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Review: Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio

Ok, so reviewing Bluetooth keyboards has become something of a regular gig for me over the last year and a half. Despite the fact that I have reviewed several, and test driven some others, there are always unique elements that come to mind for each one that I have tried. The Targus Versavu has a rotating back so the iPad can be used in portrait orientation while still in the case. You can remove the keyboard from the ZAGGfolio and use it separately from the case. The ZAGGmate, Logitech Bluetooth Keyboard Case, and Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Case all have aluminum construction that makes them sturdy and also gives them a feel similar to that of the iPad. The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Case also uses a magnet to attach to the iPad like a Smart Cover. These are just a few examples of the different features that make several of the more popular keyboards for the iPad stand out.

There are new Bluetooth keyboards announced for the various generations of the iPad seemingly every month, so I tend to focus on models that have one or more features that stand out from the crowd for reviews. As soon as I saw the press release for Logitech’s new Solar Keyboard Folio for the iPad 2 and New iPad this last March, I knew that it was a prime candidate for a closer look. You don’t have to go any further than the name to see that it is unique. But that’s just part of the story, as the Solar Keyboard Folio also stands out in other ways, as well. Let’s take a closer look.

First off, before I get started, I have to hand it to Logitech. This company is all in on iPad and other tablet keyboards. They had already licensed a great design from ZAGG for their Bluetooth Keyboard Case last year, as well as releasing a full-sized Tablet Keyboard of their own design. Then, they followed that up this year with two very innovative products: the Ultrathin Keyboard Case, which I have already reviewed and still love, and the Solar Keyboard Folio. It is clear that Logitech is very serious about delivering a wide variety of high quality keyboards to meet any tablet user’s needs. Bravo, Logitech.

 

Good First Impressions

When you are an Apple fan, that pretty much ruins the unboxing experience for any other device you try. Apple is famous for their attention to detail in this department, so it’s no surprise that few products can stand toe-to-toe with them. However, I have to say that the Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio came as close as I have seen in a while.

You can see here that the keyboard is contained in a fold-out box that holds it in, while still showing it off. What made the unboxing experience cool, though, was Logitech’s inclusion of magnets to hold the box closed. What an awesome touch for an Apple accessory. Nice. I usually don’t care about unboxing, but this made a great first impression.

 

Here Comes the Sun

So let’s get right to the standout feature of this interesting new product. Logitech’s Solar Keyboard Folio is the first solar powered keyboard for the iPad. It’s an idea that’s a little bit out of left field. Sure, there are several solar charging accessories available from places like eBay, which are typically marketed to hikers, hunters, and other outdoorsmen, However, these are all separate accessories that charge devices via USB ports. This keyboard actually has a solar panel built into one side of the case.

One thing to note about the Solar Keyboard Folio is that, like most solar powered devices, the solar panel does not actually power the keyboard directly. It trickle charges a battery, which is located in a metal tube behind the keyboard.

 

According to Logitech, a standout feature of the solar panel is that it doesn’t require direct sunlight for charging. It can use the ambient light in your house to recharge the battery, which makes this concept far more practical for real-world use. The thought of having to stick your keyboard in the window when the battery gets low doesn’t sound very appealing at all. It’s a good thing that Logitech nailed this feature, because there is no USB port for backup charging. For this keyboard, it’s solar or bust.

The primary benefit of this convenient charging method is not ever having to think about it. It’s not the most difficult thing in the world to grab a Micro USB cable and plug in when you need a boost with a standard Bluetooth keyboard, but the whole purpose of buying one of these Bluetooth keyboards is to cut cords and get away from desktops and laptops. So, solar is a really good way to go from a mobility and usability perspective. According to Logitech, this keyboard can last up to two years in complete darkness after a full charge with 2 hours of use per day. That’s pretty impressive, no matter how you look at it.

While the solar charging worked flawlessly during my testing, I have to wonder if, to some degree, this is a feature in search of a need. As I stated at the opening, I have tried my share of Bluetooth keyboards, and all but the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard are rechargeable. I can safely say that I have never had an issue with poor battery life on any of them. All of them last from weeks to months, so while you never have to think about charging the Solar Keyboard Folio, you only rarely have to think about it with the competition. This keyboard retails for $129, which is a $30 premium over most of the comparable options. I don’t think that the extra ease of use alone is enough to justify the extra cost.

