Unsurprisingly, iPad mini keyboards are quickly becoming a popular accessory as more users start to use their iPad mini as a workhorse as well as plaything.
First was Logitech, and now Belkin has joined the fray with the launch of the FastFit Keyboard Case, promising to be an easy to use and easy to connect keyboard for your mini tablet, but is it good enough to replace the on-screen offering, and beat the Logitech devices already on the market?
The Belkin FastFit Keyboard Case is the size of the iPad mini and attaches to the Apple tablet via a line of magnets, in the same way Apple's own Smart Cover does. The magnets, situated in a hinged metal bracket, are strong enough to keep the cover on in transit, but not strong enough to support the iPad if you try to hold it in the air, suspended from the keyboard.
In our test unit the keyboard was black, with the outer surface a brushed aluminium to match the iPad mini. We're slightly sad that it dosn't come in white, because it jars with the design of the iPad slightly.
Doubling as a stand
When it comes to using the keyboard, you detach the iPad mini from the magnetic strip and slot it into a groove that holds the iPad mini at a 40-degree angle. It's ideal for typing and is pretty standard among the iPad mini keyboards on the market. The angle isn't adjustable but we've found that, for most cases, it doesn't need to be. However we wouldn't recommend it for video conferencing, not unless you've got the shapely neck of a supermodel, rather than the gobbling chin of a turkey.
When it comes to pairing with the iPad mini, it's incredibly easy. Turn the Belkin keyboard on and your iPad will find it in a couple of seconds. Once you find the keyboard in the iOS Bluetooth settings it's just a case of pressing a dedicated pairing button and seconds later we were ready to type our memoir.
Keys on the keyboard
The island-style keyboard is responsive and easy to use with several dedicated shortcut keys. The only downside is that you have to press the function key (Fn) to activate them.
There are dedicated keys to take you to to the iPad's home screen, search, cut, paste and copy, as well as dedicated media playback keys. You can also control the volume and force the iPad back to the lock screen at the single touch of a button.
Typing your memoirs
It's a much smaller keyboard than you might be used to, but then you probably understood that, given that it is a companion for such a small tablet. To get the surface area to fit the same surface area as the iPad mini, Belkin has had to make some compromises to get everything in and make it still easy to use.
The stupid approach would be to simply make all the keys smaller to pack in a full Qwerty keyboard. Thankfully Belkin hasn't done that here, but it has made some interesting choices. Unlike Logitech, Belkin has decided that the "tab" and "caps lock" keys are important enough for people to get their own dedicated buttons, but the the single and double quote mark keys aren't.
We have written this review on the Belkin FastFit Keyboard Case, often known in the industry as "dogfooding" (proving the product's use, but using to accomplish a real-world task). What's we've found, is that it's a little bit tricky. That sentence about dogfooding for example, didn't roll off our fingers as it would on a normal keyboard, instead we had to think about it, and for a moment actually stop to work out where all the keys we needed were.
If you are a touch typist, be prepared to be typing "L" a lot and hitting the return key. And that single quote key is now on a standalone button next to the spacebar, with the double quote being accessed via the function key and the comma.
The other key that doesn't work well for us is the delete key. We keep hitting a dedicated button for pairing the keyboard, which, with the iPad mini, doesn't really need to be there taking up valuable space, as you use it once and that's it.
Of course, as with any keyboard, there is some learning to do. However even after some time we are still mis-hitting those three keys, and switching from the MaxBook back to the Belkin didn't exactly help us get to grips with it either.
The build quality and physical attributes of the Belkin keyboard are good, but there are too many issues for us to wholeheartedly recommend it when it comes to typing, especially if you are a touch typist.
There is no doubting the technology, or the quality of the keys when you press them; they are responsive and comfortable. It's really the keyboard layout we have gripes with.
We got excited that there were dedicated "tab" and "caps lock" keys. Those two "centre" the keyboard better compared to the Logitech offerings, but we find ourselves pressing the return key all too often when it comes to typing apostrophes and quote marks. And that pairing key is just frustrating, when you want to delete. Admittedly that could just be our experience and you could be different, but over the course of our testing, typing on the Belkin FastFit Keyboard Case at times was very frustrating.
It's not just the rejigging of the keyboard layout though, Belkin has opted to heavily use the function key to access commonly used characters and that in itself is something you'll have to get used to.