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The best Apple iPad Air keyboards: Group test (part one)

So, you have a shiny iPad Air and you want to carry it about with you and use it for email, document creation, blogging on the move and other text-heavy tasks. Welcome to the world of modern computing.

To make this dream come true, what you need, of course, is a top-notch keyboard. Without one you’ll be tapping at the touchscreen of your iPad, and this isn’t as efficient as using an external keyboard. Also, the virtual keyboard sits on the screen obscuring much of the text you are working on.

However, your external keyboard has to be well made so that it is comfy to type on. Some dedicated keys for special functions wouldn’t go amiss, either. Ideally, it should double up as a case for your lovely tablet – but it shouldn’t be too chunky. It should cater for your working preferences too – folio cases don’t lend themselves to working in tall screen mode while keycovers can.

So with all that in mind, we’re going to take a look at some of the best options open to you in our iPad Air keyboard group test that’s split into two parts.

This is the first part – obviously enough – stay tuned for the second part at the same time next week.

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Folio for iPad Air

The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Folio is a fairly minimalistic keyboard. It’s not a case, rather it’s more of a cover, and I found the top and bottom parts slipped off centre a bit in my bag. A couple of rubber feet stop the keys banging against the screen when the folio is closed.

The iPad easily fits into (and easily comes out of) two holding brackets on its top edge. It’s not the prettiest solution, but it is efficient. The magnet that holds your iPad in place for typing is strong – I didn’t experience any slippage during testing. It only offers one angle, which is quite an upright one.

When you don’t need the keyboard you sit the iPad with its screen facing outwards, and the lid section concertinas to allow the keyboard to sit on the inside where it’s protected. There’s no smartcover feature, so you have to turn the iPad on when you open the case. A rubbery back ensures the case doesn’t slip about on a table.

Typing is comfortable. The keys are quite large, and they click loudly when tapped. There are handy Fn (Function) keys on X, C and V for cut, copy and paste, and text select keys sit on the really useful arrow keys, plus the small number row has a good selection of Fn options including media control. There’s a key to take you out of an app and back to the Home screen.

Weight: 425g

Price: £90

Belkin QODE Ultimate Keyboard Case for iPad Air

The Belkin QODE Ultimate Keyboard Case is a substantial, solid accessory that’s hard to fault. But one thing it isn’t is light – at 621 grams it weighs more than the ultra-light iPad Air (478 grams) by some margin.

But the aluminium shell gives the Air great protection, a wraparound casing for the iPad protects its sides, and there’s no flex at all when the case is closed. Magnets hold the whole caboodle firmly closed for carrying in your bag. Thought has even been put into the pads that stop the keys hitting the screen when the case is closed – they’re part of the case design so you hardly notice them.

Strong magnets hold the iPad Air in place, and there are three viewing angles to pick from so you can get comfortable. The keyboard quality is superb; the large keys feel firm under the fingers, and the space has been used to its maximum potential. The number row is almost full-sized and there are plenty of Fn key options with good media controls.

There’s a lockdown button that turns the screen off, along with cut, copy, and paste Fn key combos, and text select options on the tiny arrow keys. The dedicated Siri button might seem a bit frivolous, though. Battery life is excellent, and the Belkin QODE Ultimate Keyboard Case ticks all the right boxes.

Weight: 621g

Price: £100

Kensington KeyFolio Pro for iPad Air

The Kensington KeyFolio Pro for iPad Air is a substantial case and keyboard combo for your Apple slate. Be under no illusion – if you opt for this superbly made keycase your iPad Air will suddenly become a much more sizeable item to carry, and it’ll become heavier too. The KeyFolio Pro for iPad Air adds 898 grams of weight to your tablet.

The upside of all that is solid protection. The iPad slots into an envelope-style holder with a padded outer, and there’s padding on the underside too. The leather look lends a certain classiness here, and if you like the black look for a professional appearance you’ve got it here.

Magnets keep the iPad resting at an angle at the top of the keypad when you are working. The advertised multiple angles this device offers aren’t as varied as they could be, but in a very smart move Kensington has constructed the keyboard so that it is removable from the case. This means you can set iPad and keyboard a fair way apart if you tend to hunch over a keycase. The keyboard is held firmly in position by strong magnets.

The keyboard is very solidly built and its keys are really great under the fingers. They click slightly, are robust, and are close in feel to the keyboard of a real laptop. There’s a full-sized number row and above that a half-height row with Function keys. This arrangement means you don’t have to fiddle with an Fn key to do things like control media or get to the Home screen. There’s even a key for iOS 7’s new multitasking screen.

Weight: 898g

Price: £100

Kensington KeyFolio Exact for iPad Air

This is the bulkiest and heaviest keyboard case in this group test, and it will bump your iPad Air’s weight up by over 1kg. Your Apple tablet fits into a tough plastic tray which has an outer covering of material with a grippy finish that is used all round the outside of this case. A flap secured with a magnet keeps everything safe.

When folded out, the soft inside of the flap doubles up as a comfy wrist rest. There’s a tray built into the case which can store a stylus – if you don’t use one then it might seem like dead space and unnecessary weight. All the iPad Air ports and connectors remain accessible when the case is closed, so you can charge the keyboard and iPad, access the headphones slot and hear the speaker output.

All the things Kensington does well are in evidence here. The keyboard is removable from the case – it is held in place by strong magnets. If you remove the keyboard you can sit your iPad Air further away, reducing that feeling of hunching over to work.

The keyboard is excellent in its construction with large keys that feel superb under the fingers, and there’s a separate number row and standalone Function keys (that don’t have to be pressed in conjunction with an Fn key). There’s a dedicated key for the iOS 7 multitasking screen just next to the spacebar, too.

Weight: 1.1kg

Price: £120