Review: ZAGG Rugged Messenger iPad Keyboard case

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been reconsidering my ecosystem. At the same time, I noticed a great sale on the basic iPad ($250) at most major retailers. I decided to make the plunge and pick up the basic iPad, along with a rugged keyboard case. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve tried to make this device my primary mobile computing device, and I’ll talk more about that transition, but this review is strictly about the keyboard case that I chose.

The requirements I had going in to selecting a case were that it needed to be Bluetooth so that it could work with the basic iPad I got (no keyboard connector), and it had to have some protection on it, since I was planning to use this device when camping. As luck would have it, I’m currently writing this review in my pop-up trailer, at a State Park in the middle of the woods. Needless to say, the case I selected is getting put through it’s paces, since in the weeks since I bought it I’ve taken it biking and camping, multiple times.

Because of the limited audience for the basic iPad, there’s not a ton of options out there for keyboards. I spent a bit of time reading reviews of various cases before selecting the ZAGG, and when I decided to pull the trigger I was mulling over 2 different cases. One was the ‘book’ style case where the iPad and keyboard form a laptop-style clamshell enclosure. The other one was the Messenger folio that is similar to the Apple Smart Keyboard style, with a folding kickstand back to it. After spending a lot of time reading reviews, I opt’d for the Messenger style case. Many of the reviews of the book style hinted that the hinge didn’t hold after a lot of use, and additionally, the folio style still allows for the iPad to be used independently, without a bulkier case than necessary.

I’ve been using the case for a few weeks now, and I have to say, this is a really nice keyboard. The key travel is smooth, and the spacing is just right for my size hands. Some people might find it cramped, but I don’t know that you can get a 9.7″ device with a keyboard that is any bigger than this. I haven’t had any issues typing on it, and many of my blog entries over the past couple of weeks have been typed on this device.

One of the features that sold me on this device was the backlit keyboard. If I’m out in the middle of the woods, or typing in a darkened room, having backlit keys is a must. As a bonus, you can select different colors of backlighting, which gives the case a sense of personal style. There are also multiple intensity settings that you can use to make the backlight dimmer and brighter, depending on your need.

Overall the device feels rugged and protective. I haven’t tested this yet, and hopefully never will, but the iPad has now been on multiple bike rides, bouncing around in my pannier bags, as well as general use around the house and campsite. There are two parts to the case, the keyboard folio part, and the case that goes around the iPad itself. The case around the iPad feels sturdy and I think it should protect it just fine. The folio is slightly bigger and so in a fall, I assume the folio portion will take a lot of the brunt.

There as a few different function keys that are specific to the iPad, and you can actually pair this keyboard with multiple devices, though I haven’t tried that, and I’m not sure I’d have a need for that. The case around the iPad does come with a spot for the Apple Pencil, with is a nice touch.

I’ve been very please with the ZAGG Rugged Messenger, and if you’re looking for a protective keyboard case for an iPad, I think this is a great way to go. I’m finding myself enjoying using it, and even reaching for my iPad instead of my computer. Of course, the iPad is a story for another time.

Thinking about my tech ecosystem again

This past week was the WWDC conference, held every year by Apple to tout its newest features that will be making their way into their operating systems. This year, for the first time in a while, it felt like Apple had its ‘mojo’ back.

A couple of the announcements have me thinking about my ecosystem again. A few years ago I started moving all of my things into the Google ecosystem. Google Docs and Gmail were taking the world by storm and jumping on board seemed like the place to be. I was able to access my documents from any web browser, and I didn’t think twice about what it meant to participate in this new world that Google was creating.

I also jumped on board with a Chromebook, and for a reasonable price had a portable computing device that could easily access this new world. I eventually retired my Chromebook, due to age, and went back to a MacBook. Before I had gotten my Chomebook I had made my first attempt to make my iPad a fully fledged computing device. I tried to weave together a bunch of different apps to create a desktop-like experience, but it just wasn’t there yet.

