An iPad makes a much better laptop substitute—or at least a better productivity tool—when you’ve got a real keyboard to type on. After testing more than 100 keyboard cases over the past few years, including dozens of models specifically for the iPad Air 2, we think that Belkin’s Qode Ultimate Pro Keyboard Case for iPad Air 2 is the best one. It isn’t cheap—typically it sells for $100 to $130—but it is the most versatile and complete keyboard case we’ve tested.1 (If you’re looking for something for an iPad Pro, we have a separate guide to the best iPad Pro keyboard cases.)
If you don’t use a keyboard regularly, and especially if you like to keep your iPad as thin and light as possible, we think a separate Bluetooth keyboard with a sturdy iPad stand is a better option than a keyboard case. That being said, the Qode Ultimate Pro has a few tricks up its sleeve that make it particularly appealing. Most important, the typing experience is very good: It has all the expected keys, in the right places; those keys are also backlit for easy visibility. And though most keyboard cases limit you to landscape (horizontal) orientation and a single angle, the Qode lets you use your iPad in portrait (vertical) orientation and gives you two angles. Finally, we like that its protective top case easily detaches from the keyboard, letting you bring just the iPad with you. That top case also happens to be a perfect fit for Apple’s Smart Cover, letting you keep your iPad completely protected. No other keyboard case can match the Qode Ultimate Pro’s adaptability.
If the Belkin Qode Ultimate Pro is unavailable or too pricey for you, the Logitech Type+ Protective Case with Integrated Keyboard is a more affordable alternative. You lose the Qode’s backlit keyboard, multiple prop-up angles, portrait-orientation option, and detachable case, but the Type+ is nevertheless a solid option. Its folio-style design is thin, yet provides an impressive amount of protection, it has very good keys with a good layout, and you get a nice array of dedicated iOS-specific keys. When you don’t need to type, a seam in the top cover lets you fold the iPad over the keyboard to hold the entire package tablet style. Removing your iPad from the Type case is also relatively easy. We think the Belkin Qode Ultimate Pro is better for people serious about typing on their iPad—the productivity fiends most likely to be looking for a fantastic keyboard case—but others will likely be satisfied with the Type+.
Prior to overseeing Wirecutter’s iPad accessory coverage, I coordinated Macworld’s accessory reviews for over a decade, including years of covering iPad accessories. I also wrote and regularly updated Macworld’s guide to the best iPad keyboards. Between that guide and Wirecutter guides, I’ve tested every iPad keyboard from most major brands, as well as dozens of models from minor brands and niche vendors—it’s a good bet that I’ve tested more iPad keyboards than anyone. I was also the keyboard reviewer at Macworld, so I’ve tested scores of desktop keyboards and I know what makes a good one good and a bad one terrible.
Personally, I’m a touch typist and a bit of a keyboard geek, so I have little patience for bad keys and nonstandard layouts. I regularly use an iPad with a keyboard, both at home and on the road, so if I’m happy with a particular keyboard case, chances are good that you will be, too.
We also surveyed roughly 400 Wirecutter readers for their preferences for keyboard-case features and design.
If you’ve ever thought, “I don’t like typing on this iPad screen—I wish I had a real keyboard,” odds are you’ll benefit from a keyboard case. You can dramatically increase your iPad productivity with real, tactile keys that let you type as quickly and with (almost) as few errors as you can on your computer.2
But before you rush out and buy one, you should consider their drawbacks and temper your expectations, because adding a keyboard case to your iPad is all about compromises. You’ll get the superior productivity and typing experience of a physical keyboard, but you’ll also add considerable bulk and weight—more and more of an issue as iPads get thinner and lighter. And many keyboard cases are designed to stay on your iPad, so you can’t easily leave the keyboard behind when you don’t need it.
The keyboard itself is usually compromised, as well. To fit the keyboard in the footprint of an iPad, most models use smaller-than-normal keys and cramped layouts that make typing inferior to the experience you’ll get with a full-size keyboard. Even worse, many iPad keyboards put standard keys in nonstandard locations, or overlay their functions on other keys (requiring you to press fn to access the overlays), making typing frustrating, especially for touch typists. Some models even eliminate particular keys altogether.
