Review: Incase Ari Marcopoulos Camera Bag

The Incase Ari Marcopoulos Camera Bag is a sling pack designed to carry an iPad or 11-inch MacBook Air, a small DSLR, and some extras. At $199 it’s a premium bag with some great perks and it works well, but its shortcomings make me hope for a 2.0 redesign.

The bag is made of heavy canvas, which offers water-repellent weather resistance, yet it’s pretty light. Incase doesn’t offer an official weight stat, but I measure it at a hair over two pounds. The sling design makes it easy to swing the bag around without taking it off to get out your camera, and the strap setup is reversible so you can switch shoulders. It’s a comfortable all-day bag, though Incase and Ari Marcopoulos (the photographer who collaborated on the bag) designed a… unique strap cinching system that takes some getting used to.

Inside the bag is a padded, zippered sleeve that fits a full-size iPad with Ultrathin Keyboard Cover or 11-inch MacBook Air. A small, felt-lined pocket in the interior can fit things like a small notebook, your iPhone, and accessories, and it’s accessible externally via zipper and magnetic flap. This pocket could also fit a small point-n-shoot for quick access, but I hope Incase revisits this bag to design this part so we can get straight to our primary camera through the flap without having to unzip the main compartment.

Speaking of, the main compartment has a small, zippered mesh pocket that fits cables and memory cards, as well as three padded, removable sections to fit a DLR or two and lenses. It’s a very basic system compared to other camera bags, though, as you can’t adjust the sections to accomodate your gear. You can either leave the velcroed separators where they are placed or remove them. All I have right now is a Sony NEX–5 CSC (Compact System Camera) and Sony’s macro lens, so my gear takes up less space than the typical cameras and lenses Incase had in mind for this bag.

Still, I can fit my camera gear, full-size iPad or iPad mini with keyboard, cables and batteries, and a small rain jacket with room to spare. As par for the course with Incase, there is a small handful of perks such as a hidden pocket with a compactible rain shell and a couple of small mesh pockets on either side of the main internal compartment. If you need a tripod, a couple of short straps on the bottom of the bag are happy to help.

I wish at least one or two of the accessory pockets had some separators to keep things in their place. More importanly, I wish Incase made a version that fit the 13-inch Air. Every well-designed camera sling I’ve found favors the 11-inch, but I have to wonder if a little more space here and there could fit the 13-inch just fine.

Overall, the Incase Ari Marcopoulos Camera Bag is good and worth its price. The construction is solid and designed well, the zippers are fast and smooth, and it offers fairly quick access to my camera. If Incase redesigned a future version to fit the 13-inch Air, a separator or two for the accessory pockets, and offer even faster access to my DSLR via the zippered magnetic flap, it will be a great bag.

Searching for an iPad mini keyboard, part 4: Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard mini review


Life is full of compromise, whether it’s your car, where you live, your job, or the clothes you wear. Tech is no different. If you’re honest with yourself, there are at least a couple conversations to have around what you want to gain and what you’re willing to give up.

When it comes to the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard mini for iPad mini, I’m not sure I’m willing to give up what’s necessary.

Like its big brother, you can think of the Ultrathin Keyboard mini as a Smart Cover that just so happens to pack a Bluetooth keyboard. It attaches to the side of the iPad with magic, so when the package is closed, it’s properly sized to fit over and protect the iPad mini’s trim display.

When it’s time to write, you pop off the keyboard, set the iPad down in a non-adjustable groove just beyond the number keys, and get to it. Sorta.

Unlike the Logitech Tablet Keyboard or even the Zagg 9, Logitech went full netbook here. In fact, this might have achieved a new level of netbookness, as if it’s the Dali Netbook of netbook keyboards. The iPad mini is only 7.8 inches tall, so this keyboard is only 7.8 inches wide. By comparison, a standard size keyboard is around 11 inches wide—a sacrifice had to be made so that this mini keyboard could live.

The keys are cramped, even moreso than the 9.7 inch iPad’s on-screen keys in landscape, which I consider “Normal Netbook” and quite typeable if you give yourself time to warm up to them. Logitech made some questionable tradeoffs when combining and shrinking keys (take a close look at my gallery photo to see what I mean). For example, the Caps Lock and A keys were united in unholy keyboardimony (add the Fn key to toggle Caps Lock), and the semicolon and apostrophe keys are downright anorexic. The top row containing number keys with custom iPad functions is inconveniently thin, even thinner than the same row on an 11-inch MacBook Air.