Over time a lot of different apps have come to the iPad, including dedicated apps for Google Docs, Microsoft Office, and Apple’s iWork suite. These have helped to fill a huge gap in the productivity arena, and this past week Apple showed off their newest creation, a dedicated iPadOS. This operating system takes iOS and expands it to create a more robust, laptop like experience on the iPad. It was a bold move by Apple, if for no other reason than they had been resisting it in the past. This recent keynote showed that they’re finally acknowledging that people need a bit more power that allows them to go beyond the Apple paradigm of how to get work done.

With the inclusion of real file access, better text manipulation, and a much needed boost to Safari, I feel like I could actually use an iPad as my main mobile working device. Especially since there are now iPads in the $329 range that I could pop a ruggedized bluetooth keyboard and case on, and feel comfortable biking and camping with.

The next thing that’s got me thinking more and more about getting out of the Google ecosystem is the continued drumbeat of the past couple of years around the technology society that we’re living in. For so many products on the market, the actual “thing” for sale is not the device, but the user of that device. From Google’s “free” services, to Roku streaming services, everyone seems interested in knowing everything about me so that they can convince me to buy whatever they want. Apple drove this point home with its announcement of their new login service, “Sign in with Apple” that allows you to sign in to websites using your Apple ID instead of Google or Facebook. Apple has stepped up to promise that they won’t sell your data, and are even taking steps to help you obfuscate your email address from apps.

People sometimes complain that Apple devices are just too dang expensive, especially compared to other devices. There is certainly some truth to this, and they opt to go for the premium side of the market, but at the same time, Apple has chosen to make their business more about the hardware that you buy up front (along with the services direct cost), and less about selling the data around who is using the device. That means that they can’t subsidize their hardware through advertising revenue, and hopefully it stays that way. My wife and I had a conversation just the other day about this, and she commented that perhaps Apple should lean more into this in their messaging to consumers. It might draw in more people who are simply done with the way that companies have been using their users.

All of this is to say that I’m thinking of going back more deeply into the Apple ecosystem, and moving more away from Google. It might spur the purchase of a new device or two, and most certainly would influence the choices I make around the services that I use. I’m not decided on anything yet, but its quite a bit of food for thought.

iOS 11 first impressions

The other day I plugging in my i-devices and let them update to the latest and greatest iOS 11. Sometimes these releases wreak havoc on launch day, but I was pleased to say that my devices updated without issue. I’ve had a couple days to spend with the new OS now, and I had a couple of initial thoughts.

First, on my iPhone I really don’t see much in the way of a difference. The visual aesthetic is only mildly changed, perhaps most notably in the animations when changing applications. Some of the apps have switched to a new design that focuses on a big block letter heading before letting you at the content. Otherwise, it looks like the same old iPhone I’m used to.

The main place where you notice a change is in the revised Control Center. The new layout of icons feels cluttered, but since it’s almost all text, it still feels sleek. I do have to say that I was a little confused by the new sliders for volume and brightness. It’s more akin to something you find in Star Trek styled technology. I have managed to navigate around it just fine though, so I can’t complain too much.

On my iPad there are more striking differences, most notably in the Dock. You can now add many more icons to it, and it keeps track of your previously used apps for quick re-launch. This is a nice and welcome feature, as the dock space always felt under-used in previous iOS iterations.

There are other neat tweaks that are more behind the scenes, like turning off notifications when driving, and drag and drop functionality. However, since I’m not a power iPad user, these don’t get much of my day-to-day attention. I would highly recommend anyone who has considered using an iPad as a regular laptop check out my friend Wes, as he is almost completely converted to an iPad life. He writes often about his experiences and has recently shared his thoughts on iOS 11.

For me, I’m just glad to get a nice new refresh, as that often makes it feel like you got a new phone. It gives it that “new device smell” again for a short bit. Overall, my first impressions of iOS 11 are fine. Nothing that blows me away or strikes me as revolutionary, but it’s a solid update.

The age of tablet computing

On Friday there was an excellent article published on The Verge, relating to the 7 year anniversary of the iPad. It asked the question about how the notion of what the iPad is has changed over the past seven years. I recall myself even talking about all the hype of what the iPad is and isn’t when it launched.

