Image source: MacAllyI’ve tested a slew of iPad keyboards, but they’ve all had one thing in common: They connect to your iPad wirelessly using Bluetooth. MacAlly’s $50 iKey30 breaks that streak. This model foregoes Bluetooth in favor of a wired connection, connecting to your iPad via a 33-inch dock-connector cable. The iKey30 also works with the iPhone 3G or later, as well as the second-generation-or-later iPod touch.
Like most of the standalone (non-case) iPad keyboards out there, the iKey30 is a full-size keyboard with standard-size keys. At 12.3 inches wide, 4.6 inches front to back, and just over half an inch thick at its thickest point, it’s wider but otherwise smaller than Apple’s Wireless Keyboard and the excellent Logitech Tablet Keyboard for iPad and Targus Bluetooth Keyboard for iPad. At 9.8 ounces, it’s also one of the lightest iPad keyboards out there, yet it feels fairly solid. The rear of the keyboard is a bit thicker than the front, giving the iKey30 a slight incline, and a pair of flip-out legs in the rear let you raise the back edge an additional quarter of an inch.
The iKey30 provides more keys than any other iPad keyboard I’ve seen. It starts, commendably, with a full complement of standard keys in their standard locations. In place of F-keys (F1, F2, and so on), the iKey30 hosts a row of 17 keys that provide a mix of iPad-specific special functions and a few commonly used characters: Home, Spotlight, €, £, ¥, toggle slideshow, toggle onscreen keyboard, previous, play/pause, next, mute, volume down, volume up, undo, redo, take screenshot, and lock/unlock. One of my favorite features is that, like the F-key row of a good desktop keyboard, the iKey30′s row of special keys is organized in four-key pods (with the Home key on its own at the left end), making it easier for touch typists to use these keys without having to look at the keyboard.
In addition to this row of special keys, down the right-hand edge of the keyboard are dedicated keys for .com, .net, .org, and .biz; and in the bottom-left corner, to the left of Control, is a key for cycling through enabled languages. Taken together, the iKey30 offers an impressive array of keys, easily besting other iPad keyboards in this department. The only common keys it omits are controls for adjusting the iPad’s screen brightness.
The iKey30′s keys themselves are low-profile, laptop-style, scissor-switch keys. These flat-topped keys are full size and easy to type on, but they’re a bit soft-while they’re considerably better than the mushy keys on many folio-style keyboard cases, they’re not as good as the keys on Apple’s Wireless Keyboard or Logitech’s Tablet Keyboard. And I occasionally found that I didn’t press particular keys firmly enough, leading to unexpected results. This was most frequently the case with the Command key when using standard text-editing keyboard shortcuts.
Unlike Bluetooth keyboards, the iKey30 doesn’t require batteries-it gets power from your iPad’s dock-connector port. Over several weeks of testing the iKey30, I didn’t notice my iPad draining its battery any faster than when I used a Bluetooth keyboard. There’s also no setup or pairing process. You simply connect the keyboard’s cable to the iPad and start typing. A blue LED above the Redo key flashes several times to confirm the connection. (The iKey30 also has a caps-lock LED, as well as a third LED that glows when your iPad’s battery gets low.)
Image source: MacAllyIn addition to this simple connection procedure, a major benefit of the iKey30′s wired connection is that you can use the keyboard in places where wireless connections are prohibited. For example, you can use it on a plane during a flight-the iKey30 works when your iPad is in Airplane Mode. And if you’re in an area with heavy wireless interference, you avoid connection and performance problems.
There are, of course, some downsides to this Bluetooth-free approach. The first is that you can’t charge or sync your iPad, or use it with any of Apple’s video-out cables, while using the keyboard, since the keyboard’s cable monopolizes the iPad’s dock-connector port. Another is that when using a case or stand to prop up the iPad while typing, the bottom of the iPad must be elevated off the desktop or table enough to accommodate the iKey30′s cable and plug (or, alternatively, you must orient the iPad with its dock-connector port on top or to either side).
Speaking of stands, the iKey30 includes a companion travel stand. Weighing in at only half an ounce, it’s a thin piece of white plastic that folds in half to lay flat for travel. Unfold it into a V shape, and two pairs of grooves let you prop the iPad in either landscape or portrait orientation. In practice, the grooves that hold the iPad more upright can be used for either orientation; the more-reclined angle provided by the other pair makes the iPad too unstable in portrait orientation. Also, when in portrait orientation, the stand works better if you place the iPad with the dock-connector port at the top-there’s not a lot of room at the bottom for the keyboard’s plug and cable.
Macworld’s buying advice
The iKey30 offers an impressive array of full-size, standard-layout keys. The feel of those keys isn’t the best on the market, but they’re still pretty good. By forgoing Bluetooth, the iKey30 is in some ways less convenient than a wireless keyboard, but it’s still small and light enough for travel, and you can use it in places-such as on a plane-where you can’t normally use a wireless model. And with current street prices as low as $42, the iKey30 one of the least-expensive quality keyboards for the iPad.