Last year’s “Ultimate Keyboard” for the iPad sure ticked a lot of boxes, but didn’t totally nail it. Can the second attempt clinch it for Belkin over other brands?
Apple’s iPad is one of the only tablets on the market that has the pleasure of having so many keyboard cases made for it. It seems to be an area peripheral manufacturers take joy in, creating different styles of devices that make it possible to turn one of the best content consumption devices out there into one of the most portable content creation products available.
Belkin chimed in last year with what it claims was the “ultimate” in cases, and while it was a decent model, it doesn’t matter for the current iPad because the Air has a totally different design, and therefore you need something different.
Ready for Apple’s current flagship, the new Ultimate Keyboard Case from Belkin is also called the QODE — why, well, we have no idea… let’s call it a Quick Operating Data Entry device — and comprises of a metal and plastic design providing a plastic moulded case for the iPad Air with sections carved out for the power buttons, headphone jack, rear camera, and of course a section for the iPad Air’s Lightning Dock charge port and bottom speakers, connecting by vinyl to a metal fold over case with a keyboard built in.
The Ultimate Keyboard Case relies on magnets built into both sections to keep the iPad upright, and in this case, you’ll find three rows of them, with the idea that Belkin has effectively provided three positions to situate the iPad.
The keyboard relies on an island key configuration of a smaller QWERTY keyboard, and specialty function keys are also included, mapped with the function or “Fn” button to various other keys, with support for media playback, volume, on-screen keyboard viewing, screen lock, and others.
Belkin’s keyboard case, like so many out there, connects to the iPad Air by way of Bluetooth and features an in-built battery that charges over a standard microUSB port, the same way most smartphones take their charge.
Some of the most obvious criticism came from its magnets which were in the first iteration reasonably weak. Actually, it wasn’t that they were weak, but rather in the wrong location, with the centre being the only place the magnets sat.
One location doesn’t appear to be enough for a near 10 inch metal encased tablet, and we even suggested — both in the review and in comments to Belkin staffers — that two magnets would be more ideal.
This year, the company has listened, with two magnetic points available in the Ultimate Keyboard, showing up as lines on the left and right edges, and giving the iPad Air a much firmer hold position.
With two magnets, an iPad Air in the Belkin Ultimate Keyboard case feels stronger and more reliable, surviving our dreaded bus test by dealing with the momentum and not snapping too far forward, except in cases where we’ve seen extreme braking and obvious inertia pulls that are too hard for the case to deal with.
In fact, it even survives when we hold it upside down, which is obviously not the usage scenario it was built for, but is still interesting all the same.
Belkin’s moulded case hugs the iPad Air reasonably tightly, though the corners don’t seem to connect as well as they should. They’ll hold, that said, but the iPad Air doesn’t click into place the way it feels like it should.
That said, after carrying it around for a couple of weeks, it works nicely, and the case is also thinner and better built from our tests, with the metal casing by the keyboard coming off as more durable, while the plastic body moulding feels stronger with some wraparound vinyl that holds the iPad in case to the keyboard.
Belkin even makes it possible to not use the keyboard if you so choose, and the tablet can sit on top without touching the magnets, which will deactivate the keyboard and let you use the iPad without typing. Basically, the keyboard will only kick into gear when the magnets are engaged, which is an intelligent way of working out when you want to use the keys, or hide them behind the tablet.