Now, if you follow my writing, you know I’m down for giving new experiences and form factors a chance. I am actually a fan of touch typing on a regular size iPad and I’ve written plenty 1,000-1,800 word pieces that way. If you don’t follow my writing, well, you learned something today.

But after a week of using the Ultrathin Keyboard mini for a few pieces, the Getting Used To It factor feels steeper than touch typing on a regular iPad. At least there, Apple had the space to keep most of the essential keys at relatively the same size (or flip them over to the secondary keyboard), which makes it easier to transition some of your typing memory from physical keyboards. But here I find myself regularly missing the 1 key and kicking myself back to the homescreen, or typing return when I meant an apostrophe. Not helping matters at all is the groove that holds the iPad mini upright; the angle feels too steep.

Could I get used to this over time? I’m not ruling it out, and there is some incentive to try. Since the original iPad, I’ve loved carrying around a 662 gram (1.4 pound) slab of always-connected metal and glass that lets me write at a moment’s notice. The idea of considerably slimming down on that kit, with a 312 gram (.69 pound) machine and a keyboard that doubles as a screen protector, is appealing, which is why I’ve been on the hunt for a great iPad mini keyboard setup. But is this appealing enough?

If you previously owned a netbook, you might be right at home with the Ultrathin Keyboard mini, so this could work for, like, 50 people. But after using this setup over the past week I found myself regularly wishing for my Logitech Tablet Keyboard (my current favorite), or simply a regular size iPad and regular size Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. If you pick up an Ultrathin Keyboard mini, do it when you know you have time to give it a full shakedown and hang onto your receipt. Just in case.

Searching for an iPad mini keyboard, part 2: Wingstand

I’ve had an iPad 3 since it came out in March, but I quickly switched to the mini because of its portability and supreme pad-ness. Yeah yeah, no retina. Blah. I’ll buy the retina one, so will you.
Touch typing has sort of been a thing I like since shortly after the original iPad landed. Its netbook-width display in landscape made touch typing somewhat challenging, but not too difficult to master. It can also be pretty great to leave the house with what amounts to a satchel carrying nothing but a 1.5lb writing slab of greatness that lasts all day. After all, it’s the future; might as well try and keep up.

But the iPad mini (and I think any tablet less than around nine inches in Horizontal Mode) presents a challenge for typing because it’s just a little too thin in landscape. I’ve gotten ok at it, but I figured that maybe I could use a little help from a physical keyboard while I try to train my wrists to do what’s necessary to type on a 7-inch display.

My second attempt at an iPad mini keyboard setup was the Wingstand, as recommended by Matt Brian on Twitter. It’s a pretty handy setup—a compact, simple plastic stand that fits in your pocket, then splits into two pieces to unite Apple’s keyboard and basically any bluetooth-endowed iDevice in unholy matrimony. Since it’s made of two brackets you slide onto the Wireless Keyboard’s battery housing, you can space them apart for an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch in any orientation.

After kicking the tires on this setup for a while, two things disqualified it. The first is that I’m just not digging the process of sliding these little brackets on and off the keyboard every time I want to get setup. It’s a minor complaint, I know, but it became one of those things that just ate away at my patience each time I had to do it.

My bigger complaint is Apple’s keyboard itself. Wait, let me back up.

Apple’s Wireless Keyboard is my favorite keyboard ever. In fact, when you could only find these chicklet keyboards in the MacBook Pro PowerBook, I used to joke that I wish I had the cash to buy one, tear out the keyboard, and hook it up to the iMac and Mac Pro I owned over the years. But this keyboard is designed for Macs, not iPhones or iPads, and it handicaps too much of the iOS workflow. I kinda get why Apple doesn’t sell its iPad Keyboard Dock anymore, but couldn’t it just sell the iPad-specific keyboard? Yes, yes it probably could. But it doesn’t.

Matt really likes this setup but I am afraid to say I had to continue my search. Fortunately, I found an option that, so far, is working quite nicely. I’ll write it up soon.

Review: Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad

If you’re the reader who scrolls to the end of reviews, I’m going to experiment here and try saving you some time: I really, really like Logitech’s Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. It’s a thin, solid, and supremely portable keyboard for the iPad 2 and 3. Check out the gallery and read on for the rest of the show.

Basics

The Ultrathin Keyboard Cover is the result of your typical iPad keyboard gettin’ busy with one of Apple’s Smart Covers. At the top of the keyboard is a magnetic bar that allows you to attach it to an iPad 2 or 3, then flip it over and use it as a protective cover while traveling.

