I've had the pleasure of reviewing just about all of ZAGG's various Bluetooth keyboards over the last two years, and I've always come away impressed with what I have seen. First was the original Logitech Bluetooth Keyboard Case for iPad 2 by ZAGG (licensed by Logitech, but designed by ZAGG). Then I reviewed the ZAGGfolio, with its included original ZAGGkeys keyboard. Both of these keyboards were unique in their design and materials, and served somewhat different needs and use cases, but both had the same high level of quality and performance.
Over the last year, I've also had the opportunity to review a couple of competing products from Logitech, who has really thrown down the gauntlet and became a worthy direct competitor to ZAGG. These two companies have pretty much staked their claim at the top of the heap when it comes to tablet keyboards. Sure, there are a few other products, such as the Adonit Pro and Targus' Versavu that hold their own, and there is seemingly a new Kickstarter every day that will turn your iPad into a MacBook Air clone, but no other competitor can come close to touching the comprehensive lineup that these two companies have.
One of the most intriguing keyboards that I've reviewed was Logitech's Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. I had never seen anything else like it at the time.
It used a swiveling hinge and the Smart Cover magnets in the iPad to double as both screen cover, and keyboard. Its aluminum exterior also made it a perfect fit with the iPad when carrying the two together. And as for the keyboard, it was very solid, despite the tradeoffs in key height necessary for it to sit flush against the iPad's screen while carrying the pair on the go. There was one notable gripe I had with it, however. It was a bit too Ultrathin, as it was susceptible to bending or warping slightly if you picked it up with the iPad docked on it.
Now enter the brand new ZAGGkeys Pro and Pro Plus. This is ZAGG's entry into this new category of mobile Bluetooth keyboards that double as Smart Cover-esque screen covers, and I have to say that it really takes things to the next level. While it isn't as thin and light as Logitech's Ultrathin, the materials and features give this product a solid, high quality feel that its main rival falls a bit short of. Let's take a closer look at what makes the Pro and Pro Plus tick.
(Programming Note: I received the Pro Plus model for review, so I will refer to it for most of the rest of the review. However, the models are very similar, so both are mentioned at times)
Overall Design and Construction
One of the main areas where ZAGG really excels is in product design. Their gear is always polished looking, has a great fit and finish, and you can just tell that a great deal of thought went into them. ZAGG also puts a great deal of effort into the actual construction of their gear, and they definitely stand behind it. The ZAGGkeys Pro and Pro Plus keyboards are no exception. In fact, I would say that these are somewhat of a crowning achievement for them, in both regards. First of all, while an aluminum base is nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to tablet-oriented Bluetooth keyboards, an all-aluminum body is.
The top cover, including the space between the individual keys, is made from the same matte-finished aluminum as the base. It looks great and feels really solid in the hand. Aluminum just has a feeling of quality that no plastic can match. In contrast, the Logitech Ultrathin's top cover is glossy plastic. Big difference.
What really sets this keyboard apart from the Logitech Ultrathin is not only the all-aluminum construction, but also the fact that ZAGG used a slightly heavier and stronger gauge of metal. If you hold both keyboards by the edge, you can feel the difference.
The thinner Ultrathin has a slight “give” that you have to be careful of (which I mentioned in my review), while the Pro Plus is more firm and solid. There is a tradeoff, however, in that the Pro Plus is also noticeably heavier and thicker.
Don't get me wrong. It's not too heavy or thick, by any stretch. It's just designed differently than its competitor. Despite their similarities, you can tell that each product aims at a different target, which is a good thing, in my opinion. ZAGG didn't set out to make a “me-too” device, here. They took a good idea and put their own unique spin on it, and in more ways than just overall construction, which you will see in a bit.
Rounding out the construction, the keyboard has just a little bit of plastic trim around the top edge, which the iPad sits inside of when it is used as a cover.
There are also four small rubberized tabs in the four corners that the iPad rests on when it is face down.
The aluminum base is exactly what you would expect, but it also shows some product evolution from ZAGG. While the Logitech Bluetooth Keyboard Case by ZAGG and the original plastic ZAGGkeys are squared designs, the Pro Plus is rounded, and as such, fits very nicely in the hand while carrying it.