You should get an iPad keyboard case only if you need to use a physical keyboard regularly and you want one with you most of the time. Even then, you should at least consider a stand-alone Bluetooth keyboard instead. If you’ll be doing much of your typing on a desk, table, or other flat surface, a separate keyboard will give you a much better experience. The keyboard itself will be larger with better keys; you can create a much more ergonomic setup by elevating the iPad and putting the keyboard at the ideal typing position; when you don’t need the keyboard, you can leave it behind to travel light; you can continue to use your favorite case; and if you ever upgrade your iPad, you won’t have to buy a new keyboard case to fit it. (The biggest downside is that using a separate keyboard and an iPad stand on your lap is tough.)
We have some great recommendations for stand-alone keyboards and iPad stands: Our top two iOS-compatible picks for a Bluetooth keyboard, Logitech’s Bluetooth Easy-Switch K811 and K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard, are both fantastic with the iPad—and can also pair with your computer—but Logitech’s Keys-To-Go is rugged, small, and light. Each also weighs less than most iPad keyboard cases. To hold your iPad, Kanex’s Foldable iDevice Stand is sturdy, lightweight, and inexpensive. If you already own Apple’s Magic Keyboard, Studio Neat’s Canopy is a great keyboard cover that flips open to create a stable stand for your iPad while you’re typing.
If you really do want a keyboard case, read on.
I’ve been covering iPad keyboards since Apple released the first iPad in 2010, and since then, I’ve tried pretty much every offering from every major brand, as well as dozens from brands you’ve likely never heard of. We also periodically research new models, testing those that look promising and eliminating those that get terrible reviews, that we wouldn’t consider because they don’t fulfill enough of our criteria (below), or that come from no-name companies that either don’t have an easy-to-contact support department or simply seem so sketchy that we wouldn’t spend our own money on their products. (Unfortunately, this process eliminates many of the budget-priced models—to some extent, you get what you pay for with iPad keyboards.)
Based on my experience and feedback from our reader survey, the most important thing an iPad keyboard case must get right is the keyboard itself. It has to be enjoyable to type on, or at the very least not make you dislike typing on it or get frustrated while typing. After all, if the keyboard isn’t dramatically better than typing on the iPad’s screen, what’s the point?
This means that, for starters, the keyboard should use a standard key layout with all the expected keys, all in the correct locations. You may be able to get used to a nonstandard layout, but you shouldn’t have to. (Not to mention that a nonstandard layout means you’ll have a period of readjustment every time you switch between your iPad keyboard and any other device that uses a real keyboard.) I think it’s a safe assumption that if you’re serious enough to need a keyboard case, key layout is likely important to you. We also prefer (but don’t require) dedicated keys for iOS-specific functions like Spotlight (search), adjusting brightness, and home, as opposed to overlaid keys that require you to press the fn key to access these functions.
Similarly, the keys need to be physically good: They shouldn’t be so small or so cramped that you regularly accidentally press adjacent keys, they should have a decent amount of travel (the distance you press the key to activate it), and they should have a good feel. Backlighting, though not necessary, is a nice bonus for usability. Again, what’s the point of dealing with the bulk and weight of a keyboard case if it doesn’t dramatically improve the experience of typing while using your iPad?
Because most iPad keyboards require you to use the keyboard’s attached case rather than a case of your choosing, a good keyboard case must also protect your iPad well. Some keyboard cases offer little to no protection, and others prevent you from using a case with the keyboard at all.
Many people won’t need a physical keyboard all the time, so we also appreciate keyboard cases that make it easy to remove your iPad for use on its own—or, as with our top pick, make it easy to separate the keyboard from its own iPad case. These features let you leave the keyboard behind when you don’t need it, so you aren’t forced to carry extra bulk and weight.
Working on vertically oriented documents is often easier with an iPad in portrait orientation. Unfortunately, few iPad keyboard cases allow you to position the tablet this way, so we couldn’t make a portrait-orientation option a requirement. Instead, we gave bonus points to the (very few) models that offer such a feature, including our top pick. We also appreciated models that give you multiple angles for propping up your iPad, so you have more flexibility in terms of ergonomics, comfort, and avoiding screen glare. And we preferred models that you can use on your lap—if you can’t, you’d be better off with a stand-alone Bluetooth keyboard and iPad stand.