When you’re ready to get to work, yank off the keyboard and drop your iPad into the “prop slot” (is there a more official name for that?) in either portrait or landscape mode on its left side, since volume and slider controls are on the right. For bonus points, there are even magnets in the slot to ensure the iPad stays snug if you use it in landscape.

Construction

The keyboard itself is really good and *really* slim; as in, if you like large, bulky keyboards with lots of key travel and noise, this is the polar opposite. Like most iPad keyboards that shed some weight to fit the 9.7-inch form factor, the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover has five rows, and the individual keys are slightly smaller than their on-screen equivalents. I don’t find it very tough to adjust from Apple’s iMac and MacBook Air keyboards, though, since I’ve been getting used to touch typing on the iPad’s display.

The keys themselves feel solid for this class of keyboard. They have a very short amount of travel, which I love. When the setup is closed, it feels really strong and solid, much like an 11-inch MacBook Air feels when closed. There are thin rubber pads on the outer four corners to ensure its keys don’t mark up or even touch the iPad’s display. 

I usually toss my iPad into a dedicated, padded sleeve in my Booq backpack or Tom Bihn Ristretto. But with the solid feel of this setup when closed, I would feel confident mixing my iPad into a main compartment filled with books and other items.

Keyboard

As usual with this form factor, Logitech had to make choices on how to resize certain keys in order to fit everything. For example, there are Function, Control, Option, and Command keys (since they all have their uses, even in iOS) on the left of the space bar, and Command and Option keys on the right. But the Command key is about half its size, and the Option key is also a little slim, as is the Delete key on the right of the number bar. If you’re the type who hates to add to your muscle memory, this could be an annoying hurdle to overcome. But if you like staying nimble, be patient and you’ll probably get comfortable hitting everything you need.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that iOS supports many of OS X’s text manipulation shortcuts when you use a physical keyboard. Option + left/right lets you skip back and forward an entire word. Toss Shift in there and now you’re selecting whole words while skipping around. Option + up/down will skip you to the top and bottom of the current paragraph, and again, including Shift will let you select the entire paragraph. Command + left/right arrows will skip you to the front or end of the current line, while Command + up/down arrows will skip you to the beginning and end of the entire document.

One thing I love about iPad keyboards is that the manufacturer usually tosses in a few shortcuts that make it easier to get around in iOS and, more importantly, do much of this text manipulation. This is especially useful for people who don’t know about the aforementioned shortcuts or just find them a little complicated to remember.

Logitech made every key in the number row, including the dash key, math symbols, and even Delete, do double duty with assistance from the Function key. For example, if you hold Function and hit 6, 7, and 8, you’ll be able to cut, copy, and paste selected text. But when it comes to selecting text in the first place, Logitech added new options to the 4 and 5 keys on this Ultrathin Keyboard Cover that simplify the Option + Shift + left/right arrow shortcut for selection text before and after the current cursor position. Despite having an extra row of keys, Logitech’s precursor to this model, the Keyboard Case, doesn’t have these text selection shortcuts.

Comparison

Speaking of the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover’s big brother, I have two competitors to compare this against. The first is the Keyboard Case, which is essentially an iPad keyboard inset in a metal enclosure, so you place the iPad display-down and fit it on top of the keyboard for travel. The other keyboard I have is the ZAGGfolio, a portfolio case that wraps an iPad and keyboard together in a traditional notebook approach. The Zaggfolio’s keyboard is a rebranded version of Logitech’s, by the way, so it’s basically the same keyboard in the Keyboard Case.

The main advantage I see to the Keyboard Case (and the Zaggfolio’s keyboard) is that the special function keys are split out into their own row, the 6th row I mentioned earlier. If you don’t want to hit a second key (Function) to make those features work, as is required on the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, I can see the Keyboard Case being appealing. I’ve been writing so long, though, that the text manipulation shortcuts are second nature and I don’t use the iOS shortcuts all that much. But when I do need them, I don’t mind using the Function key to trigger things like iOS’s system-wide search pane or media controls. 

When it comes to the pack-up-and-go factor, the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover really pulls ahead. It’s actually a little fun to pull out the iPad, move it towards the top of the keyboard, and watch the magnetic magic happen. It’s just plain faster.

Comparing the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover to a Zaggfolio or any portfolio-style case like it is a different story, because the entirety of this comparison probably hinges on whether you actually want a portfolio case to encapsulate your iPad and a keyboard. 

