I have been using keyboard cases and covers of all different shapes and sizes since I got my iPad 2 around two years ago. They are such versatile accessories, combining two things I want to have with me at all times into one handy package. This has become one of the most popular accessory categories for the Apple’s tablets over the last two years, so iPad 2, 3 and 4 users have no shortage of solid versions to choose from.
The iPad Mini, which Apple released just last Fall, is a different matter. First, the smaller, thinner tablet doesn’t fit very well with most of the existing keyboard cases that were designed for its larger siblings. Obviously it is too small to fit in one of these cases for carrying around, but the Mini also doesn’t fit very well into the docks or grooves that hold the tablet for use with the keyboard, either. I’ve tried several, and because the Mini is so much thinner than the larger iPads, it ends up sitting at too flat of an angle to comfortably see and use.
I knew it wouldn’t take too long until accessory manufacturers got on board with Apple’s new design, and started producing keyboard cases designed specifically for use with it. ZAGG was one of the first out of the gate with their ZAGGkeys Solo Mini 7 and 9 cases. I reviewed these not long after they were released, and while I liked them, I came away with mixed feelings. The 7 was a good case that didn’t add a ton of bulk and weight while carrying the Mini around , but the keyboard was very small, and was a little on the stiff side. The 9 had a much better keyboard, but was too big for me to keep my iPad Mini in all the time. It was great that ZAGG gave users the choice of what would work better for them, but neither felt like a killer device. Unfortunately, there were significant trade-offs to using either of them.
Considering that ZAGG and Logitech have both been releasing top quality keyboard covers and cases for the iPad and other mobile devices, I knew it was only a matter of time until Logitech followed suit. They have now obliged by offering their first keyboard geared toward the iPad Mini . The new Ultrathin Keyboard Case for the iPad Mini is a smaller version of their popular full-sized model that I reviewed last year.
I can tell you that it is already my favorite keyboard accessory for the Mini. The keyboard response is better than the offerings from both ZAGG and Belkin, and as a cover, it offers full protection for your Mini’s screen, while adding a minimum of size and weight.
Like Logitech’s original Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, the Ultrathin Mini is sleek and very thin. One difference is that, while the full-sized version was originally only offered in black (a white version followed later), Logitech released both colors out of the gate with the Ultrathin Mini. I got white this time, since I have a white iPad Mini, and it looks really good. I personally prefer the way the white keys and plastic with gray lettering and dock liner look with the aluminum to the black model.
It reminds me of all those clean looking white Apple iPod accessories of the early to mid-2000s. Due to it’s smaller size, Logitech did have to make some alterations to the layout of the keyboard in this model. We’ll cover this in detail in a bit. However, other than the color and the obvious size difference, there aren’t any other major design differences between this and the larger version.
For those who aren’t acquainted with that product, here’s a brief rundown of the basic design.
The keyboard side is all plastic, with low-profile plastic keys. As mentioned before, the overall design is very clean and basic. The back of the Ultrathin Mini is all brushed aluminum.
Again, the design is sparse, which suits the device in my opinion. The only visible markings are the black Logitech branding near the bottom, and some model and regulatory information in gray along the left side. Next is the magnet hinge that connects the Ultrathin Mini to the iPad Mini.
Unlike the one on the original Apple Smart Cover, this hinge is a one piece, single design, rather than broken into sections. As with the original Ultrathin, I think this adds both simplicity and stability. Also, I think that Logitech’s design is FAR better than the all plastic hinge on the Apple’s Smart Cover for the iPad Mini.
The bottom of the Ultrathin Mini (or the right side, if you are looking at the keyboard face up) has all of the controls for the device.
There is a sliding on/off switch, a Bluetooth pairing button, and a MiniUSB jack for charging, and that’s it. That’s it. Clean and simple, all the way around.
There are always two factors to consider with keyboard cases and covers. The first is whether it offers adequate protection for your iPad. The Ultrathin Mini, like the full-sized version, is different than most of the competition in that it does not offer the full protection of a case.
This is the keyboard version of an Apple Smart Cover, and it offers the same advantages of magnetic attachment and automatic sleep and wake when closing and opening the cover.
On the flip side, like with the Smart Cover, you are on your own when it comes to the aluminum back of your iPad Mini.
I personally address this issue by using a Best Skins Ever skin on the back of my Mini. This protects you from everyday scratches and scuffs, but isn’t much of a barrier against drops.
As for whether the Ultrathin is going to provide enough protection to set you at ease, here is you litmus test. If you are a person who has no problem using a Smart Cover, or carrying your iPad Mini naked, then the Ultrathin should be right up your alley. However, if you insist on a using full case, then you’ll need to decide if you can live with only half the protection that you’re used to.
One advantage of accepting a little less protection is having less bulk to deal with. As you can see below, the Ultrathin and iPad Mini make a great pair.
They make a slim, lightweight combo that is very easy to carry around, and takes up very little space.
Speaking of protection, one of the nice touches I like about the Ultrathin Mini is the rubber spacers placed at the four corners of the keyboard side.
These spacers keep your iPad Mini from sitting directly on the plastic surface of the keyboard when the cover is closed to protect your screen. There is an advantage that this design offers over some full coverage cases that is worth considering if you are on the fence.
