Technology Review: Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad 2

[ Introduction and Background ]

Previously, I discussed the merits and problems of my first keyboard case for the iPad, the ClamCase. While it still remains one of the best options available, a few factors have prompted me to search for an alternative case.

Just as a reminder, I am a Neurology resident at a training program at a large academic hospital that has three Neurology primary services and three consult services as well as a smorgasbord of general and subspecialty clinics. This hospital has a browser-based online medical record and order entry system that makes it very easy to use an iOS or Android device (or a laptop) to perform digital tasks to contribute to the medical care of patients. For the second year in a row, the program is issuing iPads to its incoming junior residents. Our program, in particular, generates massive amounts of admission, consultation, and progress notes (which include “accept notes” for all junior residents assuming the care of new patients, even if another admission note is available, and “chief accept notes” for chief residents in a similar position). Accordingly, having a method of performing actual word processing on the iPad is an attractive objective.

In the setting of my wife (also a Neurology resident) researching cases for her new iPad which her residency program is issuing to her for a similar purpose, I have sought out alternatives to the ClamCase. In particular, my desire was to find a solution that matched these criteria:

1. Battery Life – Perhaps the most important factor is that the keyboard case should have a very long and stable battery life. In my line of work, I can’t afford to sit down and plug in when I might have to respond to a Code at any given moment.

2. Weight – The ClamCase essentially doubles the weight of the iPad and adds considerable heft to the standard Neurology bag. I would prefer a lighter case if possible.

3. Comfortable Keys – Many of the iPad keyboard cases have relatively poor quality keys or oddly arranged keys that provide an unsatisfying experience that ultimately slows down the typing process, and hence, reduces productivity.

4. Protection – I would want a case that offers sufficient front face and rear encasing protection for the iPad. Sadly, I previously dropped an iPad in the line of duty (running to the Emergency Room to respond to an emergent consultation for a life-threatening traumatic head bleed). At the time, I was using the standard Apple “Smart Cover” which offered no front screen protection, particularly when it slipped out of my hand and landed glass-side first on the tiled floor!

[ Hypothesis ]

There must be a keyboard cases that provides a suitable balance between battery life, light weight, keyboard layout, and protection.

[ Results and Discussion ]

After viewing and trying out several cases in a local store including the Zaggfolio, Targus Versavue, and Logitech Solar Folio, I have recently settled on the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard cover. The Zaggfolio and Versavue keyboards lacked a good typing feel (lack of spring in the keys). The Solar Folio is a nice option, but it lacks any backup method of charging besides the six hours of natural or incandescent lighting required to charge the keyboard battery. Nonetheless, I also had a lot of reservations about the Ultrathin Keyboard cover initially including the following:

1. It offers almost NO protection. – This is not actually a “case.” It is essentially a svelte version of the Apple Smart Cover with a built-in “chiclet” keyboard. It connects to the iPad with a magnetic hinge, providing a cover for the glass screen when closed but otherwise not contributing any protective benefit, particularly to the rear of the case. It additionally will do nothing to protect the glass screen when opened.

2. It cannot be flipped 360 degrees. – Unlike the ClamCase, the cover has to be detached in order for one to use the iPad comfortably. In other words, the cover cannot be flipped across the rear encasing of the iPad: the hinge will not allow for that much rotation. Fortunately, the cover is extremely easy to detach, but this is somewhat disappointing feature of the design.

3. It has few viewing angles. – Unlike the nearly 360 degrees of viewing angles offered by the ClamCase, this cover only allows for a single viewing angle which is approximately 60 degrees from the table. It is a relatively steep angle that makes typing on one’s lap potentially awkward when sitting upright.

4. It was not clear whether or not other protective encasings would be compatible with this device. – Some user reviews described being able to encase the iPad in a plastic shield whereas others vehemently denied this possibility.

5. Several users described not being able to type on their laps with this keyboard. – Since the keyboard is very light, some users expressed concern about the possibility of the top-heavy iPad toppling over their knees and onto the floor when trying to type on their laps.

Nonetheless, I decided to take the plunge and attempt to fit a Belkin Snapshield onto the iPad 2 and then see if this would be compataible with the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard cover. Fortunately, this gambit paid off, and the finally result can be seen in these pictures.

This keyboard cover does have several key advantages:

1. It is very light. – Carrying my iPad and this keyboard in my bag feels almost weightless compared to the past several months when I was carrying the ClamCase.

2. The keyboard has a good feel. – While the keys do not have the laptop-style feel of the ClamCase keyboard, there is a slight separation between the keys that offers a good degree of spring. The feel is superior to most other keyboards incorporated into keyboard folio cases that I tried.

3. It is attractive and streamlined. – When attached to the iPad, it maintains a slim profile, approaching that of the MacBook Air.

4. It is compatible with the Belkin SnapShield. – At the very least, the iPad 2 with an iPad 2 SnapShield and the Logitech Ultrathin keyboard are compatible together (which has been corroborated by at least one other user). This may not be the case for the third generation iPad and associated SnapShield as the dimensions are slightly different. Having the SnapShield offers rear encasing protection for the iPad, attenuating the lack of protective qualities of this keyboard cover.

5. The cost is less than the ClamCase. – The Logitech keyboard is $100 while the SnapShield was an additional $30, making it slightly cheaper than the ClamCase.

[ Conclusions ]

Time will tell whether or not this combination of keyboard and case will be sufficient for the demands of the hospital, but at this time it offers a lightweight and attractive alternative to the ClamCase. Thus far, I have been using it for three days, including during noon conferences and lectures and during my continuity clinic for my clinic notes. My hope is that the battery is longer lasting and more stable than that of the ClamCase, and that the light weight does not come at too much cost with regards to reduced protective qualities.

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