Apple iPad, Day 11: Using a Physical Keyboard With the iPad
By Tony Bradley
30 Days With the iPad: Day 11
Since I began the 30 Days With the iPad journey, I have had comments, emails, tweets, and other communications from interested readers inquiring about whether or not I plan to use an external keyboard, or directly asking me to try out one or more physical keyboard options. Today I am checking out one such physical keyboard.
Let me start by reiterating something I have said repeatedly in the past–I don’t have any problem typing on the virtual keyboard. I find the touchscreen to be sensitive and responsive enough to keep up a reasonable typing pace. However, as I pointed out on Day 4, there are some other reasons I don’t prefer the virtual keyboard. The virtual keyboard takes up half of the display, and I have to choose between having the iPad in a good position to be a keyboard, or a good position to be a display–while I need it to be both.
There are a couple of very simple reasons why I went with this keyboard rather than the Apple keyboard. First, the Apple keyboard is not very practical from a mobile computing standpoint. It means having to carry two separate things around with me which is a burden I am not really interested in if it can be avoided.
Second, the Apple Keyboard Dock holds the iPad up in portrait mode (so it can plug into the dock connector on the bottom), but I prefer to use the iPad 2 in landscape mode for most tasks. Third, according to customer reviews of the Apple Keyboard Dock, it doesn’t play nice with some iPad 2 cases, and it would be a pain to have to take the iPad out of its case every time to dock it.
The Logitech Keyboard Case has the added advantage of being a case. That means that even though I have to carry it around with me, it is not a separate item–it just becomes part of carrying the iPad. Obviously it adds to both the bulk and the weight of the tablet, but even with the case it is significantly thinner and lighter than my notebook.
When I want to use it, I can just slide the iPad–in either landscape or portrait mode–into a slot above the keyboard. It is quite sturdy as long as it is level or tilted back. If you happen to tilt it slightly toward you, though, the iPad may tumble forward.
The keyboard is small. The case fits the iPad 2, so you can imagine the size of the keyboard. It is like typing on a netbook. It does, however, resolve both of my complaints from Day 4, and it has some additional perks. I like having a tab key, and the directional arrow keys that are missing from the iPad virtual keyboard.
In addition, the keyboard has a row of keys across the top that provide access to special iPad functions. There is a Home button that works just like the Home button on the iPad itself–including opening the list of multitasked apps currently running. It also has keys for playing music, switching tracks, and controlling the volume, as well as for cut, copy, and paste.
One more feature of the Logitech Keyboard Case that is nice is that it works with the magic magnets of the iPad 2. Just like the Apple iPad Smart Cover, the iPad 2 will automatically lock when the case is closed, and instantly come to life when the case is opened.
I have two complaints about the Logitech Keyboard Case. It is rechargeable–which is awesome–but it recharges via USB. That means keeping it juiced depends on having a PC of some sort available which goes against the premise of using it as a PC replacement, and could keep me tethered to a PC even after iOS 5 cuts the cord for the iPad itself. I suppose I could find some other adapter to charge it via USB from the wall without adding a PC to the mix.
My other complaint is the keyboard size. I think it is great that this keyboard serves a dual function as a case, and I will definitely keep it and use it as my case so the keyboard is handy when I need it. But, for working at my desk, I think I would prefer to get the standard Apple wireless keyboard, and use the HDMI output dongle to connect the iPad 2 to my 23-inch monitor so I can really work in a mode more akin to what I am used to with my PC.
I still maintain that average users who don’t write for a living don’t necessarily need a physical keyboard. When iOS 5 comes out this fall that will be even more true thanks to the split keyboard mode. With iOS 5 you can use the iPad in horizontal mode with the keyboard split in half and moved to the bottom left and right corners where it can be easily accessed with your thumbs while holding the tablet. I don’t recommend writing a short story that way, but I think that mode will be awesome for emails, Web surfing, and other typing tasks.
That’s just me, though. If any of you have an iPad or iPad 2, feel free to chime in on the comments and let me know what you think. Is the virtual keyboard good enough? Is a physical keyboard really necessary? Do you have a particular keyboard model you prefer?