This is a review of the Airbender Bluetooth keyboard by New Trent (model IMP38W). I have been testing this unit since January 28, 2013, and traveled with it to Code4Lib in Chicago where I relied on the combination of the Airbender keyboard and iPad for a day of presentations with writing notes and searching the web for information. I received the unit from New Trent for testing and evaluation.
[caption width="420" align="alignright"]Image from NewTrent.com[/caption] I am impressed with the thought that went into the design of the unit. The iPad fits snuggly in its protective case and the protective case attaches firmly to the keyboard by way of an adjustable stand. I most often used the keyboard with iPad/protective case combination attached to the keyboard part of the unit in a portrait orientation. In this configuration, the iPad/protective case rests firmly in a slightly-sunken area of the keyboard part. It is also possible to detach the stand from the keyboard part, set it farther away from the keyboard, and optionally rotate the iPad to a landscape orientation.
There is an unexpected benefit of the design when the iPad is left in the protective case but disconnected from the adjustable stand. The protective case surrounding the back of the iPad has a two-inch hole where the adjustable stand attaches, and without the stand that hole provides a comfortable place to grip the iPad protective case with the fingers of one hand while using the other hand to use the iPad. For casual iPad use without the keyboard, I have left the protective case on the iPad to take advantage of this feature.
The process of connecting the keyboard to the iPad over Bluetooth was straight forward and painless. It does take a bit longer than I expected for the iPad-keyboard connection to be established when waking up the iPad, but I do not know if this is common of all Bluetooth keyboards or if it is specific to the New Trent keyboard. The keyboard has extra buttons for controlling the iPad volume, screen brightness, and playback controls for play/pause/next-track/previous-track plus keys for going to the home screen, the iPad search screen, selecting the keyboard language and locking the iPad. The keys have a good feel despite the physical thinness of the keyboard itself, and it was easy for me (as a touch typist) to comfortably type without looking at the keys.
The keyboard charges via a standard micro USB connector using the supplied cable. The power supplied by a standard computer USB port is enough to charge the battery in the keyboard. I have used the keyboard for about 20 hours and have not had to recharge it yet.
I did have a few issues with the Airbender. The first is an unusual and unexplained problem with double letters appearing on the screen. I couldn't reliably reproduce the problem to determine whether it was a mechanical problem with how the keypresses were being sensed or a software problem in which the software on the keyboard was sending more than one character to the iPad over the Bluetooth connection. The problem was somewhat rare -- perhaps one keystroke in a thousand -- which made troubleshooting even more difficult. The second issue was with the adjustable stand; the mechanism is stiff and difficult to get into the right position (although the stiffness does mean it stays put when the position is reached). I would have rather seen an unlocking/locking mechanism that would let the two parts of the stand move freely then lock into place with a lever or button. The third issue was with the manual. The illustrations were easy to read but the font used was too small and typeface too thin to read comfortably. There are key parts of the setup process that have to be read to make the Bluetooth connection between the keyboard and the iPad.