Sometimes the most important things you see at Macworld Expo are the things that you don't like. For example, there were a lot of iPad case manufacturers who were showing off their take on case + keyboard combos. A lot of these cases use an awkward "chiclet"-type keyboard that, in my opinion, is worse than no keyboard at all. In an attempt to keep the cases relatively small, most of the manufacturers are using tiny keyboards that are difficult to use.
When I returned from this year's Expo, I was curious to see what goodies I had received from vendors during the week I was in San Francisco. One of the boxes contained a review sample of a new iPad keyboard case from CaseGoods, LLC called the TypeCase. What makes this keyboard case different from the rest? Two things -- the quality of both the leather case and the keyboard.
To start with, the cases are made of leather -- either standard leather or exotics. You've got a choice of black or tan in the standard leather, brown or black "croc texture" leather, a bright red "lizard texture" and black horsehair. All of the cases use a magnetic closure to keep the cover closed while in transit, and there's a leather kickstand in the back for propping the iPad in an upright position. The leather finish was quite nice, and the stiffness should protect the iPad from accidental drops and bumps.
The keyboard CaseGoods uses is wonderful. The keys are exactly the same size and in the same places as those on Apple's Wireless Keyboard, although the keyboard is a bit thicker to accommodate a 350 mAh Lithium polymer battery pack. That pack charges in about 3 hours, and CaseGoods claims it will provide around 50 hours of typing. The keyboard charges via an included USB cable, and there's a green LED to indicate charging status. A red LED is used to indicate pairing status and also to let you know when the keyboard's battery needs charging, and a blue LED indicates when power is turned on.
The TypeCase keyboard has the same row of function keys across the top that is found on the Apple Wireless Keyboard, but there are light blue labels and icons to indicate the functionality of the keys when the "Fn" key is pressed. For example, pressing Fn and F1 displays the iPad's virtual keyboard (why this would be needed when you have a real keyboard at your fingertips is a mystery), Fn and F2 brings you to the iPad search screen, Fn and F3 displays the "picture frame" and so on. Some of the other function keys provide control of the iPod app, and there's also a button to take you to the iPad Home Screen.
Since the keyboard is the same size as the Apple Wireless Keyboard, the case is wider than the iPad. Dimensions of the TypeCase are 12" x 9" x 1.5," and the weight is about 1.5 pounds. The pairing process is simple -- you turn the TypeCase keyboard on with a small switch, depress a button (I used a pen to do this) and wait for the red pairing light to turn on. From the Bluetooth settings screen on the iPad, it's a simple process to tap on the discovered keyboard, at which time a four-digit PIN code is generated. Type it into the keyboard and press Return, and then the two devices are linked.
The keyboard feels and acts very much like the Apple Wireless Keyboard, so if you're familiar with that keyboard on your Mac, you'll love the TypeCase keyboard with your iPad. I was able to type at my usual lightning speed, and the keyboard never lagged. I did have to smile at the Windows logos on the Command keys, though. Apparently that's an easier logo to license than the "propeller" on Apple keyboards.
There were a few negatives about the TypeCase. The leather "prop" that holds up the iPad seems flimsy, and it doesn't do a very good job. It seems like a simple modification by CaseGoods to put a flat piece of metal into the prop would fix the problem. In addition, the leather that holds the iPad in place tended to bulge out a bit in places, so perhaps it isn't the right material to use to grip the device. I was also concerned about the strap that holds the case closed, as it was flopping around in front of the space bar. I quickly resolved that issue, as the strap can be pushed into a slot on the back of the case to get it out of the way. One final concern -- several other manufacturers make a point of noting that their cases don't contain magnets, which can apparently cause issues with the iPad's internal compass. I didn't see any issues of this sort with the TypeCase, but this is something that could be addressed by CaseGoods.
There are a number of alternative cases, though most of them are like the Kensington KeyFolio (US$99.95 SRP) and use a rubberized keyboard. ClamCase ($149 SRP) points out that they use a chiclet keyboard. Trust me, these rubber chiclet keyboards are not the best for speed typing. You could always use an alternative solution, like buying an Apple Wireless Keyboard for $69 and an Apple case for $39 -- that would give you a less bulky solution, but it isn't as elegant as the TypeCase.
All things considered, however, I liked the TypeCase. The cases are currently in pre-order status for $149 ($169 for the exotic leather cases) and are expected to ship sometime this month. If you're an iPad user in the market for a combination keyboard and case, take a look at the TypeCase.
Update: I received an email from Barry Jacobson of CaseGoods noting that the kickstand (prop) is being reinforced to address the issue I described above. In addition, the company is redesigning the leather bezel holding the iPad in place in order to prevent the "bulges" I noted. It's great to see a company so responsive to reviews.