Swiss company Logitech makes a lot of iPad accessories. Out of the three iPad Keyboard Cases they currently sell, the Solar Keyboard Folio is their top-of-the-range model and consequently the most expensive. It gets its name from the fact that it charges via built-in solar cells, gives you a physical keyboard to type on, and closes like a book.
Taking the Folio out of its magnetically closed packaging, it's certainly an interesting-looking product. The dark grey and red colour scheme gives it a smart, business-like aesthetic, and the black polyurethane used on the exterior is very similar to an iPad Smart Cover. When the Folio is closed, it provides complete protection for your iPad, from any angle. The only problem is that you have to remember to hold it closed, otherwise it'll just swing open leaving your iPad dangling!
Your iPad (either an iPad 2 or iPad 3) attaches to the Folio via the iPad tray; a stretchy rubber frame similar to an Apple iPhone 4 Bumper case. All you have to do is place your iPad in the iPad tray and then stretch it around the edges of your iPad to properly seal it in. From there you can move the iPad tray up into one of two positions: typing position or media position. More on those later.
Pairing your iPad with the Folio is surprisingly simple. All you have to do is tap on Settings on your iPad's Home Screen, tap on General, tap on Bluetooth, and then switch Bluetooth on (if it's currently off). Under "Devices" your iPad will say "Searching..." and then eventually "Logitech Solar KB Folio, Not Paired" will appear. To pair the two, simply tap on "Logitech Solar KB Folio, Not Paired" and it will change to "Connected". That's it!
At 23cm wide with 65 keys, the Folio's UK English keyboard isn't full-size, but it does have a very similar feel to an Apple Wireless Keyboard, with its crisp responsive action. I was curious to see how fast I could type on it, so I did an online typing test in Safari. I averaged about 66 wpm (words per minute), but sometimes got up to 82 wpm. If you need to do a lot of typing on your iPad, but struggle with the accuracy of a virtual keyboard, you can immediately see the benefit of owning a Folio. However, something to be aware of is that there's no way of using the keyboard with the iPad in portrait orientation; the design of the Folio prevents it.
Small support legs on the bottom of the iPad tray magnetically attach to notches in the keyboard, allowing you to rest your iPad in one of two positions. The first position (Typing position) turns your iPad into a kind of laptop; ideal for firing away replies to emails, taking notes, or writing reports and essays. The top row of keys can be used to perform 14 iPad specific functions: home screen, spotlight, switch keyboard language, show/hide virtual keyboard, select text left, select text right, cut, copy, paste, play/pause, mute, volume down, volume up, and lock screen. The only problem with Typing position is the fixed angle (110˚) it holds your iPad at, which seems very steep compared to a laptop. The second position (Media position) brings your iPad forward to cover all but the bottom row of keys, which automatically assume media playback functions: start slideshow, show/hide virtual keyboard, previous track, play/pause, next track, mute, volume down, volume up. This more reclined angle (135˚) is great for watching videos, listening to music, and playing games.
The Folio's Bluetooth connection and physical keyboard clearly use electricity, so how is it powered? By light! The silver "spine" actually contains two rechargeable NiMh batteries which are automatically charged by the dye-sensitised solar cells on the bottom of the Folio. You can't charge the Folio while you're using it, because the solar cells are underneath the keyboard! But if you leave it out in the daytime, with the solar cells facing up, they'll charge the battery in about six hours. According to Logitech, "when the Folio is fully charged, the battery lasts for up to 2 years" on a single charge! While I don't have the patience to test their claim, I think it's safe to assume that you'll never ever run out of power. That said, if you want to quickly check the remaining charge, all you have to do is press the Battery check button and look at the the Status light next to it. Green means the battery is charged, red means the battery power is low, and no light means the battery is empty and needs recharging.
With all this technology on board, is the Folio heavy? I weighed an iPad with three different accessories and came to the conclusion that, yes, the Folio is the heaviest option. So you might want to consider using an iPad Smart Cover with a separate Apple Wireless Keyboard; a combination that's surprisingly lighter, cheaper and more versatile than the Folio!
- iPad 2 with Wi-Fi 64GB + Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio = 1074g
- iPad 2 with Wi-Fi 64GB + Apple Wireless Keyboard + iPad Smart Cover = 1068g
- iPad 2 with Wi-Fi 64GB + Apple Wireless Keyboard = 930g
- iPad 2 with Wi-Fi 64GB + iPad Smart Cover = 742g
- iPad 2 with Wi-Fi 64GB = 603g
Overall, I think the Solar Keyboard Folio is a good product, and definitely useful for anyone that does a lot of typing and travelling. The Bluetooth connection is fast and reliable, and Logitech's "powered-by-light" technology means you never have to worry about battery life. I think the main drawback is, in leaving it permanently attached, you lose the original lightweight streamlined feel of your iPad. Plus you lose the ability to use your iPad in portrait orientation, which seems a shame.