When it comes to tablet computing, users have five realistic options nowadays: 1) the iPad, 2) an Android tablet specifically for media playback, 3) a Windows RT tablet for web browsing and media playback, 4) a Windows 8 tablet as a laptop replacement, or 5), the iPad mini. Most people don’t know about choices 3 or 4, and skip over 2 because most Android tablets are far uglier than Apple’s options. But for the prices, the iPad 2, iPad (4), and iPad mini are all very expensive considering their parts, even if the build and design is exceptional.

All that said, the iPad is the second best tablet model when it comes to productivity. Windows 8/RT edges past it thanks to the full Office Suite on RT and an entire desktop OS on 8, plus enough hardware peripherals including attachable keyboards and mice for an everyday computing experience. iOS offers exceptional battery life, and the iPad mini especially offers the thinnest, lightest tablet you can find. So naturally it needs a keyboard. And just like Logitech’s Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad 2/iPad, the Ultrathin mini is the answer to that need to type.

What’s important to know is that as soon as I took the Ultrathin mini in public, people asked what it was and where to purchase it. iPad mini owners came one by one saying that an attachable keyboard is the one thing they are missing; iPad 2/iPad owners don’t have that problem thanks to a plethora of Bluetooth options that are sized relatively close to the iPad itself. Plenty of companies, including Logitech, offer keyboard cases or covers, but the tiny frame of the iPad mini makes that a challenge. Logitech was up for the challenge and they did a pretty good job of packing an entire keyboard into a 7″ space.

Similarly-sized keyboards have been attempted in the past, mostly failures that looked as if the makers couldn’t decide whether users would type with their hands or thumbs. The Ultrathin mini is clearly built for an everyday typing experience. It is a full QWERTY keyboard that doubles up plenty of functions across some basic keys, like A and Caps Lock, Q and Tab, and several others. This was particularly jarring for me — I capitalize with the Caps Lock, not Shift — but the experience actually taught me to use the Shift key far more than any computer class or workshop ever did. The confined space looks promising at first, then extremely tight after some use. But after 5-10 minutes of practice, typists can get into a good flow easily.

I chatted with Lance Ulanoff (of Mashable) briefly, and we agreed that the Ultrathin mini is the best thing that could happen tot he iPad mini, considering all of the faults and limitations of the tablet. Unlike the original Ultrathin, the Ultrathin mini is better suited for the smaller tablet. It acts as a true cover; the magnet sticks on and doesn’t slide off, the iPad mini isn’t too heavy for it, and when the two are connected the combined weight and girth doesn’t offset Apple’s delicate balance of high-tech machined design and thin, light workmanship. In fact, the iPad mini always felt a little too thin, and the Ultrathin mini gives it some solid protection when in a bag, or enough thickness to be carried comfortably in the hand.

Button placement, in some places, is odd. Because so many keys are squeezed together, typing isn’t slower but it does take getting used to. The Apple “home” button is on the top left, but based on the keyboard’s design the “1″ key should be there. It’s too easy to forget. Every single number key on the top feels off by a single space, too far to the right. Most of the iPad specific functions are fine, but the Home key is especially tiresome.

I also found with my unit that, after carrying the iPad mini with me to work and back daily in my bag, which I admittedly toss around worse than a Chuck-E-Cheese kid, the Ultrathin mini started typing “U” without being pressed. This occurs regularly, and only started after two weeks of lugging it to and fro. The only way to fix it (since the low-profile keys cannot be safely removed) was to press the U key repeatedly until it stopped. Charging the keyboard also seemed to help, though with up to nine-months of charge time (according to Logitech), that should have no impact on key presses.

Finally, the auto-on feature which enables the keyboard when the iPad is activated stopped functioning after three weeks of use. It started again after I charged the keyboard, which begs the question of battery life. My guess is that the keyboard wasn’t fully charged when I received it and since charging it the problem has mitigated, though the lack of a low-power indicator is a missed feature. Users will become frustrated if they must turn the keyboard off and on constantly, or perhaps worse yet, recharge the keyboard regularly.

As an iPad mini keyboard and cover, the Ultrathin mini Keyboard Cover has no comparison and no competition. It is a well built, easy to use keyboard that is also excellent to type on. In the field it belittles competing tablets and their keyboard docks (though I prefer using a full-fledged keyboard like Logitech’s K811 or K810 plus tablet); the size and usability are second to none. However, it isn’t as sturdy as it appears, and from my topical use it showed no visible damage but seems to have taken some nonetheless. Battery life may also be a concern, and the functionality isn’t entirely there when it comes to showing available power and connecting. However, it is a very well built keyboard that I surely recommend to iPad mini owners who are serious about protecting their tablets and who are interested in a keyboard for it.

Editor’s Rating:

Rating: ★★★½☆

Very Good

Bottom Line: It’s the best (and only) iPad mini keyboard cover, with great type but some troubled stability

Pros:

  • Surprisingly good type experience for such a small keyboard
  • Spacious enough for everyday typing
  • Excellent cover for the iPad mini

Cons:

  • Key placement is difficult to adjust to in too many places
  • No indicator for low-power, or else seriously flawed instant-on feature
  • After a slight beating, ghost keypresses are fairly consistent



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.