We plan to do a Google Hangout on this soon, but a written review is always good. We tested three keyboards for functionality and convenience: a folding stand-alone keyboard and two keyboard cases.
First, let’s talk about what to look for in a bluetooth keyboard:
1. Keyboard feel – Does it feel like a keyboard? Is it big enough for your hands? Does it make the iPad wiggle so much that you can’t concentrate? Is it sturdy enough to hold your iPad or iPhone?
2. Portability – If you’re substituting for a laptop, does it add so much bulk that you wonder if you should bother. If it’s a stand-alone, will it fit in your pocket or bag?
3. Bluetooth ease of use – easy to connect?
4. Power – batteries or internal battery?
5. Compatibility – What happens when you upgrade to iPad 9 or change to Android?
We compared the following three keyboards. We reviewed the Verbatim Folding Keyboard previously.
All three of these setups are good for different purposes in their own ways. However, common to all three is the fact that none have the “feel” of a laptop or desktop keyboard. While they try to emulate, the keys are smaller, awkwardly placed, and none of the three allows you to press into the keys the way you do on a regular setup. Piano players will recognize this as the difference between a real piano and a keyboard, even one that has simulated key springs and movement. If you get your keyboard with lowered expectations you’ll be happier. Sadly, using an iPad as a laptop is still a hard thing to imagine though I know people who do it every day so if you’re motivated, you may get used to it. Of the three, the Verbatim does the best at emulating a bigger keyboard.
On portability, two of these keyboards double as cases. The Hype double as a shiny aluminum cover for the screen side of your iPad and looks very nice but it does leave the other side unprotected. The Verbatim folds up and you can keep it when not in use in a leatherette case. While it fits into a backpack, don’t expect to carry it in anything other than a big jacket pocket. The Props case is a very thick iPad case that looks more like a book. With iPad inserted, the case is almost 1.25″ thick and you look like you’re carrying one of those old fashioned day planners. However, for ease of use, I’d recommend the Props. While it makes the iPad thicker, it guarantees you’ll always have the keyboard with you. It seems like every time I wanted to use a keyboard, I didn’t have my Verbatim folding keyboard with me.
On Bluetooth ease of use, all three are pretty easy to pair and work with minimal steps. If you’ve paired other bluetooth devices, you’ll know the process. We haven’t had any problems of losing connections. Power is another thing. The Verbatim takes batteries while the other two keyboards are powered up through USB connections. Unfortunately, the Verbatim doesn’t power down automatically, so if you leave it on, your Bluetooth keeps running, eventually draining the batteries. On the Props, I’ve left the keyboard on all night with the little blue light glowing and still had battery in the morning, though a recharge is easier than finding two new triple As.
Long term compatibility is also an issue. You may want to use your keyboard with other Bluetooth devices (eg. your iPhone) or the iPad mini in your future. What happens when the iPad evolves. In the case of the Hype, you’re out of luck. Minor modifications to the iPad mean this keyboard will no longer function as a protective case though you could lug it around as a keyboard accessory. The Verbatim clearly will evolve with your devices since it is not tethered to the form factor. The Props, like the Hype, will also work with other devices if you outgrow your iPad, but it also is more forgiving in terms of the iPad you can insert. You can stick an iPad 1-4 in the slot and it they all fit snugly and allow room for connection cables and camera. Barring any massive change in iPad width, height and thickness, the Props should still work with an iPad 5 available in Fall of 2013 (this is conjecture on my part since I have not seen the iPad 5 as of this writing).
For my money, I’d recommend the Props keyboard and case combo. I’ve had a chance to use all three. I find the Hype, while priced very attractively, just isn’t practical as a solution, mainly because it means taking the cover off when you want to use the iPad. That’s fine for travel but not for something you want to use all the time. The Verbatim, while a solid solution, also suffers from having been left behind when you need it the most. Like the old saying that the “best camera is the one you have with you,” a Bluetooth keyboard is similar. When you’re out and about and need to type, you don’t want to regret the keyboard left on your desk. That said, the Props is a big piece of hardware. The fact that it doubles a very solid case makes it more practical. Versus the others, it functions far, far better as a stand. If, however, you need your iPad sleek and thin, the Props is not for you.