And the less you have to worry about your keyboard’s battery dying, the better. Luckily, this is rarely an issue with today’s Bluetooth keyboards. Almost all use a built-in lithium-based rechargeable battery; a single charge using a standard Micro-USB cable should last weeks or months, depending on how much you use the keyboard. Every model we considered had long enough battery life that we didn’t have to charge the keyboard during a month or more of testing.
Finally, we favored models from known brands that have a reputation for good customer support.
Testing keyboards requires extended use, because whenever you’ve used one keyboard for more than a few days, switching to another one requires a period of adjustment—you want to be sure a keyboard that doesn’t feel good is really a bad keyboard, and not just one that’s different from what you’re used to. Of the models that met our criteria, I tested each for a minimum of two weeks of regular use, and I used each of the top contenders for much longer.
The best iPad keyboard for people who type a lot is Belkin’s Qode Ultimate Pro Keyboard Case for iPad Air 2, because it’s the most versatile keyboard case we’ve found, and our test model is still working great after two years of real-world use. It combines a good, backlit keyboard with a standout design that lets you easily separate the keyboard from the case. It also offers multiple screen angles, portrait and landscape orientation, a nice selection of special-function keys, and relatively light weight (17½ ounces—with an iPad Air 2 inside, the entire package weighs just 1½ pounds). No other keyboard case we tested offers all of these features. The Qode Ultimate Pro costs more than many other models, but if you’re looking for the best keyboard case, chances are you’re serious about typing; and if you’re serious about typing on an iPad, this is the case you want.
For starters, the Qode Ultimate Pro’s keyboard has the full complement of keys you’d find on a laptop, with all but one key (`/~) in the correct location—something many iPad keyboards get wrong. The keys themselves are smaller than what you get on a full-size laptop keyboard, of course, but Belkin avoided the temptation to make some keys bigger by eliminating others, and overlaid only a single key’s characters with others. (The ` and ~ characters are overlaid on the caps lock and shift keys, respectively.) Instead, the company made a few keys (caps lock, return, and modifier keys) the same size as other keys instead of larger, and a few others (tab, brackets, backslash, semicolon, and apostrophe) narrower. These smaller keys do make typing less than ideal, but after typing on more than 100 iPad keyboards over the years, I think Belkin’s compromises are better than the compromises made by other vendors: Getting used to smaller keys is easier than to having to relearn where a bunch of keys are every time you switch from your computer to your iPad.
The Qode Ultimate Pro’s actual keys are also good for an iPad keyboard. They are very shallow, in terms of how much you must depress a key to activate it, but they’re large enough to be comfortable; they’re easy to press; and they provide good tactile feedback. The keys are also backlit, with three levels of brightness.
The Qode Ultimate Pro’s case design is one of its best features, and it’s one that I continue to appreciate after two years of regular use. The “top” of the Qode Pro is a light-but-sturdy plastic case that protects the back of your iPad. The corners of the case are thick, so they won’t easily break if the case lands on a corner. The case has all the necessary openings for ports and buttons, and its back has a leatherish finish that both looks nice and helps you get a good grip. It also has nifty channels along the bottom edge of the iPad (near the home button) to direct sound from the tablet’s speakers toward you. A thin, aluminum-and-plastic shell hosts the Qode Ultimate Pro’s keyboard; a rubbery strip along the back edge keeps the keyboard base from sliding around a desk. A leatherish flap, permanently attached to the keyboard section, holds the iPad case and keyboard together—a magnetic strip at the top of the flap grabs the back of the iPad case.
When you’re not using the iPad, the top case folds down against the keyboard to give you a compact package that protects the entire iPad from damage. Flip the iPad open and its bottom edge connects to either of two magnetic strips on the base, giving you a choice of screen angles: approximately 50 or 60 degrees (40 or 30 degrees, respectively, from vertical). Ideally, you’d get more angles to choose from, but the Qode Ultimate Pro’s angles are good—they lean the iPad back more than many other keyboard cases do, making seeing the screen easier when typing on your lap. The Qode Ultimate Pro’s keyboard automatically turns on whenever you put the iPad in position to type, and turns off when you “close” the case.
