Logitech Solar iPad KB Folio
Never needs batteries ever, great key travel and feel, Good quality materials and smart on/off detection.
Solar cells face away from light during most usage scenarios, case not rigid, pricey.
Having recently reviewed Logitech’s excellent Ultrathin iPad keyboard case, I was very keen to also try the new solar-powered option. Rather than make a thicker version of the ultra thin just with a solar cells, Logitech designers have crafted a totally different product that eschews the metal backing of the Ultrathin for soft rubber and faux-leather materials in a folio design that does provide more comprehensive all round protection for your $800+ investment. This change to a folio means that not only is the screen protected, but also the iPads back and sides, which not only sit within a rubber frame (which grips well except for being a little loose around the dock connector area), but are also covered by the sot, micro-fibre lined backing.
No doubt the lighter materials that the Solar Folio is constructed of help reduce weight to make room for the solar cell and larger battery that the case encapsulates. This does have the downside however of making the case less rigid than some. The clever rubber ‘pegs’ that sit at the base of the iPad frame and slot either side of the keyboard do help with this issue however.
These pegs are also worth mentioning as there is actually two sets of slots – one behind the keyboard for regular typing, and one toward the front that angles the screen at about 40 degrees. This is intended to be suitable for movie and media playback and leaves the front keys (ctrl, option, spacebar, arrows etc) exposed and available to be used in their secondary media-playback mode. In practice the angle works some of the time; perhaps an extra set or two of peg notches next to the keyboard would provide welcome additional screen angle options. These pegs also utilise some form of magic (or magnets) to provide one other advantage in that the keyboard only works when the pegs are slotted. This means you can fold the cover back around and use the iPad normally without having any inadvertent key presses effect what you are doing.
However, you didn’t come here primarily to read about the construction of the case or its screen angles – the big marquee feature of this case is its solar cells. I was at first concerned that as the solar cell sits under the case and thus flat against the desk etc when open and in use, the keyboard would receive no light and thus deplete fairly quickly. However, Logitech claims that after an initial 6 hour charge, the keyboard can be used for 2 hours a day for 2 years even if it sees no other light. This is a little hard to test during the week or so I’ve had the case, but I can confirm that after using it for a week where for 90 percent of the time its been either A. open and this blocking the cells, or B. stowed in my bag it has paired and begun working practically straight away every time. This ‘one-less-thing-to-charge’ convenience does come at the cost of some additional weight.
As for the keyboard itself, does it perform well enough to help make the iPad a laptop replacement? Lets face it, no one is expecting it to be as good as a wider and thicker laptop or desktop keyboard, but if it doesn’t at least come close, then why not stick with the touchscreen? One of the hallmarks of the aforementioned Ultrathin from Logitech is that it provides a relatively comparable experience (albeit in a smaller size) to full size keyboards, and fortunately the Solar Folio is also very good. The keys press down just enough and with the right resistance to eliminate the random presses (or even worse, the ignored-presses) of the many cheap rubber-keyed tablet cases I’ve tried in the past. The only area where its not quite up to the Ultrathin is in the feel of the matte plastic keys. Not sure why but I prefer the glossier feel of the Ultrathin ones.
Perhaps the final point of consideration for potential buyers is that the Solar Folio does command a $50 premium over the Logitech Ultrathin (I believe in the USA the difference is only US$30). Whether the extra folio protection and convenience of the solar charging is worth that much extra I leave for you to decide. For myself, its probably too much.
Macworld Australia’s buying advice
If you need a decent folio-style case and are planning to use the iPad as your sole computer for extended periods away from power sources, or just hate the idea of remembering to pack an extra cable, or just feel silly re-charging a case, this is by far the best (but perhaps also the most pricey) option on the market.