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Brian's Photo Blog — Article 76
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iPad ClamCase
Monday 9 April 2012   —   Category: iPad Workflows
I wanted a good keyboard for my iPad, because I’m using it as a laptop replacement. Although the iPad has a decent on-screen keyboard, it’s not very ideal for extensive text entry — like writing these blog articles, for example. In the first place, the on-screen keyboard eats up about half of the screen, which leaves a pretty small area for working with the text. Secondly, you are typing right on a large slab of glass, rather than individual keys, so accurate typing is more difficult. I've actually been surprised at how well I can type on the screen, but still, it’s not the best experience for large amounts of text entry.

There is a variety of different keyboards that can be used with an iPad, all of which connect via Bluetooth. Some keyboards, both folding and non-folding, are completely separate from the iPad, like the Logitech Tablet Keyboard. Other keyboards are incorporated into some sort of portfolio-type soft-case, like the Kensington KeyFolio Pro.

After considering all of the possibilities, I finally settled on a solution that would fit my needs. When I got my new iPad 3 last month, I also placed an order for the innovative ClamCase. After I decided to stick with my iPad 2 instead, I was concerned that the ClamCase I had ordered would not fit the iPad 2, but apparently the size of the iPad 2 and 3 are so similar that either one will fit in either case.

With the hard-shelled ClamCase, the iPad snaps securely into the lid, while the bottom half is a Bluetooth wireless keyboard. When you shut the case, it looks very much like a small laptop computer, with the iPad inside and well protected. In fact, this setup is very similar in size to my daughter’s Acer netbook.

Before diving in to the pros and cons of the ClamCase, let’s first take a look at some of the vital statistics:
  • The ClamCase weighs 25 oz (710g)
  • The iPad 2 itself weighs 21.5 oz (610g)
  • The ClamCase measures 9.8 x 8.1 x 0.95 inches
Now let’s look at some of the positive aspects of the ClamCase:
  • Cutouts in the case allow access to all of the iPad ports and buttons, as well as the speaker
  • Good protection for the iPad (and keyboard)
  • The iPad snaps very securely into the case — it’s not going to pop out by accident
  • A full keyboard with all of the keys you would expect, including ESC, Caps Lock, CMD, as well as some special-purpose function keys
  • A generous area in front of the keyboard on which to rest your hands while typing
  • The ability to position the top half of the case (which holds the iPad) at any angle, to facilitate viewing and touchscreen interaction
  • A double hinge which allows the iPad screen to be moved into even more positions, folding back over the bottom part of the case
  • Soft-padded inside corners to protect and cushion the iPad screen
  • Both the iPad and the ClamCase keyboard automatically go to sleep when you close the case
  • When I want to use my iPad as a tablet once more, without the weight and bulk of the ClamCase, it’s quickly and easily removed
After using the ClamCase for a couple of weeks, here are some aspects I would consider less than positive:
  • On my desktop keyboard, when I place my fingers on home row, my thumbs are over the space bar. On the ClamCase keyboard, my thumbs are over the palm rest. To hit the space bar, my thumbs have to reach forward. The keyboard is also a bit recessed, so not only do my thumbs have to reach forward, but they also have to extend down — it’s a bit awkward. Moving the space bar a row lower (so it is all by itself) would be better.
  • Compared to other keyboards I have used, it seems like you have to press down further or harder on this keyboard in order for a keystroke to be recognized. This decreases my typing speed. It would be better if the keys were more sensitive and/or had a shallower stroke.
  • On regular keyboards, there’s usually a Delete key (which deletes to the right of the cursor), and a Backspace key (which deletes to the left of the cursor). The ClamCase keyboard has only a Delete key, and it deletes to the left, like the normal Backspace key. I have not found a key that lets you delete to the right of the cursor. Sometimes, depending on where the cursor is at the moment, you just want to delete to the right, rather than having to move the cursor first. This is perhaps a limitation of the iPad itself, and not the fault of ClamCase.
  • When you pull the top part of the case all they way over to the back side of the ClamCase, so that the iPad screen is lying flat and face up, the exposed keyboard then becomes the bottom of the case. Then when you set the case down, it is the keyboard that comes into contact with whatever surface the ClamCase is lying on. It would have been better if there was some sort of pivot hinge, so that the iPad could lay flat, screen up, against the keyboard rather than against the outside bottom of the ClamCase. The way things are now, it seems like it would be easy for the keyboard to be damages when in that position. On the other hand, those kind of hinges (found on some laptops) are more delicate and easier to break.
  • Even though there is a cutout in the case so you can plug the charging / data cable into the iPad while it’s in the ClamCase, the opening is slightly too small to receive the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit SD Card Reader adapter. However, the other adapter in the kit, the USB Connector, does fit. One workaround is to plug a USB SD card reader into the Apple iPad USB Connector, and then plug that combination into the iPad. Another solution would be to grab a file and enlarge the cutout in the ClamCase by a few millimeters — but I suppose that would void the warranty! The Apple Digital AV Adapter fits just fine.
  • Have fallen in love with a backlit keyboard on my Macbook Pro, and having added a Logitech backlit keyboard to my desktop Mac, it’s a very unfortunate omission to not have a backlit keyboard on the ClamCase. I suppose it would drain the battery faster, but if there’s an on/off switch, then people could choose for themselves. I really, REALLY miss a backlit keyboard! For the price you pay for this case, surely that could be included! Which bring us to the next point....
  • Compared to practically all of the other keyboard solutions out there, the ClamCase is pretty darn expensive at 150 bucks! But, that being said, it had the features I wanted, so I paid the price. And they seem to be selling like hotcakes, so the company would be stupid not to charge what the market can bear. Still, at that price, a backlit keyboard is a must!
Despite my minor criticisms, I’m quite happy with my ClamCase, and have no regrets (except for the missing backlight). Did I mention that it’s REALLY expensive for what you get?! But it does make typing SO much easier and more efficient, and it turns the iPad into a great little “netbook” package — complete with touchscreen!

