Review: ZaggKeys keyboard cases for iPad mini offer easier typing, less insanity
It’s difficult to type on the iPad mini. Quick bursts of texts are manageable, but if you’re angling to type out long-form prose, the virtual keyboard on Apple’s smaller tablet proves frustrating. And while even great keyboard cases for the full-size iPad involved tradeoffs, keyboard cases for the iPad mini accentuate those tradeoffs: You want full-sized keys, good key action, and all the perks of a regular keyboard, but you want it to fit nicely with your iPad mini.
As I wrote when I reviewed Logitech’s Ultrathin mini keyboard cover (), it’s tough to resolve those competing demands. Place your iPad mini over your computer’s keyboard, and you’ll immediately spot some of the challenges the makers of keyboard cases face. My colleague Dan Frakes tested half a dozen iPad mini keyboard for our iPad-keyboard buying guide, and he could recommend only one—and that one halfheartedly.
Yet as frustrated as he and I have both been by the available options, we’ve kept hunting for a good iPad mini typing solution. And I may have found one. Actually, two.
Zaggs for the memories
Zagg’s first two attempts at iPad mini keyboard cases, the ZaggKeys Mini 7 and ZaggKeys Mini 9, were among the better options on the market, with large, high-quality keys. But the Mini 7’s odd key layout made it difficult to type on, and the Mini 9 achieved “typability” by using a keyboard—and, thus, an enclosing case—considerably larger than the iPad mini itself.
Zagg recently unleashed two additional keyboards for the iPad mini, the ZaggKeys Folio for iPad mini (available in black or white) and the ZaggKeys Cover for iPad mini (available in black or silver), and this time around the company got things mostly right.
The Folio and Cover cost $100 each, are each roughly the same size as the iPad mini, and sport the same keyboard. The difference is that the Folio can actually hold your iPad: Attached to the keyboard is a thin, black-plastic shell you snap your iPad mini into. The Cover, on the other hand, consists solely of the keyboard and a hinge that holds your iPad. You tuck your iPad mini into a groove on the hinge and then fold the keyboard flat against the iPad’s screen as a, well, cover.
But it’s what the two new Zagg keyboards have in common that sets them apart from the other offerings we’ve tested. As I mentioned, both models uses the same keyboard. The keys aren’t full-sized, but they’re close, and—most important—you can type well on them. Of course, as with all keyboards shrunk down to this size, there are some key challenges (or perhaps we should call them “keyportunities”). Several keys get shrunk down to half-width: the numeral 1, semicolon, apostrophe, and open-bracket ([) keys all get that fate. The Q key serves double duty as the tilde (~) key (when pressed in tandem with the Fn modifier), and Caps Lock and Tab merge into a single half-width key in the Caps Lock key’s standard position immediately to the left of A.
But despite these modifications, the layout works pretty well. I can’t type at top speed with the keyboard, but I can type far faster with the Folio and Cover than I can using the touchscreen keyboard on the iPad mini—or with any other iPad mini keyboard I’ve tried. And the key shapes work far better for my fingers than the keys on Logitech’s Ultrathin mini ever did.
As with most iPad keyboards, the keys on the top row offer up some iPad-specific functions: Home, screen lock, Siri, toggling the on-screen keyboard, copy, paste, media-playback control (previous, play/pause, next), mute, volume down, and volume up.
Beyond the keys
On the left edge of each Zagg keyboard, toward the front, sits a Micro-USB port for charging. On the opposite edge sit a power switch and a pairing button. And in front, near the right side, you’ll find a single LED that blinks blue while the keyboard is in pairing mode, and otherwise indicates charging status.
Pairing the keyboard is painless: You press the pairing button, tap the keyboard’s name in iOS’s Bluetooth screen in Settings, and you’re good to go.
To see the keyboard’s current battery life, you press the Fn key along with the Alt/Battery key (immediately to the right of Spacebar). The front LED then blinks green up to four times, indicating the approximate charge level—one blink means 25 percent or less of battery life remains; four blinks means the keyboard’s battery is nearly full.
Interestingly, the keyboard’s keys are backlit, much like those on a Mac laptop. But unlike with Apple’s backlit keyboards, the Folio and Cover keyboards let you choose the backlight color—pressing a keyboard shortcut cycles through white, blue, green, teal, yellow, red, and purple. (You can also cycle through brightness levels.)
The Folio can rotate back to an angle about 45 degrees from horizontal. The Cover actually angles back even farther, to roughly 35 degrees from horizontal. In my testing, both models kept my iPad mini at the angle I positioned it. You may get a slight shimmy with the Cover when you tap the top of the iPad’s screen, but each model keeps things plenty stable. Each is, of course, limited to holding your iPad in landscape orientation.
Folio versus Cover
My expectation was that I’d prefer the ZaggKeys Folio, since it provides more protection for your iPad mini when you fold it closed, and because I thought the iPad itself would feel sturdier when attached more-permanently to the keyboard. In practice, though, I slightly prefer the Cover. Its hinge groove grasps the iPad snugly and securely, and it adjusts to a wider variety of screen angles on a tighter hinge. And that rear cover on the Folio is a bit flimsy—our review model developed a tiny fracture in the thin plastic surrounding the iPad’s volume buttons. (The shell remains perfectly usable despite that crack, and the shell, like the Zagg Cover, holds the iPad securely.)
Both cases make it a little difficult to tap the very bottom of the screen, as the hinge “lip” can get in the way of your fingertip. For example, when I want to tap the Send button in the bottom-right corner of the Messages app, it takes a smidgen of finger gymnastics to touch precisely the right place. But it’s not something that happens often. (Though this is another reason I prefer the Cover—it's easier to quickly remove your iPad mini from the Cover when you want to use it sans-keyboard.)
The ZaggKeys Cover and ZaggKeys Folio are the first two iPad mini-sized keyboards that I can type on without questioning my sanity. Though I prefer the Cover, either is a great option for iPad mini enthusiasts who yearn for an easier typing experience but don’t want to lug around a separate, full-size Bluetooth keyboard.