Review: New Trent Airbender Pro for iPad Air
When New Trent debuted its Airbender Mini keyboard case for iPad minis last year, the $40 price point and functionality seemed to be too good to be true. For less than the price of an OtterBox Defender case, New Trent delivered not only an equally protective rubber and plastic playthrough design, but also a detachable mini-sized Bluetooth keyboard. Now the company is back with Airbender Pro for iPad Air ($80), and while it's not an utter steal compared with its predecessor, it's a seriously viable competitor to better-known and more expensive iPad Air alternatives we've covered.
The basic concept with Airbender Pro is simple. Your iPad Air gets wrapped up in a hard plastic and TPU playthrough case — one with integrated screen, button, and port protection — and if you want to carry it around, you attach an Air-sized Bluetooth keyboard and metal stand to the back of the case with a camera lens cap-style plastic clamp. While the combined parts fold down into a substantial 1.25”-thick shape that’s around twice as bulky as the thinnest Air keyboard cases we’ve tested, literally none of them offer the comprehensive protection, versatility, or complete separability of Airbender Pro.
No other keyboard case even attempts to double as a Defender-class iPad protector, so while the thickness of this solution may be an issue for some people, there’s a good chance that those who seek it out will be more than willing to live with the consequences. You won’t find another keyboard case that’s water, dirt, and shock-resistant, though it should be noted that the island-style keyboard itself probably wouldn’t resist a splash, even though the case would. A rubber tab holds the two pieces together at the hinge-opposing edge, and magnets inside automatically lock and unlock the screen when the keyboard is opened or closed as a lid.
Calling Airbender Pro’s case “Defender-class” is a nice way of saying “not identical, but so heavily Defender-inspired that they well might come from the same factory.” The lines and curves aren’t the same, but Airbender Pro’s case borrows every design concept from Defender, including the plastic-reinforced flip-open port and switch covers, the film-circled rear Apple logos, and the cleanly-integrated speaker and camera holes.
Clear, only slightly prismatic glossy screen film is integrated into Airbender Pro’s face, and the buttons are all protected with Defender-rivaling clicky integrated covers. You could easily tell the two cases apart in a lineup, and New Trent hasn’t made any major compromises in the quality department, but it’s obvious which one came first for those keeping score.
The problem, of course, is that Defender costs a still-objectionable $90 for just the case and a plastic stand, while Airbender Pro sells for $10 less and includes a full Bluetooth keyboard, as well as a metal stand that can be used on its own. While the stand’s sawtooth-like left edge is a little unusual, and the metal feels a little less expensive than what was used in Airbender Mini, it works with or without the keyboard to prop the iPad Air up for video or typing purposes. A sturdy hinge and ratcheting points in the back of the case make it feel relatively stable.
In a perfect world, New Trent’s keyboard would be as much of a match for top keyboards as its companion is for top cases. There’s good news and bad news on that: while it’s certainly convenient, it’s not quite excellent as a typing surface. Ideally, the keys would be little more than slightly smaller versions of the ones found on Apple’s own keyboards — which they physically are, shrunken just enough to match the Air’s narrowed profile. But they’re also not as consistently responsive as on the best keyboards around: unless you apply just enough pressure as you type, you’ll find that you’re occasionally missing key inputs. This isn’t a huge problem, and small-fingered users will likely adjust a bit easier than large-fingered ones, but it’s an issue nonetheless. New Trent also offers no promises regarding the battery’s longevity, but it’s been estimated at around 200 hours of continuous use. A micro-USB cable is included for recharging.
Considered in totality, the $80 Airbender Pro is a very good iPad Air keyboard case, combining an almost completely excellent case with a good keyboard and stand. There’s certainly nothing else on the market exactly like it, and to the extent that it delivers superior overall value to the OtterBox Defender it’s… inspired by, it’s hard to object to the price even though it’s markedly higher than the iPad mini version’s. That said, price is only one reason that Airbender is not as universally appealing of a choice for the iPad Air. To the extent that preserving the Air’s thinness is important to you, or that having the absolute best physical typing surface is a priority, you’ll want to look elsewhere. But if you want a highly protective solution that’s packed with value and versatility, definitely put Airbender Pro at the top of your list of options.