This case design also allows for two features that help the Qode Ultimate Pro stand out from the crowd. The first is that its protective case detaches from the keyboard with a gentle tug, letting you leave the keyboard behind when you don’t need it—or use a separate stand to elevate the iPad for better ergonomics—and still keeping the tablet protected. And if you want all-over protection, the Qode Ultimate Pro’s case fits perfectly with Apple’s Smart Cover thanks to an opening along the case’s edge for the Smart Cover’s magnetic hinge. In just a couple seconds, you can go from an iPad in a keyboard case to a smaller, lighter package that keeps the iPad’s body and screen safe. Most keyboard cases are either-or: If you don’t want to use the iPad with the keyboard, you must remove the keyboard case completely—and with many models, doing so isn’t easy.
The second case-design benefit is related to the first: Unlike most keyboard cases, which limit your iPad to landscape orientation, the Qode Ultimate Pro lets you position the iPad in portrait orientation, which is better when working on many kinds of documents and files. You just give the tablet a gentle tug to separate it from the base, flip it 90 degrees, position the bottom edge of the iPad on either of the magnetic strips on the base, and lift the magnetic flap until it grabs the back of the case. Again, you get two angles to choose from, and the entire package is surprisingly stable, even with the iPad at the more-extreme angle on your lap—taps along the top edge of the iPad’s screen make the tablet wobble a bit, but it doesn’t feel like it will fall over. The removable case and portrait orientation are useful features on a daily basis and they dramatically improve the experience of using the Qode Ultimate Pro compared with the competition.
The Qode Ultimate Pro offers a nice array of iOS-specific special-function keys. In the upper left is a dedicated home button (that doubles as a screen-lock button when you press fn); pressing fn turns the rest of the top row (the numeral keys, minus, plus, and delete) into keys for (left to right) Spotlight, the iOS multitasking screen, screenshot, on-screen–keyboard toggle, keyboard brightness, previous track, play/pause, next track, mute, volume down, volume up, Bluetooth 2, and Bluetooth 1. The right-hand ctrl key doubles (with fn) as a language-selection button; and in between the fn and option/alt keys on the left is a dedicated Siri button (more on that below).
This keyboard case’s battery life is impressive. Though most models we’ve tested last for months at a time, Belkin advertises up to a year of use on a charge, and that very well may be a reasonable claim: In my testing of two Qode Ultimate Pro models (one for the iPad Air 2, another for the Air), I charged each only two or three times over the course of a year, and that was mainly out of habit—I’m so used to charging gear that I occasionally plug things in “just in case”—rather than because the battery died.
Finally, a convenient feature you don’t get with most iPad keyboards is that you can pair the Qode Ultimate Pro with two devices. I paired mine with my iPad and my smartphone; it was convenient to be able to quickly switch the keyboard’s connection to my phone (by pressing a keyboard shortcut) to type a text message, and then quickly switch back to the iPad.
Put simply, the Qode Ultimate Pro is the most versatile iPad keyboard case we’ve found, and that’s especially appealing when you’re talking about a device (an iPad) that will be used in so many different scenarios—including some where a keyboard will be necessary, and others where it won’t be.
As we noted above, all iPad keyboard cases require compromises, and that holds true for the Qode Ultimate Pro. Its keys are smaller than standard keys, don’t have much travel, and don’t feel as good to type on as good laptop keys, so the keyboard isn’t as pleasant to use as the best stand-alone Bluetooth keyboards, especially for extended typing sessions. And though the Qode Ultimate Pro has one of the best key layouts I’ve seen on an iPad keyboard case, some keys are even narrower than the others, so until you get used to the keyboard, you may occasionally press the left bracket ([) and right bracket (]) keys at the same time. To be fair, this will happen with pretty much any iPad Air keyboard case, thanks to universally cramped keys, and I’ve found myself making far fewer mistakes with this keyboard than with models that put commonly used keys in the wrong locations.
