Review: Helium Digital KeyCover Folio Keyboard Case for iPad mini
Modeled after the earlier KeyCover for iPad, Helium Digital's KeyCover Folio Keyboard Case for iPad mini ($60) is the least expensive iPad mini keyboard case to hit our office so far. Unlike the hard plastic iPad mini keyboard cases we've already seen, this one is a faux leather folio, with chiclet-style keys inside the "5mm thick" front cover. In addition to Bluetooth 3.0 wireless support, the keyboard has a rechargeable battery that promises to last 120 hours on a charge, and a Micro-USB cable is included for charging.
Because of its form-fitting tablet holder, KeyCover Folio is the thinnest iPad mini keyboard case around right now. Like with any number of folios, you slip the device in through the left edge, and tuck a flap underneath to hold it in place. It’s not an ideal fit, though, for a few reasons. The faux leather over the bezel doesn’t rest flat, and the openings along the edge are all at least a little off-center, leading to some issues. Headphone port access is problematic because of the placement of the seam at the top of the case, which prevented us from making a proper connection even with the thinnest of 3.5mm plugs. The microphone is just barely exposed through the large circle, though its performance doesn’t seem to be affected. And the Lightning port opening is also poorly positioned, but thankfully, there’s enough wiggle room to fit even larger-than-average connectors. In short, the frame isn’t bad, but could stand to be improved.
When you open or close the lid, you’ll sometimes hear the auto-locking feature click, and sometimes not. The cover really has to be lined up properly for it to work, which can be problematic if you have your screen set to stay awake; you could potentially run your battery down. We also noted that the cover inadvertently triggered Siri from time to time. In a rare design twist, Helium Digital uses a magnetic tab strap to hold the case shut. An exposed magnetic strip on the case’s back holds the strap in place during normal use, but also allows it to transform into a stand. Proper folding into the stand position is not initially intuitive, but once you’ve figured it out, the stand does work to prop up the iPad mini inside.
If the roughly 3/8” square keys on KeyCover Folio aren’t the smallest we’ve yet used with the iPad mini, they sure seem to be. Rather than running all the way to the edges, the keys stop about half an inch short of the keyboard’s sides. Consequently, even users with small hands will likely feel cramped. But we were surprised that typing was pretty good once we got a feel for the keyboard. The keys are all very responsive, with enough empty space that they’re easy to distinguish from one another. Thankfully, the apostrophe key is in the right place, which has been an issue on other iPad mini keyboards, though Helium Digital had to forego command and option keys on the right side of the keyboard, and move the question mark and colon/semicolon keys down next to a shortened spacebar. The delete key is also realigned, next to the P key rather than at the end of the number row, a change that took some time to learn. iPad-specific features are available as functions on those numbers, including screen brightness, music playback, and screen locking.
While it had potential to be very appealing, KeyCover Folio’s execution undercuts what could otherwise have been a higher recommendation. The most important feature in any keyboard case is the keyboard, which here is good rather than great—another iPad mini size-constrained compromise that will be reasonable for some users, but intolerable for others. Issues with the case itself, and how the lid interacts with the iPad mini, also took away from the design. KeyCover Folio’s single biggest strength is its price, which is relatively attractive by iPad mini keyboard case standards, and about right for a design that doesn’t quite nail either the “keyboard” or “case” halves of the equation. It’s good enough to earn our limited recommendation, but needs more polish to be universally worthy of our readers’ consideration.