Nerd’s Eye View: ZAGGfolio for iPad 2

Nerd’s-Eye View is a thing where I give my opinion or reaction to an app, service or other noun. Today, it’s about the ZAGGfolio for iPad 2.

The ZAGGfolio is an iPad case+stand with a removable Bluetooth keyboard that, when open, looks vaguely like what I imagine the (hypothetical) internal prototypes of Apple netbooks to have been. Or something.

I picked one up recently and I wanted to share my thoughts.

(tl;dr “” despite a handful of minor complaints, I totally dig this thing; read on if you want the particulars)

Unboxing

The box contains little more than the ZAGGfolio itself: a short USB cable for charging the keyboard (more on that in a minute) and a user manual leaflet that describes how to properly pair the Bluetooth keyboard with your iPad.

One thing I noticed was that the case was sitting unprotected (read: not covered in plastic or protective cellophane) inside the cardboard box. Despite this, though, it looked brand new when I pulled it out. Thinking about how many times this thing has been tossed around, loaded in and out of trucks and all that other business gave me an early vote of confidence with regard to durability of the exterior.

Exterior

The outside of the ZAGGfolio feels like the product of a torrid affair between faux leather and industrial plastic. It has a slight amount of give and is textured, but feels very sturdy. Several openings are cut in the ZAGGfolio to expose the various I/O ports on the iPad 2″”rear camera, volume rocker and mute/orientation toggle switch, dock connector, headphone jack, etc.””which are also handy in determining which way to insert your iPad (since it fits in facing either direction). PICTURES!

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The corners and edges of the ZAGGfolio are made of hard plastic and are reasonably thick, which adds to the overall feeling of sturdiness, I think.

The clasp is a little difficult to open and will almost certainly require two hands. I don’t really have much else to say about it other than I wish it were a bit less of a pain in the ass to open. Closing, on the other hand, is a simple motion ending with the clasp snapping neatly and securely in place.

The ZAGGfolio weighs 19 ounces, roughly the same as the iPad 2, so it does add a non-trivial amount of weight. It’s also a good bit thicker than the iPad 2 at .9 inches, but that’s understandable given that it also houses the keyboard. It doesn’t feel extraordinarily heavy when I’m walking around with it and, honestly, I sort of like the feeling of carrying something with a bit more girth than the iPad, which is really freaking thin. Imagine something like a double issue of Cosmo or some other magazine that Hackett reads and you’ve got a good approximation of how this thing feels to carry.

Setup

It took me a few seconds to figure out how to get the whole thing put together and in “using the iPad” mode, but it’s really simple. Disengaging the clasp lets you lay the whole thing out flat. To insert the iPad, bend the top half of the ZAGGfolio down slightly and slide the iPad into the top two plastic edges. Then lower it into the bottom half and you’re in business:

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You’ll need to pair the Bluetooth keyboard with iOS in the Settings app on your iPad, but the little manual dealie describes how to complete this (super easy) procedure. Once it’s all set up, it’s just a matter of turning the keyboard on when you start using the ZAGGfolio and off when you’re not.

Just above the keyboard is a little iPad-sized gap with a soft rubber bumper on the front side: this is where the iPad goes. Once it’s “docked”, it sits there pretty securely but can wobble a bit. Also, nothing other than gravity is holding it in there, so holding reasonably still is advisable.

IMG 0402 The Keyboard

Naturally, the Bluetooth keyboard is the essence of the ZAGGfolio’s raison d’etre, and it’s actually quite passable for what it is.

Across the top of the keyboard is a set of extra keys similar to those found on Apple keyboards. The usual suspects are present: volume up/down, mute, play/pause, previous/next track. The balance of this row of keys (from left to right, ignoring the ones I just mentioned):

  • “Home” key that takes you back to Springboard
  • Magnifying glass that takes you directly to Spotlight
  • Photos key that quickly starts a slideshow of what’s in your Camera Roll (this one is a big waste, if you ask me)
  • Keyboard key whose utility I’ve not yet been able to figure out; apparently it launches the on-screen keyboard or something?
  • Cut, copy and paste keys (self explanatory)
  • Lock key lets you sleep and wake your iPad. This is especially useful since it bypasses the unlock slider when you wake the iPad using this key.

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These are pretty cool and I’ve found myself using a couple of them on occasion, but they’re hardly a big part of my workflow (particularly since the ⌘+C, ⌘+X and ⌘+V keystrokes work just fine in iOS when using an external keyboard).

There is, however, one additional key whose presence seems utterly dumb to me: the little “globe” key on the bottom left corner of the keyboard. Apparently, this is to allow you to easily switch between international keyboards, but I don’t use any and I don’t imagine the majority of iPad owners do, either. I suppose it sorta makes sense since this key is available in the on-screen keyboard in iOS (if you have the feature enabled), but I still find it annoying, particularly given the amount of real estate it takes up.

