Anyone who’s tried to use an iPad for serious writing knows that, without a physical keyboard, the task feels like an impossible chore. The virtual keyboard is great for firing off a text, email or quick note but there’s no substitute, especially for touch-typists, for a real keyboard. That’s a pain-point that Logitech has been trying to soothe with its recent line of iPad keyboards, and they’ve been doing a good job so far. Now, with the release of Logitech’s Solar Keyboard Folio for iPad, have they hit the “great” mark?
There are dozens of iPad keyboards on the market, and trust me, I’ve tried plenty. My favorite was the Zaggmate – a bluetooth keyboard that doubled as a hard-shelled iPad case. Logitech, if you’ll pardon the pun, quickly did the logical thing, and paired up with Zagg to produce their own branded line of keyboard/case combos. The new Solar Folio for iPad isn’t one of these partner products, but it’s obvious Logitech learned a lot from their relationship with Zagg as far as keyboard design and functionality goes.
The key feature of the Solar Folio is, as the name implies, the fact that it is powered by your friend and mine, The Sun. The back side of the folio features a set of small solar panels (about 8″ x 1″) that are protected by a plastic “skin”. These cells are constantly charging the keyboard, and, when fully charged, the keyboard’s battery is said to (by Logitech) last about two years if you’re typing for about two hours per day. Of course, you’ll probably never have to put that to the test, so long as there’s a decent amount of light in the room you’re in and the cells are visible, it’ll keep charging. For the especially paranoid, there’s a battery check button that causes a colored LED indicator to flash, giving you a quick visual idea of your battery’s charge level. I have yet to hit the “red = dead” light.
The keyboard itself is very nice, with island-style keys set in a standard configuration. There are a few iPad-specific function keys added for good measure. These let you quickly head to the search screen, change volume, and even copy & paste. The keys are responsive and offer enough tactile feedback to let you know that you’ve hit a key. While not quite as comfortable to use as the keyboard on the Logitech Aluminum iPad Keyboard Case, this keyboard is still certainly good enough to handle the needs of even the most finicky touch-typists.
Bluetooth pairing, usually one of the most painful issues with peripherals like this, is seamless. After the first pairing, you can easily re-connect to the keyboard by simply sliding the iPad into place in the folio. There’s a secondary locking position that puts the iPad at a more inclined angle for media viewing, and in this position, the few keys that are still available become media player controls for volume, fast-forward, rewind, etc.
One other positive in the Solar Folio’s favor is that it acts as a Smart Cover, so when you close it up, the iPad is put into standby. This conserves battery power, allowing you to leave bluetooth enabled and not have to worry that the battery will be drained the next time you open the case.
If there’s a flaw in the whole design, it’s got to be in the folio cover materials themselves, which feel flimsy, and “floppy.” The folio is fine whenever you’re using it in the keyboard/media player position, but if you’re trying to use your iPad in a portrait orientation, there’s no really comfortable setup for the folio. The best one I found left you with the keyboard exposed on the back side, which made reading ebooks an uncomfortable proposition.
The materials used to craft the folio, while not low-grade by any means, should be re-thought for a product demanding $130 of your hard-earned cash. The main body is a sort of faux-leather/suede, while the solar panels are protected by a pliable clear plastic that feels like it’s going to get scratched easily, or worse, punctured, at some point. While neither happened in testing, it still makes you very careful whenever you lay the folio down on a desk. It seems that at least the plastic that protects the solar panels should be thicker and more rigid.
The last complaint, and while it’s a minor one, it can get annoying, is the position of the battery. The battery, which is a long cylinder, is placed internally just alongside the “spine” of the folio, which, if you’re closing the folio in a hurry, can get in the way and force you to take a few extra seconds to adjust everything to fit.
Even with those faults, the Logitech Solar Folio is a great choice if you’re looking for a keyboard option for your iPad (2 or 3). While I prefer the actual keyboard in my Logitech/Zagg Keyboard Case, I find myself keeping my iPad in the Solar Case 90% of the time.
Final Score: 4/5