iPad Keyboards boost typing but add baggage

Spoiler alert!Both keyboards are worth buying, depending on your needs and circumstances, but are far from perfect. As to which needs and circumstances, you will have to read the review.

So you order your iPad and you see those keyboards listed among the iPad accessories. You know, the dock keyboard and the bluetooth keyboard. And you think to yourself, why would I want a keyboard for my iPad?

Doesn’t it have a virtual keyboard that’s every bit as roomy as a real one?

Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of an iPad, which is to have a small computer you can carry anywhere without all that extra crap?

Didn’t my English teacher tell me to never write in the second person or to open essays with rhetorical questions?

The answer to all three would be, yes. But the sad truth is there are no rules to the English language. It’s a language. The rules are defined by how people use them, no matter how many English teachers say otherwise. I came to this realization after years of teaching college composition before I switched to teaching visual design.

And in most of those years I told my students, “when you get into your next class don’t do what I tell you, do what that teacher tells you because half the time they will tell you something completely different than I told you, or any other teacher would tell you.”

The great myths of education include the following, which you might as well learn now, especially if you’re preparing for college:

  • Teachers always know what they’re talking about.
  • Teachers agree on what students should know.
  • Teachers grade students only on the quality of their work.
  • Good work can be easily recognized by any teacher.

My son Bryan understood these to be myths when he was in school and he often used that as an excuse to call his teachers stupid or misinformed. So I tried to introduce him, often unsuccessfully, to generalizations that are more likely to be true:

  • Even when teachers are misinformed, they’re most likely better informed than you.
  • The more you tell a teacher they’re misinformed, the less likely they are to receive your work favorably.
  • The teacher determines your grade, not the quality of your work.
  • The more misinformation you pay attention to without deciding it’s bullshit immediately, the better position you will be in to sort out the pure bullshit from the bullshit with a few undigested nuggets of truth.
  • Truth changes depending on the circumstances no matter how much you want it to be otherwise.
  • I know this statement will appear not only misinformed, but completely wrong to many readers. And it sure seems hard to deny that truth is truth and always truth, but sooner or later, like it or not, someone will throw the cruel truth in your face and you will find yourself compelled to say, “but this is different.”

    Furthermore, if you’ve ever said “this is different” (as you will probably do at the end of this sentence), you’ll have proved my point. And that is exactly why we should talk about keyboards for the iPad.

    If you never use your virtual keyboard, or if you use it to tweet or text or dash off short e-mails, you will never miss the add-on keyboard. But if you routinely type documents longer than 500 words, or type HTML or need to type more than 20 words a minute, you will want to splurge on a keyboard for your iPad.

    The question is, which one? The iPad dock keyboard or the bluetooth keyboard?

    The answer is, as you already know if you read the spoiler and waded through the apparent digression just prior to this, it depends on the circumstances. They’re both good, they’re both worth the price, I actually use both freqently and, unless you want to buy both like I did, you will need to choose.

    No, they aren’t just keyboards

    I never gave the matter any thought until I read an online review talking about how different both were and how much more difficult the iPad dock keyboard was to work with. The review almost convinced me to buy the bluetooth version, but I wanted a keyboard that would be more stable with all the cats who like to knock things over.

    I could picture myself with my iPad in it’s accessory case lying on its narrow edge on top of my lapdesk so I could get a better view of the screen while I typed away on my bluetooth keyboard. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Teddy Bear leaped up in a frantic attempt to cuddle on my shoulder (because he interprets any refusal to let him cuddle to mean I no longer love him). The iPad would fly off in one direction, the keyboard in another and I would have Teddy Bear claw marks all over my shoulder.

    Ironically, just as I was typing this last paragraph, Kit Kat—a recent foster who we just spayed so she could go to an adopter—lept onto my lap desk and nearly knocked every thing onto the floor.

    Not realizing how much damage a cat could do to an iPad, I figured The iPad dock at least held the monitor in place. So I bought that one.

    The iPad dock keyboard

    Designed for your iPad

    The iPad dock keypad is significantly different from the bluetooth keypad or any regular keyboard and that’s actually what makes it so useful. This keyboard is designed exclusively for use with the iPad. There are no function keys because the iPad doesn’t have macro-programable functions (the equivalent of hot keys on the Mac). This last vestige of Microsoft DOS that has plagued Mac Users for years, simply doesn’t exist on the iPad.

    Instead the row reseved for function keys serves to control the device itself. It has the usual hardware control keys (screen brightness and volume) that used to double over Mac function keys, but a few specific to the iPad as well. The escape key now escapes from the current app, closing it out and taking you to the screen pages. That key is marked with a square (presumably for “screen”). Immediately to the right is the search key which allows you to find any application without scrolling through the pages.

    You can also toggle back and forth between photos, invoke the virtual keyboard (I can’t for the life of me imagine why when the real keyboard is attached already), mute sound playback and control video playback. At the top left is a lock key which is pretty useless unless you have the passcode lock feature turned on in the system settings. And since you should never leave your iPad unattended, for any reason ever, the lock is redundant.

    But it’s there if you want it.

    Other than the iPad control keys, the dock keyboard is no different than any other keyboard, and feels just like the current Apple keyboards that ship with Mac.