Keep in mind, however, that solar charging also offers environmental benefits beyond ease of use. First of all, even though Bluetooth keyboards have long-lasting batteries, they still have to draw power from the electrical grid during charging. Switching to solar does reduce your carbon footprint, even if just a small amount. The more common devices like this become, the more people can begin to unload consumer electronic devices from the grid, and more practically, from their electric bills.

Also, while the Solar Bluetooth Folio does have a battery, it is FAR more refurb and recycle friendly. Most competing products have the batteries sealed inside the keyboard section, which make them difficult to recycle, and practically impossible to work on. This contributes to less expensive accessory devices becoming disposable commodities that often end up in landfills at the end of their usable lives. The Solar Bluetooth Folio, however, has the battery enclosed in a metal cylinder that is completely separated from the keyboard, making it more easily accessible.

In fact, Logitech even includes instructions for removing the batteries for proper disposal or recycling when either they have reached the end of their lifespan, or the keyboard fails outside of Logitech’s 2 Year Warranty. So, while the ease of use advantage alone may not justify the extra cost of the Solar Bluetooth Folio, users who are environmentally conscious will definitely see the value in spending that extra $30.

 

Movie Time

Solar charging isn’t the only unique feature that the Solar Bluetooth Folio has up its sleeve. This keyboard also has a second viewing angle for the iPad that is specifically geared toward viewing media content.

While other keyboard cases may offer more than one viewing angle, this implementation is quite different, and definitely suits the application.

 

Logitech came up with a very creative way to add this media viewing position. Since you don’t typically need the full keyboard while watching videos, they added a set of notches to hold the iPad just behind the first row of keys on the keyboard.

The real stroke of genius here, though, is the decision to leave that first row of keys exposed, and have them double as media function keys.

While there are shortcut keys for pause/play, mute, and volume up and down on the number row that can be accessed with the keyboard’s fn key, the duplicated media function keys on the first row work alone, without having to press another key.

The Folio automatically senses the position of the iPad, and switches these keys from their normal assignments to become dedicated shortcut keys.

You can see the thought that Logitech put into this secondary mode with the functions that they included. Along with the traditional play/pause, back, forward, and volume controls, you also have keys for slideshow mode and the iOS on-screen keyboard.

The slideshow key let’s you trigger a parade of your photos when you are listening to music, which is a nice time-saver that keeps you from having to dig through apps and menus. With the keyboard hidden, the on-screen keyboard key is even more important. Rather than having to move the iPad back an forth any time you need to type something, you can leave it in the media viewing position, and use this key to trigger the on-screen keyboard.

The on-screen keyboard key also helps to extend the usefulness of the media viewing position to other activities. This viewing angle actually works quite well for web surfing, as well. This wouldn’t be very practical at all without access to a keyboard, but the on-screen keyboard key makes it a viable alternative.


Best of the Rest

Beyond its two standout features, the Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio is also a strong Bluetooth keyboard with even more unique design elements. As for the keyboard itself, it has a lot in common with Logitech’s Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, which was released earlier this year.

While the color is different, the material, footprint and spacing of the keys is exactly the same. The only other discernible difference is the height of the keys. The Ultrathin’s slim profile necessitates low profile keys, but the Folio’s keys are more in line with other iPad-specific Bluetooth keyboard cases.

Considering that the shallow keys were one of the common complaints that I have seen about the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, many users may see the Folio as a nice upgrade in this department. If you don’t mind a little more bulk, you get a slightly more traditional keyboard feel, as well as protection for the back side of your iPad. As for me, I loved the Ultrathin, and still do. However, I do prefer the feel of the Folio’s keyboard a bit more. I’m not a great touch typist by any stretch, but I can definitely tell a difference. If I can, I’m sure others would, as well.

