There was a time when tablets were tablets and desktop PCs were desktop PCs, with no middle ground between them. Today, there’re a slew of accessories that can help a slate tablet do a pretty good imitation of a desktop computer, complete with a keyboard. Small and well-designed, Apple’s $69 iPad Keyboard Dock can turn any iPad into a desktop typing machine.
Overall, the silver and white keyboard is as beautifully designed and functional as the iPad itself and looks great with it. The dock works with both generations of hardware. It has a rubberized base and a Dock connector pointing straight up, but the keyboard is integrated that it can’t be moved away from the dock.
The dock points the camera of the iPad2 at the user, although there’s no way to adjust the height or angle of the screen; it sits at a comfortable 65-degrees. In the back is a line-out port for driving a set of speakers as well as another Dock connector for powering the system, connecting a digital camera or linking it with a projector.
There’s no extra software to load and the keyboard installs instantly. Just slide the iPad into place and that’s it, you’re ready to start working with the keyboard. When you’re done, grab the slate and go.
With the iPad docked, both the keyboard and touch screen are active. The system’s 19.5mm keys have a depth of 1.5mm, which is a little skimpy, but typing feels much more natural than using the on-screen keyboard. On the downside, when typing gets intense, the base wobbles as you hit the keys, particularly when striking those in the upper corners.
The keyboard has 76 keys white keys with black lettering, including specialty ones for multimedia, adjusting the iPad’s brightness, search, replicating the pad’s Home button, starting a slide show of images and locking the system’s screen. I really like the inclusion of volume up, down and a mute button, which should be required in any school setting. Oddly, there’s a blank key in the center of the top row that’s ready for some future use.
While the integration between the pad and keyboard is generally excellent, there are a few missed opportunities. First, the right and left arrow keys don’t move you through the pages of the iPad’s application icons. Plus, the up and down arrows don’t let you zip through a Web page.
The whole thing takes up only 7.5- by 11inches of precious desktop space, a small fraction of that eaten up by a full desktop PC. Unfortunately, the keyboard dock has neither a touch pad nor provision to connect a mouse. You have to touch the screen to manipulate its icons and software.
Plus, because of the placement of the docking connector, the iPad only fits into the dock vertically. In other words, you have a tall narrow screen to work with, the opposite of what just about every other computer offers. It works well for going through Web pages and most writing tasks, but is second best when you want the horizontal orientation, such as for viewing videos, creating or displaying presentations or working with images. For instance, you’re limited to a 6.75-inch diagonal image when watching YouTube videos rather than 9.25-inches in horizontal mode.
A must-have accessory for a school full of iPads, the $69 Keyboard Dock is a bargain that can turn any iPad into the equivalent of a desktop computer, ready for teaching and learning.
Apple iPad Keyboard Dock
+ Beautiful, small design
+ Good integration with iPad
+ Line-out audio plug
+ Touch screen remains active with keyboard
- No touchpad or mouse
- Only works in portrait mode