Unlike some other iPad keyboards, the Qode Ultimate Pro’s iOS-specific functions don’t get their own keys. Instead, they’re overlays on the top row of standard keys; you press the fn key to access the special functions. This approach isn’t as convenient as having dedicated keys, but the space saved by Belkin’s approach makes room for the second (more-reclined) of the keyboard’s two iPad angles, and that’s a worthy trade-off, in my opinion.
The Qode Ultimate Pro doesn’t have an Esc key—I often miss having it—instead offering a dedicated home button. But this particular trade-off is very common—few iPad keyboards include an Esc key. The other minor key issue is that though a dedicated Siri key can be quite convenient, Belkin’s decision to place that key in between the left-hand fn and option keys can result in frustrating accidental presses, especially if you frequently use keyboard shortcuts when typing. For example, when trying to press option+N to type “ñ,” I frequently pressed the Siri button instead of option, resulting in Siri taking over my iPad’s screen until I pressed the home key to dismiss Siri.
To conserve battery life, the keyboard on almost all iPad keyboard cases goes to sleep after a period of inactivity.The Qode Ultimate Pro’s keyboard sleeps more quickly (in other words, after a shorter period of inactivity) than many others. If you take long breaks while typing, you’ll find yourself waiting a few seconds for the keyboard to wake up when you start typing again.
Finally, the Qode Ultimate Pro is more expensive than many iPad keyboards, with decent models (such as our runner-up pick for the iPad Air 2) available for around $70. But the Qode Ultimate Pro’s price is comparable—especially when it’s on sale—to that of many other good models, none of which are as versatile.
We’re not the only ones who love the Qode Ultimate Pro. CNET gave it Editors’ Choice status, with reviewer Scott Stein calling it, “The best-feeling and most protective keyboard case accessory for the iPad Air 2.” The Verge’s Dieter Bohn notes, “It really offers everything. It starts with a really nice, backlit keyboard that you can detach and is great to type on.” Laptop Mag’s Michael A. Prospero says, “When you call your product the Ultimate anything, you’d better back it up. Fortunately, Belkin’s Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case largely lives up to its name.” And 9to5Mac’s Jeremy Horwitz writes that “if you want a deluxe-looking and -feeling solution, complete with multi-orientation/multi-angle support, a standalone case, backlit keys, and two-device Bluetooth pairing, Ultimate Pro delivers plenty for the price.” Among reviewers, the most common complaint was one we have as well: The Qode Ultimate Pro is more expensive than many other models, at least at its suggested price.
We’ve used the Qode Ultimate Pro on a regular basis for the past two years, and we’re still confident that it’s the best iPad Air 2 keyboard case for most people. We haven’t had any issues, it still provides extended use on each charge, and it’s still as enjoyable to use today as it was on day one.
If you can’t fit the Qode Ultimate Pro in your budget, Logitech’s Type+ Protective Case with Integrated Keyboard is a more affordable alternative. (Depending on the color, it’s often available for as little as $50.) The Type+ lacks many of the Qode Ultimate Pro’s features, but it gets the basics—a good keyboard and a nice case—right for roughly half the price.
The Type+ uses a more traditional folio design, with a single piece of material, hinged in the middle, forming the case’s top and bottom. The keyboard is permanently attached to the bottom, with two brackets securing your iPad inside the top. Open the folio, flip the bottom edge of the iPad forward, and that edge secures magnetically to the base, just above the top row of keys; the keyboard turns on automatically as soon as the iPad is in position. The Type+’s exterior looks and feels much better than the fake leather used on many folio-style keyboard cases.
When closed, the Type+ provides very good protection for your iPad, thanks to rigid front and back panels and roughly half an inch of case overhang on each of the three open sides, yet it is just over half an inch thick with an iPad inside, which is thin for a good keyboard case. Removing the iPad from the Type+ is also much easier than removing it from most keyboard cases, as it’s held in place by only two corner brackets; the other edge of the iPad is secured by the positioning of the iPad in the case. That said, if you want to use your iPad as a no-keyboard tablet, instead of removing it from the case you can just fold the bottom of the Type+ around behind the front—the keyboard automatically turns off, and the package is still relatively thin. The only concern here is that if you drop the Type+ in this configuration, there’s a chance the iPad could fall out, because the case is no longer securing the edge of the iPad opposite the brackets.
