The iPad mini, like its larger sibling, is great for a lot of things, but typing anything longer than a short email message here or there isn't one of them. But while keyboard cases are genuinely useful for the full-size iPad, the small footprint of the iPad mini doesn't allow for very spacious keyboards built into cases.
Belkin is the latest company to try and shoehorn a full QWERTY keyboard into an iPad mini case, with its Portable Keyboard Case which retails at £70. Unfortunately, the keyboard is just too small, with some awkward layout choices that make it tough to type with ease or speed.
Design and setup
The Portable Keyboard Case resembles a traditional keyboard folio case, with thin, suede-like outer flap folds around an inner frame for the iPad mini and a black plastic keyboard. The flap snaps closed magnetically and folds back into a small triangle for propping up the tablet while typing.
The case is 20mm thick, and weighs just 260 grams. The frame that holds the iPad mini leaves the speakers, ports, and buttons exposed and easily accessible, but the case does not put the tablet to sleep when closed.
Along the right hand edge is a micro-USB port for charging with the included cable, along with a power switch, a pairing button, and an LED indicator light. Setup and pairing works like any other Bluetooth keyboard; simply flip the switch into the on position, press the Pair button, and enter the pairing code provided by the iPad mini.
The keyboard itself, while offering tactile feedback and a full QWERTY layout, isn't very comfortable. The chiclet style keys provide a decent amount of travel, but they're quite small. To make matters worse, the keyboard layout is unorthodox and somewhat awkward – for instance, the space bar is far too small and the backspace key is in line with the top row of letters, instead of numbers as with most keyboards. That led to a lot of mistaken keystrokes in my tests, especially when trying to type quickly.
On the whole, I had a difficult time adjusting to the Portable Keyboard Case. There's no dedicated function row either, and instead you have to hold down the Fn key and use the number keys to access shortcuts like media controls.
I'm not completely sold on the concept of keyboard cases for the iPad mini. If there are doubts about the full-size iPad as a productivity tool, those are only heightened by the iPad mini's compact build. Simply put, I'm not sure there is enough real estate within the dimensions of the mini to fit a truly comfortable keyboard, and I can’t really recommend this Belkin effort.
Logitech recently announced an iPad mini version of its excellent Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, so I'm eager to see how that fares. But for now, I'd recommend a full-size portable Bluetooth keyboard like the Apple Wireless Keyboard and a separate case.