When I got my iPad one of the first things I did, and I am sure you did as well, is look at what accessories I was going to buy. On the list were a Case, the Camera Connection Kit and some kind of stand or dock. I have always struggled with whether I wanted a dock / stand as I was never really sure what I wanted and what I wanted it to do. So when Apple offered to send us the iPad Keyboard Dock for review I jumped at the chance to see if it would meet my requirements. Continue reading to see my thoughts and first impressions of the latest Apple accessory.
As expected, the Keyboard Dock comes in the usual minimalistic packaging that you would expect from Apple and pretty much all that is in the box is the dock (although I am not sure what else would be in there).
The first thing I noticed about the dock is its size and shape. It’s not huge and not particularly weighty but this certainly isn’t a portable option and that’s mainly because of it’s shape. The combination of keyboard and dock makes it awkward to take out and about and you can’t just slip it into a laptop case and take it with you, instead it’s something you would have sat on your office desk or in the study at home and which you would use when you needed to write up a document.
On the back you have a dock connector and line-out for audio. The line-out is an interesting one in that the volume buttons on the keyboard and on the iPad no longer work when you have speakers plugged in. The mute button on the keyboard and iPad continue to work but it’s up to the speakers to control the volume. This will either be something you don’t mind or really hate. Personally I really hate it… I don’t want to have to reach for my speakers or remote to turn down the audio,I want to use the purposely placed buttons on the keyboard. The audio quality seems fine and the level is set mid-way when plugged in. I’m no audiophile but as I say, to me the quality that comes out is perfectly acceptable.
I also wouldn’t use it as a stand for every-day use and what I mean by that is I wouldn’t use it just showing off my iPad or viewing slide shows. You could, but it just doesn’t look right. This to me is an office accessory and not a ‘home’ accessory.
Two big issues with the dock exist for me; firstly there’s the fact that the gap between the dock connector and the back rest is perfectly formed for a naked iPad. This means that you can’t use a case, which for me means I have to take it out of it’s hard shell anytime I want to use it. Not even Apple’s own iPad case fits. To be fair, Apple do this with all their docks: the iPhone docks (all generations) and the normal iPad dock are the same. Although we should have known this would be the case I wish Apple would come up with a way that you could you their docks with a thin case.
The next big one for me is you can only use your iPad vertically when using the dock. I could kind of see their thinking with this if their thinking is that it is an office tool and nothing else. But slideshows look best in widescreen and it has a specific button for this function. Having said that, in my opinion, it’s the dock part of the design at fault here, after all the dock with no keybaord is the same design (less the keyboard) and that wouldn’t necessarily be used in an office environment. Apple should have come up with a way to connect the iPad and allow you to rotate it. Simple.
The keyboard itself is typical of Apple’s small aluminum keyboard that comes with their iMacs. They have the same tactile feel and in my opinion are probably some of the best keyboards around.
There are a number of new keys on the keyboard and seemingly only one missing one – the fn key. The new ones replace all the old fn keys (F1, F2, F3 etc), there’s a home key, search key and a lock key (which immediately locks the iPad with a tap and tap it again to unlock). You can adjust brightness, skip between songs in the iPod app, adjust/mute volume, bring up the virtual keyboard and as I said earlier there’s even a button to quickly activate the photo slideshow. It also has a blank button which has no function. It is unclear if this will ever be able to be used for anything, but is certainly a strange inclusion.
So how does the keyboard perform in every day use? Well it does in fact work very well, but it can be very ‘quirky’. I struggled with switching between using the keyboard and tapping the screen on the iPad and kept finding myself reaching for a non-existant mouse. It has arrow keys on the keypad and I had hoped that you’d be able to arrow your way around the apps and press another button to launch your chosen app (perhaps that blank key?)
Writing emails, Tweets, Pages documents or articles for the site is a breeze on the iPad with the Keyboard dock… not that it was hard with the on-screen keyboard, but this dock makes it just that much easier. There are some usual typing conventions that do seem to be missing, such as the ability to ‘command-b’ to make something bold or ‘command-i’ for italics in the iWork apps, but others that are there such as cut, copy and paste (‘command-x’, ‘command-c’, and ‘command-v’) work in some iPad apps (including iWork).
Overall I do like the Keyboard dock. As I said before it will sit in the office and only really get used whilst I am in there… the thing with this is I have my Macbook in the office so you may ask why would you bother with it? Well I guess if I had started writing something in pages whilst I was out and wanted to finish it or just continue writing it when I got back to the office then this is when it would get used. It kind of turns your iPad into a secondary (albeit it limited) machine in the office. I use it to write articles for the site, so that when I go out I have a local copy on my iPad.
There is one other situation in which I can see this being particularly useful, and that’s in using the iPad as a very basic ‘actual’ computer for somebody. I’m thinking in particular of people who just don’t ‘get’ using traditional computers with Windows or even Mac OS X, but who would still like to be able to send emails and look at the internet. This actually turns the iPad into a kind of ‘iMac Lite’, allowing people to just do the tasks they want to do without worrying about things like file systems, settings and other conventions that are effectively done for you on the iPad.
At $121 it does seem pricey. You could get yourself the Apple Wireless Keyboard and a separate stand, be able to view your iPad in widescreen and use the keyboard with other devices for just $20.00 more.
Got the Keyboard Dock already? Let us know what you think of it in the comments below.