ZAGGmate Case for iPad Has Great Keyboard Inside

| In-Depth Review

This case for the iPad is very smart: it’s an aluminum clamshell affair which matches the iPad and protects the display, especially during travel. Inside is a very, very nice keyboard. Just prop the iPad inside the case, and you’ll have a great system for writing and creating content anywhere you go.

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(ZAGG)

This case caught my attention because one of the principal complaints by writers on the go is the usability of the iPad’s virtual keyboard, without cursor keys, for writing and creating content. Especially with, say, Apple’s Pages app. One can, of course, carry the smaller Apple wireless keyboard along, but one still has to protect the face of the iPad when traveling. This innovative case solves all those problems.

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Deployed on my desk

Operation

First, the case easily snaps onto the face of the iPad and remains secure, thanks to a rubbery liner. When you do that, you have a nicely matched front and back chunk of aluminum that can be tossed into a backback with some confidence. To remove the case, hold the iPad vertically and pry the two apart at the 30-pin connector opening.

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 (ZAGG)

Some MacBooks will leave finger prints on the display when closed up. I am still investigating that issue with ZAGG and will update when I hear from them again. [ZAGG responded:  the distance between the keys and the face of the iPad is about 1 mm.  You can press as hard as you dare on the iPad back and you won’t get the keys to touch the iPad glass.]

To set up the iPad, deploy the raised hinge at the rear. Here’s where I had a little trouble. The raised hinge has hinge at the top. When you lift if up, it needs to unfold forward. I wasn’t sure if the pins needed to slide under the gutter rails or come up over the top and rest in front. In the process, it got stuck, and being perhaps a little too ham-fisted, I broke off one of the pins. The good news is that even with one pin sheared, it can still support the weight of the iPad with confidence, thanks to the design. (ZAGG responded:  the hinge is just supposed to drop into the front, keyboard side of the gutter.  It lifts up, folds out, and sets into place right near the front of the gutter.  It sounds like your hinge got stuck underneath where it belonged during the manufacturing process.  The front flap of the hinge is supposed to be free, above the tray and then when extended, it pulls back into the indent toward the front.  I think yours was placed underneath this section and when you tried to pull it forward, it broke. When assembled correctly, this hinge is surprisingly strong.  Out of thousands of sales, we have had only a couple calls about it.  However, we designed the hinge to “break-away” if there is any traumatic event.)

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The face of the raised hinge has two delicate pins, and I broke one off.

You can rest the iPad in either portrait or landscape mode. There’s a clever gutter/groove at the top of the keyboard that catches the iPad and holds it securely. Overall, the fit and finish is excellent.

Next, turn on the ZAGGmate and prepare the iPad for Bluetooth sync. You’ll need a ball point pen to push the Bluetooth discovery mode button on the ZAGGmate. Mine synced the first time and has remained so. To charge the keyboard’s Bluetooth system battery, a USB cable* is supplied. Note that this does not charge the iPad, and if you want to have the iPad charging during use, it’ll have to be in landscape mode to uncover the 30-pin conector.

The Bluetooth battery (Lithium Polymer) itself will remain charged for a couple of months in standby mode. In continuous use, the developer says it should operate for about 100 hours. Full charge is obtained in about 90 minutes. The status light will start blinking when there is 20 percent charge left — a few days use for most users, according to ZAGG.  You’ll need to plug the USB connector into one of those small USB charging/converter bricks — like the one supplied for the iPad. So if you want to charge both units simultaneously, on the go, you’ll need to carry two of them. However, because the ZAGGmate uses so little power, you could easily get by with one and alternate.

The keys have a very nice, short throw, similar to the Apple wireless keyboard. I’m a keyboard nutcase, very picky, and I liked the feel of this keyboard in terms of the key throw and tactile feedback. One problem, however, is the key spacing — which admittedly is constrained by the size of the iPad. My personal typing system depends on the spacing of the keys, and these keys are closer together than a standard keyboard. That threw off my schema, but the verdict is that it’s my own problem and no fault of the keyboard itself. It’s just something to be aware of.