And that's about it. This is as minimalist a design as you will see, but it functions beautifully, both as a keyboard, and as a case/cover. I think it is a solid step forward from the original ZAGGkeys. That product is a great mobile keyboard, but since it is all plastic, it doesn't feel nearly as solid as the Pro Plus. It is a great match with the ZAGGfolio, since that heavy-duty case protects it and the iPad very well, but I would be more worried about its long-term durability if used on its own while on the go. The original ZAGGkeys would make a great home or office keyboard by itself, but Pro Plus is a much better fit for those who want to use a keyboard on the go, but don't want the bulk of the fully enclosed ZAGGfolio. Its ability to securely cover the screen and its all aluminum body make it a truly stand-alone product that is worth the extra price.
As for the keyboard aspect of the ZAGGkeys Pro Plus, there is a lot off similarity with their other offerings. It shares the same spaced key design that ZAGG has been using since the original ZAGGkeys came out last year. Even though the keys are small, that space between them really helps to increase typing accuracy.
The feel of the keys is solid and responsive, just like every other ZAGG keyboard I have ever used. You get that nice balanced feeling when you type, as the keys aren't too tight, but still have a nice sping feedback when you type. As for performance, I didn't notice any lag or missed letters, but I did have some letter doubling, on occasion. I wrote this entire review using the Pro Plus, and this is definitely an annoyance with an otherwise spectacular device. However, after some research, I don't think this is a hardware defect or bug. You see, my wife is a former legal secretary and paralegal and can type like the wind. She is an ace touch typist. My typing is, well, passable at best. I tend to type too hard and fumble around while doing it. Anyway, I gave her the Pro Plus to try out for a while, and she did not see a single doubled letter. Hmmmm. It would seem that the Pro Plus is just sensitive to certain typing styles. Unfortunately for me, one of those seems to be my ham-fisted, barbaric style of typing.
In contrast to the Logitech Ultrathin, the Pro Plus has a row of dedicated function keys, rather than combining them with the number row.
As you can see, the extra row makes the keyboard area on the Pro Plus much bigger than that of the Ultrathin. However, the keys size and spacing are exactly the same, so the typing experience is similar, as well. In fact, with its extra row of keys, the Pro Plus has a more traditional keyboard layout, where the Ultrathin has some character keys shifted around. This is another one of those areas where the Pro Plus takes the think Bluetooth keyboard design to the next level.
The ZAGGkeys Pro Plus keyboard also has some other very unique features that set it apart from the rest of the crowd. First of all, this is the first backlit mobile Bluetooth keyboard that I am aware of, and certainly the first that I have tested. It's a brilliant idea, really. The iPad is a device that begs to be used on the go, but how often do we find ourselves trying to hunt and peck with a Bluetooth keyboard in a dark airplane cabin, or as a passenger in a car at night? How about a dimly lit hotel room, or in the bed while your spouse is sleeping next to you? If you ever find yourself in these kinds of low-light situations, the ZAGGkeys Pro Plus is the perfect companion for you.
The backlight is triggered by the Backlight Key to the right of the Space Bar. Pressing it once brings on the backlight at the low level. The medium and high levels are triggered with a second and third press. A fourth will turn the backlight back off.
As you can see in the picture above, each of the number, letter, arrow, and large function keys has 2 of what looks to be tiny LEDs under them. The slimmer Battery Life, ctrl, alt/option, cmd, Backlight, and Language keys each have one.
In a well-lit room, you can see the light emitted from underneath the keys, but it doesn't have any other noticeable effect. However, when you go into a dark space, you can really see the difference. The light shines up through the translucent while letters of the keys, giving your eyes something to focus on and guide off of.
As if this weren't enough, ZAGG went even further with their new keyboard backlight, adding colors. By pressing and holding the Backlight key, and then pressing the right or left arrow keys, you can cycle through your choice of seven colors: white, red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, and purple. This doesn't really serve any functional purpose, but it's a fun addition that gives users a little bit of personalization in their typing experience.
ZAGG made some smart decisions including sleep timers to help preserve battery life while using the backlight feature. After 60 secconds of non-use, the backlight will automatically turn off until the nextt key press, at which point it will come back on at the level you had it set at. After 30 minutes, the backlight will be disabled, at which point you will have to turrn it on again using the Backlight key.
Beyond the backlight, the Pro Plus also has a dedicated battery life key in the bottom left corner. When you press the key, the backlight beneath it flashes a color code to let you know your current charge level. It flashes green for 50-100% charge, yellow for 20-50%, and red, to let you know a re-charge is necessary.
On the subject of battery life, it is just as you would expect from a ZAGG keyboard. Even with the new addition of the backlight, battery life is spectacular. I have used the Pro Plus for over two weeks now, and it is still showing at the “green” battery level, and that is with a lot of backlight use. One thing to note is that when your battery life dips below 20%, the backlight will no longer function. However, according to the included instruction book, you can still get around two weeks of keyboard use at that point. Nice. Also, the keyboard only takes 2-4 hours to re-charge for a long period, so battery life really isn't much of a concern.
