Logitech FabricSkin Keyboard Folio for iPad review: intelligent fabric executive keyboard case with smart features

Logitech FabricSkin Keyboard Folio

Logitech has created some of the best iPad integrated keyboard and case options we've seen, and the Logitech FabricSkin Keyboard Folio for iPad is the most interesting yet. It's an executive-style folio case with a rubberized keyboard on the inside of the flap.

As its name suggests, the FabricSkin Keyboard folio has a keyboard that is integrated into the inside fabric of the case. So when you flip the case around you find a think full-size keyboard embedded into the case itself. With the iPad closed the keys sit on the inside of the case, but they're embedded into the fabric of the case so don't stick out.

During use the keyboard lays flat on a surface. Anybody who's familiar with the Microsoft Surface keyboard will be familiar with the idea of this integrated keyboard, and although we'll happily admit that the idea appeared on an Apple rival first, we're more than happy to see the idea working with iOS rather than disappearing into oblivion.

Logitech Fabric Skin Keyboard from the side

The case itself is a black folio style case, very similar to the recently reviewed QDOS Executive Folio. It's the sort of thing you'd be happy to pull out at a business meeting. The case encloses the iPad, with external buttons for volume, mute and so on and a gap for the charger and camera.

Where it gets clever is the integration with the magnets inside the iPad. The way the keyboard works is you lay the keyboard flap flat on a surface, and the iPad slides forward to the point just above the keys, where the magnets lock it into place. This serves as an effective vertical stand and keyboard combination. As an added touch there is a circular holder for a stylus.

The keys are made of rubber, so anyone with a long memory may be reminded of computers of yore. But the keys do have some but not much give in them (it's not a ZX81 or Spectrum style affair). It feels a little tighter than the Apple 'chiclet' keyboard but not much, and the keys have enough space to enable fast touch-typing. We managed to get up to speed on them. It's not as comfortable as the Apple Keyboard, mostly due to the flat surface, but it's certainly an effective keyboard.

Logitech FabricSkin Keyboard keys up close

It's clever too. As with all keyboards since the now discontinued Apple Keyboard Dock, the Keyboard Folio works via Bluetooth. The magnetic strip is used to turn on and off the Bluetooth keyboard, so it fires up when locked into place, and turns off when you disconnect the keyboard. 

The battery is charged via a separate Micro USB cable, which is one slight annoyance. We're sure there's little than Logitech could do to get around this given the iPad environment.

Above all else the Logitech FabricSkin Keyboard Folio is a neat solution for turning the iPad into a portable notebook-esque device with a decent integrated keyboard. It's actually the sort of netbook that many people wanted Apple to make, and we're not wholly sure what Steve Jobs would have made of this iPad with keyboard and stylus? He'd probably have used it to smash a nearby window.

But it's good, and it really works. The flat keyboard certainly takes some getting used to, it's not as tactile as a full-sized keyboard and although there is plenty of space between the keys there are still some differences (the lack of a dedicated Tab button, for instance, although the Fn and Q keys double up in this regard). But it is possible to attain a decent typing speed on the keyboard and it's certainly good enough to type out full documents with easy. This entire review was typed out using Byword on an iPad and the Logitech FabricSkin Keyboard Folio.

See: iPad Accessories

There is, however, an issue with the weight that needs to be addressed. The FabricSkin Keyboard Folio weighs in at 595g, which bulks out the iPad considerably. Given how skinny it looks in the photographs this came as something of a suprise. We inserted an iPad 3 into the FabricSkin Keyboard Folio and it weighed in at a almost 1.25kilos. That's almost twice as much as the iPad 3 itself, and slightly more than the 11-inch MacBook Air.

Then there's the price. At £129 it's twice as much as the £57 Apple Bluetooth Keyboard (see Apple Wireless Keyboard review). And there's no getting away from the fact that - nice as it is - the rubber keyboard is not as good as Apple's official keyboard. However, it is an integrated case and keyboard and that counts for a lot. We find the separation of the Apple Keyboard and iPad a barrier against using the iPad as a portable work device (which in many other areas it is increasingly functioning as a great alternative to the MacBook).

It's worth noting that Logitech also makes a cheaper variation just called the Keyboard Folio. This is £89 and is made from slightly different materials so it's bulkier, and heavier (coming in at 639 grams). This would take an iPad 4 with Cellular plus the keyboard to over 1.3kilos. We haven't tested this yet but reviews elsewhere suggest that this is too much bulk and weight. And as we've mentioned this combination is pushing it, somewhat. So there's more to the price discrepancy than just the quality of materials.

See also: Ultrathin Keyboard for iPad mini

It's also worth noting that you could pick up a Logitech Ultrathin keyboard for just £89 which is considerably lighter (at 355g) and has a better keyboard. Although this doesn't provide the same level of protection, and you have to detach the iPad from the keyboard to fit it in the stand. We prefer the arrangement here.

The separate Apple Keyboard and iPad option favoured by Apple seems to suffer from a "take two bottles into the shower" problem, in which although it's clearly not an issue to pack both an iPad and a keyboard into a bag, we typically don't. Carrying around an iPad and Apple Keyboard seems clumsy and cumbersome to us. Integration of features into a single device is important, and have a good keyboard integrated into the iPad case is a much more practical solution than a separate keyboard. It's also neatly balanced so you can comfortably use the Logitech Folio balanced on your lap.

We really do like the Logitech Keyboard Folio for iPad. It's comfortable to type on, and we can get up to speed on it; it's easy to use, has sturdy protection (did we mention the liquid repellent on the casing?) And it adds a much wanted feature to the iPad for a mobile worker: a keyboard that you can get up to speed with. Although there are other keyboard options about we think this is the smart one. The one with the innovation. This is the one that feels like a new kind of keyboard for a new kind of post-PC device. It's a shame that the case itself is so bulky (something to work on for the next version, perhaps) and the keyboard is 'weird' at first. But the more we used it, and the more the keyboard proved itself, the more we think this is a great iPad companion. It might not be the best keyboard you'll use, but it's a very smart case with a good functional iPad keyboard and it's neatly integrated into reasonably small package. We liked this a lot.

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OUR VERDICT

The Logitech FabricSkin Keyboard Folio is not without issues: there's the additional weight and there's the bulk that it adds. Then there is the not insubstantial price. And the psychological hurdle of moving to rubber keys. All of which conspire to prevent it from being perfect. But it remains the cleverest solution we've seen towards adding a keyboard to the iPad. And the iPad is fun to work on, in many instances a lot more fun than the MacBook Air. We think this is a great product.

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