Like the Qode Ultimate Pro, the Type+ has the full complement of laptop keys except escape; it even has the key for ~ and ` in the correct location. The Type+ keyboard is actually slightly wider, thanks to the wider case, with keys that are a bit larger (though with less space between them). The keys require a bit more force to press than those on the Qode Ultimate Pro, and they have a tiny bit less travel, but they offer better tactile feedback. I prefer the Qode Ultimate Pro, but I suspect many people will be perfectly happy with the feel of the Type+. You also get a similar set of iOS special functions, though on the Type+ these functions get a dedicated row of half-height keys—no fn key required.
What doesn’t the Type+ give you compared with the Qode Ultimate Pro? The biggest drawbacks are that you can’t type with your iPad in portrait orientation, you get only a single prop-up angle (60 degrees, or 30 degrees from vertical) that’s a bit too steep for on-lap use, the keys aren’t backlit, and the keyboard doesn’t detach from the case—you either take the entire Type+ with you or leave it behind and use a different case. These are valuable features on the Qode Ultimate Pro, and big reasons we think that model is better for people serious about typing on their iPad. But the Type+ is a very good alternative if you’re willing to give up some niceties for a lower price tag.
Though we cover some of the good competition below, if you need something that keeps your iPad extra safe, the Zagg Rugged Book—available in versions for the iPad Air 2, the iPad Air, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, the iPad mini 4, and the three previous iPad mini models—is a favorite around the Wirecutter offices. It’s big and bulky, but it offers great protection for the Air 2 and Air, and a good keyboard, in a versatile package.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $150.
Let’s get this out of the way: The Rugged Book is thick and heavy. The model for the iPad Air is just under an inch thick when closed for travel and weighs about 2.6 pounds with an iPad inside. If you’re looking for slim and light, the Rugged Book isn’t for you.
That said, if you’re willing to put up with this weight and bulk, you get an exceptionally durable and protective keyboard case that’s great for families with kids, for classroom use, or for working in rough environments.
The Rugged Book’s base and top sections are roughly the same size and thickness, each made of tough plastic with firm rubber around the edges. Because of the weight of the rugged top case, the hinge wobbles a bit when you tap the screen, but not excessively so. The hinge between the sections feels similarly tough, but instead of being permanently attached to both sides, the hinge has a magnetic, U-shaped groove that holds the top case in place. When you don’t need the keyboard, a firm tug disconnects it from the encased iPad. Alternatively, you can flip the iPad around and insert it into the hinge; this lets you use the Rugged Book as a stand with the keyboard hidden behind the iPad, or close the iPad against the keyboard to use the entire package as a thick tablet.
Unlike the Qode Ultimate Pro’s removable iPad case, the Rugged Book’s iPad case doesn’t accommodate a Smart Cover for screen protection, but the removable design lets you use your iPad as just a tablet when you want to—especially useful given the Rugged Book’s weight.
The Rugged Book uses a keyboard common to most of Zagg’s iPad keyboard cases, and it’s a pretty good one. You get the full complement of laptop keys except Esc, with everything in the correct place. The keys feel a bit flimsy, and tapping them is a bit loud thanks to a hollow-sounding keyboard body, but they provide good tactile feedback and they’re easy to type on. They’re also backlit, which is nice, though when you’re looking at the keyboard from an angle, you can see the lights in the gap between each key and the keyboard body.
Several Wirecutter staffers have used a Rugged Book as their primary iPad case and keyboard for a year or more; I’ve tested versions of the Rugged Book for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, the iPad Air 2, the iPad Air, and the iPad mini 3 and older, and I’ve liked every one.
We’ve got a dedicated guide to the best keyboard cases for the iPad Pro.
