When I want to travel light, I'll take just my iPad with a keyboard case and my phone and, if I'm going to be away from an outlet for a while, a small battery pack, in case my iPhone runs low on juice. Kensington's KeyFolio Thin X3 ($99) will let me travel even lighter, as this Bluetooth keyboard case also lets you recharge your smartphone from its battery. Here's why this 2-in-1 accessory is a home run.
The Kensington KeyFolio Thin X3 has an understated look that will appeal to executives who don't want to stand out too much. While not as luxe as the sheepskin-covered KeyFolio Pro Plus, the rubberized exterior of the X3 has a ridged pattern that adds a nice grip and resists fingerprints. For those times when you just want to look at the screen, you can also fold the case so that the keyboard is hidden underneath the iPad. It's not the most elegant solution, but it works.
The upper part of the X3 encases the iPad Air around all its edges, providing a measure of protection, and a small, magnetized groove above the keyboard allows the Air to dock fairly securely. A sensor in this groove also turns the keyboard on automatically when it detects an iPad, and turns the keyboard off when the tablet is undocked.
I bounced the case around in my lap fairly rigorously, and while the iPad flapped around a little, it didn't come unhinged. However, the KeyFolio Thin X3 didn't feel as secure as the Brydge+ keyboard, a case that also lets you tilt the iPad to any angle you see fit.
Unlike the $99 KeyFolio Thin X2 Plus, the X3 lacks backlighting, which may be a bummer for those looking to get work done in darkened conditions.
At 1 pound even, the X3 is about the same weight as the iPad Air, which is about average for keyboard cases that protect both the screen and the back of the iPad. The Logitech Ultrathin, for example, weighs just 0.71 pounds, but only covers the iPad's screen.
Click to EnlargeWhile the X3's keys are sufficiently large for an iPad keyboard case, their shallow travel of just 1.05 mm leaves something to be desired. The Brydge+ case -- one of my favorites -- has 2 mm of travel, which is more than what you'll see on most laptops.
However, the X3's 55 grams of resistance ultimately resulted in a good overall typing experience. On the Typing Test, I averaged 66 words per minute with a 98 percent accuracy rate. That's similar to what I saw on the Brydge+ keyboard, as well as the M-Edge Universal Stealth Pro.
Click to EnlargeI like that the row above the number keys on the KeyFolio Thin X3 is dedicated to iPad-specific functions. In addition to media controls, there's a home button, a key to show all open apps, and buttons for Siri and Safari. The button to the right of the space bar activates the keyboard's power status, which goes from green to yellow to red depending on the charge left in the battery.
The X3's hidden trick is its ability to charge other accessories via its micro USB port. Its 1,650-mAh battery will charge an iPhone fully and a Samsung Galaxy S phone about 80 percent, according to Kensington. Included with the X3 you'll find not just a long USB-to-micro-USB cable, but also a micro-USB-to-female-USB connector, so that you can attach, say, a Lightning cable to recharge your iPhone. You can even use this accessory to recharge your iPad, which I found helpful, but the keyboard's battery-status light quickly went from green to red, indicating the battery was low.
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If you don't use the X3 to recharge any of your gadgets, it will last up to 1,000 hours (roughly 42 days) without needing to be plugged in. The X3's battery light will glow green when it's charged above 50 percent, yellow when it's between 20 and 50 percent, and red when it's below 20 percent.
Click to EnlargeIn some ways, it's surprising that it's taken this long for iPad Bluetooth keyboard makers to realize that the huge batteries inside their accessories could be used for more than just typing. The $99 Kensington KeyFolio Thin X3 solves two issues facing mobile workers looking to use their iPad for productivity. While I wish Kensington had packed in an even larger battery, it's a very useful 2-in-1 accessory for those who need to charge their phone on the go.