During the Special Media event yesterday Apple introduced the all new iPad Pro. We already shared how much we love the new form factor, blazing speed of the new A9X processor, performance boosting GPU, and integrated quad speaker system. However, to say this announcement caught most of us a little off-guard is an understatement. It’s not that we weren’t expecting a jumbo size iPad. We heard the rumor mill churning all summer like everyone else. We fully anticipated that Apple would make an announcement some time this summer or early fall. What caught us by surprise was how much we were blown away after watching the keynote. More accurately — how much we tried to convince ourselves we needed an iPad Pro in our lives!
At its core, the iPad Pro is still an iPad — an iPad on steroids, but an iPad nonetheless. So what makes this new model so appealing to both current and potentially new iPad owners? Simply put, we think it’s the sum of its parts, especially the two new accessories Apple designed specifically for the iPad Pro. Right now let’s focus on the Apple Pencil and what functionality it adds to the user experience.
I’m really into carrying a bag these days, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in university, I wanted to get away with carrying as little as possible, and doing as much as I could with the stuff I could keep on my person. It’s for people like my university self that the ZAGG Pocket Keyboard was designed.
This little keyboard folds up into a slim rectangle that measures 9 inches long length-wise — perfect for the inside pocket of a blazer or iPad-specific bags. A magnetic seal keeps the keyboard closed during storage, but still allows me to set my little typing station up in seconds when I get to a desk. Two thirds of the tri-fold design are devoted purely to the keyboard, and the last third folds out into a stand upon which to prop an iPad or larger smartphone.
I love how light my iPad Air is, so I usually use it naked or with just the smart cover. But I travel a lot and need to protect the iPad before I throw it place it carefully in my bag. Growing up in the frozen north of Michigan I learned to love wool clothes, so picking a wool felt iPad sleeve was a natural (pun intended) for me. I love the look and feel of wool felt, and like that it’s renewable. I tried two of the most prominent brands of felt iPad sleeves and both have their merits and limitations. Keep reading to see if one of them might be right for you.
Just the basics: Byrd & Belle Simple iPad Air Sleeve
Being a minimalist at heart, I started with the Byrd & Belle Simple iPad Air sleeve. I also figured a Minnesota company should know how to do wool. The sleeve is as simple as it can get: no closures, and no hardware to possibly scratch my iPad. The wool is thick, beautiful, and will protect your iPad from bumps and scratches. Of course it won’t protect from extreme calamities the way a hard case like a Pad & Quill would, but my iPad always goes in some kind of bag when I’m traveling. The stitching on the Belle & Byrd sleeve is extremely precise: my iPad fits perfectly with the smart cover on. Without the smart cover, the iPad could theoretically slip out if I put it in the bag upside down and grabbed the sleeve by the bottom and gave it a mighty tug. If placed in the bag with the opening up or to the side, however, there’s no way the iPad will slip out.
Pros: High-quality wool and stitching, precision fit, allows for use with smart cover, made in MN
Cons: Cover-less iPad could slip out
The Chisel iPad dock is made by the folks at iSkelter. These guys caught my eye a while ago on KickStarter with their unique collection of wooden docks, desks and accessories. A quick visit to there website, and I knew I had to get my hands on one of their iPad docks to review. I love that their mantra is–hand built by people who give a damn. You can’t help but love their tenacity. You really feel like they love what they do, and that desire to make good products is obvious in the results. Luckily, they don’t have to rely soley on witty slogans to sell their products, as their hand-built designs sum up a pure, simple design philosophy spear-headed by industrial designer, Nathan Mummert.
With the Chisel iPad dock, it’s all about the design. It’s the design that draws you in, and makes you want to buy one in the first place. It’s the design that makes you proud to display the dock on your desk–and it’t the design that makes it functional and useful as an iPad dock. The Chisel is created from a beautiful selection of renewable bamboo. It uses a simple design philosophy that holds your iPad in both portrait or landscape mode. Assembly is a snap, too.
I’ve had about four months to use the Pencil Stylus from FiftyThree, and I think it’s now safe enough to call this purchase a success. I was initially worried by reviews I’ve seen on Amazon that suggest that the Pencil can’t hold up for very long before breaking, but I’ve been taking the stylus around everywhere with me for a few months now, and it’s handling everyday wear and tear just fine. The rubber tip and eraser require a bit of a wipe down every few days, but that has been the extent of the upkeep.
I bought the Pencil because I wanted a solid stylus to help me draw more accurately within the Paper app. Pencil nails that with its great build quality and interesting material choices. I like that this stylus is made out of wood, yet still feels right at home alongside my aluminum iPad.
I wouldn’t fault you for making fun of Belkin’s naming convention with the QODE Ultimate Pro keyboard case. After all, why does an “Ultimate” accessory need to also be described as “Pro”? In Belkin’s case, it’s actually because they already have a QODE Ultimate case, and so they added the Pro moniker to let us know that they’ve upped the ante.
The good news is that, although the name may be silly, the product really delivers. Belkin’s QODE Ultimate Pro is one of the best keyboard cases I’ve ever used.
One of the tradeoffs of keyboard cases is that the added utility tends to double the weight of the iPad. The resulting combo is not heavy enough to weigh down a bag like a laptop would, but the added heft of a keyboard does make the iPad Air 2 harder to hold in one hand.
One approach to keeping the iPad lighter is to make sure the keyboard is easily detachable. This is the approach that Logitech took with their Ultrathin Keyboard’s magnetic hinged design. However, the Ultrathin fails to address the way that iOS Bluetooth pairing affects the software keyboard.
