Get the Lowest Prices anywhere on Macs, iPads and Apple Watches: Apple Price Guides updated December 12th
 

 
Review

Review: ClamCase Pro for iPad Air

ClamCase for iPad Air is a simple but well-implemented product that takes Apple's tablet one step closer to being a productivity machine and, for some, a viable ultra-portable laptop replacement.




Made out of aluminum, polycarbonate, and a hinge with a soft-touch finish for better grip, the ClamCase is one of the best iPad keyboards we've tried. For $169, the price of entry may seem steep for what amounts to an accessory, but it gets many details right where competing products fail.

Design



The keys, oh yes, the keys.

Normally, we're skeptical of reduced-key-size keyboards. We hate netbook keyboards. We struggle with iPad mini-sized keyboards as we don't fancy using two index fingers to hunt and peck for keys.




With the ClamCase, however, a generous key pitch lets us to type quickly and comfortably without making a huge amount of errors. This is more than we can say for almost all other keyboard add-ons on the market.

The key size is actually slightly taller than an ASUS netbook, but slightly narrower. In theory, we should be having difficulty punching out text, but we're not. The vertical size of the key compares favorably with to Apple's latest MacBook Air, and we're able to type without effort.

Key feel is also similar to the Air, but perhaps ever so slightly more mushy. After finishing the first draft of this review on the ClamCase, we didn't feel finger fatigue usually resulting from typing on sub-par equipment. The experience is quite nice.

The only quibble we had was with a little keyboard noise. While typing, the keys rattle a bit more than those on a MacBook Air, particularly the space bar.




The ClamCase has all the right holes in all the right places, allowing headphone, lightning, microphones, and cameras to be used while in the case-with one exception: ClamCase doesn't allow you to use the mute/orientation lock switch on iPad Air. It also has a magnet embedded in its palm rest to put the iPad to sleep when the case is closed. The aluminum base of the keyboard has rubber feet, like a laptop.




ClamCase's designers took care to make sure that all the right design touches are in place - the color of the gray ink for the "ClamCase Pro" labeling, the lightning bolt for the MicroUSB charging port, the "on" and "off" labels, all look like what you'd expect for an accessory designed to follow Mac design conventions for an iPad, right down to the use of a white LED for pairing and battery level rather than a blue LED as most Bluetooth products have.

As an aside, the packaging mimics that of a MacBook Air as well. It has a black plastic thermoform that holds the ClamCase, it has a thin foam sheet between keyboard and case, it has a recess for the charging cable, and a black paper holder containing the user guide. From the moment you open the box, it feels like care has been taken with all the details.

The attention to detail here deserves praise.

Setup



To insert the iPad Air into the ClamCase, you hold the iPad in landscape orientation, inserting the side edge down towards the case's hinge. Then, snap the iPad into the case top of the laptop-like frame. There are arrows molded into the polycarbonate to help you do it correctly.




The hinge for ClamCase allows the iPad Air to act like a laptop, or fold back on itself to act like a very thick slate. The hinge has four stopping points:

  1. Closed.
  2. In laptop position, there's a hard detent that keeps the angle very firm between keyboard and iPad.
  3. Laying flat, wide open.
  4. Folded back on itself, so that the keyboard is on the backside and the screen facing the user.

It's possible to adjust the screen at any point between these hard stops as the hinge is very firm, so it's possible to always find a comfortable viewing angle. This is quite good compared to some laptops we've owned, where picking an open laptop up by the keyboard can allow the screen to flop a little.




Bluetooth pairing happened quickly and we noticed minimal lag only once, where the first word appeared slightly after we began a sentence. After that, lag was imperceptible.

More than that, the hinge actually turns off the Bluetooth connection when you fold the screen to the flat orientation. This is helpful so that you can switch between orientations and not end up accidentally typing with a keyboard you can't see, folded on the back of the tablet.

Charging is accomplished by MicroUSB, and while we dislike MicroUSB, ClamCase has done an excellent job here. The enclosure surrounding the port hides any visibility of the metal shell of the connector, an area where most manufacturers sloppily allow it to be seen. This type of design also helps protect the small port and the contacts within.




The keyboard has a full complement of iOS-specific keys, including Home, Spotlight, Cut/Copy/Paste, Siri, and the on-screen keyboard reveal/hide. It has a key for pairing, a key for battery status, and the usual media and volume keys we have come to expect.

The hinge

At first, we weren't entirely comfortable with the feel of the hinge. The hinge feels fine for the laptop-like position, but it felt like it takes a lot of force to bend the ClamCase into tablet mode. It's a disconcerting feeling the first time, but seems to work just fine.




We also aren't convinced we like the method chosen for displaying ClamCase's remaining battery life. It uses a single LED above the "Lock" key, which flashes to display fuel gauge status when the "battery" key is pressed. The manual is more instructive: 4 flashes is 75%-100% full, 3 flashes, 50-75%, 2 flashes, 25-50%, 1 flash 0-25% remaining.

Charging status is easier to understand - the white LED will turn green when the keyboard is fully charged. Because this is a Bluetooth device, we would have preferred battery levels to be displayed in the iOS status bar the way some Bluetooth headsets display their battery status.

Conclusion



If you're looking to turn an iPad into a laptop-like device, the ClamCase is quite possibly the best option around. As the number of apps with hardware keyboard support increases every day, so does the iPad's utility as a productivity device; that is if you don't mind lifting your hands from the keyboard to touch the screen from time to time.




The attention to detail around ClamCase's power switch, charging port, and the choice to make the keys taller (easier to type on in our experience) make it our new keyboard of choice, especially if you require a laptop form factor. The only better keyboards we've experienced are products with full-size keys, and those don't match the laptop form factor ClamCase for iPad Air so successfully achieves.

Score: 4 out of 5





Pros:

  • Easier to type on than other iPad-sized keyboards
  • Mimics the MacBook Air design language in the best way possible
  • Attention to detail around the power switch, charge port, and silkscreen details


Cons:

  • Hinge feel for conversion to tablet mode is rigid
  • Lack of on-screen battery status


Where to Buy



The ClamCase Pro iPad Keyboard Case for iPad Air sells for $169 from Amazon B&H Photo or through ClamCase's website.