Sales of tablets that can transform into laptops are surging, but if you have a traditional slate model you can make it into a convertible with the right accessory. Kensington’s KeyFolio Thin X3 (K97389US) is a folio case that adds a keyboard to the Apple iPad Air 2. As a handy bonus feature, it can also recharge a phone or tablet.
This item is available now, and it sells for $72 – $99, depending on the retailer.
Build and Design
The KeyFolio Thin X3 has a clamshell design, with a case for the iPad Air 2 joined to a keyboard base with a flexible band that acts as a hinge. This isn’t a case that can separate into two parts; the only way to detach the tablet from the keyboard is to completely remove the iPad from this folio.
The hardcase protects the mobile computer’s display, back, and all four sides from the moderate bumps and blows that can happen in daily life, but this isn’t a fully rugged case. There are openings for all the buttons and ports on the iPad Air 2, so it’s not significantly waterproof.
This extra protection, as well as the keyboard, adds some additional bulk. At 9.5 x 6.9 x 0.6 inches, the KeyFolio Thin X3 is just a bit longer and wider than Apple’s tablet but about twice as thick. It also adds 0.97 lbs.
In order to keep the weight down as much as possible, this accessory is primarily composed of plastic. This is covered with dark-grey vinyl that adds texture to the exterior, keeping it from being too slippery. The look is more functional than decorative, but at least the user is spared from having a gigantic “Kensington” logo on the exterior: the company’s brand is on the back but it’s refreshingly unobtrusive.
When the clamshell is opened, the iPad’s display automatically turns on. Inserting the bottom edge of the tablet into a channel that’s just above the top row of keys activates the Bluetooth keyboard: no power button is included on this accessory. Removing the device from this channel shuts down the keyboard, and then closing the clamshell turns off the display.
One of the primary disadvantages of this design is that it can hold the iPad at only one angle, about 130º. There’s nothing to be done for people who would like it to lean farther back or farther forward.
The hinge flap is flexible enough that the keyboard base can be flipped around behind the iPad Air 2, so it can still be used as a tablet. The KeyFolio Thin X3 hasn’t been designed for the keyboard to be used as a stand when it’s behind the screen.
The keyboard that’s the major feature of the KeyFolio Thin X3 has five rows of letter and number keys in a standard QWERTY layout, with an addition sixth row of function keys.
The width of the keyboard is constrained by width of the iPad Air 2, so the full set of keys measures 9.1 inches; for comparison, the keys on a regular-size desktop keyboard stretch across 11.5 in. Kensington’s is a typical size for a tablet keyboard, and it can be used for touch typing. Although it’s larger than the iPad’s on-screen one, those with large hands might find it cramped.
The sixth row of function keys has an alternate Home key, as well as one that opens Apple’s Spotlight search function. There are also a set of controls for playing music in the background.
Apple added greater support for external keyboards to the iPad version of iOS 9, so users can move between applications with Command-Tab, change tabs in Safari with Control-Tab, as well as many other convenient keyboard shortcuts depending on which app the user is running.
The keys are not backlit. Perhaps Kensington judged that reserving battery power to recharge their phone or tablet was the better option.
Support for Bluetooth keyboards like the one in this accessory is built into iOS, so it’s not necessary to add any additional software to the iPad to begin typing. The keyboard can be used with any application that accepts text input.
The KeyFolio Thin X3 is fully capable of keeping up with the fastest typers; there’s no delay between hitting a key and having the corresponding character appear on the screen. In our extensive testing of this product we ran into no problems with keys sticking or not registering taps.
Pairing this device with the tablet is a simple process that needs to be done only once.
On the right side of the KeyFolio Thin X3 is a micro-USB port that is used to charge this accessory’s internal battery, but can also be used to recharge a tablet or phone. Kensington includes a short adapter cable that can be plugged in here with a full-size USB Type A port on the other end, so a standard charging cable for all phones can be plugged in, as well as any iPad, virtually all Android tablets, and some Windows tablets, like the Surface 3.
The internal battery in this case has a 1650 mAh capacity, so it’s capable of giving a phone a significant charge, but not fully recharge many models. For example, the iPhone 6s has a 1715 mAh battery, and this accessory was only able to take one from a 20% to an 80% charge when we tested it. The Air 2 has a 7340 mAh battery, so Kennsington’s product can give it about a 20% charge.
The KeyFolio Thin X3 itself uses very little power, and is cable of going for months on a single charge. Kensington says it is good for 1000 hours of use. Of course, recharging another device from the battery will cut into this considerably. That said, some power remains to run the keyboard for a time even after recharging a phone as much as possible.
And just so everyone is clear, the USB port on this accessory is only for charging. It doesn’t allow the iPad Air 2 to access the contents of USB drives plugged into the adapter cable… though that’s an idea that Kensington should really explore in a future model.
The Kensington KeyFolio Thin X3 offers a usable keyboard, and can also protect an iPad Air 2 when it’s being carried around. All of this goes into a relatively slim and lightweight package. The external design isn’t particularly attractive though, and it offers only one screen angle.
A number of other keyboard folios have the same general functionality, so what sets Kensington’s accessory apart from its rivals is it ability to recharge a phone or tablet. This saves the expense and hassle of carrying around an emergency battery.
The suggested retail price for the KeyFolio Thin X3 is $99, but it can be found online for just over $70. This makes it less expensive than many of its rivals. Add in the savings from not needing a separate emergency battery and this item is quite a good deal.