As for the iPad mini, there are no great keyboard cases, given that all the drawbacks of most keyboard cases for the iPad Air 2—cramped keys, odd key layouts, additional bulk, and the like—are even worse on Apple’s smallest tablet. Unless you absolutely need an all-in-one design (and you have a lot of patience for typos), you’re much better off using a stand-alone Bluetooth keyboard and either an iPad stand or a case with a built-in stand and leaving those accessories behind when you’re on the go, so you can truly appreciate the mini’s smaller size and lighter weight.
We’ve tested over a hundred iPad keyboard cases over the years, so we can’t mention every option we’ve dismissed, but we’ve included some of the more notable models for the iPad Air 2 and Air below.
If you plan to keep your iPad in the keyboard case all the time, and you regularly use the setup on your lap, Incipio’s ClamCase+ for iPad Air 2 is worth considering for its laptop-style design that securely holds the top case, iPad inside, at pretty much any angle; you can even rotate the top case 360 degrees to fold the iPad flat against the base for a “bulky tablet” mode. The keyboard is excellent, and though the aluminum-and-plastic body is sturdy, the ClamCase+ is surprisingly light at roughly 20 ounces. However, the light weight means that when using the setup on your lap, if you lean the iPad back too far or tap the top of the screen too firmly, the top-heavy setup can tip backward if you don’t have a hand on the keyboard.
The company’s ClamCase Pro for iPad Air 2 is similar to the ClamCase+ but costs about $20 less, lacks backlit keys, is about an ounce lighter, and has a case design with much smaller openings around the Lightning-connector port and headphone jack that accommodate only the smallest of plugs.
The Brydge 9.7 isn’t really a keyboard case so much as a very good keyboard in a laptop-like aluminum body; two small, silicone-lined hinges hold and position your iPad like a laptop screen. It’s a nifty, sturdy design that lets you easily use the iPad on its own, and the same Brydge model works with the 5th-generation iPad, both iPad Air versions, and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Aesthetically, it’s also among the nicest keyboard cases we’ve tested: With the “screen” closed, the setup looks almost as if the iPad and keyboard came in a package together. However, the Brydge doesn’t protect the back of your iPad on its own—the company offers a rugged iPad shell from Otterbox if you need full protection—and while you can tilt the iPad back pretty far without making the setup unstable, the Brydge weighs 2.1 pounds with an iPad attached. The design also makes accessing the iOS Control Center feature difficult. (Older versions of the Brydge 9.7 didn’t properly put the iPad to sleep, but the current version of the Brydge 9.7 does, with all compatible iPads: 5th-generation, iPad Pro, and iPad Air 1 and 2.)
Zagg offers three other iPad Air 2 keyboard cases that use essentially the same keyboard as the Rugged Book discussed above. Any of these models offers a good typing experience; it’s the rest of the package that differs. The Slim Book uses a design similar to that of the Rugged Book, but the Slim Book is much thinner and lighter (18 ounces). However, whereas the Rugged Book’s hinge and iPad case feel exceptionally sturdy, the Slim Book’s iPad case is very thin—almost flimsy—and doesn’t fit as snugly in the hinge as the Rugged Book’s version.
The Zagg Folio—available in a range of colors under the names Color Folio and Two-Tone Folio—is similar to the Slim Book, except that its iPad case doesn’t detach from the keyboard, and removing the iPad from the case is a bit of a hassle. On the other hand, the iPad case section is a bit thicker and doesn’t feel as flimsy, and the hinge similarly feels more secure. When using the Folio on my lap, the iPad frequently tipped backward. The Folio is better than the Slim Book, but I’d still opt for the Rugged Book, despite its bulk.
The Zagg Messenger Folio uses a design more like a traditional folio-style case, but has a pop-out stand in the back similar to the one on Microsoft’s Surface Pro. This stand design makes the Messenger Folio difficult to use on your lap, and the Messenger is bulkier than the Slim Book and Folio without feeling more stable.
Instead of a traditional hinge, the New Trent Airbender 3.0 iPad Air Keyboard Case uses a metal, hinged stand with a rotating, hinged mount on the end that lets you position the iPad at a range of angles in either landscape or portrait orientation. A quick-release latch on the mount lets you remove the iPad case from the stand when you want to use the tablet on its own. You can unlock the stand and slide it out so the iPad sits farther away from the keyboard or, even better, detach the stand from the keyboard completely so you can place the iPad wherever you like—for example, at a more ergonomic height. However, the hinged mount wobbles quite a bit in landscape orientation, the keyboard feels more cramped than the one on our top pick, the keys feel a bit flimsy overall, and the hinge and stand add noticeable bulk. Still, if the keys were better, I’d recommend the Airbender for its versatility.
