History suggested that iPad Air 2 cases would be far more numerous after January’s annual CES show, but due to unexpected production delays, there still aren’t many choices out there. But thanks to ZeroChroma, there are two largely bright spots on the horizon: a finished case called Folio-Slide for iPad Air 2 ($70), and an upcoming $100 version called Folio-Slide with Slide-Lid Keyboard, both of which I’ve been testing for the past week.
The basic version of Folio-Slide is the iPad Air 2-compatible sequel to the very best case I’ve tested for the original iPad Air – one I highly recommended in an iPad case and stand roundup last year. But this year’s version regrettably took a couple of design shortcuts in order to quickly reach the market, the details of which may or may not matter to you. On the other hand, ZeroChroma’s Slide-Lid Keyboard is a truly interesting new add-on that will really appeal to iPad Air and iPad Air 2 owners. Read on for all the details.
Although it was unveiled at CES in January 2014, ZeroChroma’s Folio-Slide Case for the original iPad Air arrived in stores late last year – right around the same time as the iPad Air 2 was being announced. Made mostly from soft TPU plastic, the case protects almost all of the iPad’s body, while notably integrating a slim-line hard plastic stand into the back. It looks indistinguishable from the photo shown above.
ZeroChroma’s custom-designed stand is superb: stable, highly adjustable, and solidly built, it adds only modest additional thickness to the iPad while folded up, and radically improves the tablet’s utility while open. Since it rotates and ratchets, you can choose virtually any landscape or portrait viewing angle you prefer, as well as typing angles in both orientations. The basic version of Folio-Slide also includes a detachable front lid with a ballistic nylon-like exterior in your choice of several colors, and a soft fabric interior. This lid doesn’t stay closed on its own, but does have magnets inside to automatically lock and unlock the iPad’s screen.
The good news is that the iPad Air 2 version of Folio-Slide works almost exactly like the prior iPad Air 1-only version — it’s actually the same case, only with larger and more numerous holes that fit the two models’ slightly different camera, microphone, and side button designs. But that’s also somewhat bad news, as this version of Folio-Slide completely gives up on side button coverage for both Air models, and feels just a little loose with the thinner iPad Air 2 inside. It’s not so loose that the Air 2 shakes inside during normal use, but there’s a millimeter or so of give, and an increased tendency for the case’s edges to pull away from the screen when the iPad’s being picked up.
While I’m very glad to have any ZeroChroma case for the iPad Air 2 — and who knows how long a perfectly fit version would have taken — this isn’t really the execution I expected from the company. iPad Air 1 users are certainly better off with the original version, which has fewer holes and more protection; iPad Air 2 users will basically have to accept this one until and unless something better comes along. If that sounds like a lack of endorsement, it’s not: even a “very good” ZeroChroma case is better than top alternatives I’ve tested from other companies.
ZeroChroma’s Slide-Lid Keyboard is similarly in “very good” rather than “perfect” territory by comparison with other available options. The version we’ve tested is supposedly final or very nearly final, combining a slightly rubbery, smudge-gathering exterior with a soft fabric and hard plastic interior. A micro-USB cable is included to recharge the integrated battery, which will deliver months of regular typing on a charge. We had no issues whatsoever with the Bluetooth connection or battery during a week of testing.
Two things are special about the Slide-Lid Keyboard, starting with its profile: it’s a mere 5 millimeters thick, thanks in part to a novel integration of the micro-USB recharging port into a nook on its top surface. Once it’s attached to the Folio-Slide, you barely know that a keyboard’s there until you open the lid. Despite the thinness, the keys have satisfying depth and feel just like smaller versions of the island/chiclet keys used on Apple’s full-sized keyboards.
The second special detail about the Slide-Lid Keyboard is the fact that it offers a virtually identical typing surface to Apple’s own Wireless Keyboard, only smaller. Apple’s function keys have been mapped onto ZeroChroma’s number keys, but otherwise the Lid’s keys are identically laid out, apart from the standard narrowing and height adjustments used by every iPad keyboard maker. Like most iPad keyboard cases, Slide-Lid Keyboard takes around 15 minutes to get used to; after a brief period of adjustment, I found myself typing faster and more reliably than with the iPad’s virtual keyboard, though with more mistakes than a traditional full-sized keyboard.
Slide-Lid Keyboard does compromise in a few ways. There’s no magnet system in the lid to lock and unlock the iPad’s screen, nor is there the similarly magnetic-assisted auto power-on feature we’ve seen in some keyboard cases recently. The total depth of the keyboard case when open is also a little different, as well, since ZeroChroma uses Folio-Slide’s pop-out stand to support the iPad. Depending on the angle you choose, expect an opened depth of between 10-11″, with a roughly 3.3″ gap between the iPad and the keyboard. Desktop typists probably won’t mind this, but typing in a lap can be a little more challenging, particularly if you’re relying on the stand for support.
The standard version of Folio-Stand for iPad Air 2 is in the process of shipping right now, with deliveries taking place next week and in early February; despite its issues, it’s currently my favorite iPad Air 2 case. By comparison, Folio-Slide with Slide-Lid Keyboard isn’t due for a couple of months, so if you need an iPad keyboard case right now, it’s wise to consider other options. The Belkin QODE Ultimate Pro Keyboard Case we reviewed last month isn’t cheap, but it’s otherwise easy to recommend: premium materials throughout, a detachable iPad Air 2-specific case, and lots of little functional frills. We’ve also briefly used Kensington’s new KeyFolio Thin X3 for iPad Air 2, which offers its own advantages at a lower price, and is available to purchase today. With a less certain release date but much better stand functionality, ZeroChroma’s Folio-Slide with Slide-Lid Keyboard will be a compelling alternative, assuming it makes its way promptly into stores. Expect it in March or April 2015, and if there are any changes before it ships, I’ll update this piece to discuss them.