I do also have an Apple Wireless Keyboard, which I really like a lot. But when I tried using it with my iPad, it was just way too awkward to balance a separate keyboard on my lap, along with the iPad at a good viewing angle. Not to mention that this external keyboard is one-and-a-half inches wider than the iPad, which makes it less convenient to carry around with the iPad. I much prefer the compact, all-in-one solution of the ClamCase.

There’s no latch to keep the lid shut — some people seem to consider this a deficiency, while others think it’s a great feature. At first, I was expecting there to be a latch, and was disappointed not to find one. But after some use, I've found that the hinge on the case is quite stiff, which keeps it shut. You have to give the lid a pretty good pull to open it, and you need to use your other hand to hold down the lower part — you can’t open the case with just one hand. This functionality makes a latch unnecessary.

Text entry and editing is SO much better when you can use the standards editing shortcut keys, like CMD-C for copy, CMD-V for paste, CMD-A for select all, etc. Having the four standard arrow keys makes moving the cursor easier than touching the screen with your finger in just the right spot! There are also dedicated function keys for media playback and volume control.

In addition to the standard keys, there’s a dedicated function key that simulates the Home button on the iPad, and another that blanks the screen. The Bluetooth keyboard automatically goes to sleep when you close the case, and automatically wakes up once you open the case and start to type. However, I just tried to use the keyboard, and the battery seems to be dead. My iPad was out of the ClamCase, so perhaps when that’s the case, the keyboard does NOT turn off automatically? I’ll have to experiment with that further, but for right now I’m really surprised that the keyboard battery is empty.

Well, after less than an hour the battery on the ClamCase showed a full charge, but it still wasn’t working! Hmmmm ... that’s bad news. It appears the battery was not low after all, and the sleep function works properly — but it just seems dead. I took a look at the instructions, and it said that in such circumstances, you need to stick the end of a small paper clip into the small hole next to the USB charging port in order to reset the unit. I did that, and now it seems to be working again. Hmmmm ... strange!

I took my iPad / ClamCase combo to the photography seminar I attended two days ago. I used the ClamCase keyboard to take notes at both of George Lepp’s hour-and-a-half presentations. This enabled me to jot down many of the points he made — otherwise I would have forgotten a lot of what he shared. I will be posting these notes in a future article — hopefully tomorrow or the next day.

All in all, I think the ClamCase is a super — but expensive and not-perfect — product, and I’m looking forward to getting a lot of use out of it over the coming months, especially as I travel around Oregon on various photo outings. If you are considering a keyboard for your iPad, you should give the ClamCase a serious look.
UPDATE 10 September 2013: For my updated views on the ClamCase a year and a half later, be sure to read Logitech Wireless Illuminated Keyboard.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 76
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Reader Comments
On July 30, 2015, Tim wrote:
I love the ClamCase! I use it for the iPad Air 2 and it is fabulous! I have it tied to my iPhone 6 so I can even type iMessages on my keyboard. It is a very responsive keyboard, sturdy, functional and I have few complaints. Here are a few minor ones:
  • It does add a little bit of weight
  • The ports for the different cables are too small; the head phone jack is pathetic because you are absolutely required to use their extension cable for any headphones that you want to use (fortunately, I rarely use this port but if you have a Square Reader or something like that, you won't like this case!); also, the power port only supports the original power cable from Apple. Many third party cables will be too large to fit in the opening.
  • No delete button (just like he said — there is a delete button but it acts like a backspace button)
  • Occasionally, it loses connection to the iPad. I just go into the Bluetooth settings and "forget" the device and reconnect
  • I would prefer black (it only comes in white)
Overally, those are minor things for me and I would not go back to not having a keyboard. I have used a Zagg keyboard with this same iPad and the plastic case/hinges broke within a year. I don't expect that from this case at all. I highly recommend it. I just wish it wasn't so expensive.
 
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 76
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