Whilst tablet sales, partcularly the ipad's continue to break records, the naysayers also continue to point out their flaws, describing them as laptops without keyboards. Buying a keyboard doesn't seem to be a convincing argument, rather it's seen as playing into their hands, so I think we'll all have to agree to disagree for now.
Microsoft and Google have both recently thrown their hats into the tablet ring, announcing the 'Surface' and 'Nexus 7'. Microsoft's 10" Surface is clearly aimed at taking a slice or two from the iPad and they don't seem to think a removable keyboard is a bad idea, as two were announced to be sold with (or as an option, I wasn't clear on that) both models. Google's Nexus 7 is not going to have an official keyboard option, but its smaller 7" screen does make it more suitable for content consumption, note-taking and occasional emailing, something a touchscreen is more than adequate for.
I've reviewed a couple of bluetooth keyboards for the iPad recently. Both from Logitech, the 'Bluetooth Keyboard for iPad', which is the one I own is an excellent portable keyboard which cleverly uses the case as a stand for the iPad. It's great for carrying round in a bag for occasional, but longer sessions and I write most of my blog articles with it.
I also had the opportunity to spend a day with the Logitech Slim Keyboard cover for iPad. Again, a very clever design integrates the keyboard into a lightweight screen cover and, although the keyboard layout was a little smaller, excellent build quality and a good feel when working mean't it felt worth the compromise.
At £90, it did seem rather expensive, especially when a hunt around ebay reveals very similar ideas from unbranded manufacturers selling for between £15 and £20. I began to wonder whether these ultra-cheap keyboards actually offer enough value to be worth buying over their significantly more wallet-lightening branded counterparts.
A search for 'ipad bluetooth keyboard cover' on ebay gives the usual myriad results, but the ones that stand out are the aluminium ones with plastic keys. At this price, I was expecting some strange smelling 'faux leather' cases with rubber keys giving me flashbacks to the early 80s and the Spectrum ZX81! For your sake, dear reader, I decided I would take the plunge and gambled £17.99 on one to see just how close it would get to Logetech's effort and here it is:
First impressions were actually pretty good. The keyboard came well packaged, looked more expensive than it was and included a micro-usb cable for charging and instructions for setting up.
Charging took a couple of hours and the claimed battery lift is 55 hours of constant use. A quick tap at the keyboard before sticking it on charge suggested that build quality was 'good enough' and that this might have turned out to be an excellent buy. Even the shortcuts to iPad specific functions like media playback keys were present.
After charging, I rested the ipad in the rubber grips that hold it at a comfortable angle for typing on my lap and began to write... for precisely one sentence before the iPad was on the floor and I feared for my favourite gadget!
The keyboard's rubber grips (as opposed to the Logetech's strong magnets) had totally failed to hold on to the iPad as I typed. A closer look showed clearly that the iPad (3) was slightly too wide and slightly too heavy! Checking the box revealed it only made mention of the iPad 2 - the product description on the website said otherwise. The iPad survived thankfully, that would have been a gamble to far!
Warning 1: A lot of these aluminium keyboards are marketed as being suitable for ipad 2 and 3. DO NOT BUY FOR YOUR IPAD 3. A later test confirmed that the grip was acceptable (but not in the same league as the Logitech) for an iPad 2.
Warning 2: Whilst performing a longer test with a more stable iPad 2, I also discovered that 5 of the keys were dead. Build quality is average at best and I'd recommend spending a bit of time checking an Ebay seller's returns policy and reputation if you're still tempted.
So the keyboard went back and fortunately there were no issues at all with the seller. They even gave me a freepost returns address, so my sacrifice to the reader was only a few missed heatbeats.
I wasn't done though. Returning to Ebay, I found another seller who had exactly the same keyboard, but stated very clearly that this one was specifically for the iPad 3. At £14.99 delivered, it was also two pounds cheaper than my previous gamble. I snapped, and here it is:
The good news is, my latest purchase grips the iPad with more confidence and all the keys work. I've written a few recent blog articles on it and can say that for the money, I am okay with it, but it's no where near the Logitech. Whilst it really looks the part, my criticism has to do with the feel of the keyboard when working. A good keyboard lets you disappear into your thoughts and focus entirely on what you're writing. A poor keyboard continually forces you out of that 'zone' and back to checking what you've just done. These cheap keyboards get a surprising amount right, but the middle keys have no response or feel when you press them. They also sink right into the case and the keys around them all move and beging sinking too. The space bar is horrible, again it sinks down much too far, but it's too much to compensate for when using your thumb and my hands began to ache a little by the end of a session and I was continually missing the space between words, even after practice.
For me, for the money, it's a useful addition for occasional bursts on the sofa, or a park bench. Whenever I can though, I'll be using my Logitech, which I love.
If you're serious about spending a long time typing on a keyboard and like the idea of a keyboard cover, although pricey it's still worth taking the hit and getting the Logitech. If you're a hobbyist, or occasional user, £15 is not much of a gamble, don't expect the Earth, but do make sure the description and the box are specific, especially if you have the 'new iPad' (iPad 3).