Note: This review has been updated as of July 29, 2011 to reflect a defect in the design of the ZAGGfolio that came to light two days after its publication. The defect kept the clasp from holding the ZAGGfolio closed unless the iPad 2 inside had an InvisibleShield or similar skin installed on the screen. […]
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Review: ZAGG’s ZAGGfolio for iPad 2 (Updated)

 

Note: This review has been updated as of July 29, 2011 to reflect a defect in the design of the ZAGGfolio that came to light two days after its publication. The defect kept the clasp from holding the ZAGGfolio closed unless the iPad 2 inside had an InvisibleShield or similar skin installed on the screen. The extra grip provided by the skin on the iPad 2’s screen kept my case’s clasp from disengaging, so I did not mention the issue in my original review. Commenters here, and at ZAGG’s blog post that references this review helped to bring this problem to their attention. A ZAGG representative made a statement in the comments below detailing the redesign of the ZAGGfolio case’s clasp, and their free replacement program for all current ZAGGfolio owners. A full review of the new case design will be forthcoming after its release. 

A couple of months ago, I reviewed the Logitech Bluetooth Keyboard Case for iPad 2 by ZAGG, and I came away a big fan. So big, in fact, that I put my Apple Bluetooth Keyboard on the shelf, and I have hardly touched it since. That is saying something, because it is a terrific keyboard in its own right. However, the Bluetooth Keyboard Case’s combination of lightweight portability and great design really won me over. There are some trade-offs because of what it was designed to do, but those were acceptable to me considering the benefits it brings to the table.

In case you didn’t catch my review of the Bluetooth Keyboard Case, I actually don’t use it as a case. I love using my Apple Smart Cover, and I was already carrying my iPad and several mobile accessories around in a small netbook sleeve, so I just added it to the bag. It and the iPad easily fit in there together, which the Apple keyboard couldn’t due to its width. So, even though I just used the Keyboard Case as a mobile Bluetooth keyboard, it was still a perfect fit for me.

A few weeks ago, as I was browsing through my emails, I came across the announcement for the ZAGGfolio, which is yet another Bluetooth keyboard option for the iPad 2 from ZAGG. I was a little surprised to see this new product, since they already have one of the most highly rated and reviewed iPad 2 accessories available. However, there is always room for more high quality accessories at the iPad table, right? Plus, the ZAGGfolio addresses some different needs than the Bluetooth Keyboard Case and ZAGGmate, which we will get to in a moment.

My second reaction after surprise was a bad case of gadget lust. Considering ZAGG’s reputation for quality products, and my personal experience with them, I had to get my hands on this new gadget and give it a go. After spending some quality time with the ZAGGfolio, I have to say that it is not what I originally expected, but that definitely isn’t a bad thing. It is just different than the impressions that I got from looking at the initial photos of the product. However, before we dive off into the details, rest assured that the ZAGGfolio does have a unique place alongside the Bluetooth Keyboard Case, and that it absolutely has the same great quality and solid design that we are used to from ZAGG.

Look and Feel
When I saw the pictures of the ZAGGfolio, I was expecting something softer, smoother, and lighter. However, that is not the case. It is actually quite substantial, and has a very rugged feel inside and out.

The case portion of the ZAGGfolio is hard plastic, covered in a black carbon-fiber styled fabric material, and it feels absolutely rock solid.

The material isn’t rough, but it does feel rugged, which fits perfectly with the overall design of the case. The design choices actually make a lot of sense, considering that the Bluetooth Keyboard Case and ZAGGmate are small, sleek and lightweight. In contrast, the ZAGGfolio is geared toward those that want more protection, and as you will see in a moment, more versatility.

One small issue that I came across with the feel of the device is that there are some rough spots around the edges of the case, With all of the spots that I found, the rough feel was from the edges of the carbon-fiber material. Since the material is thick, I think it is pretty understandable that the joints where it meets the plastic can be a little rough. To put this in perspective, the ZAGGfolio isn’t Palm Pre bad. It isn’t going to draw blood. However, the rough edges can be slightly annoying.

