Gear Review: ZAGGmate iPad Case and Keyboard

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Accessory-maker ZAGG recently introduced its ZAGGmate iPad case, which comes in two flavors: with and without integrated Bluetooth keyboard. I had a chance to test out the keyboard variety. Read on to find out how it stacks up against the Kensington KeyFolio and other similar offerings.

Build and Design

The ZAGGmate is different from the recent crop of keyboard cases for iPad. It isn’t a leather or fake-leather folio, like most of the offerings you’ll find. Instead, it’s a hardshell made of aircraft-grade aluminum that matches the finish of your iPad itself. When operating as a case, it doesn’t actually protect that finish, leaving the back of your iPad exposed to the elements (unless you have some kind of stick-on film shield already in use).

In case-mode, you place your iPad face-down against the keyboard, and the ZAGGmate’s foam inner lining hugs the Apple tablet to prevent it from coming lose. If you throw it into a bag without any additional protection, your screen won’t be damaged, but you can expect to scratch and scuff the aluminum backing on your iPad. Combined with a sleeve (most of which will fit with the ZAGGmate on), though, you’ll have nothing to worry about. Of course, that means purchasing another protective device in addition to the $99 you’re spending on the ZAGGmate.

But the case is only half the story. Lining the inside of the ZAGGmate is a Bluetooth keyboard. There’s a fold-out tab that props up your iPad in either landscape or portrait mode while you’re using the keyboard. The keyboard itself is about 90 percent the size of a full one, and makes maximum use of the space available. Unlike the keyboard on the Kensington KeyFolio, it has both Shift keys. The texture of the keys also isn’t rubberized, as it is with many of the folio-type cases, making this keyboard much more pleasant to type on.

Features and Function

The keyboard is actually a pleasure to use. As mentioned, it doesn’t sacrifice any keys to fit into the space provided, and it feels very similar in use to Apple’s own wireless keyboard in terms of noise and the depth of individual key presses. Keys are closer together, but adjusting to this difference is much easier than it is to the keyboard in Kensington’s case.

Also, I mentioned that I experienced rare connectivity issues with the Kensington case. Not so with the ZAGGmate. It seems to have struck just the right balance in terms of knowing how long to wait after the last keystroke before going to sleep, and the connection is solid when it’s awake.

The keyboard also includes many special function keys, including some that aren’t found on the KeyFolio. Spotlight search, iPod and volume controls, home, picture frame and darken screen buttons are all including on the function key row. The Spotlight key is especially handy, since it can act as a launcher, but I wish Apple would let you scroll through the results with the arrow keys so you wouldn’t have to touch the screen at all.

ZAGGmate also got things right with the battery. According to the company’s claims, the battery (charged via included MicroUSB cable) can last a couple of months in standby. It hasn’t run out on me yet, and I haven’t plugged it in since I received it a week ago.

Verdict

In terms of the keyboard/case spectrum, the ZAGGmate with keyboard leans heavily towards the keyboard side of things. In fact, it’s almost more of a competitor for Apple’s keyboard dock than for other keyboard cases (and a very strong one at that). Using the ZAGGmate without a sleeve or built-in laptop compartment is something I’d probably never do. At the same time, my gear bags almost always have either one of those available. Plus the ZAGGmate takes up way less room than the KeyFolio or other cases of similar design, and weighs less, too.

  • Highs: Great keyboard and battery, good looks, lightweight and low-profile.
  • Lows: Doesn’t protect the back of the iPad.

If you’re serious about using the iPad as a mobile device, this is the best option out there right now. The price may seem a little steep when you factor in additional protection for the back of your device, but if you’ve already been an iPad owner for a while, you probably already have something that can serve in that capacity anyway. And of course, the ZAGGmate still protects the screen, which is more important anyway, depending on how much stock you put in looks.

Disclosure: The ZAGGmate tested was provided by the manufacturer for review purposes.

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