Here we are, 7 years into it, and it’s become clear that the iPad started something new, but maybe not what everyone expected. One of the uses that people talked about for the iPad was as a laptop replacement. In the years since we’ve seen this evolve into the iPad Pro with its massive screen and full size keyboard. Yet, as my friend Wes will attest to, it’s not a laptop replacement, but a whole new way of creating content and working in a new connected age.

People aren’t clamoring to dump their laptops in the river to adopt tablets, but they’re finding new ways to use tablet operating systems, and their app ecosystems, to be productive in a whole new way. The iPad hasn’t so much replaced the laptop, but it has altered how we view mobile computing. You don’t need to look much further on how it has influenced the Windows world, than the Microsoft Suface hybrids. This innovative design has now become one of the defacto standard form factors for a mobile computing device. It’s even the form factor that my corporate, work laptop employs (and I love it).

The iPad has also influenced the rise of Chromebooks, and mobile-centric devices that look like laptops, but are based on an internet connected lifestyle. Many Chromebooks, in their slow merge with Android OS, have even taken on more tablet like form factors to give people the flexibility to use the device in the best way for the task that they’re doing. You need to type a long document? Not a problem, there’s a full size, comfortable keyboard. You want to use a pen to draw on the screen? No worries, you can do that to.

Behind all of that is the always-on, connected, nature of how we compute today. Everything we create on a computing device seems to be blended into an online experience, either directly, or as an add-on. I’m more likely to use Google Drive to create than a standalone app. Even for folks who still rely on dedicated apps, the entire experience has changed to be more friendly to a tablet experience.

Did the iPad completely change computing today? Not in the most direct way that many people expected. But, it did usher in a slow and constant push towards new paradigms in computing. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to get back to my little iPad clicky-game….

Apple thinks big

Finally catching up this afternoon on all the Apple announcements from today, and I wanted to give a few quick thoughts on all the new items that were released.

AppleTV

This is a big one for me. My aging 2nd Gen AppleTV has been having issues with rebooting, it can’t play YouTube anymore, and is showing it’s age when it comes to speed. I’ve been looking forward to a new AppleTV for a while and today Apple delivered. However, I’m not 100% sure that I will be jumping on board right away, but maybe after playing with one in the store I will be convinced.

I always liked the idea of being able to add apps to my AppleTV, and the inclusion of an AppStore in the new AppleTV is a great idea. I’m not so sure that I need Siri, a touchpad, or a bunch of games though. I have well established gaming consoles already and I don’t foresee an AppleTV displacing those anytime soon. I’ll play with it in-store some, and see how the reviews pan out, but I may just pick up a MUCH cheaper 3rd generation AppleTV as my media device.

iPad Pro

Basically Apple created their version of the Microsoft Surface. The inclusion of the pen, and a fancy keyboard, with a nice fast processor puts this device into direct competition with the Microsoft tablet device. The downside for me is that you’re still running iOS for the operating system. As much as I love iOS, and as much use as I can get out of my iPad, there’s still a reason why I had to pick up a laptop to bring with me when traveling. There are just some things that my iPad can’t do, such as interfacing with USB devices, which means I needed a laptop. If I want to hook up my GPS fitness devices while on the road, I need a laptop to hook them up to (some of them can Bluetooth to my phone but not all). If I bring my nice camera along, my standard workflow for editing is much more limited, and depending on what I’m trying to accomplish, may not even be possible.

Considering the price, it would be a hard sell for me to pick up one of these iPads. If I am going to spend close to $1000 for a “laptop replacement” I might as well just get something that can actually be a laptop. Again, I’ll play with this in the store a bit and keep my eye on reviews, but right now I just don’t see the benefits.

iPhone 6s/6s Plus

Not much to say here about these new devices. They are nice standard upgrades to the current iterations. The one part that depresses me though is something that wasn’t talked about much, the death of the smaller form factor iPhone. It looks like my desire for a device that is smaller and more compact is becoming a thing of the past. In the lineup today Apple did their standard demotion of previous year’s phones, and the only device that has a smaller form factor anymore is the iPhone 5s, which is at the bottom of the list now. That means that when the iPhone 7 comes out, that lowest level phone will disappear. Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’re make a small sized iPhone 7, but I’m not holding my breath.

There’s my quick thoughts on the announcements today, and I’m looking forward to seeing more details in the weeks to come!