A while back TUAW was on a roll with keyboard case reviews. While there were some really good ones for the iPad mini -- the US$99.99 Zagg Foiio for iPad mini being my favorite -- there was a paucity of keyboard cases that also provided decent protection for the device. New Trent's Airbender Mini ($39.95, Model NT31B) is the last of the keyboard cases we've received recently, making me wonder if there's a horrible M. Night Shyamalan movie waiting in the wings... (sorry, bad joke).
The first thing that hits you after opening the Airbender Mini box is that this is a chunky little case. The second is the smell -- I'll get to that in a moment. In terms of the chunkiness of the Airbender Mini, it's because it not only includes a polycarbonate shell but also has a thick silicone protective layer on the outside. That silicone layer includes sealable "doors" for the Lightning adapter port, the mute/orientation lock switch, and the earphone port. The rear camera is covered with a small plastic window, and the on/off button is also covered with a pass-through silicone "bump."
Now about the smell -- there's a strong chemical smell when you open this thing up. I'm not sure if it's outgassing from the silicone or the polycarbonate, but it was strong enough to give me a headache. If you win this case in our giveaway or buy one, be sure to let it sit unwrapped for a while to let the chemicals outgas away from you.
Update (10/26/2013): New Trent followed up on my feedback about the chemical smell and has eradicated the problem. A new device that was sent to TUAW did not exhibit the strong odor, so obviously the company has eliminated the issue in manufacturing. Many thanks to New Trent for following up on this problem.
The case also includes a nice little touch not found elsewhere: an aluminum arm on which the part of the case that holds the iPad mini can swivel. That's very nifty, as users can choose to place the screen in a portrait mode while typing if they wish.
The keyboard itself is a five-row design with the classic QWERTY layout, with some notable exceptions. The /? and \| keys have been moved from their traditional places on the far right of the keyboard and placed in the bottom row next to the space bar. Special iPad mini functions are enabled through a function key that is found on the bottom row.
Charging of the Airbender Mini is done through a USB to micro-USB cable (included) that plugs into a port on the side of the case, once again equipped with a silicone cover "door." Finally, and probably the most important feature for those who are thinking about using this case in the great outdoors, the screen is covered with a transparent and touch-friendly plastic cover. The Airbender Mini is one of the few iPad mini cases I've seen that includes screen protection by default.
Finally, the physical details: the Airbender Mini weighs 9.1 ounces (258 grams) and measures 8.22" x 5.67" x .98" (209mm x 144mm x 25mm).
As with any keyboard cases, the most important factors to consider are ease of pairing with the device, how easy it is to type on it, and how the screen is placed in relation to the keyboard.
To install the iPad mini into the Airbender Mini case, you must remove the silicone sleeve completely, then pop open the internal hard case. After dropping the iPad mini into the case, you reverse the procedure to keep the mini protected.
Pairing is quite simple. There's a connect button to press, and when the iPad mini and keyboard recognize each other, you're prompted with a four-digit code to type on the keyboard to consummate the pairing. A blue, fast-flashing light indicates that the keyboard is in pairing mode. Other LEDs indicate charging (red for charging or green for charged) and the current caps lock status.
I'd rate the protection, both from drops and accidental splashes, as very good for this keyboard case. The silicone sleeve and doors will keep the entire assembly in very good condition after most little accidents.
I found the "arm" on which the screen sits to be a great idea, too. It's much more adjustable than a number of other keyboard cases I've tested, and I actually found portrait mode to be quite useful in some writing apps.
Now, about the keyboard itself. You can see from the photo gallery that the physical keyboard is smaller than that on the excellent ZAGGkey Folio for iPad mini keyboard, due to a much larger bezel surrounding the keys. That little bit of space on either side makes for a keyboard that's about one inch thinner than the ZAGGkey keyboard, so the Airbender Mini keyboard is incredibly cramped. I also found, much to my dismay, that the frequently-used apostrophe (') and quote (") keys are in awkward locations and require a press of the function key to type.
Still, anyone using the keyboard could possibly get used to the function key requirements and cramped spacing. For me, I'll stick with the ZAGGkey Folio.
The New Trent Airbender Mini keyboard case for iPad mini provides superior protection, a sub-par keyboard, and a unique rotating "arm" design, all at a discount price.
Good build quality
Adjustable arm allows iPad mini screen to be used in either portrait or landscape orientation
Excellent protection against drops and splashes
Simple setup, and well-written instructions
Keyboard is cramped and in a non-standard layout
Several important punctuation signs require a function-key input
Strong chemical smell when the keyboard case is removed from the box
Silicone external sleeve has a tendency to collect dust
Who is it for?
The iPad mini user on a budget who only uses a keyboard on occasion, but would like a protective case as well.
Despite the cramped keyboard, the New Trent Airbender Mini still has a lot of things going for it. One of you lucky TUAW readers is going to win this case. Here are the rules for the giveaway:
Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and older.
To enter, fill out the form below completely and click or tap the Submit button.
The entry must be made before August 12, 2013 11:59PM Eastern Daylight Time.
You may enter only once.
One winner will be selected and will receive a New Trent Airbender Mini keyboard case for iPad mini valued at $39.95