From the day the iPad was announced I began dreaming (OK, fantasizing) about all the ways I could use it in place of my laptop. For example, it’s easy to imagine transferring my existing media consumption usage into iPad. What I didn’t know was how well it would work for taking notes in my college courses and work meetings, or for composing real emails. As it turns out, it’s not bad. There are compromises, certainly, but overall the gains outweigh the losses. One item, however, requires a hardware upgrade to make it useful in these text heavy situations.
When it comes down to it, the on screen keyboard is really quite good; it’s just not quite good enough to type seriously with. As a solution to this problem, I present the Freedom Input “Freedom Pro” and “i-Connex” compact Bluetooth keyboards. They are essentially the same keyboard body with some labeling, compatibility, and price differences. Both work with the iPad (see the specs for more on the differences). I’ve used the Freedom Pro for a few weeks to compose a “crapton” of email as well as a few future reviews (including the one you’re reading now).
Setup was a breeze. Insert the included batteries and enter the iPad bluetooth setup to toggle Bluetooth on. The keyboard will appear on the list, tap the name of the keyboard and you will be prompted to sync them. All in all it takes less than 60 seconds. The build quality is good, though there’s some curvature the two halves that becomes noticeable when the keyboard is in it’s folded state. Also, the pin that holds the unit in the open position has a little too much play. The result being that it doesn’t feel particulary solid if using it on your lap.
That being said, I can definitely type more quickly on the i-Connex than I can the touch keyboard. Taking notes is quite a bit easier than it would be otherwise. However, due to the small size and a seam where the keyboard folds, some of the keys are awkward to hit. The spacebar in particular takes some getting used to, and the shift/caps/tab row is difficult to master. Like anything though, the more I type with it the more accurate I get.
Another problem I’m finding (which I want to point out is likely an app/keyboard relationship issue), is that text input apps haven’t properly implemented the standard keyboard shortcuts. Some of them want to work, but mostly they just don’t. For example, in at least one app, ctrl+ shift brings up the iOS text selection graphic, but it wont work to select anything, and then prevents you from using your fingers to make your selection. Additionally, the arrow keys work to “move” the cursor around, but the visual cursor stays put. It leaves you unsure where the cursor really is, and it can only be re synced by tapping the screen with your fingers. As time marches on, we can hope that issues like this will become less of an issue.
- Media control keys
- Control & Function keys
- Separate LED indicators to show power and connection status.
- Uses two AAA batteries for over 90 hours use and 3000 hours standby
- Size Opened: 12.6 x 4.0 x 0.38 inches
- Size Closed: 6.4 x 4.0 x 0.75 inches
- Weight: 9.1 ounces with batteries
- I-Connex ($70 US): iPad, iPhone 3GS or later, Latest Gen iPod touch, any other HID Bluetooth device.
- Freedom Pro ($~140 US): All items above, as well as Blackberry 4.0 or later, Some Symbian, Windows Mobile, and Android setups.
So what do I think? My experience with it is one of satisfaction. It’s not a perfect keyboard, but overall, I like it. It’s compact enough that it’ll fit in most iPad bags; and unlike the Apple wireless keyboard, Im not terribly concerned about damaging it when I toss it around. If you’re looking to use your iPad for extended text input of any kind, you need a keyboard. If you also need it to be portable, this is your guy. The Apple keyboard feels more like a real keyboard, but without some sort of case, I’d rather leave it at home.
- Long battery life
- Kicks the crap out of typing on the touch keyboard
- Doesn’t feel sturdy enough to type with the keyboard on my lap
- Keys are small and difficult to get used to
- App designers haven’t nailed keyboard shortcuts yet
Want one yourself? You can buy it here.