Zagg Folio Keyboard Case for iPad mini 4: The search for the perfect iPad mini keyboard continues

It seems obligatory to say that I typed this article on the keyboard I am reviewing. But it is an obligation that makes little sense to me. Of course I am typing it on the keyboard I am reviewing. So what?

There was a time when it was a big deal to do any kind of serious typing on an iPad mini. But that time is long past. Now, typing on an iPad mini is no longer a novelty. At least, it shouldn't be. Keyboards have long since been good enough to manage this task.

There was the time when a 7" netbook was all the rage. It seems people found a way to type on those just fine. The iPad mini is almost an inch larger than that. And we have gotten a lot better at making keyboards for small devices.

Zagg, in particular, has been doing it for quite a while. They were purchased by Logitech, another company that knows a thing or two about building great keyboards for small devices.

So for what it's worth, I am definitely using the Zagg folio to type this review. Also for what it's worth, I don't feel overly burdened by the size of the device. I have pretty large hands. If I can do this, most people likely can as well.

Hardware look and feel

I usually don't spend a lot of time talking about the hardware look and feel. But with some categories, the look and feel is more important than with others. I think iPad keyboards fall into that category. The iPad mini 4 is a beautiful object. And it seems a shame to hide it in something less beautiful

Unfortunately, that is exactly what you are going to do the moment you decide to place it in the Folio case. Nothing on the iPad mini 4 looks or feels cheap. Every centimeter of it feels premium. The same cannot be said for the Folio keyboard case.

An attempt was made by covering the front and back of the case in a hard, fake, textured leather with stitching. It is definitely grippy. And that's important, as you will likely be carrying this in your hand without a bag a lot.

But the outer rim ruins the effect by being made of a hard plastic that looks and feels cheap. That same plastic continues through the inside of the case, and includes the keys. It looks like cheap plastic. It feels like cheap plastic. And it sounds like cheap plastic. Make no mistake about it: This is not the good polycarbonate. This is the cheap stuff from the bad old days of cheaply made gadgets produced by companies that had no time nor resources for considerations like industrial design and premium aesthetics.

And that is rather disappointing because Zagg is not one of those companies. They are a company with a reputation of doing great work. But that was in the early, unprofitable days of the company. These days, I guess anything for a quick euro.

It looks best when closed. And that's still not great. The plastic is shiny. One third-of the fabric is grey. And the other two-thirds can be one of a variety of colors. The keyboard takes on this color. In my case, that color is blue, and not a particularly attractive shade of blue.

Honestly, the whole thing looks a little too Fisher-Price for me. The blue keyboard with white lettering really is a bit much. It's hard to take it seriously, or anyone who happens to be using it.

The key feature

Predictably, the key feature of any keyboard are the keys. This is where the Folio has a chance to somewhat redeem itself. Unfortunately, it doesn't, at least not fully.

The size of the keys is what you should expect from a keyboard made specifically to fit the dimensions of the iPad mini 4. For many people, they will be a little too small, and a little too close together. At risk of sounding somewhat indifferent to the inevitable complaints about such a keyboard, I just have to say, get over it.

You are getting real work done on a device with the word, mini, in the name. The keys feeling a little cramped comes with the territory for this category of device. For my part, I can type at almost full speed.

Frankly, most of it is just learning the techniques for typing on a small keyboard.

My problems with the keyboard have nothing to do with the size of the keys. It has to do with the key feel. I find the action a little stiff, with a little too much travel for my tastes. I think it tries a bit too hard to mimic desktop keyboards. In my opinion, that's a mistake.

It should be also known that I am a big fan of the MacBook Pro shallow key travel. I like my fingers to effortlessly fly across the keys. I don't like the sensation of having to press each key. RSI sufferers might find this keyboard a little fatiguing after a while. That said, this is not intended to be your primary keyboard. Many will love the key feel. It is a very personal thing.

These keys are a little noisier than I like. That is partly due to the snap of the keys, and partly due to the cheap plastic we have already covered. This is not the good noise of the mechanical keyboard. This is just the noise of clacking cheap plastic.

Some of the keys are smaller than standard. Brackets and braces will be a little trickier. But these are symbols largely used by programmers. And no programmer will be using an iPad mini to code. The compromises work well. And you can get your work done in a pinch. The keyboard is fine.

The surprising verdict

Despite everything I just said, I recommend you go ahead and purchase this keyboard if you happen to have an iPad mini 4. There is a mitigating factor that I failed to mention.

I picked this up from Best Buy for $39. It is usually $89. At full price, I would suggest you pass on it. At less than half the price, it is worth a flyer. Honestly, it feels like a case that should have never been more than $40.

You will have to go to the online version of the store. If you buy it in store, just show them the page with the reduced price. Otherwise, they will charge you more. There are two varieties: one with backlight and one without. This is the one without. Blue was the only option at this price.

There is another point to consider, before this keyboard, I was using the Logitech Keys to Go keyboard, which is a better keyboard in almost every way. But it is a separate, unattached piece that has to be carried separately. That does get old after a while.

When I am out and about, I want to carry just one item, not two. This keyboard makes the iPad mini 4 feel like a small and very functional computer. It is easy enough to install and uninstall the iPad into and out of the case for when you are at home.

One of the nicer touches is that when the keyboard is open, it is tilted at a nice angle for typing. It is just a small amount of tilt. But it does make a big difference.

So despite all the things I absolutely hate about this keyboard, it will easily pay for itself at $40. The search for the perfect iPad mini keyboard continues. But this one will do just fine for now. And it probably will for you too.

David Johnson