The Cooler Master JAS Mini is small, light, very simple, offers almost infinite viewing angles, and fits well with the Apple design aesthetic. I travel a lot, about 150,000 miles a year, so the weight of my gear is very important to me. With some trips taking as much as 36 hours door-to-door, any extra ounces in my gear bag have me walking crooked for days after. So I walked down to the local Apple Store to find a stand for my iPad Air to use on airplane tray tables for games or movies, and for at my desk(s) typing with the Apple Bluetooth keyboard I carry. My criteria were: size, weight, viewing angles, and stability.
I pulled all the available stands off the wall and immediately rejected all but two because of weight, size, or design. The two that remained were the Compass stand, for which I’d read many good reviews, and the JAS Mini that I’d never seen before. I took both out of their packages and whipped my iPad out of my bag. The Compass was well designed but seemed unnecessarily fussy, with lots of little parts to deploy. And it didn’t feel as stable as I wanted with those two tiny feet as all that was holding my iPad up off the desk.
I removed my previous ZAGG Glass Screen Protector from my iPad Air 2 for two reasons: increased screen glare and lowered TouchID efficiency. In response, ZAGG sent over another set of their screen protectors: another Glass with a different “Omega” Home button cut-out, and their HDX protector, which claims to add great impact protection.
I haven’t yet installed the HDX, but I have spent the last few weeks with this newer Glass protector. The button cut-out on my previous Glass was circular, which made the Home button harder to press and I suspect it kept my finger just far enough from the TouchID sensor to affect accuracy. I’m happy to say that the new cut-out, which leaves the lower portion of the Home button exposed, no longer affects TouchID performance. I can reliably unlock my iPad Air 2 with my thumb, and I think that has everything to do with my finger sitting closer to the sensor.
As for the glare, I do think it’s still present, but it’s not a showstopper. The naked Air 2 screen still has glare, but reflections simply don’t look as bright as they do with a ZAGG Glass installed. I tend to run my iPad at about 30% brightness most of the time, and I find that’s enough to outdo any of the ill effects of an extra layer of glass over my screen.
So does this altered version of the Glass change my recommendation? Actually, yes. I do think there’s a tradeoff in glare for installing a ZAGG Glass, but it’s a fair one if you want an added layer of scratch protection that doesn’t affect the clarity of your screen (in the way that matted screen protectors can). There doesn’t seem to be a way to check whether or not the Glass will have the Omega cut-out, but their support seems good enough that you could contact them afterwards if you end up with the previous circular version.
I’ve previously reviewed the QODE Ultimate and the QODE ThinType, and although I still had a few issues with each of those designs, there were some great stand-out features like the pressure sensor on the ThinType, and the magnetic auto-disconnect on the QODE Ultimate. In contrast, the QODE Slim Style for iPad Air 2, which I just received for review last week, is a little more vanilla in its approach.
This Slim Style looks a lot like your standard folio case: it’s got a hard shell for protecting the iPad in your bag, and you can prop the tablet up at a desk or on your lap for typing. The instruction pamphlet does a poor job of telling you how to actually put your iPad into the case, though. I went through a bit of trial and error before I realized I had to slide the iPad into two of the corners and then pry the other two corners back, one at a time, until the iPad was sitting very snugly in place. I’m not a fan of this method of securing the iPad because it doesn’t feel intuitive or user friendly.
I always want to have charging cables with me, but I don’t like how messy they are, even stuffed inside of my canvas gear pouch. Retractable cables are a big win in my book, but you have to make sure to get the right ones. Not all of them are made equal, and the really cheap ones that you can often get with free shipping from websites that ship out of Hong Kong can break very easily, or may not work at all when plugged in.
Over the Christmas Holidays I decided it was time to upgrade my current set of long standard cables. I initially looked for products from PPCTechs because they made great retractable cables during the Windows Mobile era, but the company no longer seem to create any of their Lil’Sync cables. As such, I purchased the next best thing: a strikeLINE pro Lightning cable from Scosche. The only silly thing about this cable is its over-engineered name, which feels akin to calling oatmeal “Firestorm Day Starter – Soft Edition”. The rest of the cable is awesome though.
I’ve known Scosche to make some really solid accessories for tech devices, and this cable also feels like a quality product. The male heads and flat cable look like they the wear and tear of everyday use, and the mechanism for retraction feels reassuringly solid. This cable is compact when closed and long enough for use with a wall socket or sitting on my desk beside my MacBook Pro.
I bought this Scosche cable from Amazon.ca during a lightning deal, and you can likely find even better deals from Amazon.com (if the site ships to your neck of the woods).
I usually plan items to review on this site, but this $50 ZAGG InvisibleShield Glass was really more of an impulse purchase to take advantage of a great 50% discount. My friend installed the Glass shield for me on Christmas Eve, and so I’ve really had only a few days with it to glean some impressions. Installation took a few minutes and was fairly simple, and ZAGG included the wipes and cleaning cloths required to clean things up. One interesting detail was the addition of a yellow tinted plastic cover for the glass, which helped a lot in lining everything up properly.
I had never put much stock in putting a sheet of glass on top of another sheet of glass for protection, but having seen the smooth look of a glass protector on my friend’s iPhone 6, I decided to give it a shot. The main reason I wanted glass was to ensure that my screen could take the abuse of being shoved into my bag without a case. I still carry the Logitech Ultrathin around with me everywhere, but I don’t necessarily keep it attached. That’s because I want instant access to the iPad when I pull it out of my bag, without having to fiddle with any extra cover. I find that makes my iPad Air 2 feel immediately more usable as a mobile computer.