The Zaggfolio was the first iPad keyboard I ever bought, and I quickly realized that I am not this type of customer. I like to hold my iPad by itself, usually curled up on the couch or in a coffee shop chair, reading or playing a game. No matter how easy a portfolio case makes it to remove or detach an iPad, I’ve never liked that barrier to entry.

But if you want the protection or other perks of a portfolio case, the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover may not be for you. It’s about the thinnest and most minimal iPad-specific keyboard I’ve ever seen, and when you boil it all down, it only protects the iPad’s display while in transit and nothing more, just like Apple’s Smart Cover.

Another important point to consider in all three keyboards I’ve mentioned is that they do not allow you to adjust the iPad’s viewing angle. Some portfolio cases, like the Incase Book Jacket, try to solve this problem to some extent, but I generally don’t find the single-angle prop slot to be an issue.

Conclusion

The iPad is the epitome of mobile computing, and the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover is its greatest physical keyboard counterpart yet. I used it to write this entire review, thanks to Writing Kit and its excellent built-in browser and citation tools. If you want an easily detachable keyboard for powering through serious typing on your iPad, I definitely recommend you give it a look.

Addendum

Q: WyldKard asked on Twitter: “How well does the keyboard work on your lap in various positions? Or is it best used on a table only?”
A: It works surprisingly well. In fact you could even say it really turns the iPad into a “lap” “top”, as in: a computing device you can use in your lap but will not set your lap on fire. The magnetic prop slot plays a big part in that, since it keeps the iPad firmly in place while in landscape orientation. I find I need to use it with two feet on the ground, though; the setup is just not wide enough to be propped very well while sitting cross-legged.

Readability for iPhone and iPad is out

So far, it’s great. Like its web counterpart, the Readability iOS app is beautiful and has most of the features I want. Plus, the list of third-party apps that integrate Readability is strong and growing, so it’s gained enough steam on iOS to have replaced Instapaper and Read It Later for me.
A lot of folks ask why I prefer Readability over Marco Arment’s Instapaper and Read It Later, the two services that sparked this ‘save stuff in a clean, offline format so I can read it later’ market. Those are both great apps and, to their credit, offer more features than Readability, thanks to their established roots. Instapaper, for example, lets you organize articles into folders and offers deeper integration with a few more social media services. Marco is also a great guy, and he’s schooled me on some things in the world of Phish (we also have to thank him for Tumblr; he was a cofounder and lead developer for years). Read It Later supports tags and a big upcoming redesign will incorporate video and photos.

I switched to Readability around half a year ago for three main reasons, but the third is most important to me. First, I like its design, from the type choices to the simplicity of its menu and feature set. Readability’s elegance feels more inviting to me.

Second, there are number of apps like Showyou, Plizy, and Denso that do the ‘watch later’ market well. I’m a ‘right tool for the right job’ kind of app user.

The third reason I switched is Readability’s optional contribution feature, which is no longer required to unlock any of Readability’s features, but is still my favorite thing about the service. You can pay a monthly subscription of your choice (starting at $5, but again: entirely optional), and after Readability takes its 30 percent to run the business, the rest of the pie is automatically sliced up and set aside for the sites you read that month, according to the number of articles you saved from each. A nice perk is that you can make your monthly contributions public (with or without the actual dollar amount), so here are mine.

As a writer, I’ve been searching for better ways to contribute to the sites I read (anyone remember Contenture? No? Crickets? Oh well). I think we’re at the start of a slow evolution past sheer advertising that is expanding the ways sites can make the money they’re worth (or at least enough to keep the lights on full time). You can see it in sites like The Loop, Ars Technica, Shawn Blanc, and, of course, Daring Fireball, which have had success with paid memberships and premium features. But as much as I want to support these sites, paying an individual membership to each and every one feels like backpedaling to the days of magazine subscriptions, when we had to deal with a smorgasbord of publishers, privacy policies, and renewal dates. I am a paying member of some of these sites, but not nearly as many as I would like to be, mostly for financial and sanity reasons.

I certainly agree with Ben Brooks that some details could be changed in terms of what Readability does with publisher funds that go unclaimed for 12 months. I also think they could lower the payment threshold from $50 and increase the payment schedule from twice a year. But at its core, I think Readability is on to something. It’s like the App Store for reading, except I just pay a single monthly subscription of my choice, and it does all the work of splitting that up to reward the sites I read, whether it’s five articles or a hundred, or whether I visit my old staples or discover twenty new sites. That is just splendid.

Even if you don’t choose to contribute to the sites you read in Readability, it’s still a great app and service. It’s beautiful and simple, and with an expanding list of third-party clients and this new official app, Readability has arrived on iOS.