Review: Belkin FastFit Keyboard Case for iPad mini
Every iPad mini-specific keyboard is a compromise: the mini's narrow body just doesn't permit a same-width accessory to hold a complete set of full-sized keys, so developers have had to strategically choose their cuts. Belkin's new FastFit Keyboard Case for iPad mini ($80) isn't really a case, and it isn't a full-sized keyboard, but it makes compromises that some users may like. The core of the accessory is a Bluetooth 2 wireless keyboard with Apple-like island keys and a rechargeable battery good for 40 active hours or 60 days of standby on a single charge; it's paired with a micro USB cable for charging.
FastFit’s magnetically attachable lid design is instantly familiar, having been pioneered by Logitech for earlier full-sized iPad wireless keyboards. Belkin has tweaked the design somewhat. Gone is the glossy inner finish we’ve seen on many of these keyboard lids, replaced with a matte black plastic that matches the finish of the silver iPad Smart Cover-styled magnetic hinge and aluminum body. While the black/silver color combination doesn’t match either the slate/black or the silver/white iPad minis, FastFit looks okay with one iPad body or the other in open or closed configuration. Thanks to magnets, it sticks to the iPad mini’s screen when the lid’s closed, and has a tray to hold the mini in a reclining position for typing. It also auto-wakes the mini from sleep.
A couple of other tweaks are more than skin deep. Unlike some of the best keyboard lids we’ve tested recently, FastFit requires you to manually flip a switch on and off for power, rather than just automatically switching on by sensing the iPad’s location. The way the magnetic hinge recesses within the lid is also a minor inconvenience, as it rests within a nook behind the iPad tray, and needs to be manually flipped outwards when you’re reattaching the cover. Neither of these are huge issues, but they take away from FastFit’s fast-fitness.
Belkin’s keyboard compromises are perhaps the most interesting part of the FastFit story. The single most impressive choice made by the designers was to radically reduce the total number of keys, giving all of the numbers and letters of the alphabet their own places, plus dedicated keys for tab, caps lock, shift, alt, command, Fn, enter, delete, and arrows. Virtually everything except for basic punctuation has been remapped on top of the letter keys, such that you’ll have to hold function down to use brackets, tildes, plus/minus, and the like. Belkin has also moved the delete key up one row, and created a combined ?/’ key next to the space bar.
As it turns out, these choices create a typing environment that’s pretty usable for 90% of mainstream typing—if you don’t often use contractions, possessives, or question marks, you’ll find yourself quickly acclimating to the keys that are there, stumbling only when you make mistakes and need to delete them. There’s no question that the keyboard’s a little cramped, and requires stop-and-start hunting in specific situations, but users with small to medium sized hands will find it pretty reasonable.
Overall, FastFit is a good keyboard accessory for the iPad mini, so long as you understand what you’re getting into: it only provides protection for the mini’s screen, and is less than ideal for uncompromised typing, but will work if you need something that’s nearly the exact same size as the small iPad. Small tweaks to improve the user experience and cosmetics further would make it better, but its biggest issues are common across the iPad mini keyboard category.