This extra protection that the ZAGGfolio provides does come at a bit of a cost, as this new product adds a good amount of size and weight to the very sleek iPad 2. However, for those who tend to use a keyboard often, and want more protection than the average iPad case provides, the ZAGGfolio is immediately the best device in its class. In fact, it has probably carved out its own class. Considering how many iPhones I see in Otterbox cases these days, I think a lot of users are willing to trade a little size and weight to err on the side of device security. From a personal perspective, I do some of my work in production areas of industrial facilities, as well as mechanical and electrical rooms of all types of buildings. These aren’t the most hospitable of places for mobile devices, so this case immediately got my attention.

The Case
So let’s take a closer look at the ZAGGfolio’s tough exterior. As mentioned before, this case seems like it can take a beating, without giving an inch.

As you can see from the photo, the plastic frame is thick, and covers the entire surface of the iPad 2 when the ZAGGfolio is closed. You can also see the quality that has become a ZAGG trademark in things like the perfectly aligned cutouts for all of the iPad’s ports, buttons, and switches.

ZAGG even went the extra mile with the ZAGGfolio and included magnets in the case to give it Smart Cover instant on and off support.

This case’s tough attitude isn’t just skin deep, either, as ZAGG touts the fact that this product contains no moving parts. This will certainly add to the ZAGGfolio’s durability and ultimate lifespan.

Rather than adding any hinges or straps, ZAGG’s design incorporates a fixed clasp to fasten the case while folded together, and a two-piece back behind the iPad that allows it to be tilted for keyboard use, without any unnecessary parts to wear out or break.

Also, since the ZAGGfolio has two substantial plastic sections to hold and protect both the iPad 2 and keyboard, the designers at ZAGG had to address the issue of being able to close the case effectively without a moving hinge. Their solution was simple, but effective.

They just used a section of the thick, but flexible carbon-fiber styled cloth cover to act as a hinge, leaving plenty of flexibility for opening and closing the case, but elegantly maintaining the design.

Despite all of the brawn, the ZAGGfolio also has a softer side, as well. Like its brother, the Bluetooth Keyboard Case, it has rubber spacers and microfiber lining in all the right places, insuring that it won’t do any damage to your precious iPad, while its busy protecting it from the outside world.

Also of note, is that the ZAGGfolio is compatible with ZAGG’s own InvisibleShield front and rear skins, and others of similar construction. Many other cases or covers that the iPad 2 snaps or slides into can cause damage to or ruin these popular accessories. Considering the cost of many of these skins, and their often difficult and time-consuming installations, this was a thoughtful design decision.

As for the operation of the case, it is fairly simple. The right side of the iPad slides into a pair of plastic clips, which hold it securely.

The left side remains free so that it can tilt into place when it’s time to use it with the keyboard. The whole package is rock solid while typing, even if you are holding it in your lap.

As well as the ZAGGmate and Bluetooth Keyboard Case perform in this regard, the additional weight of the ZAGGfolio actually works in its favor to make it even better in the lap.

The primary use for the ZAGGfolio while opened is typing in landscape orientation. However, thanks to fact that both the iPad 2 and the keyboard can be removed from the case, it has plenty of versatility beyond that. First of all, you can remove the iPad 2, and with the back of the case laid flat, place the iPad in the keyboard’s docking groove alone to hold it. You can also remove the keyboard from the case, and use it and the iPad together separate from the case (more on this in a bit). Last, you can also keep the iPad in the case with the keyboard removed, and use the plastic clips that would normally hold keyboard to steady the iPad 2 in landscape mode.

While the other configurations have plenty of usefulness, this last mode didn’t really do anything for me, but it is there for anyone who needs it.

While the ZAGGfolio case is an polished and well-made product that excels at providing a superb landscape typing experience, along with plenty of protection, there are a few drawbacks. I would preface this by saying that they aren’t due to faulty design, but rather design trade-offs that come about because of  its primary use case. For comparison, the Bluetooth Keyboard Case’s most commonly mentioned drawbacks are the small size of the keyboard, the fact that the keys are recessed, and that the back of the iPad is exposed while using it as a case. While these may be seen as negatives, they are due to the size constraints imposed by pulling double duty as both a form-fitting iPad case and a keyboard. The same could also be said of Apple’s iPhone 4 external antenna design. It wasn’t a faulty design, as many complained soon after release. Rather, it was a trade-off made in favor of using newer materials and an innovative industrial design in an attempt to push mobile phone design in new directions. It worked as it was designed to. Antenna performance just wasn’t the primary focus of the design, so it suffered.

