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Circuit Breaker

This iPad mini keyboard makes for a surprisingly great tiny laptop

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You could do much worse than the Zagg Folio

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Although I’m a connoisseur of iPad keyboards and a fan of the new iPad mini 5, I never really felt much desire for the two to cross over. What I like most about the iPad mini is that its size encourages you to use it in an unambitious way, without aspirations to replace your laptop.

Zagg’s new $99.99 Folio keyboard case has changed my mind a little. It’s not the greatest keyboard in the world, which won’t come as a surprise. But if you ever find yourself in situations where you are using an iPad mini as your only computer, it’s actually pretty good.

Keyboard cases for other iPad models all have the same obvious problem: the tablet has to be propped up at a viewing angle somehow. Solutions range from Apple’s complicated origami folios to Brydge’s laptop-style hinges; Zagg’s own approach to the iPad Pro involves a bulky, kickstand-equipped case with a thin keyboard that attaches magnetically. All of these designs have their tradeoffs.

In the case of the iPad mini, though, the solution is pretty simple. The tablet is small and light enough that it can be placed into a clamshell-style case and used at a variety of angles without tipping over, no kickstand required. That’s what Zagg has done here with the Folio, and the result is a really neat, tiny laptop.

The case is made of lightweight plastic with a fabric finish. It doesn’t feel cheap, exactly, but I wouldn’t describe it as premium either. The most important thing is that it doesn’t add much bulk to the iPad mini. The resulting combination is about the same size and weight as a hardback notebook, and you can toss it into just about any bag no problem. It’s also very easy to take the iPad in and out of the case, which I’ve often found to be a pain point with similar products for larger iPads, including those from Zagg. I mostly use the iPad mini one-handed in portrait mode, so this would have been a dealbreaker.

Now, obviously the keys are pretty cramped, and sacrifices had to be made in the layout. The area I found it hardest to get used to is to the right of the keyboard, where a half-sized ‘ key sits between full-sized (for this keyboard, at least) ; and enter keys. Typing words with apostrophes takes a little practice. But the keys themselves feel fine, and the typing experience is much better than using the on-screen keyboard. Together with the adjustable RGB backlighting, this actually might be my first choice for tray-table typing on a flight.

There are a couple of other design quirks I should note. The case makes it a little awkward to press the sleep/wake button, though opening the keyboard up wakes the iPad, and you will of course probably want to unlock it with Touch ID anyway. The iPad’s slim side bezels also mean that the hinge gets in the way of the slide-up gesture for the dock — there’s a dedicated multitasking button on the function row, however, which I liked as a substitute.

My biggest complaint is really just that the Folio charges over Micro USB. Zagg does, however claim a somewhat implausible two full years of battery life, so at least that hassle should be infrequent.

I love tiny computers, and the Zagg Folio turns the iPad mini into a great one. This isn’t a product I’d use every week or even every month, but I would happily take this along with me whenever I’m traveling light and when my iPad Pro would be overkill.

It’s kind of surprising that Apple revived the iPad mini at all this year. The product is clearly pretty niche — just look at the new mainstream 10.2-inch iPad, which costs $70 less and has a much bigger screen. But if you did buy an iPad mini in 2019, you probably love it. And if you do actually want to type on it, you could do a lot worse than the Zagg Folio.