I had not heard of iGear Unlimited before but when they offered to send me an iPad Mini keyboard for review…well, you know how I am about keyboards!
The iGear keyboard is a clip on cover for the iPad Mini. The shell is made of aluminum so it is very robust. It clips on to the Mini with two clips on the back side of the cover and one large clip centered on the front of the case.
While it is only friction that maintains the grip on the Mini, the rigidity of the case makes this very secure and even vigorous shaking did not cause the iPad to come free. The keyboard is recessed down in its case so the package is very small when it is put together and the keys do not make contact with the screen
Like most iPad Mini keyboard cases of this type, you pull the pieces apart and put the edge of the iPad in a slot toward the back of the case. There are magnets in this slot to keep the iPad stable. They are strong enough that you can pick the case up when the iPad is in landscape mode and the keyboard will continue to stick. You can also put the iPad into the keyboard in portrait orientation but it definitely feels more stable in landscape mode.
On the top right of the keyboard, right behind the iPad slot is a power switch, a Bluetooth pairing button as well as charging and Bluetooth indicator LEDs. I really appreciate the fact that you can engage the Bluetooth pairing button without having a tool of any kind. These controls are behind the iPad once you set it up in a typing configuration but that should not matter in normal usage.
There is a micro USB charging port on the right side for charging the internal LiOn battery.
The keyboard is a five row design with pretty standard positioning and keys that are about eighty percent the size of normal keyboard keys. The keys have a good throw and a pleasing mechanical action. If you are a hard typist (like me) they are pretty satisfying but you do not have to pound them to get good results.
To make a keyboard that works within the physical constraints of the iPad Mini you have to make some compromises. iGear has chosen to combine the square and squiggle brackets on to some other keys. I think this is a good choice as those are keys that don’t get tons of use.
Single and double quotes get combined on to the O and P keys via a function key which takes a bit of getting used to but at least with this approach none of your key strokes require two modifier keys. I do not want to be forced to remember Function+Shift+P for a symbol I use a lot!
The top row features numbers and symbols and these keys are about two-thirds of the height of the letter keys. The iPad specific function keys like home, brightness, audio player and volume controls are on this row an accessed via a function key. This is the best approach for me as one of the previous keyboard I reviewed had a button for shutting the iPad off on the level just above the back space key. I accidentally hit it quite a bit. This keyboard’s back space button, has a plus key right above it which means if I miss, I just hit back space an extra time rather that turning the iPad back on and entering my pass code again.
All of the modifier keys are only on the left of the rather small space bar. This leads to my biggest complaint with the keyboard.
The latch piece that holds the iPad on to the case when it is closed is right in front of where my right thumb hits the space bar, making it nearly impossible to use the space bar with your right thumb. If this single latch were on the back of the keyboard rather than the front it would not be an issue and I am having a very difficult time retraining myself to us my left thumb for spacing.
To the far right on the bottom row is the traditional inverted T of cursor controls. I find that these really make working with word processing on iOS much simpler. Depressing the function key while using these allows you to do page up and page down or jump to the beginning or end of a document. As a writer, I really appreciate that little, very useful touch. Page up and down are not supported in Pages but Home and End will jump to the beginning and end of a line respectively.
There are several iPad Mini keyboards on the market that use this form factor, so what sets the iGear apart? On the bad side, that latch in the front of the key bed has me a little frustrated. If you can retrain easier than me or if you normally space with your left thumb you will never notice this.
On the good side, I love the use of aluminum in the iGear’s construction. It makes the case very rigid and gives it a sense of quality. The keyboard has a good feel to it and the compromises in what keys have been moved were intelligently made.
As a final interesting point, if you are into branding they will even put your logo on it for an extra $20!