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 3: Logitech Tablet Keyboard for iPad

If you haven’t followed my last couple of iPad mini keyboard posts, I’m on the hunt for a good portable writing setup. With the regular iPad I became a a big fan of touch typing in landscape, but the iPad mini’s smaller size is just a little too little for me.
So far I’ve tried the Zagg Mini 9 keyboard and Wingstand, and found both wanting. The Zagg felt rushed to market and restrictive, since when I’m not writing I prefer to use my iPad (mini or otherwise) bare. While the Wingstand is a good, compact stand for the iPad, I found Apple’s keyboard, designed for OS X but not iOS, to be the setup’s ironic downfall.

My latest attempt is the Logitech Tablet Keyboard For iPad, and it’s an altogether different approach. Instead of a restrictive iPad case like the Zagg, the Logitech Tablet Keyboard is really just a full-size bluetooth keyboard wrapped in a solid case that doubles as a stand for the iPad. The keyboard itself is full size, which certainly doesn’t hurt, and when you set the keyboard case up, a plastic piece flips out to support any size iPad in portrait or landscape.

By focusing on the keyboard itself, Logitech devised some clever solutions for the mobile iPad writing setup. The keyboard can float separately from the iPad, so I can sit at just about any angle I want, or even set my iPad up on the coffee table and sit back or stretch out on the sofa to write. Plus, Logitech’s keyboard has a power switch and is wrapped in the aforementioned hardcase while in transit, which negates accidental keypresses or simply locking you out of your iPad after too many incorrect passcode attempts.

As for the keyboard itself, it’s good by Logitech standards. I’ve been a fan of Apple’s thin, low-travel chicklet keys for years, so Logitech’s keys are a little too tall and travel is too long for my tastes. But it’s definitely doable, and I’ve written plenty of things, including this entire post, just fine. It has all the standard iOS-friendly keys, as well as ⌘ and ⌥ for some of the secret OS X text shortcuts that came over.

If you’re aiming to slim down your bag along with your writing setup, remember that the Logitech Tablet Keyboard is indeed a full-size keyboard. That means it might be too tall to fit in some iPad-specific bags like the STM Stash for iPad or my old nylon version of this Booq Cobra courier XS that I’ll add to my store when I reopen it. I’ve wanted a little more room to handle more day-to-day stuff and small grocery store stops anyway, so I picked up the Booq Mamba Courier 11, which fits any size iPad and the Logitech keyboard in its case just fine, with decent room to spare.

After using the Logitech Tablet Keyboard for a couple weeks, I can say it’s good, setup is pretty easy, and I don’t have to shackle my iPad to a big case that’s a pain to take off. With the exception of Logitech’s upcoming Ultrathin Keyboard mini, which I’ve preordered, I’m inclined to say my search is probably over. The Ultrathin could be an even more convenient option, though that keyboard looks mighty netbook-y. I’ll get a review up as soon as I can.

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.