If you own an iPad, one big question is how do you use it? For mostly email checking and web browsing? Perhaps light typing and work? Or moderate to heavy tasks such as picture editing, office tools and more? Thanks to over 10,000 apps available solely for the iPad, it can really do just about anything you need.

But once again, the question is how do you use your iPad?

Thanks to Apple (for sending a review unit and letting me keep it for so long), I’ve had the opportunity to test out the iPad Keyboard Dock (MC533LL/A) for four months. Most product reviews don’t work that way. We want to test it out and get a review up ASAP. But as Gadget Review is undergoing sweeping changes, some leniency has been made with when reviews go up, at least for the time being. And oh what a difference a few months makes.

The Keyboard Dock is fantastic. It feels good, it looks good when plugged into an iPad, and it works great.

The keys are higher profile (deeper) than those on Apple’s Wireless Keyboard, which provides a uniquely better typing experience than the latter, more popular Bluetooth keyboard. The Keyboard Dock, made specifically and solely for the iPad, feels great to type on. While I described how good the Wireless Keyboard feels, the iPad Keyboard Dock is even better, thanks to springier keys.

As a dock, the Keyboard Dock connects to an iPad via Apple’s 30-pin connector, the same found on every iPod and iPhone. The iPad slides right in and sits firmly in place, mostly due to the iPad’s weight. To use the Keyboard Dock with the iPad, the iPad must stay in portrait, which is a shame. Today’s proliferation of widescreens makes typing on a vertically long screen odd, even if actual writing is done in portrait on paper.

That said, the Keyboard Dock doesn’t take into account iPad owners who protect their iPad’s with cases. A case on the iPad, such as Apple’s own official iPad case, prohibits connecting the two devices. While for the first month of testing the Keyboard Dock I wasn’t using a case, the latter three I did. Removing the case is already difficult, and doing so just to plug into the keyboard seems ludicrous when one can just as easily use a Bluetooth keyboard instead, and keep the iPad in its case, in either portrait or landscape mode.

In effect, the iPad Keyboard Dock’s greatest competition is Apple’s own Wireless Keyboard.

What stands tallest against this fierce competitor are dedicated iPad keys. Instead of standardized function keys on the Keyboard Dock (F1, F2, etc.), the Keyboard dock uses very specific functions, with icons that each feature an image of the respective key. These functions include returning home, spotlight search, changing the brightness settings, starting a picture slideshow, media and volume controls, and a lock function. Using these keys while on the iPad is so easy and intuitive that it often becomes a burden to use the Wireless Keyboard in its place.

In fact, after using the iPad Keyboard Dock significantly, using the Wireless Keyboard becomes a burden because these functions keys aren’t available, though perhaps they should be in subsequent releases.

The Keyboard Dock also requires no power to function, simply the iPad. If, like me, you find yourself charging your iPad only once or twice a week, it may feel superfluous to always charge it, and the Keyboard Dock is no exception. Apple smartly made the Keyboard Dock draw power from the iPad itself, so it requires no power source to type, nor any cables to clutter your workspace.

That doesn’t mean it’s convenient to move the Keyboard Dock. In a household, sure, moving it from room to room is fine. But you cannot type with it on your lap, because the weight distribution is such that it wouldn’t stay upright. It’s a shame that the dock was designed solely for a desk. As for traveling abroad, it’s too large to fit in a bag and heavy too. The back panel sticks out too much, and was clearly not made for such. Better to stick with the Wireless Keyboard away from the home.

An unforeseen bonus for iPhone and iPod Touch owners is that the keyboard works with all iOS devices. Naturally, Apple doesn’t support the iPhone or iPod Touch with the iPad Keyboard Dock, and at times error messages will appear saying that the hardware is not suitable. Nonetheless, it works, and quite well, both for charging and typing. Typing quick notes on my phone before leaving for some engagement is always better on a real keyboard, and using the Keyboard Dock speeds up matters tremendously.

Ironically, the lack of usability with the iPad Keyboard Dock is greatest limitation. For $70, it seems reasonable to expect that it would at least function as a standard keyboard on a Mac, but no. This is a one-trick pony, which is a shame considering it is a more comfortable typing experience than the Wireless Keyboard.

In spite of this, what really makes the iPad Keyboard Dock so great is that it brings back that feel of a typewriter. Perhaps not noisy or old-fashioned, but simple, to the point, and all about typing. Sure, it’s limited, but that is intentional. When you set your iPad in this dock, the world can disappear. You can type in peace, on a great keyboard, on this generation’s typewriter. Pages takes the place of paper and ink ribbons, and the keyboard does the rest. The distractions so often associated with today’s computing is greatly lessened, in part due to the iPad’s software design, and this keyboard exploits that. The iPad Keyboard Dock makes typing simple again.

Target, via Amazon has the Apple iPad Keyboard Dock for about $76 including shipping.



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.