Review: Sena Cases Keyboard Folio for iPad
Announced last August, Sena Cases' Keyboard Folio for iPad ($120/$150) only recently started to ship to customers, but as the delays appear to have resulted in a superior product, we'd say that they were generally worth the wait. Keyboard Folio is a high-quality leather repackaging of the OEM iPad keyboard case we've now seen from a number of other companies, including Kensington and Accessory Workshop, but the components are better: Sena is using an improved version of the rechargeable battery-powered OEM Bluetooth keyboard we've previously tested, along with a glossy, true leather folio case that follows Sena's prior line of luxurious cases for iPods, iPhones, and iPads. If you're willing to spring for this package, you'll get the best overall experience we've yet had with an iPad keyboard case, limited only by a few caveats, the likelihood of a near-term replacement for the iPad, and the high price. Updated September 9, 2011: Sena has released an updated version of Keyboard Folio designed for the iPad 2. Our rating is unaffected, but details are below.
Sena’s case design looks substantially like previously-released rivals, but with some noteworthy differences. There’s a snap and tab closure on the face, plus a snap-locked fold out stand on the back, each sticking out from the otherwise flat surfaces. Inside is the expected iPad holder atop a separate sleeve for the Bluetooth wireless keyboard, still coated in black rubber, while a set of card holders sit between the iPad and keyboard. Sena doesn’t have the iPad flex forward to straddle the keyboard while you’re typing; instead, it relies upon the fold-out stand to hold the iPad up, and lets the front tab closure hover above the iPad while its in use—a little awkward, but not terrible. Port and control holes are found on the case’s sides.
After taking the requisite photos, the first thing we do with any new iPad Bluetooth keyboard is to actually try typing something of importance using the set-up: our feeling is that one of these accessories is only worth purchasing if it can actually be used to put together a full document without the need for editing on a full-sized computer. So when we say that Keyboard Folio was actually capable of typing this entire review without subsequent assistance from a desktop word processor—and fairly quickly, at that—you can take that to mean that we’re actually pretty impressed. Having tried the same feat on other iPad keyboard solutions, we know that this can’t be taken for granted.
Keyboard Folio has a number of related positives. Sena is using what appears to be the most recent generation of the OEM Bluetooth keyboard, and the improvements that have been made to the keys’ feel and responsiveness are considerable. Between the better springs in the keys and their decidedly firm rather than squishy typing surfaces, this keyboard is one of the best low-profile portable versions we’ve used, and apart from some space and key compromises, nearly as good as typing on a full-sized keyboard. Second and unexpectedly, the keyboard can actually be pulled right out of the case and placed on a separate surface, enabling users to make use of the keyboard shelves on certain desks rather than having the iPad and keyboard on the same elevated desktop level. This feature alone endears Sena’s design to us in a way that rivals haven’t yet matched. It’s so useful that we’re almost able to overlook the fact that the rubber keyboard insert looks a little unfinished around the edges, as if the OEM supplier didn’t originally intend it to be pulled out despite its obvious ability to work this way in Sena’s design.
Another plus is the quality of the actual case. While neither KeyFolio nor tyPad used objectionably mediocre leather/faux leather, Sena has gone typically upscale with its material, which looks and feels like truly executive class cowhide. It’s offered in your choice of four colors, each packaged with one of Sena’s red drawstring fabric bags and a USB recharging cable. You’ll pay for the superior leather and drawstring bag in the added price, which is $20-$50 over rivals depending on when you order the Keyboard Folio—enough to impact our rating a little—but users who are looking for something deluxe in the material department will surely find it here.
The caveats begin with a couple of minor points. While Sena’s design thankfully avoids using the huge front flap that dangles off the edge of the tyPad keyboard, its reliance upon a large rear stand to prop the iPad up on a desk expands the case’s footprint well beyond that of a typical laptop. This is no problem if you have the space, but it’s not as space-efficient as some of the designs we’ve seen from other companies. Another issue is the keyboard’s occasional tendency to seemingly drop the Bluetooth connection without warning—something we’ve seen in the other OEM keyboards, which generally happens after a brief pause in typing. A key tap or two can restart the connection, and does so without any iPad issues. We get the impression that this is due in part to the power-sipping design of the keyboard, which gets many hours of continuous typing between recharges.
Another caveat may be of greater importance to some users. With every iteration of this keyboard, the OEM supplier seems to come a little closer to the key arrangement Apple is using in the official iPad Keyboard Dock, but it still doesn’t quite match all of the function keys, and continues to compromise on which other keys it can include in such a space-limited design. There’s still a useless Print Screen button, for instance, which doesn’t work with iOS devices, and brightness keys are just missing, too, while Home, search, and audio controls are included. More of an issue relative to tyPad is the absence of a second shift key, replaced here by a =/+ key. Users accustomed to typing with a right-hand shift will need to re-learn a little to type effectively on this keyboard, but then, the = and + symbols are a little easier to use.
Overall, Sena’s Keyboard Folio is one of the best iPad keyboard cases we’ve yet tested, though its high asking price and relatively late-in-game release may limit its appeal to as wide of a user base as it might otherwise have reached. We loved the ability to pull the keyboard out from the case, which was offset by the overly large footprint the Keyboard Folio needs to occupy on a desktop—or, say, airplane tray table—and the fact that you may wind up spending 50% more for this accessory than for otherwise similar rivals. Keyboard Folio is worthy of our general-level recommendation, which is as high as any iPad keyboard case has yet rated; further improvements or price adjustments will make subsequent versions even more mainstream, for sure.
September 9, 2011: Keyboard Folio for iPad 2 (Update by Nick Guy)
Sena has released an updated version of Keyboard Folio with very small differences. The only notable changes are a larger opening at the top of the frame to accommodate the ambient light sensor and front-facing camera, and an opening on the back for the rear camera. It is available for $150.