As my readers may or may not know, I recently took a week-long trip to Disney World. I just happened to be there the week before Stephen Hackett, who I work with over at Tools and Toys but haven’t yet had a chance to meet in person. We flew back maybe a day or two before he got there, which, talk about timing, right? I just hope he was able to locate all the “easter eggs” I’d strategically strewn about the various Disney parks for him.
Although I could have asked Shawn ahead of time to take off from my Tools and Toys duties, I figured I could just continue posting during downtime at the hotel each night. I mean, those posts aren’t required to be insanely long or anything, and I already had a few ideas lined up. Easy peasy right?
Something about the trip completely messed up my immune system, and each day seemed to bring a new “gift” in the form of severe allergies, migraines, a throat/lung infection (I’m still dealing with the cough from this one), fever sweats, and general exhaustion. It was taking all my energy to have any fun at the Disney parks, and that was with frequent rests and lots of water being consumed. So…much…water. By the time we got back to the hotel, I would almost immediately crash on the bed.
I managed to eke out one T&T post, then accidentally miss a day entirely, before I finally gave in and asked Shawn if I could just have the week off. He was totally cool with it, and I’m grateful for that. But since I didn’t know any of this was going to happen beforehand, the night before our flight, I stopped by my old Apple Store (where it turns out that I know almost none of the employees anymore) and picked up a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for my iPad.
I’ve never really needed one of these, maybe I don’t even need one now, but I figured a trip would be the perfect time to try it out. My typing speed is okay on the iOS soft keyboard, but it will probably never compete with what I’m capable of on a physical keyboard. It’s one of those things kids will someday think I’m old-fashioned for, which I’ve come to accept.
Since this was the night before the trip, I didn’t get a whole lot of time with the keyboard at home. As usual, I had waited until the last minute to get my packing done, and it was necessary to go to bed early, so I just let the keyboard do its initial full charge for a couple hours or so, and then stowed it away in a bag right before hitting the sack.
My first real chance to get it back out of the bag and toy around with it was the next morning, after we’d made it through airport security and gotten some much-needed coffee.
Over the next couple of hours, as we waited for our plane boarding time, I began putting the keyboard through its paces. First, I fired up Day One to begin journaling our trip experience, then began writing up the first-impressions about the keyboard that eventually led to this article. I also went through some trial-and-error to find out what the function (FN) keys on the top number row could do, which I’ll be discussing in a bit.
My first impressions were extremely positive. Suddenly, writing on the iPad felt like a breeze compared to when I was typing on-screen, and I enjoyed having so much more screen space to work with. Since returning from the trip, I’ve had a lot more time to spend with the keyboard. Now that I’ve given you my life story, I’d like to share my thoughts.
A concern of mine before buying the Ultrathin was that the keys might be too small. I’d seen lots of pictures of course, but never really had a chance to try the thing out. It’s not like they keep them out on display at the Apple Store. In my usage so far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that the keys aren’t too tiny at all. Now, they are a bit cramped together, but this rarely hampers my typing ability. In fact it’s quite a comfortable experience, much more so than I expected.
The keys feel very responsive and give a satisfying click when pressed. I had worried they might feel cheap and plasticky, but they feel great to me, and it seems like they will hold up well over time.
The case itself is quite nice too. When the iPad is in-use, it rests in a magnetic slot that stretches the entire length of the keyboard. This magnet is stronger than you’d expect; I can pick up the iPad by its bezel while it’s sitting in the slot, and the keyboard will travel with it, rather than falling off. I feel secure knowing the iPad isn’t going to suddenly tip over backwards out of the slot.
The rear edge of the case has another strong magnet, but this one is in the form of a hinge. To “close” the case, you remove the iPad from the keyboard slot and — making sure the home button is on your right side rather than your left — merely lower it onto the exposed magnet strip on the hinge. The hinge will typically lift up to meet the iPad, and from there you just lay the iPad face-down on the keyboard like a laptop screen.
While it’s closed, the case’s aluminum exterior almost makes it appear as if two iPads are facing each other screen-to-screen. It also feels quite durable, although I’m not crazy enough to try any drop tests with it. When the case is opened again, much like with Apple’s Smart Cover, the released magnets within the iPad alert the display to turn on automatically.