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SEGUE!

Speaking of, the keyboard is pretty small. In fact, it’s just this side of “too small”. Here’s a shot of it next to the current model Apple Bluetooth keyboard for comparison:

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The first few minutes I spent typing on it were a little rough, but it didn’t take long for me to become acclimated to it and I was typing like the wind blows shortly after. After spending roughly a week using this thing quite heavily, I can tell you that it works great, for the most part.

The lack of an Escape key is a big annoyance for me. Any vim users reading this will know exactly what I mean, but I won’t belabor this for those who don’t know or care to know. Moving on.

Part of what allows the keyboard to be so damn thin (5/16″ at its thickest point) is that it’s not powered by a user-replaceable battery, but rather an internal, lithium polymer battery that charges via USB. This all well and good, but you have to physically remove the keyboard from the ZAGGfolio to charge it, which kinda sucks. I’ve started leaving my iPad in the ZAGGfolio most of the time (including when it’s charging) and having to pull the whole mess apart to charge the keyboard feels, put mildly, inelegant. On the plus side, though, you can charge the keyboard by connecting the included USB cable to a regular Apple wall charger.

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But the keyboard seems to last for quite some time if you’re diligent about turning it off when you’re not using it (using the on/off switch at the top right corner), so I guess the tradeoff is fair.

With the iPad

Before I started using the ZAGGfolio, Apple’s Smart Cover was my “case” of choice. I still keep it in my (totally kickass) Ristretto iPad bag in case I need it, but most of the time I either have the iPad in the ZAGGfolio or totally naked.

(Incidentally, getting the iPad in and out of the ZAGGfolio is quite easy and requires minimal effort)

Apple’s suggestion that the underside of the Smart Cover helps keep the screen clean of fingerprints found me a little skeptical; but, man, it really does help. My iPad 2 looks like I used it to fry bacon this morning and keeping it clean has become a much more apparent responsibility. This isn’t a slam on the ZAGGfolio, obviously, but an observation and endorsement of the Smart Cover. I digress”¦

Of the time I’ve spent using the iPad since snagging the ZAGGfolio, the vast majority has been in a small handful of apps: Mail, OmniFocus, Notesy (where a portion of this post was written) and Safari. To be frank, I’m pleasantly surprised by how little friction I experienced when reaching up from the keyboard to manipulate something on the screen. The ZAGGfolio holds the iPad well enough such that I can apply a decent amount of force when tapping or dragging and the thing just stays right in its little slot.

Also, and this inflates your date, you can stand the iPad up in portait mode in the little slot and it seems to work well. Personally, this isn’t how I roll, but it’s an option for those who might prefer it.

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Writing on the iPad is fantastic with the ZAGGfolio. I recently spent an entire day with it on my lap, typing away and, just like I’d hoped, the whole setup disappeared and writing happened. It was grand: no stutters with the keyboard or any other SNAFUs. Gravy.

“But, what about”¦?”

I’ve mentioned in various places that I purchased a MacBook Air somewhat recently. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that, all things, considered, the MacBook Air would fill this particular role quite nicely and, arguably, would be a better super tiny writing machine than the ZAGGfolio + iPad. I offer these three retorts:

My MacBook Air has become my wife’s computer (for a little while, anyway) after her white MacBook started to show signs of fatigue and imminent demise. So, it’s not really an option for me at this juncture. Also, I’m curious to see how far I can shove the iPad into a laptop-shaped box, an experiment I plan to document here. That’s point numero uno.

The iPad 2 I own is one of the 3G models (Verizon, if you’re curious), which means that I can sit down quite literally anywhere within 30 miles of my house and have Internet connectivity. I really like that and the MacBook Air ain’t got that.

Lastly, the MacBook Air gets 4-5 hours of battery life at the most before having to plug it in. I can pound on my iPad 2 for 8 hours or more without fully discharging the battery. When you’re a pudgy, tattooed jet setter like yours truly, not having to be tied to the wall outlet of some janky coffeehouse is a pretty big plus.

(NB: Those last two points were cited originally by Harry McCracken over on Technologizer in this post which, admittedly, played a big part in getting me to investigate the ZAGGfolio “” but they’re totally valid and I’m regurgitating them not disingenuously here.) Conclusion

This thing obviously isn’t going to be a good fit for everybody. But, if you have an iPad 2 and you like to type long things into it (or just feel really deficient with the on-screen keyboard), then I’d definitely recommend giving the ZAGGfolio a try. I’ve been using my iPad like crazy since acquiring it and, more importantly, I’ve been doing things with my iPad: writing blog posts, replying to emails, even doing a bit of programming (which I’ll explain another time).

I’m very happy with mine and have been bothering people about it all week. Give it a look.

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