Some have been lobbying Apple to release a laptop that runs iOS – a device that combines the simplicity of an iPad with the convenience of a real keyboard. There’s actually no need for Apple to do this, though, as the ClamCase Pro already has it covered.
Build & Design
It’s clear that ClamCase set out to make an accessory that looks as much like a MacBook Air as possible. The result was a white polycarbonate clamshell — the tablet is completely enclosed by one side, while there’s a keyboard on the other.
With the iPad inserted, the two more resemble an ultrabook than a tablet with a keyboard attached. This is a good look, but requires forgoing the metal finish of the iPad for a plastic casing. There’s some aluminum around the keyboard, but the overall impression is plastic.
The ClamCase Pro isn’t rugged, but its polycarbonate design provides more protection than cases that don’t cover the entire iPad.
The price for this is weight – the accessory comes in at 1.2 pounds, so it more than doubles the weight of the iPad, and makes it twice as thick, too. Still, the combination is half the weight of a MacBook Air.
Unlike many keyboard cases, it doesn’t leave the iPad’s power and volume buttons exposed. Instead, they are covered by other buttons that extend to the outside of the case. In our testing, we found that this design didn’t work very well – the iPad buttons frequently wouldn’t respond to even very firm pushes on the external buttons. Fortunately, the case offers alternate power and volume controls on its keyboard, and just opening the clamshell actives the tablet, and closing it turns the display off.
There are apertures in the ClamCase Pro for the iPad’s power plug, speaker, microphone, and the headset jack. There’s an issue with some of these, however, as the opening is too small for some of the external speakers we tried to plug into it. And a non-Apple power cable was too large for its opening, too.
There are almost identical versions of the ClamCase Pro for the iPad Air and the iPad Air 2. Be sure to purchase the appropriate one.
The hinge is a very important component of any clamshell device. The one on the ClamCase Pro is quite good, and permits the accessory to be configured into several shapes.
In clamshell mode, the tablet stands up firmly, so there’s only the tiniest of movements when the screen is tapped.
The hinge supports the largest range of angles possible: 360º. This means that when typing, the screen can be leaned back to whatever angle the user finds comfortable … that said, beyond about 150º, the device overbalances. This is because the keyboard section is too light to balance the weight of the iPad and its enclosure. This also tends to happen when typing with this accessory in the lap.
The flexibility on the hinge allows the keyboard to be rotated all the way around to the back of the iPad, so that the device can be used as a tablet without taking the case off. This is handy, but as the case and accessory are over 2 pounds, so it’s not an ideal solution for walking around using the iPad for long periods, or even reading an ebook on the couch. Still, the case is relatively easy to remove, especially when compared to a genuinely rugged one.
And the hinge allows for another option: stand mode. With the keyboard section rotated almost all the way around, it can hold the screen up at an angle. This can be used for drawing or sketching, or watching videos with the screen held straight up. It’s a bit odd that the keys of the keyboard face downward in this configuration, but small “feet” on that side of the ClamCase Pro protect the keys from actually touching the surface the device is placed on.
The ClamCase Pro’s keyboard uses a standard QWERTY layout. It’s slightly smaller than a desktop one, but about the same size as the ones used in laptops. There’s five rows of keys, including a set of number keys, all the regular punctuation marks, and arrow keys.
There’s sufficient key separation to permit easy touch typing. Key travel is less than ideal, but that’s typical of add-on tablet keyboards.
Like more iPad add-on keyboards, there’s an extra row of function keys across the top. This includes an alternate Home key and a power key. There are cut, copy, and paste keys, and ones to start and stop music playing in the background as well control the volume.
Apple built support for Bluetooth keyboards like the ClamCase Pro into iOS, so no third-party software is required to use them. This means there are no bugs or performance issues – typing here is essentially no different from typing on a laptop.
Getting the iPad and this accessory to communicate is a simple process, and one that need only be done once.
A small power button on the left side is easily accessible to turn the accessory on and off. If it’s not manually deactivated, the ClamCase Pro’s keyboard will turn itself off if it’s not used for a few minutes. When this has happened, turning it back on requires only pushing any key.
Pressing the battery key makes an LED flash to show how much battery time remains.
Bluetooth keyboards like this one require very little power, so their batteries typically last for months, and this one is no exception. After a week of testing, the ClamCase Pro still indicates that its battery is full.
The ClamCase Pro is ideal for people who can’t decide between an MacBook Air and an iPad Air or iPad Air 2, because it goes a long was toward turning an Apple tablet into an ultralight notebook.
It includes a very usable keyboard, looks good, and protects the iPad more than many rivals do. Its support for a very wide range of viewing angles, and its ability to become a stand for the tablet are definite bonuses as well. On the other side of the coin, the external buttons on the ClamCase Pro don’t perform like they should, the openings to permit headphones and power cords are a bit too small, and the device has a tendency to overbalance when the screen is leaned back too far.
At $169.99, the ClamCase Pro is one of the most expensive iPad keyboard cases on the market. That said, it’s a premium, well-made model that offers features cheaper rivals don’t.