As promised (threatened?) in yesterday's roundup of three outstanding iPad case and stand products, I have another case to review for you. The Adonit Writer for iPad 2 (US$99) is the second generation of a rather sleek Bluetooth keyboard case for the iPad and from my testing this week, it's the keyboard case you wanted to wait for. (Click here to see our review of the original Adonit Writer for the first generation iPad.)
As with all of the cases of this genre, the Adonit Writer for iPad 2 features a full case to protect the device as well as a built-in Bluetooth keyboard. However, that's where the resemblance to other keyboard cases ends. Most of the units I've seen use a built-in battery pack that needs to be plugged into a USB port for charging; with the Writer, power is supplied by three AAA batteries that are loaded into a cylindrical "hinge" that connects the keyboard and the frame that holds the iPad. That frame covers the back of the iPad, and has a magnet in the correct spot to turn your iPad 2 on and off as if it was a Smart Cover.
Closing the Writer's lid not only shuts off the iPad 2, but also puts the keyboard into a low power sleep mode. Although I have not yet been able to wear down the batteries, a note on the Adonit site says that they'll last for about a month of heavy use or two months of normal use. While that's similar to what I've seen with other cases, with those units I just plug in the USB cable and charge up the batteries for another day. One could use an inexpensive AAA compact recharger and rechargeable AAA cells. However, that's something else to carry around and lose during travel, while the USB cables used to recharge the other keyboard cases are ubiquitous and something that I carry around anyway.
There's another slight problem with the battery holder. It's meant to work like the one that is built into Apple's Bluetooth Keyboard and Magic Trackpad, with a closure that can be opened with a coin. The closure on the Adonit Writer opened easily enough, but it took about three times for me to close the battery door without having it fall off. I would not be a happy camper if the door fell off and was lost while I'm in transit... This door seems to be a point of difficulty for the Adonit designers, as the first generation product had issues with some of the doors jamming.
On the other hand, the Adonit Writer is slimmer than many of the other keyboard cases I've reviewed. Some of them can be downright bulky -- the Qmadix Portfolio, for instance, is about 1.4" thick. The Writer is .8" thick near the keyboard, but slims down to about .6" elsewhere. I was initially concerned that the proximity of the keyboard to the screen might result in some key marks on the iPad display, but that concern disappeared when I noticed that there are three small "bumps" that keep the keys and display from ever touching.
While most of the other keyboard cases use a series of folding flaps to keep the iPad in an upright position, the Adonit Writer (and the Crux360 case as well) use a stiff hinge to perform the same function. One thing I like about the Writer is that the keyboard and case are magnetized so there's a limited range in which you can adjust the angle between the keyboard and iPad.
With any keyboard, I have three main criteria that must be met. First, I must be able to touch type quickly on the keyboard; second, the keyboard must provide tactile feedback to assist that touch typing; and third, the keyboard must not rattle or click loudly.
I found the keyboard on the Adonit Writer to be excellent by these criteria. While the keys are closer than I'd like -- all iPad keyboards have that issue -- they have an excellent feel, good feedback, and the keyboard is relatively quiet compared to others. More than any other iPad keyboard I've reviewed, the Adonit Writer keyboard gave me the necessary comfort and feedback to type quickly. That's not to say that I didn't go through a short adjustment period to get used to the smaller space bar and the location of several other keys, but one I did become familiar with the layout I was almost back to my normal typing speed.
To me, one test for any iPad keyboard case is whether or not I can actually use it as a pseudo-laptop. This has been an issue with several keyboard cases, but not with the Adonit Writer. It balanced very well in my lap and was usable, although not a real substitute for a "true" laptop like an MacBook Air.
The fit of the Writer is perfect, and it's a cinch to put the case on or remove it for touch-only iPad use. Since this version is for the iPad 2 (there is a model for the original iPad as well), there's also a strategically-placed hole in the back where the rear-facing camera can peer out.
Unlike some cases where I've never really been quite sure how to get the Bluetooth keyboard into a discoverable mode, the Writer is very clear -- you press and hold the power button until it blinks green and then finish the pairing by typing a code on the keyboard. If your batteries are about to go out, the keyboard supplies a warning by turning the LED in the power switch a yellow color, and when it's time to replace them the LED flashes red.
As with other cases of this type, the keyboard has a set of keys that serve to control iPad functions. There's a home key, a Spotlight search key, a slideshow key, and a key for displaying the onscreen keyboard. In the center of the keyboard are three keys for controlling music or video playback, and on the right side of the keyboard are volume keys and a lock key. Want to use these as standard function keys? No problem -- they're numbered as F1 through F15, and there's a "fn" key that enables them.
While there are still a few minor issues that I have with the Adonit Writer for iPad 2, it's still about the best that I've used. I love the feel of the keyboard, the slim design of the case, and the limited adjustability of the screen angle. The fact that the case acts like my Smart Cover to turn on and shut off the iPad 2 is nice, and the process of pairing the keyboard was easier to understand than with other Bluetooth keyboards.
The only negatives for me were with the use of AAA batteries (which I was able to overcome with the use of rechargeables) and the design of the battery door, which always seems to me to be on the verge of popping off.
If you're in the market for a Bluetooth keyboard case for an iPad 2, I highly recommend considering the Adonit Writer. The slim and intelligent design make it a joy to use, and the build quality is apparent from the minute you remove it from the packaging. As Chris White noted in his earlier review of the original model, "The Writer itself looks and feels like it could be an Apple product." That's high praise, and it stands with the Adonit Writer for iPad 2.