As someone who uses his iPad for email and writing as much as for media consumption, I’m a big fan of physical keyboards. My current favorites are the ClamCase Pro and Brydge, each of which offers a near-Macbook quality moving keyboard.

But if you’ve ever been deterred by the bulk or weight of a full moving keyboard, the Libre – a new iPad Air/2 keyboard case that launched yesterday on Kickstarter – may be worth a look. The keyboard itself is just 5mm thick and weighs only 200g, yet manages to squeeze in a backlight and the ability to switch between up to three devices. I’ve been using a prototype version for the past few days … 

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The keyboard is made from polyurethane pretending to be wood. I’m not generally a fan of fake wood: my attitude is ‘give me the real thing or nothing.’ I do have to say, though, that visually the Libre is very convincing, blending in well with my oak desk. The feel, however, is rubbery.

The Libre is supplied with a plastic case, also with a fake wood look. You then get the keyboard and a keyboardless cover, both of which attach magnetically to the case. While the idea is that you can make the complete unit slimmer when you don’t need the keyboard, there’s really so little difference in total thickness that I can’t quite see the point.

The case has a built-in stand.

libre-keyboard-case-3

The keyboard is made both ultrathin and spillproof by having it as a sealed unit. The keys do move, just barely, but this is no full moving keyboard. Thinness has been prioritized over almost everything else.

Technologically, it’s incredibly impressive. Fn-F, -G and -H switches seamlessly between paired devices, and the backlight works well. Fitting that into a device so light and slim is an incredibly impressive achievement.

libre-keyboard-case-2

The typing experience is a kind of halfway-house between a proper moving keyboard and the on-screen one. It doesn’t even come close to comparing to the feel and usability of a ClamCase, Brydge, Belkin, Logitech, Kensington or Zagg. But it is significantly better than typing on the iPad screen itself – and you don’t lose half the screen to the keyboard as you do without an external keyboard.

Unfortunately, the slimness of the keyboard isn’t matched by the case. The complete thing is actually rather thick.

libre-keyboard-case-5

Nor can you easily use the keyboard without the case. Despite using magnets to attach to the case, these don’t align with the magnets in the iPad itself, so while you can use the keyboard alone as a screen cover in a bag, it doesn’t actually attach.

I think the creators missed a trick here. If the keyboard alone could attach to the iPad, you’d have something that adds only marginal bulk and weight to the iPad, while offering a typing experience that is a worthwhile improvement over the on-screen one. As it is, by the time you factor in the case, you don’t really save anything on the thickness over a full moving keyboard (though you do still save weight).

Is this a workable solution for me? No: I prioritize the typing experience, and I’m willing to put up with some bulk and weight to achieve that. Can I recommend the Libre as a complete system? Not really: the case destroys the main benefit, that delicious slimness.

But I’m not writing it off. There is one type of iPad user I think might find this perfect: someone who uses Apple’s own Smart Cover but gets a bit frustrated by losing half the screen while typing. Slip the keyboard alone into your bag, adding almost no bulk or weight, and use the Smart Cover as your stand.

Right now, early birds can pick up the keyboard and case for $48. Leave the case behind, and you’ve got the ultimate in portable keyboards at a still pretty reasonable price.

Update: Libre has picked up my suggestion to offer the keyboard only as an option, at $33.

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