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Compare to Apple Wireless Keyboard

The inside of the case, around the edges and where your thumbs may rest is a smooth, soft rubbery material that feels good and prevents the edges of the aluminum case from digging into your hands. Props for that. I was worried that the outside of my hands would feel the edges of the case, near the cursor and shift keys, but it turns out to be not an issue.

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Bare unit and edge that wasn’t a problem.

Keyboard Functions

The keyboard itself is very similar to Apple’s with one major improvement: this keyboard is especially designed for the iPad and has a special row of function keys along the top:

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Special function keys

  • Home - takes one back to the iPad home screen
  • Search - brings up the iPad’s search screen
  • Slideshow - Starts a slideshow
  • Keyboard Hide/Show - toggles between iPad onscreen keyboard and ZAGGmate
  • Black Screen - Puts the display into sleep mode
  • Previous track, Play/Pause, Next track - three keys for iPod operations
  • Mute
  • Volume Down
  • Volume Up
  • International Keyboard Selection - if you’ve added them on the iPad

These special function keys are one of the nicest features of the ZAGGmate and makes using the iPad exceptionally easy to use. The F5 through F9 keys are not currently assigned any special function for the ZAGGmate, and are reserved for future changes.

There is also a function key that selects the in-keyboard numeric keys, just like older keyboards without a built-in numeric pad. These are keyed together with blue labels.

CMD, OPT and CTL keys are included, and they’re available for any app that needs them, including cut/copy/paste and a host of others: Undo = CMD-Z, End = CMD + right arrow, Beginning = CMD + left arrow, SELECT ALL = CMD-A and several more. 

Out of the Box

The ZAGGmate comes in a nicely designed cardboard box. Inside that is a sturdy plastic liner that protects the unit. The USB cable connectors are wrapped in plastic to protect them during shipping.

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Shipping box that both protects and showcases product

I wasn’t extremely pleased with the design of the four page manual. The content is fine, except where it tries to explain how to deploy the raised hinge. More guidance is needed there. Also, the choice of white print on black makes it very hard to read, and some of the diagrams didn’t print well. While the black theme matches the ZAGGmate, preference should have been given to readability, not style, and black print on white would have been superb.

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The Four Page Pamphlet

Four small plastic feet with an adhesive backing are supplied so that a rough desk won’t scratch the back of the ZAGGmate. I haven’t applied these feet, so I don’t know if they’d rub off and get lost during the scuffle of travel, throwing the iPad into a backpack, etc.

Bottom Line

This is an innovative and exciting product. It’s perfect for the travler who has to do a lot of keyboard work, and it cleverly doubles as a smart looking and secure protective case for the iPad. The special row of function keys make this a compelling, thoughtfully designed product.

In the case of the raised hinge, I would change two things: I’d spell out in the pamphlet how to deploy it safely — if it gets caught, and I might change the small, easily broken pins with a sturdier flange design — recognizing the caveat above regarding the fail-safe, break away design and the easy replacement.  ZAGG says that if one of those pins breaks, they can supply a new one, and the customer can replace the entire hinge without having to send the whole unit back. Given that, I can recommend this product for the traveler — or even home use — for those who want a beautiful aluminum case and a terrific keyboard for the iPad. ZAGG has a fairly extensive FAQ that can answer a lot of other questions. I’d also change the printing of the pamphlet to black on white for a crisper, more readable document.

Final note: there is a version without the keyboard, simply as a protective travel case, for US$69.99.

________

* ZAGG says it’s a standard micro-USB cable, like the kind BlackBerrys use. If a customer needs a new one, ZAGG  told me, they’ll will take care of them. The same goes for the rubber feet.

Product: ZAGGmate

Company: ZAGG

List Price: US$99.99

Pros:

Exceptional travel protection, excellent keyboard, special function keys for iPad, soft rubber lining protects hands and iPad, supports either orientation of iPad, matches iPad exterior design, USB cable to charge Bluetooth system, good indicator lights.

Cons:

Manual hard to read with white on black, raised hinge can be tricky to deploy safely.

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Comments

jos

Is it possible to insert the iPad with the screen facing out?

John Martellaro

jos: not it’s not possible.  That’s because the front face of the iPad is flat while the back is curved.

chicochaz

This is a great functional-design solution. I think Zagg has really hit a home run. Good for them!

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