Review: ClamCase Pro for iPad Air

Posted:
in iPad edited July 2015
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

image

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.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 46
    [@]Relic[/@] - so what are your impressions? Have you received yours yet?
  • Reply 2 of 46
    quadra 610quadra 610 Posts: 6,729member
    The iPad already *is* a "productivity machine."

    The clamshell case simply helps to facilitate productivity.
  • Reply 3 of 46
    appexappex Posts: 687member
    Just get a MacBook Air!
  • Reply 4 of 46
    appex wrote: »
    Just get a MacBook Air!

    For the price it's pretty close. I picked up a first gen MBA for $199 on eBay a few months back. Granted, a brand new OWC battery took me to $299 in the end, but it's a great machine to use for long writing projects.

    Now, if it was an iPad Pro in question, where the increase in screen size would also correspond to an increase in keyboard size, that's another matter, and I'd probably get a keyboard cass.
  • Reply 5 of 46
    tzeshantzeshan Posts: 1,589member
    As I suggested previously, Apple need to provide mouse support in iOS 9 to make this keyboard really useful..
  • Reply 6 of 46
    tzeshan wrote: »
    As I suggested previously, Apple need to provide mouse support in iOS 9 to make this keyboard really useful..

    Why would you want a mouse? A mouse would be pointless in iOS.
  • Reply 7 of 46
    appex wrote: »
    Just get a MacBook Air!

    I thought the same thing. As soon as the MBA gets a retina display and a 10-hour battery, I'd switch.
  • Reply 8 of 46
    tzeshan wrote: »
    As I suggested previously, Apple need to provide mouse support in iOS 9 to make this keyboard really useful..

    Apple agrees. That's why they make the MacBook Air with full mouse support. The mouse is sold separately, though. :( But, did you know that the MacBook Air comes with a built-in touchpad? It can be used like a mouse. A lot of PC users have very wrong assumption about Apple products, so just trying to help clear the Air (pun intended), so to speak. Unlike Microsoft, Apple doesn't believe that a hybrid truck-car is better than a car or a truck. If you want a confused tablet-laptop hybrid, Microsoft has what you want.
  • Reply 9 of 46
    Apple agrees. That's why they make the MacBook Air with full mouse support. The mouse is sold separately, though. :( But, did you know that the MacBook Air comes with a built-in touchpad? It can be used like a mouse. A lot of PC users have very wrong assumption about Apple products, so just trying to help clear the Air (pun intended), so to speak. Unlike Microsoft, Apple doesn't believe that a hybrid truck-car is better than a car or a truck. If you want a confused tablet-laptop hybrid, Microsoft has what you want.

    So you're saying the Surface is like this:

    1000
  • Reply 10 of 46
    i bought the logitech keyboard cover and the main issue i have with it is that you still have to touch the iPad to send an email...there's no way to create a trackpad type effect. it's just sort of clumsy. i might as well simply hold the iPad or lay it flat. these covers need to somehow incorporate a mini trackpad of some sort.

    i never use my iPad for anything other than reading. as another comment noted...i use my macbook air for anything of consequence...also because creative suite simply doesn't exist as an iOS option and i need the sophistication.

    but it seems for those people that don't have a macbook air or don't travel with it...a more highly functioning keyboard/case for the air is really the only reason for its existence. otherwise you might as well travel with a macbook air. adding a case with any weight and thickness defeats the entire purpose IMO
  • Reply 11 of 46



    If I wanted a laptop, I'd have bought one. 

  • Reply 12 of 46
    tzeshantzeshan Posts: 1,589member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TheWhiteFalcon View Post





    Why would you want a mouse? A mouse would be pointless in iOS.



    Ergonomically, most people use a tablet with the fingers close to it. With an external keyboard the fingers are little further.  Moreover, fingers are much fatter than a cursor.  Thus are prone to touching wrong place on the screen.

  • Reply 13 of 46

    3rd party keyboards and stylus don't count!!!!

     

    Signed

    Surface Pro Fanboys

  • Reply 14 of 46
    misamisa Posts: 821member
    Why would you want a mouse? A mouse would be pointless in iOS.

    Copy+Paste tends to be the only reason to really want a mouse. Even a Stylus would suffice in that case.

    The problem I find with the copy and paste on iOS is that it tries to be too helpful, often the amount of time trying to select just the "part of a word" or "part of a sentence" could be better spent just typing it back out.
  • Reply 15 of 46
    Implementing the cursor keys and copy/paste buttons from the iPhone keyboard into the iPad keyboard would probably help.
  • Reply 16 of 46
    tzeshantzeshan Posts: 1,589member

    BTW, I have a question which is not this topic.  But some people may be able to help.  When I do typing on iOS devices, it provides auto-correction. When I hit the space key, it fills the text with the suggestion.  How do I reject it?  Last time I send message to a friend, I typed FB.  It suggested FBI. I did not notice it.  When my friend received it, he accused my brain.

  • Reply 17 of 46
    tzeshantzeshan Posts: 1,589member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post





    Apple agrees. That's why they make the MacBook Air with full mouse support. The mouse is sold separately, though. image But, did you know that the MacBook Air comes with a built-in touchpad? It can be used like a mouse. A lot of PC users have very wrong assumption about Apple products, so just trying to help clear the Air (pun intended), so to speak. Unlike Microsoft, Apple doesn't believe that a hybrid truck-car is better than a car or a truck. If you want a confused tablet-laptop hybrid, Microsoft has what you want.



    The problem with MBA is simple too heavy as compared to the iPad. 

  • Reply 18 of 46
    Quote:


     The problem with MBA is simple too heavy as compared to the iPad. 


     

    Seriously, it is time to hit the gym if you find the weight difference that significant. 

  • Reply 19 of 46
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,517member
    Most people ridicule the idea of a mouse / cursor with iOS, but I think it would be very useful. The idea being that when you connect the iPad to an external keyboard a 'mouse layer' would automatically be launched. This makes sense when the iPad effectively works as a laptop and will dramatically help productivity in many apps. Add some form of multitasking and the iPad would become more useful.

    The main reason against this option is MBA cannibalization.
  • Reply 20 of 46
    relicrelic Posts: 4,735member
    [@]Relic[/@] - so what are your impressions? Have you received yours yet?

    Yeah, it came a day after my iPad Air 2, what timimg huh, I like it, very nice looking, looks like a mini MacBook Air. The keys do have a little movement like the article suggests but nothing that's distracting or takes away from the typing experience. Since this is a tiny keyboard, it does take a little getting used to, now have tiny baby fingers so it fits me perfectly but some of you and your gorilla fingers might not fair so well, so have that in mind if you order one. I like to use it with my terminal app the most, remote programming, I bought the English keyboard to help facilitate this. Now if iOS would just allow minimizing my terminal app without destroying the connection I would be a happier camper, really sucks when I'm in the middle of something and for example get a call with Viber only to come back to the terminal app with a logged out session, very, very frustrating. Office for iPad is where this little guy really shines, just a dream. All in all a really great product and I would defiant recommend one for those who do a lot of typing, perfect for students and programmers. Oh, the iPad sits fairly snug in the case so I wouldn't want too constantly insert and remove it, it's one of those things that I would leave in. The Apple mouse also works great but there is no need, fingers work just as well. One of the reasons why I bought two more iPad Air's.
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