While it is much more difficult to use the iPad Mini in portrait orientation with the ZAGGkeys Mini 7 or 9, this is very easy with the Ultrathin Mini. You can either remove the Ultrathin, which is easy to do, or you can open the cover, leave it attached, and hold the connected pair like a book.
This versatility is handy if you don’t want to be case-bound all the time. The easy on/off of this cover is definitely a plus.
Another thing worth noting is that the magnetic hinge, while strong enough to provide a solid connection to your device, isn’t overwhelmingly powerful. You can see below how I can suspend the Ultrathin Mini from the iPad Mini.
It will hold as long as you don’t swing it around. However, you will NOT want to try this the other way around. The iPad is too heavy, and it will eventually fall off, no matter how still you hold it.
One advantage that the Ultrathin Mini has over its larger sibling is greater strength and long-term durability. Something I mentioned in my review of the original is that the aluminum is so thin and light that you had to be careful how you picked it up with the iPad Mini docked. Mine actually bent slightly because I picked it up my the front edge while the iPad 2 was docked in it. I would not say that the Ultrathin Mini’s aluminum is any stronger than the original. However, because the surface is smaller, it has more rigidity.
Also, since the iPad Mini is thinner an lighter than even the iPad 2, it does not put too much pressure on the aluminum, no matter how you pick the pair up. It works much better than the original in this respect. All things considered, I think that the Ultrathin Mini actually functions better as a case than the original. That’s saying something, considering that I really liked the full-sized Ultrathin. It just had that one big concern with metal strength that held it back a bit. The Ultrathin Mini doesn’t share the same issue, so it wins by a nose.
The issue with any keyboard case built to be a precise fit with the iPad Mini is that, no matter how good it is, it is still an 8″ keyboard. Remember how long 7-8″ netbooks lasted? Yeah. There was a good reason for that. No doubt this size issue is the reason that ZAGG ended up releasing a 9″ model of their keyboard case.
This may seem like an ominous introduction, but as far as small keyboards go, the Ultrathin Mini actually performs very well.
All of the keys are well spaced, and the letter keys are large enough for accurate typing. Things get a bit more challenging when it comes to the symbol and number keys, but with practice and careful aim, one can even get used to them.
Logitech made a wise decision when it comes to the layout of the Ultrathin Mini. Any keyboard this small is going to require some creativity in its layout in order to cram all of the necessary keys into its bounds. For example, ZAGG and Belkin chose to tie some common symbols, such as the question mark and quotation mark, to the FN key. This is a real challenge to get used to for a touch typist, as it basically requires thinking about something that has become almost unconscious, and stopping yourself every time you get to certain actions.
Logitech handled this much better, in my opinion. They left all of the symbols alone, and instead tied the Caps Lock and Tab keys to the FN key.
Since these are used a little less often than symbols like the question mark and quotation marks, and are usually used at a starting or stopping point in your typing, I think this arrangement makes much more sense.
Special function keys are one of the more popular features of Bluetooth keyboard cases and covers for mobile devices, but it’s always a challenge for product designers to make the best use of the space available. The limited size of the Ultrathin Mini, again, dictates that these functions be combined with other keys. However, Logitech made up for that by how many they chose to include.
As you can see here, they have included all the basics, as well as a few extras. Of particular note are the Siri key (number 2 key) and the selection keys (right and left arrows). These functions can actually both be accessed without these keys. Siri can also be triggered by holding the Home Screen key (top left corner of the keyboard with the square emblem), and the select and deselect can be accessed by holding Shift and Cmd and using the right and left arrows. However, the average user may not be aware of these special shortcuts, so it was a good decision to tie them to keys, and to print them directly on the keyboard.
At the end of the day, all the layout and design in the world can’t do much to help the user if the keyboard’s mechanics aren’t any good. Thankfully, this is actually where the Ultrathin Mini really shines. The keys have a good response and feedback. They take a little bit of a press to register, but they definitely aren’t stiff, by any means. I also didn’t have any issues with doubled keys, despite my heavy handed typing. This is something I have experienced on other mobile keyboards due to my technical deficiencies, so I always appreciate using a keyboard that is more forgiving. Also, once I adjusted to the size, I didn’t get any ghosted keystrokes, either.
Once you get used the size and the layout, the Ultrathin Mini does a rock solid job. This may not be the kind of device that you crank out the next great American novel on, but it works very well for things like taking notes and banging out emails. I wrote most of this review using the Ultrathin Mini and my iPad Mini, and while it took some getting used to (thanks largely to the fact that I’ve been spoiled by using the full sized Logitech Bluetooth Easy-Switch Keyboard that I reviewed last month), it performed admirably once I did.
When you consider that this best-in-class mini keyboard also provides excellent screen protection without adding unnecessary bulk, full Smart Cover functionality, and looks great to boot, then you know you have a winner on your hands. At $79.99, I would also say that it’s a great value, as well. The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad Mini won’t take the place of a full sized keyboard, but if you are looking for a portable keyboard for your Mini that can go anywhere without getting in the way, then the Ultrathin is the best choice on the market right now.
If you have any questions or feedback about this, or any other Logitech Bluetooth keyboard, feel free to let me know in the comments section below. You can also reach me on Twitter @jhrogersii and at Google+.
The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad Mini is available from Logitech and many electronics outlets for $79.99.
The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad Min was provided by Logitech for review on iSource. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.