    The dock port: trouble begins

    The dock is actually a USB connector built into the keyboard. Your iPad settles onto the connector the way it would settle onto a speaker system dock. The keyboard is coupled with a wide band USB input port for your charging cable, so you can charge your iPad while you type, or run the sound out to a speaker system.

    The power input is important because the docking keyboard actually drains your iPad power as you use it. The hit is rather significant, in my experience cutting battery charge by thirty to forty percent.

    Ironically, the reason I bought the dock keyboard is the reason I least like it. The iPad actually has no physical support other than the USB connector, which seems fairly fragile. The connection is far from snug and the iPad wiggles as you type. It also means that your iPad is actually far less secure than you would probably like.

    When Jenny Manytoes and the other cats rub their cheeks against the corner of my iPad, and every cat owner will probably know exactly what I’m referring to, the iPad actually rocks on the dock connection. Knowing how quickly Apple Care technicians like to conclude that users damaged their computers and so are no longer covered by Apple Care, I seriously fear that one day the cats will dislodge the device and ruin the USB input connection.

    It hasn’t happened and this could be a baseless fear, but fear doesn’t have to be grounded in reality. And anyone who has seen cats jump on the mantle and knock all of the china off, or somehow dislodge an entire row of books loose from their snug cradle in a bookshelf will know this fear isn’t completey groundless.

    Less portable

    The other problem this causes is portability. Because the dock drains the iPad’s battery more quickly you are more likely to need to carry your charging cable and AC/DC plug with you when carting it to Starbucks or on the road.

    The dock is also thick and clunky and extends several inches from the back of the keyboard, making it more of a hassle to carry. As I became more and more frustrated with the virtual keyboard, I considered taking the dock with me. But it was so kludgy I could never bring myself to do so. It still beats carrying a laptop and it’s baggage, but it seems to defeat the portability of the iPad.

    I finally broke down and bough a bluetooth keyboard to use on the road, and it was a decision I don’t regret.

    The bluetooth alternative

    The bluetooth keyboard is much sleeker and runs on AA batteries, which makes it far more powerful than the dock. The bluetooth keyboard takes a slight hit on the iPad battery to keep the bluetooth connection open, but no more than it would if you were listening through headphones. In my experience, the charge lasts as long with the keyboard as without it.

    Rather than resting on a thick plastic platform that extends serveral inches to accomodate the docking port and external power point, the keyboard rests on a small rolled bar only slightly larger than the batteries inside. It tucks neatly under my iPad and I can fit them both in the little pocket in my car door. It also weighs a lot less than the dock which makes them both very easy to carry.

    Battery life, or so the Apple salesman told me, is a couple of months with regular use. I’ve had mine a couple of months now, probably use it ten hours a week, and it’s still running stong on the original batteries.

    The keyboard wasn’t made for the iPad

    I would love it unequivocally except that it’s an Apple bluetooth keyboard and not an iPad keyboard. None of the function or device control keys have any effect on the iPad. You are limited to what you can do with the typing keys themselves. This is still a lot, but not nearly as conveninent as the keys on the dock.

    I often find myself hitting the escape key or search key only to realize they don’t work on this keyboard. In those moments, I really miss the dock.

    Disables the virtual keypad

    There are other irritations. When the bluetooth keyboard is connected, you can’t access the virtual keyboard, even when the real keyboard is out of range. If you have to run to the bathroom, or run to another room to jot something down you are locked out of the iPad’s text capabilities unless you remember to turn the keyboard’s power off or go to the system controls and disconnect the keyboard.

    For some reason, however, whenever the bluetooth connection is active it can actually turn the keyboard on. I discovered this when Carol was driving the car and I needed to send an email using my 3G connection. I couldn’t access the virtual keyboard. It took me several minutes to realize my keyboard was in the car door pocket, the bluetooth connection was active and the iPad had turned the keyboard on.

    This creates even more problems when I realized the AA batteries were being drained at the same time. I have to physcially power down the keyboard and then make sure the connection is innactive in the system controls whenever I take my iPad on the road.

    In spite of their drawbacks, I find both keyboards extremely useful. The bluetooth keyboard is still more useful on the road and the dock keyboard more useful at home. In fact, I currently simply leave the bluetooth keyboard in the car door all the time. That way I won’t go on the road and realize I left it at home. Conversely, I will never leave the keyboard in the car and only realize it when I’m settled in at home.

    I would never recommend that you buy both keyboards as I did, anymore than I would recommend one family buying multiple iPads so they don’t have to share. But I would recommend that you decide whether you need a keyboard more on the road or at home (or in your office) before you purchase.

    The bluetooth is far more portable; the dock is far easier to use but doesn’t travel nearly as well.

    Jenny Manytoes rates the iPad keyboards

    Jenny Manytoes purrs no matter which keyboard I use. In either case she can leap onto the keyboard and X!6kljdv s9867 SXOIH ;sk,n epvu-d0 iadc[ m’.

    And with eight toes on one paw and seven on the other she can hit more keys than any other cat we foster.

    The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

    Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
    • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
    • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
    • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
    • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
    • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

    iPad Envy is created entirely using apps from my iPad.
    Please email me at iPadenvy@me.com.

About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 4 Stars - Purr, Accessories, iPad and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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