With the release of the iPad mini, a race started among accessory manufacturers to get keyboards out for the thing as quick as possible. Most of the brand name manufacturers have been blatantly ignoring other ~7-inch devices for years, but as is typical, an Apple product is an Apple product. So far, we haven’t seen many such keyboards actually be released, and that has lead the ZAGGkeys mini 7 to more or less become the go-to keyboard for those who want a keyboard the same size as the device. Because the ZAGGkeys mini is a $90 device, I instead decided to wait and see if I could find something that was priced a bit better, and a couple of weeks ago such a keyboard appeared on the Chinese OEM resale site DealExtreme. At $25.80 shipped worldwide, it’s in a whole different class as far as price goes, but does that mean it’s garbage?
The “59-Key Bluetooth v3.0 Keyboard w/ Stand for iPad Mini” (now I know what product names are for!) uses a keyboard style we’ve seen on a lot of products since the initial release of the iPad. It’s designed to actually store the iPad mini with the screen facing inwards while in transport, and to do this it has three clamps and four soft pads on the top to allow you to just clip on the mini.
The back of the keyboard is actually aluminum, and as such, it looks and feels pretty good- and pretty stock- when the iPad mini is in the holder. This also serves to give the keyboard a “lid” when not in use, and most of its features are hidden underneath the iPad in this state.
Once you remove the mini, the keyboard becomes accessible, along with an don/off switch, pairing button, fold-out stand, and a grove that’s used for standing the mini up when used with the keyboard. I’ve seen many iPad mini keyboards appear on DealExtreme over the last couple of months, but the reason I picked this one is that it actually has real, separate, proper plastic buttons. You might then ask “well, what else would it have?” Well, a lot of cheap keyboards have a single rubber surface across the entire keyboard, with each key just being raised rubber keys. An example of such a keyboard can be seen here. This keyboard, however, has proper keys, and they’re arranged in a chiclet-style layout where each key is physically separated from the others with a bit of plastic. I like such keyboards, and it’s a style you normally find in a lot more expensive keyboards.
As for the keys themselves, everything is of surprisingly high quality. I’ve not had a key get stuck, everything is smooth, and you’d frankly think this is a much more expensive keyboard when you use it. It is however significantly smaller than a standard keyboard, a necessary evil to make it the same dimensions as the iPad mini.
The stand that’s built into the keyboard is comprised of a pop-up back stand and a slot for sliding the mini into. The pop-up stand was actually broken on the unit I received, with a critical plastic piece being broken off, but I fixed it very easily. There’s a lock switch on the side of the keyboard, and when this is disengaged, springs flip open and extend a two-position back stand. You then slot your iPad into the slot, rest it against the pop-up stand, and type away. This works pretty well, though it’s definitely designed for a naked iPad, not one with a case- but that’s true for the whole “clip onto your iPad when not in use”-design as well.
That leaves the charging port, which is located on the side of the keyboard, along the same side as the lock switch for the stand. It’s a standard microUSB port, so you can charge it either with the included microUSB cable, or just any cable or charger you have. The electronics in this keyboard are flat enough to hide away inside the top part of the keyboard, ensuring that no part of the keyboard sticks out and ruins the flat nature of it.
Pairing the keyboard is done how you normally pair a Bluetooth keyboard: Hold down the connect button until something starts blinking, tap it in your Bluetooth device list, and enter the code shown on the screen on the keyboard. From there on out it will reconnect automatically when turned on.
The keyboard has an English layout, which means that if you- like me- use another language (or multiple languages) for your iPad keyboard, you need to switch to English before connecting in order for the keys to do what they say. You can also do it from one of the function keys, as the number row doubles as a row of iPad-specific function keys. You have home, brightness, slideshow, search, language. media controls, volume controls, and screen lock.
Speaking of the keys, the layout takes a bit getting used to, as a lot of compromises had to be made to fit everything into such a small area. The biggest annoyance for me is the location of the apostrophe and backspace keys, the former being hidden as a function key, and the latter being located below the last key in the number row- making me hit the + button instead of backspace. There’s also an issue with the backspace key being blocked by the plastic clip that’s there for grabbing onto the iPad when not in use, but I’ll get to that issue in a bit.
Typing-wise, it takes some getting used to a keyboard this cramped. That’s an unavoidable with a keyboard this small, but I think that there’s potential for making the main keys bigger on this particular layout. There’s quite a bit of space on either side of the keyboard, and the tab, caps lock, and shift keys could have been smaller to make the actual letter keys larger. Even if they were, you’d still have to get used to the smaller keyboard. I’m not sure if I’ll end up using this or just bring my much larger Apple Bluetooth keyboard, but I will say that even a small keyboard like this is still a massive improvement over on-screen typing. The low price of the keyboard also seems to have absolutely no effect on the quality of it, as it feels like a very high quality keyboard in use. Small, but high quality.
Modifying it to remove the clips
Since I’ll be using this with my case-equipped mini, and since one of the plastic clips is outright in the way of the space key, I quickly decided to simply get rid of that part of the keyboard. A few minutes and a Dremel cutting disc later, and the plastic clips were gone. I also frankly prefer the Smart Cover as a stand over the one built into the keyboard, so I’ll likely use this keyboard in the configuration you see below.
At $25.80, this keyboard is nothing short of an amazing value. It’s less than a third of the price of the ZAGGkeys mini, and I very highly doubt that the ZAGGkeys is more than three times as good. The plastic clips are sort of in the way, they limit how the keyboard can be used, and the broken bit of plastic on the stand makes me wonder about the quality of the pop-up stand, but those are frankly minor annoyance when you consider what you’re getting for the price: A proper keyboard in an aluminum case, thin and light, the size of the iPad mini, and at a price that’s the very definition of reasonable. If you have an iPad mini, this is definitely a buy you should consider. You can grab it from DealExtreme for $25.80 shipped worldwide.