New Trent Airbender Mini
New Trent's Airbender Mini for iPad mini ($40, a.k.a NT31B) is a nearly unbelievable case. It's not that the case itself is all that surprising -- after all, it looks a lot like OtterBox's Defender Series Case. Nor were we blown away by the Bluetooth keyboard that comes with it, as we've seen plenty of those. It's the fact that the two parts have been bundled in a cohesive package, and come together with a cool metal arm, all for an incredibly low price. So while price isn't everything, it's impossible to ignore the fact that Airbender Mini costs $30 less than either the iPad mini Defender Series Case on its own, or a low-priced keyboard case.
The similarities between New Trent’s and OtterBox’s cases are uncanny. Much like Defender Series Case, Airbender Mini starts with a two-piece plastic frame that snaps around the iPad’s body. There are a total of 12 points where the front and back click together. Undoing them isn’t so easy, though, and we found that a coin or long fingernail helped the process. The encased iPad then slips into a smooth rubber skin, which hides the seams and fits together well with the plastic. A built-in screen protector keeps the display safe from scratches, without affecting visibility or touch sensitivity.
Except for the microphone, the ports are all at least partially covered, with the headphone and Lightning ports hidden by flip-open protectors. They are molded with enough space to allow for the use of third-party plugs. Speakers are recessed beneath a perforated plastic guard, and the side switch is hidden by the same kind of flap as the ports. New Trent handled button coverage properly, as the volume, Sleep/Wake, and Home buttons feel great underneath the rubber, clicking just like they should. The openings for the two cameras, and a round cutout over the Apple logo, are lined with sheets of plastic to protect the material underneath.
Although it can be folded over the iPad’s display like a cover, similar to traditional folio-style keyboard cases, New Trent’s keyboard is fully removable, providing five hours of continuous typing per charge. It’s made of the same rubber and plastic as the case, and the micro-USB charging port is hidden under the same kind of flap. Bluetooth pairing and power management are handled by a button and switch above the keys, found next to caps lock, charging, and Bluetooth indicator lights. As for the keys themselves, they’re surprisingly good for how small and cramped the keyboard is. We found ourselves typing more quickly and accurately than expected, except when it came to contractions. The oft-used apostrophe isn’t found on its own key, but rather as a secondary function of the O key. This really threw us off, and slowed us down, when we were otherwise enjoying a positive experience. Users who have large hands or need a more conventional layout will be better off with a standalone Bluetooth keyboard, but this one can be learned over time.
The two halves of the case can be used totally separately, but also come together thanks to the plastic and aluminum arm. One end snaps onto the case much like a lens cover on an SLR camera, while the other slides into an opening on the back end of the keyboard. Together, they can be used in a number of combinations. They can be closed like a book, with a rubber tab holding them together. When you open it, Airbender Mini automatically wakes the iPad mini from sleep. On top of that, the arm can be repositioned to a huge number of angles, thanks to ratcheting points inside the arm, and the iPad is fully rotatable. You can choose the angle, and the orientation, with almost no effort.
Airbender Mini is not a perfect case, but it could easily sell for twice as much, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see some companies offer a similar option for more than $100. At $40, this is a great option. The case alone is worth that much, and when you add in the novel arm, and the Bluetooth keyboard, there’s very little room to find fault. Our only real hangups are typing-related, particularly the fact that the apostrophe key is misplaced, and the cramped real estate. If your primary concern is typing for extended period of time, this isn’t the best keyboard. For almost anyone though, it’s a great deal for a combined iPad mini case and adjustable stand, with the keyboard serving as a bonus option as needed.