Review: iLuv iCK836 The Professional WorkStation Portfolio for iPad 2/iPad (3rd-Gen)
It was obvious when the iPad launched that keyboard accessories would be quite important, particularly for word processing and other traditional forms of content creation. Over the last two years, iPad-ready keyboards and keyboard-equipped cases have appeared at a fairly steady rate, but now that the third-generation iPad's on shelves, developers that were awaiting its release have deluged the marketplace with tons of new options all at once. So today, we're looking at six different keyboards that we've received in recent days, ranging from $80 to $150 in price: Brookstone's Bluetooth Keyboard with Tech-Grip Case and Wireless Keyboard Pro and Leather Case, Helium Digital's KeyCover Folio, iLuv's Professional WorkStation Portfolio ($120), and Kensington's KeyFolio Expert Multi Angle Folio & Keyboard and KeyStand Compact Keyboard & Stand. Five of these accessories share the exact same concept, but execute differently on the theme: they're folding cases that open to reveal a wireless keyboard on one side, and an iPad 2 or third-generation iPad on the other, then close to protect both. Kensington's KeyStand is the only exception: it looks nearly identical to KeyFolio, but folds smaller, replacing the iPad holder with a half-height support system that holds any iPad upright, with or without a self-supplied iPad case. Each of the keyboards uses Bluetooth to connect to the iPad, and comes with a USB cable to recharge an integrated battery that lasts for days of active typing, or longer on standby mode.
Made from leather with hard plastic keys, the Professional WorkStation Portfolio is iLuv’s update to its earlier folio-style keyboard case iCK826, only with very minor differences. At the time it was released, the original stood out both for its hard keys and removable keyboard, which remain intact on the new version. The keyboard on this version is identical, as is the frame to hold the iPad itself; even the foldout kickstand is the same. iLuv claims 30 days of battery life on a full charge.
Judged strictly against its predecessor, the only discernible changes in iCK836 are slightly redesigned tabs that now hold the case shut with magnets instead of Velcro, and a $10 price drop, both positives. However, as the number of keyboard cases we’re looking at today suggests, there are many more options out there these days, and they’ve improved a lot, even at lower prices. Last year, iLuv’s keyboard was a standout largely because it wasn’t made from rubber, but by contrast with this year’s options, it’s not as close to a notebook-class keyboard as it could be. Because the keys are so close to one another and in some cases moved around relative to a full-sized keyboard, it’s easy to hit the wrong keys, including when shifting for capitalization. Rivals have come a long way in the past six months while iLuv has stood still with this keyboard design.
What saves iCK836 from a steep rating drop is its pricing. On the surface, iCK836 seems only $10 less expensive than its predecessor, at a time when many very good to great keyboard cases can be had for $100. Asking $120 for a case with a detachable keyboard and quality materials isn’t crazy, but it’s not particularly aggressive, either. But street pricing for this case is considerably lower: iCK836 can be had for $60 to $70 at most retailers online, which is very affordable. The only offsets are the keyboard, which as noted above isn’t ideal, and the case design, which requires quite a bit of desk space, due to a pop-open rear stand that’s needed to prop up the iPad inside; many comparable products have engineered smarter alternatives. iLuv deserves commendation for improving upon last year’s version, but rivals have moved forward faster and better with their hard plastic keyboard and case designs. This is a good enough option for its low street price, but it needs a considerable top to bottom rethinking for the inevitable next version.