The iPad Bluetooth keyboard case market is mature enough that very good to great options are now commonly available for $100 or less. Most options are made from plastic, but offer a combination of thorough protection and very usable typing surfaces. Designed for use with the iPad 2 and both Retina iPads, CruxCase’s new CruxSkunk ($210*) is an attempt to define the upper end of the market. Instead of using plastic, it’s made mostly from heavy, machined aluminum, and bundled with a Micro-USB charging cable and a leather sleeve. Now available to the general public after a successful Kickstarter campaign, it claims to turn your iPad into a “power laptop.” There’s no denying that CruxSkunk has a premium look and feel with a particularly impressive keyboard. However, the price, weight, and level of protection considerably reduce the overall value equation.
Like most keyboard cases, CruxSkunk is a folio-style design; the keyboard is located inside the front cover, and the iPad fits into a holder on the right. In this instance, the holder turns out to be a simple aluminum frame that only covers the edges of the tablet, while leaving almost all of the back exposed. Once you slide it into place, two small brackets at the iPad’s left corners swing out to hold the tablet in place, requiring tightening with one of two included wrenches. While we might be able to accept this as a solution if it worked properly, it has problems. After only three or so installations, the screws on our review unit were stripped to the point where they wouldn’t turn at all. We were stuck with one bracket holding the iPad in place, while the other wouldn’t move out of its resting location.
With the iPad in place, the whole thing weights a little over three pounds, which is more than even a 13” MacBook Air. Why someone would want to make an iPad weigh more than a computer is beyond us; one of the main reasons the iPad is so appealing is its low weight. Yet you’re still not getting great iPad protection: the back is left uncovered, possibly to avoid wireless connectivity issues, or to save on material costs, or to reduce what might be even more heft.
Here’s the most exciting part of CruxSkunk: it’s a truly excellent keyboard, and one of the best we’ve seen sold specifically for an iPad model. Measuring roughly 6mm thick with a full QWERTY layout, the keyboard is only as wide as an iPad, yet doesn’t look or feel cramped. To the contrary, it feels like a real keyboard, and we were instantly up and running on it, making no more mistakes than we would on one of Apple’s own typing surfaces. The black plastic keys have great tactility, and there are iOS function keys on the top row. CruxCase suggests that you recharge the battery once per month during normal use. Generally, it offers everything we would want in a mobile keyboard.
Like previous keyboard cases from CruxCase, CruxSkunk offers three different positions. There’s the standard typing mode, a video viewing angle formed by folding the keyboard as a base underneath the iPad, and a tablet mode where the keyboard is fully tucked behind the iPad. When closed, magnets lock the tablet’s screen; you need to give the hinge a squeeze to make sure that it stays closed, so your iPad doesn’t accidentally turn on.
CruxSkunk is a beautiful-looking accessory, but it’s simply not practical. It lacks protection, is much too heavy, and the arms that hold the iPad in place become nonfunctional after very little use. Moreover, while it was available to early Kickstarter backers for an almost-right price of $135, CruxCase’s $179 preorder and $210 retail prices are nearly crazy, especially given that CruxSkunk is specific to iPad models that are on the cusp of being discontinued or demoted by the upcoming fifth-generation model. These are all big disappointments, particularly because we loved the keyboard CruxCase includes here. There’s obviously a market for this product, as it exceeded its initial crowdfunding goal at $135. But with lighter, more protective, and similarly capable options available for less than half the price, we can’t recommend CruxSkunk to anyone beyond its initial backers. Hopefully CruxCase will improve upon this design for a more affordable next-gen iPad sequel.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPad 2, iPad (3rd/4th-Gen)