Review: Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad Air
Early last year, Logitech released the original Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad, a Bluetooth typing accessory that looked as if it was straight out of Apple's own design studio. On the outside, silver aluminum mimicked the look of the second-, third-, and fourth-generation iPads it supported, while the inside used glossy plastic with matte-finished island-style keys akin to the ones found on Apple's keyboards. Attached magnetically with a hinge to each iPad's edge, and capable of holding the iPad on a gentle recline in a magnetic tray, the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover had only one issue: it only worked fully with otherwise bare tablets. Now there's a sequel called the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad Air ($100), and it's just as good as its predecessor, with the same protectiveness limitation as the only strike against it. Our review is thus largely the same as for last year's model, updated with new details where appropriate.
Using an iPad Smart Cover-style magnetic rail made mostly from plastic, the space gray or silver aluminum-backed lid perfectly matches the backs of Apple’s tablets, with corner radiuses and a matte-finished joint near the hinge that follows the cellular antenna compartments of LTE iPad Air models. With the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover in place and closed with a tabless magnetic seal, the iPad’s screen is completely and securely covered, while the rest of its body is exposed. Viewed from a notebook computer orientation, the left side features a micro-USB charging port alongside an on-off switch and a Bluetooth pairing button; there’s also a small boxy hole on both sides that we’ll discuss in a moment. Logitech promises that the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover can run for three months on a single battery charge if used for two hours per day—that’s around 180 hours of active typing. While that’s half the promised life of the prior version, you still won’t need to use the included fabric-covered micro-USB cable too often. This time, Logitech does not include a cleaning cloth in the package; most users will consider this to be a trivial omission.
If you run your finger against the iPad Air’s volume button edge and lift gently upwards, the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover will open to reveal a chiclet-style keyboard with a small tray right above the keys. This tray is the reason for the holes on the closed Cover’s left and right sides. You’ll hear clicks as you pull your bare iPad off of the magnetic rail and rest it in landscape orientation inside the stripe; the Cover automatically unlocks your iPad’s screen, then indicates that the tablet is being securely held in place with additional magnets, reclining so that you can use the screen while typing. If you prefer to use the iPad in portrait orientation, it can fit in this way, but there’s no magnetic assistance and Logitech doesn’t recommend using the iPad that way. We strongly preferred the landscape orientation’s magnetic lock for peace of mind.
As was the case with the prior model, so much of this experience feels right—the intuitive attachment mechanism, the auto screen unlocking and locking feature, the reclining magnetic stand, and the overall look and feel of the Ultrathin Keyboard—that it’s hard to criticize Logitech’s approach here. Tiny rubber feet and a Logitech logo are the only non-Apple touches on the aluminum shell, and neither looks nor feels inappropriate on the design. There are compromises, however, and they start with some good and modestly bad news about the keyboard itself.
The good news is that typing on the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover is really very solid; in fact, the experience is so similar to using a MacBook Air keyboard that users can expect nearly flawless touch typing from moment one, with only very brief moments of adjustment to get used to slight differences in key spacing and positioning. One is a tiny delete key, which you’ll need to notice and adjust your backspacing to accommodate. Arguably rarely used keys, such as the backslash, tilde, and back quote, have been moved around to positions that won’t be completely intuitive at first. And for the iPad Air version of the keyboard, Logitech has reduced the size of the quote/apostrophe key and the question mark/slash key, while dropping the second command and option keys in favor of a globe-iconed multilingual keyboard trigger. Most users will have no problem adjusting to any of these changes, but programmers and other math-focused typists may have issues with some of them; we found the now-smaller keys very easy to adjust to, and didn’t have problems typing normally with them.
As we noted in the original version, Logitech has removed the standard top row of function keys, combining them with half-height number buttons on the top row. You need to hold down the “fn” key on the bottom left of the keyboard before pressing a number to activate the functionality; previously, this included iOS-specific search, cut, and paste keys, but those have been moved to more standard command-X/C/V positions. Now, the function keys include locking, Siri/dictation, and audio playback keys. The remapping will obviously impact frequent function key users more than others, but then only to the extent that occasionally holding down “fn” is considered a serious inconvenience.
During testing, we again found the key compromises to be entirely acceptable to achieve the accessory’s size, feel, and shape. As strategic as Logitech’s tweaks were on the first Ultrathin Keyboard, enabling the iPad to stand above respectably sized letter keys and a nearly full-height bottom row, including a tall space bar and properly positioned arrow cursor keys, the new version barely feels compromised despite matching Apple’s reductions in the iPad Air’s footprint. Once again, the company gave up very little and achieved a great form factor, clearly the product of continued iteration and testing of even smaller-sized Ultrathin versions for the iPad mini.
As before, the only serious issue we had with the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover was case compatibility. Despite Apple’s original pitch of the iPad Smart Cover as a caseless protective and stand solution for recent iPads, many people—including us—don’t want to scratch, dent, or otherwise damage the tablets’ bodies; Apple eventually conceded as much by releasing the iPad, iPad Air, and iPad mini Smart Cases. Unfortunately, the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover’s magnetic stand system doesn’t allow cases to work, even if they’ve been otherwise designed to support attachment of Smart Cover-style magnetic rails to their left sides. In other words, if you want to protect the rest of your iPad Air, you’ll need to pull the case off to use it with this accessory’s stand. We continue to wish Logitech would solve this problem, as the vast majority of the iPad keyboards we’ve tested include cases for the same or lower price as the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover.
Poor case compatibility aside, the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad Air remains a seriously impressive accessory. While the battery life has taken a step down from the original version, few users will care about that issue, and the industrial design is even better than before. If you’re willing to leave the back and sides of your Air almost entirely exposed, you’ll find that it delivers a superior typing experience to the virtual keyboard, and makes great use of magnets for both stand and lid purposes. However, case compatibility isn’t negotiable for many users, and it’s seriously inconvenient to give up iPad body protection entirely or remove a case every time you want to use this keyboard’s stand. Simply including a detachable shell would have solved this issue for many people, but as-is, the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad Air merits the same B+ rating as its predecessor: overall, it’s a very good accessory, but you’ll love it if your iPad use matches Logitech’s usage model.