Whether it’s open or closed, the Ultrathin has a relatively small footprint. It was the absolute perfect size to fit on every airplane tray I tried it with, and it stows away in a bag just about as easily as a standalone iPad does.
One last thing with the hardware: I’ve found myself occasionally using the Ultrathin merely as a stand for reading ebooks, watching videos, and other media consumption. It doesn’t have to be used for writing at all times. The magnetic slot holds the iPad at the perfect angle for such things, and the keyboard is small enough to stay out of your way even when you’re not typing.
Shortcuts and Function Keys
Another surprise I’ve had with this keyboard (are you sensing a trend yet?) is the fact that it supports some of the keyboard shortcuts you would use on a Mac:
- CMD+C and CMD+V will copy and paste selected text, respectively
- CMD+Z will undo the previous action
- CMD+A will highlight the entire document
- Initially I was disappointed by the lack of Home and End buttons for skipping to the beginning or ending of a line, but after playing around with various key combinations, I discovered that CTRL+[any directional arrow] will skip the cursor around this way. Left and Right take care of the same functions that Home and End would, but you can also use Up and Down to skip to the top or bottom of the entire document. Very nifty.
- The ALT button will produce all kinds of interesting results in combination with the alpha and numeric characters. For example,
ALT+P produces a pi (π) symbol.
In addition to that, the entire top row of number keys doubles as a set of useful functions in concert with the
fn key. I’ll list them from left to right:
- The first button in the row acts as a home button, no
fn key required.
fn1 opens the iPad’s Spotlight search page.
fn2 switches between any languages you’ve enabled. In my case, the only option that pops up, no matter how many times I press it, is English.
fn3 summons or dismisses the on-screen soft keyboard.
fn4 highlights the text to the left of the cursor’s current placement, adding one word with every press.
fn5 does the same, but to the right of the cursor.
fn6 cuts any selected text.
fn7 copies any selected text.
fn8 pastes any copied text.
fn9 plays/pauses media.
fn0 mutes the audio.
fn- volume down.
fn+ volume up.
fn+delete acts as a sleep button.
And the ones I use most?
fn5 for selecting text, and the media keys:
fn+. The rest are nice but basically unnecessary to my workflow.
This is only tangentially related to shortcut keys, but I’ve been relieved to discover that all my TextExpander snippets work perfectly with this keyboard. I didn’t know what to expect in this regard but it hasn’t let me down yet.
The (Few) Bummers
With almost any review there is bound to be a list of cons. I don’t like dwelling on negatives if I can avoid it, but obviously it’s important to be honest. Thankfully, this list will be a short one.
- There is no way to check the current battery status. You basically either know that it’s got a decent remaining charge, or it’s about to die. From what I understand, the way it notifies you of a low battery is a blinking red light, but I have yet to see it for myself. They claim that the battery can last for six months on a charge if used for two hours each day, so the lack of a battery status isn’t an enormous deal but it would be nice to have it.
- There is no Caps Lock indicator light, so the only way to see if it’s enabled is trial-and-error.
- Holding the delete key doesn’t gradually speed up the backspacing process the way it does when using the iOS keyboard. You’ve got to use either the
fn5 system or touch the screen to use the iOS text-selection loupe.
And that’s about it. I’ve tried my hardest to look for any other “flaws” but this is all I could come up with. The keyboard is just that good.
The Logitech Ultrathin has completely changed the way I write on my iPad. The luxury of having an entire screen to work with, unhampered by an on-screen keyboard, along with the ability to type almost as quickly as I would on a full-sized keyboard, is a huge boon for me. Not to mention the awesome portability of the thing and its amazing battery life.
The overall feeling I've had during my experience with this keyboard is one of pleasant surprise. I went in with somewhat low expectations and came out feeling very positive vibes about my purchase. I don't know why I didn't give it a try sooner.
For me, there is no going back from this setup. Of course, I’ll always be able to use the on-screen keyboard if needed for quick jobs, but as long as I can help it, the Ultrathin will always be nearby. I think I’m in love.