Review: Kensington KeyFolio Exact, Executive + Pro for iPad Air
Just after the launch of the iPad Air, Kensington unveiled a number of new keyboard cases: KeyFolio Exact ($130), KeyFolio Executive ($100), and KeyFolio Pro ($100) are substantially different from one another, but share the same detachable Bluetooth wireless keyboard. All three of the cases are also sold in $20 premium “Plus” versions, differing only in that the Plus keyboards include backlighting. Otherwise, the regular and Plus keyboards look identical, apart from the latter's backlight brightness adjustment buttons. Kensington includes one year of up to 65GB free storage on Google Drive with each model.
Sold for the highest price of the bunch, KeyFolio Exact is the thinnest of the three cases, although it’s also unusually wide, measuring over 8” while closed and close to 20” fully extended. The entire length of the exterior is covered in a vinyl-like material in one of six colors, continuing to a magnetic flap that wraps around to hold the case shut. Inside, there’s a hard plastic shell for the iPad Air that’s well-sized, but missing button coverage. A plastic spine with room for a stylus is a few inches in, to the left, along with a ridge to hold the iPad in a landscape orientation. Finally, there’s the keyboard, which, like in all three cases, is held in place with magnets. To form the typing position, one simply places the edge of the shell into the spine, where a rather weak magnet holds it in place at a 70° angle.
KeyFolio Executive looks a lot like a traditional business folio—one that might house a pad of legal paper inside leather for meetings. Measuring 9” tall and 10.5” wide, it’s certainly not small by any means, and its 1.2” thickness makes it one of the largest iPad holders we’ve seen. Zippered shut on the edge, the exterior is all sheepskin, a soft and somewhat puffy feeling material that is a bit off-putting to touch but looks quite nice. Inside, the keyboard is housed on the lefthand side, while the right is home to a few different panels. There’s one with a sheet of adhesive that’s meant to hold the iPad. When it comes to to type, you fold it into a triangular stand and position it behind the keyboard. A separate panel holds business cards, and both are removable. It’s a somewhat confusing and non-intuitive design, requiring you to consult instructions as to how it’s supposed to be put together.
Then there’s KeyFolio Pro, a much more streamlined option than the other two. Designed as a sheepskin folio, it uses a somewhat traditional, arguably dated, frame-style holder, which leaves the corners of the iPad exposed while protecting its bezel. There’s also a holder for a stylus, here an elastic band rather than molded plastic. A magnetic tab wraps around from the back to the front, keeping the case closed. Magnets also prop the iPad into a standing position. It’s worth nothing that despite the use of magnets for other purposes, none of the cases automatically locks or unlocks the iPad as they’re opened or closed.
Despite the varying quality of the three cases, the keyboard in each is undeniably good. Narrower than a standard keyboard, and with smaller keys, it’s still large enough that the typing experience isn’t uncomfortable or cramped. In our experience, one critical factor is key layout, and Kensington got that aspect totally right. All of the keys are where we’d expect them to be, including the apostrophe, which for some reason, seems to be the one that’s moved around the most by competitors. We are able to type fluidly by touch instantly, which can’t be taken for granted with any iPad-sized keyboard. iOS function keys spread across the keyboard are useful in quickly activating features such as Spotlight and app switching. Additionally, the backlighting on the Plus models is pretty neat. You can choose between six different colors that glow around the keys, as well as two different levels of brightness. It could be potentially useful in dark typing environments.
If our ratings were based solely on keyboard performance, it’d be easy to recommend Kensington’s lineup of iPad Air cases—unfortunately, the cases themselves aren’t exciting and the prices are befuddling. KeyFolio Exact is nice, but it doesn’t live up to its name by offering the sort of trim tailoring we’ve seen in other premium cases. It seems much too wide to us; the design could be trimmed up to better complement the iPad Air’s slimmer body. So could the price. Very good to great keyboard cases have fallen down below the $100 level over the past year or two, so $130 is truly a lot to ask, and KeyFolio Exact doesn’t do anything to warrant such a high price. It merits a B-. KeyFolio Executive gets the same rating for different reasons. It’s also huge, though its size makes somewhat more sense for its intended use in office environments. Unfortunately, the weird adhesive and folding stand system is just overly complicated, and the overall design doesn’t justify a $100 asking price. As plain as it is, KeyFolio Pro comes in at a higher B level. It’s easily the most portable of the three cases, even if it’s not the most protective or distinctive. For the extra $20, backlighting on all three Plus versions is a matter of personal choice, and doesn’t affect the ratings. We’d love to see Kensington fit its keyboard into a truly impressive case at a great price, but in the meantime, these are acceptable, if not exciting, options.