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iPad Air after a weekend: my thoughts and your questions

I spent time this weekend using my iPad in my typical scenarios—tinkering with music and writing on my coffee table (including this post), laying on my back on the sofa reading, wandering around the house, and reading in bed. I’ve one-handed my iPad Air and done the “hey check out this neat thing” hand-off to Jessi that makes the iPad such an enjoyable, personal device for real-world sharing in the first place. In all cases, I haven’t missed my iPad mini or its weight.

I answered most of the big questions people asked me on Twitter and App.net. It’s not just that “the iPad got lighter.” The major weight loss brings it into the mini’s one-hand territory while maintaining the larger iPad’s advantages.

The more I use it, I love the iPad mini over the regular size for everything but on-screen typing, which is my main, very-close-second use for it (primary is reading). As I begin to write more again, I’m beginning to miss the iPad 3 I gave to my wife.

I increasingly feel that my initial sentiment of the iPad mini as a writing machine was right: the keyboard cases and setups are nice, but for me, they end up defeating the purpose of writing on an iPad in the first place. With all that extra equipment and weight, I’m basically carrying an 11-inch MacBook Air. But if I got an Air again I lose the portability, battery life, and delightful LTE data of an iPad.

The regular iPad is a 1.5 pound, incredibly mobile slab of glass that makes a great 8-10 hour writing machine. It also fits in a small satchel or “man purse,” if you must, instead of a big backpack or messenger bag. If you can spend some time to get good at touch typing in landscape, which I did, it’s quite liberating to travel, write, and publish using nothing more than an iPad with Smart Cover.

I’m not positive yet, but I’m leaning back towards a regular iPad because of my desire for keyboard-less mobile writing. If I do it, I’ll probably wait for the iPad 5, especially since rumors claim it might adopt the iPad mini’s lighter construction.

Mini 9 top, Zaggfolio bottom My Mini 9's USB port showing some skin The stand is connected by a cloth band Mini 9 with iPad mini left, Zaggfolio with iPad 3 right Mini 9 top, Zaggfolio bottom Zaggfolio keyboard left, Mini 9 right

A review and gallery of the Zagg Mini 9 keyboard case for iPad mini

I spotted a Zagg Mini 9 keyboard (regular price $90) at Best Buy yesterday and figured I’d give it a spin.

TL;DR: I’ve only spent a day tinkering with the Zagg Mini 9 and used it to write this piece. But compared to my ZaggFolio and my favorite of these keyboards, the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the regular iPad, this is a decent option if you don’t mind some of Zagg’s compromises and the “slightly smaller everything” effect of the iPad mini’s display resolution, and you want one of the most capable, compact iPad writing combinations available.

The iPad mini must present a challenge for keyboard makers because, in landscape, it isn’t as wide as even the slightly slimmed netbook-ish keyboards that have become popular for iPads. Zagg got the Mini 9 to market quickly and made a few compromises along the way, and I think one of them is the way the iPad is seated in its upright position. The top half of the Mini 9 is essentially a plastic bin with holes cut out at the top for the iPad’s orientation lock switch (or mute switch) and volume keys, and ridges inside the top and bottom of the bin for holding the iPad in place (see one of my gallery photos). I made a video of the process of fitting the iPad into the Mini 9; you snap it into place. It takes a little getting used to, and you may have to practice getting it out over the long road if you want to minimize wear and tear to the sides of your iPad mini’s bezel.

The Mini 9’s bin is wider than the iPad mini because, for this model, Zagg wanted to include its standard portable keyboard. The setup looks a little weird and requires you to get used to lining the iPad mini’s buttons up properly with the bin’s cutouts, but it never bothered me much. If you want to try your hands at a keyboard case that is sized to match the iPad mini’s landscape width, Zagg makes a Mini 7. Whichever model you try, you prop the bin up with a thin, plastic, Surface-like stand that’s wrapped with leather from the case’s back, and attached to the case with a simple strip of cloth. You could take a little liberty in propping up the iPad at a slightly tighter angle, but I don’t recommend it; go too tight, and tapping the iPad could cause the stand to fold back under, and your iPad will fall. The case is really designed to have one viewing angle, which worked well for me while writing this piece at the dining room table.

One other compromise, or what is really a fit and finish complaint, worth pointing out is the bezel around the mini-USB port for charging is missing some plastic, though I’m open to the possibility that I just got a manufacturing goof. You can see it in one of my gallery photos, but some of the case’s core material is visible under the port. It’s not a deal-breaker and the keyboard works just fine, but if it’s not a manufacturing goof, it just looks sloppy.

As for the keyboard itself, it feels the same as my Zaggfolio. It’s good for a portable iPad keyboard, though if you need a frame of reference for my keyboard tastes, my favorites have long been in Apple’s notebooks and the current wireless keyboard. I’m not one of those clickity clack weirdos, so take that for what it’s worth. The keyboard is also is quite a bit thinner than the Zaggfolio’s, which makes typing more comfortable for me.

The keyboard’s layout is largely the same as the Zaggfolio, though Zagg changed two keys: the lower left corner keyboard language key and right Option key on the Zaggfolio are a battery check and keyboard language key on the Mini 9. Like the Zaggfolio, the Mini 9’s top row includes a handful of what have become standard custom iOS keys, including (from left to right) a Home button, Spotlight search, photo slideshow, on-screen keyboard toggle, cut, copy, and paste, and on the far right, a homescreen lock toggle.

Something which bothers me is that, while the plastic bin for housing the iPad mini works ok, it feels like a rushed, bulky design. Despite the slimmer keyboard and the iPad mini’s insanely thin design, the Mini 9 manages to hit nearly the same thickness when closed of the Zaggfolio and a regular iPad. On the bright side, the entire Mini 9 package, including my 64GB Verizon iPad mini, weighs just 725 grams (or 1.6 pounds).

Still, overall, the Mini 9 is good for what I believe is the first keyboard case specifically designed for the iPad mini, it’s just not great. Because I have a spare Apple keyboard and a Wingstand (thanks to Matt Brian for the recommendation), I’m going to return mine. But if you’re dying to break free from the portable writing shackles of your notebook or regular iPad, the Mini 9 can serve you well. If you can wait a little bit or have an alternative, I’m sure Zagg or someone else will improve on this design, perhaps in time for Macworld/iWorld next month.