The exterior of the Solar Keyboard Folio is also unique among other iPad Bluetooth Keyboard cases. Most others are knock-off leather, metal, or some kind of synthetic, and there are a few more expensive models that have real leather coverings. In contrast, the Folio’s exterior feels very much like Apple’s Polyurethane Smart Covers. Some might think this would feel too cheap for a keyboard with this price tag, but once I got used to it, I actually rather liked it. But, I also liked the feel of Apple’s Poly Smart Covers. That would the easiest comparison to test for anyone thinking about buying the Folio.

The thin, soft-touch exterior is easy on the hands, but seems like an odd choice for a case that needs some rigidity to function. However, Logitech did a good job of heading off potential issues by adding rigid soft-touch plastic behind the keyboard that extends to the battery cylinder. Only a small piece of flexible material behind the battery is free to move when you pick up the keyboard, or have it in your lap.

This makes the Folio much more stable in the lap than both the Targus Versavu and the Incase Origami Workstation.

It was almost as good as the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover and ZAGGfolio in my testing, which was very impressive.

 

Partly Cloudy

No product is perfect, no matter how well it is designed, and the Solar Keyboard Folio is no exception. First of all, the decision to put the solar panel in the bottom of the case with the keyboard open seems a little odd. It stands to reason that the solar panel would be on the section behind the screen, so that the keyboard can be charged during use. However, there is an obvious reason for this. If you take a closer look, the solar panel is located below the battery, which makes sense.

There isn’t an obvious way to run the necessary wires between the battery and panel without them being completely exposed. So, just remember to leave your keyboard out with the solar panel facing up from time to time to keep that battery trickle charging.

The main issue that I found with the Folio was with the method of closing, or lack thereof.

This is the only keyboard case that covers both sides of the iPad that I am aware of that doesn’t have some form of closure. There are Smart Cover-style on/off magnets, but they don’t even come close to keeping the Folio closed while carrying it around.

While the iPad is held very securely in place inside of a thin plastic bracket, the primary issue with the lack of any closure comes if you drop the case. There is the potential for the case to open up during a fall from distance, exposing your iPad’s screen to potential danger. This issue isn’t the end of the world for me, since I tend to carry my iPad and accessories from place to place in a shoulder bag. Also, it is not at all difficult to hold the case closed while you carry it around. However, for a case that is so well thought-out otherwise, this omission stands out. If there is a version 2 of the Folio, I sincerely hope they either add clasps, or stronger magnets to keep the Folio securely shut while on the go.

The last issue, which I already touched on, is the value proposition. The Solar Keyboard Folio retails for $129, which is more expensive than the other cases in this class. I guess the cost is easily explained by the addition of a solar panel and compatible battery, but are they going to be worth the $30 extra for average users? That’s a good question, and it will be up to individual users to figure it out for themselves.

So that begs the question- Who is the Solar Keyboard Folio geared toward? First of all, any iOS users who are environmentally conscious and are looking to embrace renewable energy while reducing their carbon footprints will definitely appreciate this keyboard’s features. In a market made up of increasingly commoditized and disposable accessories, Logitech has made a move in the opposite direction. They have shown that eco-friendly and quality are not mutually exclusive.

Also, any user who likes to view or listen to media content on their iPad 2 or New iPad will appreciate the media viewing angle and dedicated shortcut keys. I used it a bit today to listen to music while I worked, and the dedicated controls really are very handy. As for users who don’t care about either of these features and may still be on the fence, rest assured that the Solar Keyboard Folio can definitely stand toe-to-toe with any of the other top iPad Bluetooth keyboard cases. It has practically endless battery life, a keyboard that feels great, Smart Cover-like on/off magnets, and an exterior that is comfortable to grip and hold. The only negative that may dissuade some buyers is the lack of a method of closure.

So, in my humble opinion, the solar charging and media viewing angle of the Solar Keyboard Folio are worth the extra $30. Even if you don’t agree, the other features of this case make it as good as any other Bluetooth keyboard that I have tried, and worthy of consideration for anyone looking for a great keyboard to compliment their iPad 2 or New iPad.

The Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio has an MSRP of $129. You can find additional information on Logitech’s product page here.

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

 

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