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May 23 2013

ZAGG Mini 7 Keyboard Case Review

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 8.46.03 PM

The iPad Mini finds a very sweet spot between form and function. Light yet powerful, it is the type of device you can carry with you anywhere.

If you are using it for content consumption, it is nearly perfect. Put a pretty case on it and you are done. If you want to create on it you need to add some ingredients to the mix. For me, the critical piece is a keyboard. Anything more than a yes or no response to an email makes me a little crazy if I have to type on the glass.

OK, it makes me a lot crazy. I write a lot on the run, or while winging across the country, so the iPad is often the only option I have. I must have a physical keyboard or I get very grumpy.

My perfect choice would be a full-sized Bluetooth keyboard with a numbers keypad and a whole bunch of option keys. That keyboard would never get used, because I would never have it with me.

So the perfect option would be a case or clip on keyboard for the iPad Mini so I could have it along wherever I went. Zagg knows a good bit about these kind of cases and they make a range of options for all sizes of iPads.

The Mini forces a keyboard company to make some pretty difficult choices, so I was curious to see what compromises Zagg had chosen for their iPad Mini 7 case.

Like all keyboard reviews, I can tell you that I am writing this review on the Mini 7. What I can also tell you is that I am 30,000 feet in the sky and I never would have gotten this written if I wasn’t sitting on a plane with access to my iPad and a keyboard.

The iPad pops into a supporting frame in the case that completely surrounds the iPad but leaves the ports and switches accessible through cut outs. It is a rubbery plastic flexes a bit to absorb shock and the iPad sits about an eighth inch inside of the lip of it so the keys do not rest on the tablets glass when you close the case book style.

There is a kick stand on the back that holds the case at a 25 degree angle for typing. This kick stand is held against the case with magnets when folded in and has a ribbon that stops how far it will fold out so there is only a single angle supported. It works best on a flat surface, like an airplane tray table. While it can be used on a lap, I did not find it comfortable to do so and would only choose to use it that way in a pinch.

The keyboard has a built-in Lithium Ion battery which is charged with a micro USB cable. In fairly regular use I found I had to charge this about every two weeks and it held a charge well if I ignored it for a couple of weeks.

There are two membrane buttons along the top edge of the keyboard for Bluetooth and Power. Holding the Bluetooth button for 3 seconds put the keyboard into pairing mode and it linked to the iPad quickly. The keyboard puts itself in a sleep mode to save battery when not in use but you can also power it completely off to maximize your battery life.

The keyboard is a through hole design with five rows of keys plus a row of half height function keys at the top of the keyboard. Zagg has used every single millimeter of the space available to make the keyboard as usable as possible but there is a bit of compression that is unavoidable. The key action is good with pretty decent feedback but not comparable to a full-sized keyboard.

The tab key on the left side is half width but the main compromises are on the right side of the keyboard, where Zagg has compressed two columns of keys into one. On the home rows it puts the colon, semi and both quotes onto a single key. Getting at the single quote requires holding the left side function key and the double quote requires holding the function and the shift key. I can’t master pressing both buttons with my pinkie so I do have to pull my left hand out of typing position to accomplish this.

This approach is duplicated on the last key on the bottom row by combining the period and greater than symbol with the question mark and forward slash. Lesser used symbols, like the tilde and back slash are combined with the brackets keys, which are half width.

Some keys have been squished together...

Some keys have been squished together…

This approach, while occasionally annoying, allows Zagg to get most of the keys into a configuration with consistent size and separation. This means that using the keyboard is not perfect, but very serviceable. There will be a relearning period as the 7 inch keyboard is a bit cramped, but the keyboard you have is vastly better than the one you do not!

The keyboard features an inverted T of arrow keys in the lower right corner which I find highly useful in iOS when editing text. Being able to move the cursor in without touching the screen is far more intuitive to me.

You can also check the battery by holding the function key and hitting the ALT key to the right of the space bar. The power LED will blink green, yellow or red to tell you charge status. Hitting the function key and the CMD key to the left of the space bar will also let you call up what keyboard format the Zagg is set to. Tapping the CMD key repeatedly will allow you to cycle through the various keyboards you have activated within the iOS Setup page.

The function keys across the top allow you to address the iPad. The first one duplicates the function of the home button, than there is a search key and a keyboard key. Why would you want a key to call up the onscreen keyboard? If you have ever tried to figure out the multi finger key command to call up the Japanese Yen or British Sterling character, you would not be asking me that. Finding those on the onscreen keyboard is far simpler.

Continuing across the F keys yields copy and paste buttons, audio player controls and volume controls and finally a key to put the iPad to sleep.

The Zagg calibrates at power up, so if you are holding one of the keys down while you turn it on, it will not work or may function sporadic. At one point I thought the 6 key on the keyboard had stopped working, but cycling the power made it recalibrate and it worked perfectly after that.

Conclusions

For its size, the Mini 7 is pretty impressive. It packs a bunch of keyboarding power into a diminutive package with an intelligent choice of compromises.

There are a couple of downsides on the package.

First, the weight. The case is roughly the same weight as the iPad so it is noticeable when they are put together.

Second, the Zagg case does support smart functionality with magnets to turn your iPad on and off, but there is nothing to hold the case closed. This makes me nervous if I do drop the iPad but it is recessed enough that even if comes to rest on the pavement face down, the glass on your iPad won’t make contact with the ground.

Third, the cover will flex enough that it will allow the iPad to come on while it is closed. This can be problematic if you throw the case into a backpack and it jostles around. Powering on and off repeatedly will eventually deplete your battery.

For someone like me that is crippled without a keyboard, the Mini 7 Keyboard upside is far bigger than it’s downside.

If this is not quite the set of compromises you are looking for I can tell you that I got a sneak peek at the new versions of the iPad Mini keyboard cases at a trade show this week and there are some other cool options heading your way.

ZAGGkeys Mini 7 $89

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