Geek Rants

Review: ZAGGmate Keyboard/Case for the iPad

  • December 26, 2010

Santa Claus, in the guise of my lovely wife, gifted me this year with a great new geek gadget: the ZAGGmate. This is a brushed aluminum case that fits over the front of your iPad, protecting the face and matching the look of the iPad’s own back. It comes in two versions, with or without a bluetooth keyboard (mine was a “with”) and includes a pop-up piece that props your iPad (either in portrait or landscape mode) for convenient reading either on a typical surface or even in your lap. Here’s a sample marketing image from the ZAGG website:

As you can see, you end up with an iPad that looks remarkably like your typical netbook.

So, what are my impressions of the ZAGGmate? I’m here to tell you….

The packaging was very slick and professional-looking. The device was snugly enclosed in a plastic box affair which was in turn enclosed by a cardboard sheath that was cut away artfully to expose the merchandise. Did I say “snugly?” More like impenetrably! Once I exposed the plastic box, getting it open was a real chore. The glue holding the seams closed was stronger than I was willing to contend with, so in the end I pulled out my trusty pocket knife and slit the thing open.

What I eventually extracted was the device itself (shown below), a USB charging cable, a brief but useful how-to pamphlet, a marketing leaflet urging me to purchase protective covers against scratches on the aluminum, and a small packet containing four stick-on rubber “feet” in case you want to add some extra protection to the underside of the case.

Further playtime was deferred by the apparent need to charge the keyboard’s on-board battery: whatever charge was given it at the factory didn’t appear to survive. Fortunately, after I gave it only about 90 minutes or so plugged into a USB port things appeared juiced up enough to press on.

Actually, that brings up my first criticism: the choice of power-on LED colors. When you slide the switch to the on position the indicator glows red for a few seconds, then blinks off. My first reaction when “seeing red” was that was a low power warning. It’s very possible the keyboard was sufficiently charged for at least brief operation far sooner than I allowed for, but the red (that means “warning!” to me) LED gave me pause. I would highly recommend a green replacement and/or a power-sensing arrangement that only shows red in low power situations. I read in the pamphlet there’s a low-power warning blink, but again: red is not a happy color to me.

Pairing up the keyboard was trivially easy, and the how-to in the pamphlet was clear and concise in case you’ve not done this sort of thing before. The keyboard sports several custom keys for such things as going to the iPad’s home screen, starting a slide show, operating the volume and media player controls, and even turning the iPad on or off. Typing is straightforward and comfortable; the keyboard is on the small side but no more so than that of many small netbooks I’ve seen.

The iPad rests at a very good viewing angle–and that brings up another comment. The marketing copy talks of up to eleven different viewing angles but I can only seem to use one. This might be a feature only in the non-keyboard version, but the literature does not make this distinction. Either I don’t know how to operate the stand or they need to consider correcting their copy.

The slot holds the iPad quite securely, and the whole set-up works beautifully resting on my lap; I’ve even felt quite comfortable carrying it from room to room assembled and open without fear of the iPad slipping out. I find the existing underside more than enough for holding it in place on a tabletop, so have felt no motivation to add the provided rubber “feet.”

ZAGG touts how thin the closed iPad/case combo is, and with good reason. As advertised, the ZAGGmate with keyboard only adds a quarter inch to the thickness of the iPad, and the whole thing fits easily in the zippered Neoprene sleeve I normally carry just the iPad in. Here’s a snapshot of the closed case:

In conclusion, I consider the ZAGGmate to be one of the best iPad accessories I’ve ever seen, if not perfect in a minor area or two. In fact, I wrote and published this review on my iPad using it, something I’d never have considered using just the iPad’s touch keyboard. The ZAGGmate brings nearly all the benefits of a netbook to the iPad to augment its existing strengths; I highly recommend you give it a try.

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