Similar to the Battery Life key, the Caps Lock key also lights up blue when pressed.
(Note: The ZAGGkeys Pro model does not have a backlit keyboard, but does include lightting features for the Battery Life and Caps Lock keys. The backlight is the only functional difference betweeen the two models.)
Here is yet another area where the ZAGGkeys Pro Plus is similar to the Logitech Ultrathin Bluetooth Keyboard Cover, but has its own take on how to get the job done. First of all, the Ultrathin has a spine like a Smart Cover that allows you to open the pair up like a book.
It is the same size as both the iPad 2 and new iPad, and sits flush with the screen when closed. On the other hand, the Pro Plus' magnets are located inside its aluminum cover.
Fit-wise, the Pro Plus is a little bit larger than the current iPads, which actually sit inside of the plastic trim around the edge of the keyboard. This insures a securer fit, and no slippage once the iPad is seated.
Since the Pro Plus and your iPad are only joined together while the iPad is flat against it, there isn't any possibility of one-handed use of the pair like there is with the Ultrathin. This isn't necessarily a disadvantage, however. The magnets on the Ultrathin were just strong enough for the iPad 2. With my slightly heavier new iPad, it was possible for the magnet to let go if you opened the pair up and didn't keep a secure hold on your iPad. I am always very careful about this sort of thing anyway, so it never affected me and I didn't see it as a big issue. However, others have pointed it out as a negative, so it's worth mentioning.
With the Pro Plus, however, the fit is always very tight and secure. The magnets in the Pro Plus, however, are noticeably stronger. Once the iPad is in, it's IN. It is not going to just fall out. You actually have to pull the two devices apart. Fortunately, this isn't too hard to do, as there is a small indentation in the case in front of the space bar so that you can easily pull up with a thumb or finger.
Also worth mentioning, is that like most other Bluetooth keyboard cases for the iPad, the Pro Plus also has the automatic Smart Cover-like wake feature. This is thanks to the front set of magnets, which are located at the bottom edge of the case, just below the Battery Level and Right Arrow keys.
When the Pro Plus and the iPad are put together, the combo feels good in the hand. The all-aluminum, all-around matches up well, and makes the two devices really feel like they go together. However, if you have used the Logitech Ultrathin before, you will notice the difference in weight. Together with the heavier new iPad, the two aren't what I would call light. But as I said before, the tradeoff is that the Pro Plus does feel more solid and has a more secure hold on the iPad, as well. In the end, I don't mind the extra weight at all, since it comes with extra peace of mind.
It should be clear from my last few keyboard reviews that I think ZAGG and Logitech are lapping the field when it comes to Bluetooth keyboards. Both companies have a variety of high quality devices that meet different needs at different price points. I've tried or reviewed most of them, and I have honestly never come away disappointed. This is a really good thing for iPad users, and tablet owners in general. It's a lot easier for one dominant company in a field to get lazy or arrogant and lose a step. However, when you have two or more consistently delivering great products, they compete and push each other to make better and better gear with cool new features at resonable prices. Such is the case with ZAGG and Logitech, as they both keep delivering the goods when it comes to mobile keyboards, and seem to be constantly pushing and one upping each other.
As I said at the outset, the Pro Plus follows this trend and takes things to the next level. Despite some similarities to its primary competition, the ZAGGkeys Pro Plus is definitely its own device, with its own identity. Sure, it's a little thicker and heavier than the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, but you are getting something very tangible in return. The Pro Plus has a solid and strong all-aluminum body that looks and feels great. However, it's still light enough to be comfortably carried around as an everyday acccessory with no problem.
Add to all this the same quality keyboard that we've come to expect from ZAGG, and a totally unique and very useful backlit keyboard feature, and you have a best in class device. Even better, at $99 for the standard Pro model, and $129 for the Pro Plus with backlit keyboard, the new ZAGGkeys models are right in line with other comparable Bluetooth keyboards. I know. It feels like I say this at the end of every keyboard review, but I've found my new favorite device. But again, that's the way this thing goes between Logitech and ZAGG. I look forward to my next favorite when it gets announced by one of the two companies sometime in the near future, but for now, I will be very, very happy with the new ZAGGkeys Pro Plus.
The ZAGGkeys Pro Plus was provided by ZAGG