Review: Helium Digital KeyCover Folio 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 ($80), iLuv's Professional WorkStation Portfolio, 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.
Of all the cases we’re looking at today, KeyCover Folio has a few things that set it apart from the crowd. It’s the only one of the cases to have a properly form-fitting iPad holder, which allows it to also be the thinnest of the folios. It’s so thin, in fact, that the two halves of the faux leather frame sit completely flat when empty. Slide the tablet in and you’ll find the holes are all large enough to accommodate large accessories and generally well-tailored; the camera hole on our review unit was a little off-center—not enough to cover the camera, but not quite right, either.
The closure and stand mechanism of KeyCover Folio is also pretty unique. We’ve seen magnetic tabs used to hold cases shut before, but this one actually extends to almost 10” long, a reinforced strap that comes around from the back. An exposed magnetic patch holds it in place during normal use, but also allows it to transform into a stand. It’s not immediately intuitive as to how to fold it properly, but it does work to prop up the iPad inside once you’ve figured it out. This case is also the only one of the bunch with magnets that automatically lock and unlock the new iPad when the case is opened or closed.
Helium Digital’s keyboard is quite good, very closely approximating the feel of an Apple keyboard design despite the considerable reduction in key spacing relative to Apple’s notebook and standalone wireless keyboards. The placement and size of the right shift key here is particularly appreciated, as it’s in the proper spot and closer to full-sized; similarly, the arrow cursor keys have been moved to a nice spot below the shift key for intuitive access. Only the enter key is significantly reduced in size, but even so, not to the point where it’s a problem; full-speed touch typing is achievable almost instantly after opening KeyCover Folio up for the first time. Helium Digital promises up to 120 days of use from a single battery recharge.
The only issues we’d point out with KeyCover Folio are the extra space demanded by its unusual rear stand system, and the fact that its keyboard isn’t detachable, both design choices arguably justified by its atypically low MSRP and relatively slim profile. Overall, KeyCover folio rates a strong general recommendation—for the price, it’s one of the best iPad keyboard cases we’ve tested, and the lack of thickness will be particularly appealing to size-obsessed users. Tiny tweaks could make a followup version even better, but if you’re willing to accept the current version’s design tradeoffs, it’s definitely worth considering as is.