Our top pick in a previous version of this guide was the Logitech Ultrathin Magnetic Clip-On Keyboard Cover. It has very good keys, and it’s popular because of a magnetic hinge attachment that lets you easily attach the keyboard to the iPad’s edge, a la Apple’s Smart Cover. However, you can’t use the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover with an iPad case, so you have to keep your iPad unprotected if you want to take advantage of that quick-on/-off design. More important, recent versions of the Ultrathin have a different hinge design than older versions, and the new hinge is more difficult to use; we’ve also received reports from readers that the most recent version of the Ultrathin has Bluetooth-connection issues with some iPads.
If you really liked Logitech’s original Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, and you’re willing to forego any body protection for your iPad, the Anker Ultra-Thin Bluetooth Keyboard Cover for iPad Air 2/iPad Air (also available in white) is a better successor to the original Ultrathin than Logitech’s current version. It uses a hinge that’s similar to Logitech’s original design, except that Anker’s doesn’t work with Apple’s Silicone Case. (It also requires a bit more fiddling to line up with your iPad, but not to an annoying degree.) It adds a sturdy brace that pops up when you insert your iPad, giving the back of the tablet some additional support. You can even type on your lap with the iPad in portrait orientation without much wobble. The keys are good, although the keys in the number row—which have iOS special functions overlaid—are teeny-tiny. You won’t find a better iPad typing experience at this model’s street price of around $30. We just wish it protected the tablet better.
In addition to the Qode Ultimate Pro, Belkin makes a Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case—without “Pro” in the name—for iPad Air 2, and a Qode Ultimate Lite. Neither is as good as the Ultimate Pro, and we don’t recommend them. Compared with the Pro, these models have a flimsier, non-removable iPad case that lacks portrait orientation, lack the Pro’s backlit keys, have shorter battery life (months instead of a year), pair with only a single device, and use a different keyboard that has fewer narrow keys but moves a number of characters to nonstandard, fn-key-activated overlays, and omits others completely.
The Typo for iPad Air 1 + 2’s thin keyboard section weighs just 10 ounces and connects to the iPad case via a flexible, magnetic hinge that works a lot like the one on Apple’s Smart Cover—a gentle tug separates the two when you don’t need the keyboard or if you want a more ergonomic setup. An exceptionally sturdy, fold-out metal stand holds the iPad at any angle from vertical to roughly 45 degrees, but having to unfold it each time you want to type is a bit of a hassle. To allow the stand to fold flush with the back of the case, the rest of the case is quite thick; the top case weighs 24 ounces with an iPad inside, yet it doesn’t protect the top and bottom edges of the iPad. The Typo’s square keys are large, with good tactile feedback, but with very little space between them and with a number of keys in the wrong place—I found it easier to make (ahem) typos than with our top pick.
Moshi’s VersaKeyboard takes the company’s origami-inspired VersaCover iPad case and adds a removable Bluetooth keyboard. The VersaKeyboard is relatively light, and the floppy cover folds into a rather sturdy stand. The compact keyboard is entirely separate from the case, sliding into a big groove in the back of the plastic iPad shell when you’re not using it. Unfortunately, the keyboard feels quite cramped, and a raised lip around the edge of the keyboard makes it uncomfortable to press keys in the bottom row. And though it’s great that you can leave the keyboard behind when you don’t need it, the edges of the groove that stores the keyboard make the case uncomfortable to hold if the keyboard is missing.
Other models we dismissed in the most recent round of testing include Kensington’s KeyFolio Thin X3 and KeyFolio Thin X2 Plus, Inateck’s BK2001, Logitech’s Blok, ZeroChroma’s FolioSlide Case with Keyboard Slide-Lid, and Anker’s Detachable Bluetooth Keyboard Case for iPad Air.