Review: Clamcase LLC Clamcase iPad 2 Keyboard Case
Clamcase had a great idea with the original Clamcase keyboard case solution for the iPad, but some significant flaws in execution prevented us from being able to recommend it. Now the company has released an updated version called Clamcase for iPad 2 ($149), which maintains the same style, but addresses some of the issues we encountered with the first model. Unfortunately, it has a show-stopping new problem that again reduces its appeal.
For the most part, Clamcase looks identical to its predecessor: it’s a mostly matte-finished hard plastic shell that opens like a clam—or laptop—to reveal an iPad holder on the top and a keyboard on the bottom. The keys are laid out the same way, the hinge is the same, and even the rubber feet on the bottom are the same. The big difference is the shell that holds the tablet in place. Because hard plastic doesn’t give like rubber or fabric, it’s important that the shape precisely match the body of the device. Once again, Clamcase got this right. The iPad 2 fits in the new shell perfectly, with cutouts for the Sleep/Wake button, rear camera, side switch, volume rocker, and speaker. Holes for the headphone and Dock Connector ports are still pretty tight, but will fit Apple’s accessories and any others that are the same size. We appreciate that the company integrated magnets into the case; they activate the iPad 2’s automatic locking feature. Still included with the case is a Mini-USB to USB cable for charging the internal battery.
We had issues with the original model because of space bar responsiveness, and thankfully, this version has been improved. All of the keys worked exactly as they were supposed to, and typing was a breeze. In fact, it was so comfortable that it actually felt like a small notebook computer; more than once we reached for the non-existent trackpad. We also did not experience the same kind of Bluetooth pairing issues that we did with the first-generation model. Pairing was quick and easy, thanks to the large pair button in the upper-right corner of the keyboard.
Unfortunately, the new Clamcase had some charging issues. A full charge is supposed to take 90 minutes, and the indicator next to the charger is supposed to switch from amber to green when the charge is full. Even after leaving the device charging overnight, however, it stayed amber. Because we wanted to be sure that the issue was legitimate, we tested this several times, plugging in to several different computers and wall outlets, and still never saw the green light. We don’t know if the green LED in our review unit was malfunctioning, or if Clamcase never actually received a full charge. This may have led to the subsequent problems we experienced with power management, however, in every situation, we gave Clamcase a minimum of two hours of continuous charge time, and twice let it recharge overnight.
The keyboard case is supposed to conserve its 90 hours of continuous battery life in two ways. First is through a passive sleep feature: after 10 minutes of inactivity, Clamcase is supposed to automatically enter a sleep mode, and simply hitting keys on the keyboard will wake it up. The other option is to put it into a power-saving mode by holding down the power button for two seconds. A blue light will flash and the Bluetooth connection will be broken until the process is repeated. On several occasions, however, we put the case into this mode overnight, and each time found it dead in the morning. While we weren’t sure if it is because Clamcase wasn’t taking a full charge or if it wasn’t managing its power properly, we retested multiple times because we couldn’t believe that this was normal battery behavior. Whatever the reason is, it’s a very serious issue.
We appreciate that Clamcase addressed the major issues with its first accessory, but the power issues we encountered this time were just as bad, if not worse. There’s no doubt the company did get a lot of things right—enough that Clamcase for iPad 2 would have otherwise warranted a B- rating, given that its performance as a keyboard and case is solid, albeit at a $50 premium over comparably good competing options we’ve recently tested. That said, it’s absolutely critical that a battery-powered accessory for the iPad be able to hold its charge not just overnight, but for extended periods so that you needn’t keep it connected to a USB port all the time. Having to be tethered to an outlet for daily fear of a dead battery just isn’t acceptable. For this reason, Clamcase for iPad 2 earns a D+ rating, a major step below its predecessor. Should the company address the power consumption issues properly, an updated version of this case could rate considerably higher.