In the case of the ZAGGfolio, because of the size of the case and the fact that it was designed to do one thing particularly well while holding two different devices, it doesn’t work very well with just one device placed in it. If you remove the iPad 2, it works ok as a keyboard case. However, it doesn’t close snugly since the Smart Cover magnets don’t have anything to make contact with. Also, the iPad side is made with two plastic panels so that it can tilt, so without the iPad there, it bows in and makes the case unsteady in the hand.

Unfortunately, the ZAGGmate performs even more poorly as a stand-alone iPad case. Just as with the keyboard alone, it buckles and just doesn’t line up correctly, even with the Smart Cover magnets having something to attach to. That actually becomes an issue, because any time the case moves enough, the iPad will start turning on and off. As it stands, I wouldn’t recommend putting the iPad 2 in the ZAGGfolio to carry it around unless the keyboard is also installed.

These may come off as complaints, but they really aren’t. The ZAGGfolio just wasn’t designed and manufactured to be a single device case. It is designed to be used in a couple of specific ways, and it absolutely excels at those. I just wanted to make it clear that the ZAGGfolio isn’t the Swiss Army Knife of iPad 2 cases. If that is what you are looking for, then maybe this isn’t the case for you.

The last issue I came across with the ZAGGfolio was again, related to the design. Due to the fact that there are no moving parts on the case, ZAGG had to mold the clasp as part of the case’s plastic.

It works well the majority of the time, and I did learn to work around the issues that I had with it. However, since the case has two large and weighty plastic sections connected with a flexible cloth hinge, there is a little bit of give where the sections can shift slightly. Since the hinge doesn’t have moving parts that can fasten or lock it down to anything, there were instances when the sides moved enough to disengage the Smart Cover magnets and turn the iPad on.

(The issue detailed here is similar to what others experienced due to the aforementioned clasp design defect. However, since I had a skin installed on my iPad’s screen, the ZAGGfolio did stay closed, which meant that I only experienced the minor issues detailed above. Others who bought the case and did not have a screen protector installed could not close the ZAGGfolio. You can read further descriptions of those issues in the comments below.)

Again, this is a small issue that only came up occasionally. The case never came completely unlatched or opened on it own, so it isn’t the end of the world. The clasp design is a trade-off related to a positive attribute of the case. Once I got used to this, I was able to prevent it from happening by making sure the case’s sides and the clasp were lined up properly and securely, and by holding it with the iPad side facing up or out away from my body, depending on how I was carrying it.

A change I would like to see in a future version of the ZAGGfolio would be for ZAGG to use slightly bigger and/or stronger Smart Cover magnets, if they are going to use them at all. Being that this is a large keyboard case, the instant on feature is a nice addition, but not as necessary as it is with the Apple Smart Cover. Again, if ZAGG is going to use them, I hope they will make them strong enough to avoid the intermittent device power cycles due to the case shifting around.

The Keyboard

As good as the case portion of the ZAGGfolio is, the real star of this show is the keyboard. As I mentioned before, I have been carrying the Bluetooth Keyboard Case with me since I reviewed it back in May. Despite the already mentioned design trade-offs, I still preferred it to Apple’s own mobile keyboard thanks to the portability. However, in less than a week of use, the ZAGGfolio’s keyboard has already sent the Bluetooth Keyboard Case to the shelf next to my Apple Bluetooth Keyboard. In short, if you take everything that is good about the Bluetooth Keyboard Case, address some of the drawbacks, and add in a little extra innovation, you get the ZAGGfolio’s keyboard.

As you can see from the photo above, this keyboard has some key differences that set it apart from the already very popular and successful Bluetooth Keyboard Case and ZAGGmate. The first is difference is the size of the keyboard. Since it isn’t bound by the same design constraints, ZAGG was able to stretch the ZAGGfolio’s keyboard vertically. That small amount of extra room goes a really long way, as this keyboard is far easier to type on.

