Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case
By Scott Stein, CNET.com
Slimmer is better, provided you get your keyboard right. Belkin’s Ultimate Keyboard Case is an attempt to beat competitors like Logitech at their own game by offering a slim keyboard and a cozy protective back cover in an all-in-one folio-like device. We saw this at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, and it impressed us with its style.
Fast-forward to April, and we finally have a review unit — it still impresses. Unlike the very thick Logitech Keyboard Folio, the Ultimate Keyboard Case doesn’t feel thicker than the standard iPad case. A plastic back merges with an aluminium-backed black plastic keyboard that, while feeling very inspired by Logitech’s Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, has its own fit and finish.
With the Ultimate Keyboard Case on, it actually makes the iPad look like a little Chromebook. Some may find the laptop-ification effect unsexy, but we found it comforting, as if it promised no-nonsense easy productivity.
A white model with aluminium on the back and front costs a little more. The black model looks great — but the MacBook-like aluminum shell on the bottom is prone to scuffing, like the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. Better it, though, than your iPad.
True to its “Ultimate Keyboard Case” promise, this case has a few magic tricks up its sleeve. It turns on automatically when opened and docked, and it immediately Bluetooth pairs with the iPad when docked in one of three magnetic connectors, provided you’ve already set up Bluetooth and paired previously. And yes, three connector strips means three viewing angles, a killer mini-feature because it means that you can adjust to a non-awkward angle on a table or your lap, something that’s near-impossible to do with other cases.
The typing works, too. It’s really good, even for a laptop user, and it held up over a weekend using it at home as a go-to laptop alternative. The chiclet-style square keys are a little closely spaced, but are all laptop-accurate, with none of the odd shifting like on the Logitech Keyboard Folio. There’s no backlighting, but no keyboard case we’ve ever seen offers that feature.
The iPad (it fits the iPad 2 and third-/fourth-gen 9.7-inch iPads) snaps easily in the plastic upper case, much like a thick back shield. Holes are cut out for the camera, headphones, 30-pin/Lightning connector and volume control. There’s even a fluted-out hole around the speaker to help amplify sound. Our only criticism is that it feels like the plastic construction could eventually crack or snap — a problem we’ve had with previous back shields. But that’s just conjecture, and it held up really nicely as we used it.
The Ultimate Keyboard Case can even flip into a keyboard-underneath position for tablet or in-flight use. Because Bluetooth automatically disengages, you won’t end up accidentally pressing any keys underneath, and can swap back and forth between both modes easily. There’s a hint of elevation from the angle of the fold.
An included micro-USB cable plugs in on the side for recharging the built-in battery. Belkin claims 1900 hours of battery life in active use and 4300 hours in standby. All we can say is that it held up perfectly well over a long weekend. You won’t need to recharge for a good, long time.
This is the best iPad keyboard case we’ve ever reviewed, apart from the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, which beats it on price and compactness. But Logitech’s Ultrathin solution isn’t a full case. If you crave complete protection and a really sharp design, this is the best we’ve seen. This is a case we’d actually consider keeping our iPad in all the time.