With the increasing number of iPads we’re seeing in lounges and on planes, it’s no surprise that some people are turning to them as an in-flight alternative to a MacBook or even a MacBook Air.
Once you’re finished flipping through magazines and ebooks, watching with a video or conquering a few more levels on the latest game there’s still plenty of juice left in the iPad’s battery to work on a report or crunch some numbers.
And while you’re in the lounge it’s easy to connect to a wi-fi network and hammer out the emails much faster than if you were tapping away on the on-screen keypad.
(You can even scoot through security faster because the iPad isn’t classified as a laptop, so it can stay snug in your carry-on bag while everyone else is removing and replacing their notebooks.)
While Apple’s svelte Bluetooth wireless keyboard is great it’s also one more thing you have to pack. And because you’ll almost certainly get a protective case for your iPad, why not consider adding an integrated keyboard into the deal?
Australian iPad accessory firm PADACS offers two such keyboard/case combos – the $90 Toccata and the $110 Rubata. Australian Business Traveller took them both for a flight test. We found that while neither is perfect, they certainly enable faster typing and editing than using the iPad’s on-screen keypad.
Each model has a standard QWERTY keyboard build into the lower half of the case while the iPad itself leans back at a slight angle. The keyboard connects to the iPad via Bluetooth and establishing the wireless connection couldn’t be simpler: turn the keyboard on, press the Bluetooth button, tap through the iPad’s Settings > General > Bluetooth menu to ‘pair’ them and you're away.
Of course, these keyboards add some weight and bulk to your iPad and let you work only in landscape mode – a win for the Numbers spreadsheet app but less practical for word processing with the likes of Pages or Writer.
The Toccata’s soft silicon keyboard has quite a good feel. While it pleasingly packs a command key, an option key and a dedicated home button, its origins as a pint-tized PC keyboard are a little more apparent due to keys marked "Prt Sc" and "Del/Insert" that have no place in Apple’s world. Far more serious for experienced typists is the lack of a right-hand shift key.
The design of the case forces the iPad hard up against the keyboard, which was too close for my comfort and made it difficult to comfortably see the screen. If you can lean the iPad against the back seat in front of you, you can then fold the case back and the screen’s visibility is much better.
Cunningly, you can also bring the iPad forward by leaning the lower edge against the top number key row instead of the notched back of the keyboard, although this obscures the top row of function keys.
And for those times when you don’t need to type at all – if you just want to sit back and watch a movie – each row of the keyboard can be used as an iPad-propping ledge to afford a wide choice of stable viewing angles.
Purely as a case the Toccata is quite functional and not unattractive, although the synthetic leather’ material feels a little on the cheap side and the magnet holding the flap closed didn't inspire confidence.
Battery life is rated at 45 hours of use. The charging cable uses a still-rare micro-USB connector, so be sure not to lose it!
From time to time the Blueooth connectivity mysteriously failed, and while it usually recovered and sprang back to life I once had to manually re-pair it with the iPad.
Just a few tweaks could make this a very good keyboard-case combo, but I'm not giving up my right shift key habits just yet.
As you’d expect from the extra $20 on the price tag the Rubata is mostly an improvement over the Toccata.
The feel and placement of the keys is closer to a normal keyboard, including a right shift button. Extra function keys allow one-press access to slideshow mode, blanking the screen, select all plus copy, cut and paste.
The trade-off for having those extra keys is that all the keys are smaller in size and a little harder to hit accurately. (The Bluetooth pairing button is so tiny it’s hard to initially identify as a button at all.)
It's going to be a personal decision as to which will suit your typing style. For me the choice comes down to either making do without the right shift key and correct apostrophe placement, or mis-typing slightly more often. As my fingers were yet to adapt, I kept hitting the Rubata’s up arrow instead of the right shift – but at least it's there.
As with the Toccata, I found the typing position is uncomfortably close to the iPad unless you push the iPad away and lean it against something else. The Rubata’s quoted battery life is 72 hours. and like the Toccata it’s charged using a supplied micro-USB cable.
More problematic is that the fit and finish on the leather case leaves something to be desired. My iPad didn’t quite fit properly in the case, and as a result I found either the power button wasn't centred where it should be or the screen surround was pulled a little too tight to make it fit. I’d expect the leather would loosen up with time but these shortcomings do sully the initial experience.