Another key difference is that, where the Bluetooth Keyboard Case’s keys are tightly packed together to allow for an acceptable key size in a limited area, the ZAGGfolio’s keys have a noticeable amount of space in between them. While the keys themselves are actually a bit smaller, the separation between them really helps with accuracy on what is still a very compact keyboard. One of the biggest problems I had while using the Bluetooth Keyboard Case was hitting in between two keys and having both register on the screen. The faster I would try to type, the more I would struggle with this problem.

I have to be honest, however, and admit that my struggles probably had more to do with me than the Bluetooth Keyboard Case. I have fairly large fingers, and I’m also not the most skilled touch typist in the world. Thankfully, with the ZAGGfolio keyboard, the number of my missed keys and mistakes has been greatly reduced. My iPad typing experience has improved dramatically since trying this keyboard, and the extra space between the keys is a big reason why.

The main advantage that the ZAGGfolio has over the Bluetooth Keyboard Case in the keyboard department is that it is built from the ground up as a mobile keyboard, and that alone. Because the Bluetooth Keyboard Case is a dual function device, the keys are low to the base of the device, and are recessed beneath the metal sides that protect the iPad while it is being held in the case. This never particularly bothered me, but several other reviewers and users have mentioned it as an annoyance. With the ZAGGfolio, you get the same excellent design and materials, and quality of construction, but without this, or any of the other trade-offs already discussed.

Don’t take any of this the wrong way. The Bluetooth Keyboard Case is still an excellent choice for someone looking for a very portable keyboard/case combo for the iPad. It is one of the most popular iPad 2 accessories on the market for very good reason. However, for those like me, who looking for a great iPad keyboard, but are less concerned with it being an all-in-one case design, the ZAGGfolio’s keyboard is now the new standard.

As I mentioned earlier, the ZAGGfolio’s keyboard isn’t permanently attached to the case, which as you will see, gives it a lot of additional value. It can be removed from and returned to the case without any force or difficulty. As much as I really like the case with all of the elements joined together, it is the versatility of this keyboard that sells the package for me. Once removed, it becomes an ultra thin and light typing machine that can be used in a variety of ways.

Using the same docking slot you would with the keyboard placed inside the ZAGGfolio case, you can use iPad in both portrait and landscape modes without any additional support for the back of the device.

This actually seemed a little unreasonable to me at first. Without a rear brace like the Bluetooth Keyboard Case, I wondered if there would really be enough support for the iPad, especially with it in portrait mode.

After plenty of testing for verification, however, I can say that it works far better than I expected. My iPad 2 was held safe and secure when used on a table, despite my heavy-handed typing. The ZAGGfolio was stable, and never felt like it would allow the iPad to tip over. I even tried typing using the keyboard in my lap with the iPad 2 in portrait mode. It did rock back an forth slightly, but still never came close to tipping. In landscape orientation, it barely even moves at all. This is really important feature, in my opinion.

Thanks to the fact that you can remove it from the case, the ZAGGfolio has at least some compatibility with the most popular of iPad 2 accessories- the Smart Cover.

If you love using your Smart Cover as a stand, or would rather use it to protect your iPad’s screen, then you can easily use them together. Considering how ubiquitous the Smart Cover has become since the release of the iPad 2, this is a potentially important feature for those who are unwilling to part with theirs for day-to-day use.

In this picture, you can see some more evidence of just how much care and thought ZAGG put into the design of the ZAGGfolio. The keyboard has a plastic underside that is less prone to scratching than the metal bottom of the Bluetooth Keyboard Case. It also has four non-slip rubber feet already installed. In other words, the option to remove the keyboard from the case isn’t an afterthought. It’s a centerpiece of the design.

In fact, this keyboard’s design is so solid stand-alone, that ZAGG will soon be offering it independent of the ZAGGfolio, as the ZAGGkeys SOLO. While the ZAGGfolio case retails for $99.99, the same price as both the ZAGGmate and the Bluetooth Keyboard Case, the ZAGGkeys SOLO comes in at a very reasonable $69.99. The SOLO will also be available in black and white, as well as the silver model that is included with the ZAGGfolio. It is slated to go on sale in mid August.

