Review: Kensington Keyfolio Exact Plus backlit keyboard case for iPad Air

Having remarked that I don’t generally favor hiding iDevices in cases, I find myself reviewing the second iPad case in a week …

There’s no shortage of Bluetooth keyboards available for the iPad Air, and we previously did a roundup of some of the early contenders from Logitech, Belkin and ZAGG. However, only the ZAGG offered a backlit keyboard for use in the dark, so when Kensington joined the fray, I decided to give it a try … 

While typing in the dark might seem like rather a niche activity, I do quite often use my iPad in minicabs late at night when I’m feeling too lazy (or have partaken of too much fermented grape juice) to cycle the two miles home from the station. A backlit keyboard is ideal in this situation.

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The closed case

It’s always surprised me that no-one seems to have created an iPad keyboard case with a leather wrapping. I always liked the leather Smart Cover, and it seems to me there has to be a market for a truly premium keyboard case. Yet one metal-cased example apart, they are all plastic or rubber – and the Kensington keyboard is no exception.

It has to be said that visually it’s pretty smart-looking, with a crisp, business-like appearance and a metal plate with the brand. The feel of the plastic, however, is rather like those vinyl-covered fake-leather folios you used to get at conferences in the days before USB keys were handed out instead. It looks better than it feels.

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The rigid plastic does, though, feel tough, offering a comforting level of protection when placed loose into a bag. I never worried about the iPad getting scratched or knocked.

The iPad also snaps easily in and out of the case, yet never feels in danger of falling out.

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Opening the case

There flap with the name-plate is magnetic, keeping it securely closed when not in use but easy to open once you’re ready. The flap can either extend out in front of the keyboard, or fold back underneath it, or double-up in front for a thicker pad. On a desk, extending towards you provides a pleasant-feeling wrist rest as you type. Used on your lap, it’s easier to tuck the flap away underneath.

The iPad can be supported at one of three different angles. The primary position, with the deepest and most secure ridge, is a fairly upright one. I found this worked well on a desk.

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From the ridges you can see, it looks like there are three further positions, but one of them has the magnet repelling rather than attracting, so there are two positions, with the photo below showing the most reclined. I found this the best angle for lap use.

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However, there is even more flexibility than this, as the keyboard itself is only attached to the case magnetically, so you can slide it forward if desired. The promotional video at the top illustrates this well.

The keyboard

As is usual with iPad keyboards, there’s a row of function keys to act as shortcuts for functions like Siri, media playing, volume, home and lock.

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The keys themselves are also the standard chicklet keys designed to emulate those of an Apple keyboard. They are full moving keys with a very positive action. However, I haven’t yet found a third-party keyboard which matches the feel of genuine Apple keyboards, and the Kensington was just a little too springy, requiring somewhat harder taps. It’s easy enough to type on, but not quite as pleasant as the real thing.

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The backlighting is switched on and off using the volume keys with the Fn key. It’s pretty subtle in all but totally dark conditions, but if it’s dark enough to need the backlighting, it provides sufficient light.

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Conclusions

I still haven’t found my perfect iPad keyboard case. I’d love something with the light yet positive action of an Apple keyboard, combined with a leather-wrapped outer casing. Any iPad keyboard case is a compromise, the Kensington Key Folio Exact Plus included.

That said, however, I found it a solid product. It offers a very decent level of protection from the kind of everyday knocks and scratches it might see when carried in a bag with other things. It’s easy to open and close, and to insert and remove the iPad.

The choice of angles worked well both for desk and lap use, and the keyboard itself has a decent action, if slightly too springy. The backlighting works well in darkness, and would be my main reason for choosing this over similar, non-backlit options.

Official pricing is extremely expensive, at £139 in the UK, which translates to over $200 in the USA. At that price, it would be hard to justify this over substantially cheaper options out there. However, it can be found on Amazon for as little as $81 with free shipping, at which price it compares extremely well with offerings from the the main other players. Until my perfect keyboard case arrives, this one will probably be my preferred option.

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Comments

  1. Yunhua Ji - 9 years ago

    How about weight & volume (thickness)? Portability is the key issue for all iPad keyboards. If the keyboard are thick & heavy, then why not MBA?

    • Ben Lovejoy - 9 years ago

      The weight and thickness of these type of combined keyboard cases all seem very similar to me. I don’t personally see MBA and iPad as interchangeable, though the amazing battery-life of the Haswell MBAs makes it a much closer-run thing. I do, though, still tend to use them for different things.

  2. frankman91 - 9 years ago

    I don’t understand these things at all. I feel like an ipad is for games, movies and casually surfing the web on the couch or on the train or whatever. If you reach a point you need a keyboard why not use a laptop. These just seem like a clumsy patch to a problem I don’t really understand.

    • My GF uses her iPad for school homewrok , sheets etc… She has a logitech case and it it really great. Its like a powerful mini laptop. Im also gonna buy one case like dat and this Kensigton case is really great ! :)

    • Ben Lovejoy - 9 years ago

      My iPad gets used a fair bit for email on the move, and built-in 4G is less clunky than tethering my MBA to my iPhone (not to mention that tethering kills the iPhone battery), so a keyboard is very useful.

    • frankman91 - 9 years ago

      Thanks for enlightening me (non-sarcasm). I still don’t see it useful for writing papers, but email I could defiantly see.

      My tablet is more of a Netflix / web screen and for everything else I just use my laptop or desktop; but I suppose that’s not the norm.

      I can’t seem to be be productive on small screens. I prefer a big desktop with triple 24″ monitors and my big mechanical keyboard; I like space to spread things around LOL.

      • Ben Lovejoy - 9 years ago

        Heh, in my office I have a 27″ ATD attached to my MBP 17, but I do some writing on my MBA 11. My iPad is a mixed movie/ebook/Internet device in the main, but I do a little writing on it.

  3. sardonick - 9 years ago

    Nice looking rig but I find it hard to take that dude seriously with that giant freaking thing stuck in his ear. W…T…F.

    • Ben Lovejoy - 9 years ago

      For the avoidance of doubt, that’s the promo video, it’s not me :-)

      • sardonick - 9 years ago

        NO WAY I’d mistake you for that dude. Not even without my glasses.

      • Ben Lovejoy - 9 years ago

        Hehe

  4. antmeeks - 9 years ago

    The main problem I have with the current crop of keyboard cases is that they all look like they were designed by Dell. 1999 called and it wants it’s industrial design back.

Author

Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!


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