Zagg has created a variety of keyboard cases for various iPad models over the years, so seeing the company’s Rugged Messenger for the 10.5″ iPad Pro was almost expected. As the name implies, it’s a protective case for Apple’s newest iPad Pro model that provides six-foot drop protection along with the versatility to use your iPad Pro both as a traditional tablet with only the case, or attach the keyboard to make it into more of a laptop replacement.
Much like Zagg’s prior keyboard cases, Rugged Messenger is a two-piece case, combining a standalone iPad shell case with a detachable keyboard, however Zagg changes up the game a bit with this latest version, with the keyboard component wrapping around the iPad shell like a folio case, rather than simply clipping on to the side. The iPad snaps into the case portion in much the same manner as any other case, and the case magnetically attaches to the flap of the keyboard, which folds around over the front of the case. A rubber bracket on the right side of the case module holds an Apple Pencil, although users who have no interest in using Apple’s stylus may find it to be a bit superfluous.
The rear flap of the keyboard also doubles as a stand, folding down much like Apple’s Smart Cover and magnetically attaching to allow the iPad Pro to be propped up at any one of several angles while typing. The magnets actually attach and hold the keyboard to the case at two key points: the inside edge of the iPad case where the keyboard folds around it and the outer edge of the rear flap, which secures the rear flap to the case both as a stand and when being carried normally.
Although we liked the two-piece design in principle, we found that the fit of the keyboard cover was a bit too tight; the front keyboard cover wouldn’t stay fully closed if it weren’t for the embedded “smart wake/sleep” magnets, and when it is fully closed, the rear flap bows outward instead. It’s not a serious problem, and it’s not even noticeable when the encased iPad is laying face-up on a flat surface, but it did become an annoyance when carrying the iPad with the keyboard cover on, as the rear flap of the keyboard cover tends to want to come off, despite the magnetic attachment at the edge.
Although Rugged Messenger has a more lightweight look to it, we were surprised to discover that it actually comes in at almost half a pound heavier than Logitech’s Slim Combo Keyboard Case — an encased iPad Pro with Apple Pencil inserted comes in at 2.72 pounds (1236 grams) in Rugged Messenger versus 2.28 pounds (1032 grams) in Logitech’s case. This puts Rugged Messenger in the same weight class as Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air, although the extra weight in Zagg’s case is entirely in the keyboard cover — an iPad in Rugged Messenger with the keyboard removed weighs in at 1.44 pounds (655 grams) while the Logitech Slim Combo case comes in at 1.72 pounds (708 grams). In terms of thickness, both cases are about the same, although Rugged Messenger is slightly slimmer with the keyboard cover removed.
The keyboard itself on Rugged Messenger is pretty consistent with what we’ve come to expect from Zagg; it’s a very good keyboard, but definitely a noticeable notch below Logitech’s in comfort and style. The keys are bouncy and responsive, but have a bit more deflection than we were used to, and are a bit smaller, spaced more closely, and lack the same concavity that Logitech’s keyboards have. All of that said, however, we wrote this entire review on the Rugged Messenger keyboard, and it’s still a great keyboard. If you’re used to a MacBook keyboard, you’ll likely find that Zagg’s keyboards have a bit more of an adjustment curve than Logitech’s, but it’s still very usable and comfortable once you’ve adjusted to it.
It’s also worth noting that Zagg still uses Bluetooth for communicating with the iPad Pro rather than the Smart Connector, which means you’ll have to go through the very quick process of pairing it to your iPad Pro, but it’s quite painless and unlike many Bluetooth keyboards we’ve worked with, Rugged Messenger instantly pairs without requiring a PIN code to be typed in. You can also pair the Rugged Messenger keyboard with two different Bluetooth devices and switch between them using the two buttons in the top-left corner of the keyboard, making it handy for quickly switching between typing on your iPad Pro and iPhone or Apple TV, if you so desire.
Despite the battery and power requirements of Bluetooth connectivity, Zagg manages to include backlighting in the Rugged Messenger keyboard and still promise up to two years of battery life on a single charge, based on approximately one hour of use per day. We obviously didn’t use Rugged Messenger long enough to test the actual battery life, but it would be impressive even at a fraction of that. A USB to Micro-USB cable is included in the package for recharging Rugged Messenger’s keyboard whenever it is required, and the you can check the general battery level by holding down the FN and CTRL keys and counting the number of times the LED on the Caps Lock key flashes, so you shouldn’t be caught by surprise when you do need to recharge.
The backlighting on Rugged Messenger is also mostly well implemented, with three levels of brightness, and a choice of seven different colors. Backlighting will automatically shut off after 60 seconds of inactivity to preserve battery life, and illuminate again as soon as you press any key. Backlighting intensity and color are adjusted using the FN and arrow keys, but unfortunately doing so still passes the keystrokes through to the connected iPad Pro, so you’ll find your cursor moves around when adjusting your backlighting settings. The function keys at the top of the Rugged Messenger keyboard include most of the usual shortcuts — home, lock, keyboard, playback, and volume controls — with Rugged Messenger adding a key to call up the App Switcher, but omitting keys for screen brightness and calling up Spotlight search — the latter of which can be accessed via CMD+SPACEBAR anyway.
In terms of aesthetics, we definitely preferred Rugged Messenger’s design to Logitech’s Slim Combo, and as a result we were disappointed in the problems with the fit of the keyboard cover over the case as well as the extra weight — undoubtedly due to the battery that Rugged Messenger has to pack in in order to power the keyboard. While we’ve generally preferred the typing experience on Logitech’s iPad keyboards to Zagg’s over the years, the Rugged Messenger still comes in at a close second, and the tradeoff is a nicer case design; we certainly don’t think anybody will be disappointed with using it for long stretches of serious typing. Zagg’s Rugged Messenger is a solid keyboard case, nicely widening the options available to iPad Pro users looking to use their tablet as a laptop replacement without forgetting that it’s still a tablet.
Company and Price
Model: Rugged Messenger
Compatibility: 10.5″ iPad Pro