So, if you don’t need the heavy-duty case protection of the ZAGGfolio, or the all-in-one, lightweight case protection of the Bluetooth Keyboard Case, then you can purchase the ZAGGkeys SOLO alone, and save yourself $30. Considering that I wasn’t using the Bluetooth Keyboard Case as an iPad 2 case, but was carrying it around in my bag just to use as a mobile keyboard, I can see myself getting a lot of mileage out of this new keyboard by itself. It’s a no brainer for me. I’m getting everything I loved about my Bluetooth Keyboard Case, but in a package that is more suited to how I am really using it. As the ultra-quotable Steve Jobs would say, “Boom.” However, after using both the Bluetooth Keyboard Case and the ZAGGfolio extensively, I can assure you that, if you need a case/keyboard combo, they are absolutely worth every bit of the additional $30 and more.

Final Thoughts
What can I say? There is a good reason that ZAGG wins a lot of “Best Of” product awards, and churns out some of the most desired and best-selling mobile accessories. Like Apple, they find those perfect holes in the market, and they make beautifully designed products to fill them. They also tend to get it right the first time. All of the ZAGG keyboards that I have mentioned are either first or second generation products, but they practically wipe the floor with the rest of the competition.

The ZAGGfolio and ZAGGkeys SOLO are certainly no exception. Sure, I brought up some trade-offs to be considered due to the primary design of the case. However, those are just things that you need to be aware of and think about before you spend $99 for an accessory for an already expensive iPad 2. The ZAGGfolio doesn’t do everything well. It isn’t designed to. You could probably say the very same thing about the iPad. However, in both cases, they do what they were primarily designed to do better than anything else in their respective fields. If you are looking for a heavy-duty keyboard case that will give your iPad 2 superior protection, and will let you type in landscape mode while holding your device as steady as a stone, then you can’t get any better than this.

Even if, like me, you don’t need all of that protection every day, ZAGG was smart enough to include the best mobile Bluetooth keyboard in its class with this case, and let you remove it and take it with you anywhere you please. If you really don’t need the case, you also have the less expensive option of the keyboard alone. However, like I said before, it is definitely worth the extra investment to have that protection when you do need it, even if it’s just once in a while.After

One thing I can say for sure after working on my last two ZAGG reviews is that, if you need a mobile Bluetooth keyboard, don’t bother with anything else. ZAGG is the unquestioned gold standard in the field at this point. There’s a good reason why mainstream retailers keep their items in plentiful supply and major manufacturers want to partner with them. They are simply the best at what they do, and as far as I’m concerned, the iPad keyboard market belongs to them at this point.

(After the revelation of the design flaw that affected several customer’s experience with the ZAGGfolio, I would like to add that I hope ZAGG will tighten their quality control on new products that they release. Being a programmer by trade, and someone who works with a lot of different industrial microprocessor controllers and electronic components, I have seen my share of bugs, design flaws, botched software patches, and even product recalls. They are a fact of life in any industry, and can even strike companies you might think would be immune to such things, like Apple, for example. 

In retrospect, it is also easy for me to see how this defect could slip by unnoticed. Considering that ZAGG is one of the world’s most popular manufacturers of screen protectors, I would imagine that there aren’t too many iPads around their facilities without one. However, I hope that in the future, their engineers and testers will take this slip into consideration. Their oversight negatively affected some of their customers, and that is not something to take lightly. It would also seem that the initial reaction from ZAGG’s technical support team could have been better, as well.

That said, as a longtime fan of ZAGG, I am very happy that they stepped up to the plate, took responsibility for the problems with the ZAGGfolio, and committed to making it right for their customers. It’s never a good thing when something like this happens, but I have to give them credit for acting quickly to make sure that their ZAGGfolio works as it should, and that their customers are taken care of. I was a little worried there for a bit, but ZAGG’s actions make it possible for me to continue to stand by my statements at the end of my review about them as a company.

As for my final opinion on the product, I will post a follow-up review of the new case design as soon as it is released.)

The ZAGGfolio is available for $99.99 from ZAGG, but is currently only available in limited quantities. It will eventually be available from all of ZAGG’s retail partners.

The ZAGGkeys SOLO keyboard will be available for $69.99 in mid-August.

 

The ZAGGfolio was provided by Zagg for review on iSource. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.

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