it out as a final possibility. I said yes and got it on Friday. It is a sleeker design than the Logitech Keyboard Case in that it is shaped more like the iPad and so doesn’t feel quite as bulky. It has a pebbled plastic exterior, which I don’t love (seems like it’s trying to look like leather from afar) but am not going to complain about. The iPad slips in to one side and the keyboard into the other. It clasps shut and then the iPad side of the case is hinged so that the iPad can sit in the groove to support it when it is on. This case is a great combination of features: easier to open than the Logitech but with the same bluetooth ease, keyboard feel, and protection in addition to the ease of opening and use. The clasp isn’t quite as secure as I would like (I think it feels less secure than it actually is but I do have to double check it to make sure it’s closed) and it is difficult to use the iPad in portrait mode because the hinge is (necessarily) flimsy. It is relatively easy to slip the iPad in and out, so it can function as just an iPad (albeit an unprotected one), as can the keyboard, which it has to be, at least on occasion, to be recharged (no, the port is not available while the keyboard is in the case). This seems a curious requirement (the hole in the case would have disrupted its integrity that much?) but I suspect a relatively easy one to work around.

So the big winner is (drum roll without much suspense, I imagine) the ZaggFolio. Hopefully they’ll be here next week and the kids can start using them.

On a broader note, the keyboard significantly increases the iPad’s functionality. It also significantly decreases the iPad’s, well, iPad-ness. This is neither a criticism nor a compliment but rather an admonition to consider how you want to use your iPad. As a classroom tool, and really a laptop substitute, the keyboard is almost necessary for my students. For your own iPad, however, if you are not doing significant typing, then the keyboard is likely unnecessary, and more trouble than it will be worth given the sacrifices many of them require (this is where the Apple keyboard might be your best bet: separate and so not burdensome but there when you need it).