Hover over the image for rating details. Quarks rating explanation here.
Hardware has been greatly improved since the last version. The main difference is that The iPad back cover is no longer attached to the keyboard piece using a flimsy plastic attachment. The connection is now permanent and the arm keeping the iPad in place is made out of sturdy aluminum (see image below). This however, also means that you no longer can detach the iPad cover from the keyboard piece for using it without the keyboard. This may not be a disadvantage as people buying this case will probably want the keyboard attached at all times anyways. Additionally, you can fold the keyboard in the back to put it out of the way when reading.
Opening the keyboard and setting up the iPad for writing is now much easier and elegant. You no longer need to fight with a plastic hinge to put it in place. Now, you just slide out the upper part of the keyboard, effectively extending the case’s footprint and allowing for the iPad to rest securely on the upper part of the keyboard. This however, also means that there is only one writing angle/position.
When in clamshell mode, opening the case is not as straight forward as you would think as it now uses a small plastic latch. So you might find yourself trying to pry open the case. A magnetic means for closing would have been better, in my opinion.
The keyboard arrangement is typical and similar to offerings from competitors. There is a row of keys at the top for direct access to the home button, brightness, soft-keyboard and copy/paste operations along with media control functions.
Although initial installation of the iPad in the case was pretty straight forward, removing the iPad from the case is not for the faint of heart. I followed the installation/removal instructions and at some point, I thought I was going to break one of the corners as the cover back is pretty sturdy and it doesn’t bend or “give” when taking it out.
Quality is top notch thanks to the use of aluminum pieces in the stand and the sliding part of the keyboard. Also, the keyboard’s tactile feedback is very nice for a portable one. Although plastic is used extensively, it doesn’t have that “cheap” feel other keyboards have. Also, the back of the keyboard tries to mimic the texture of some of the Apple cases.
Pairing the keyboard with the iPad was really easy, I just needed to follow the included instructions and I was ready to go in less than 1 minute. The upper row keys work just as expected, it’s nice to have direct access to such functions. However, this is where the good news end. The keyboard seems to constantly lose connection, just as the previous generation did. The bluetooth symbol in the iPad is always on, but the keyboard keeps dropping keys when typing from time to time. It is really frustrating to be writing and having to go back constantly to delete or edit a word, especially when the “delete” key needs to be pressed more than once because its signal is also dropped.
This version of the Airbender for iPad air currently runs for less than $30 USD In Amazon, which is an extraordinary price for this device. If you think about it, some cases alone are twice the price of this unit, and with the airbender you are getting a Bluetooth keyboard, so it’s a great deal.
Ease of Use
The keyboard itself is very easy to use and “mechanically”, works as expected. Setting it up in the writing position is easy to accomplish as well as folding it in the back of the cover for reading. However, as indicated above, opening it can be kind of cumbersome sometimes.
Battery life was excellent. I charged it per the instructions for 3 hours before first use and used it through the weekend with no problems at all. I wrote this review entirely using the Airbender and still had juice to go for more days.
After posting this review, New Trent was nice enough to send me another keyboard to check if the “skipping key” issue was the result of a widespread defect or just an isolated event related to the first review unit.
I’m glad to report that it appears to be an isolated problem. I have been writing with this keyboard for a couple of days and haven’t noticed any missing keys when typing or any connection issues. Battery life is really good as well. Although my pet peeves related to the difficulty of opening the case and getting the iPad in and out are still there, they are not big enough to consider the general performance of this device as lacking . Therefore, I have updated this device rating accordingly.