- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2011

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Coming to the end of two weeks overseas, I’m writing on a small portable with a screen whose diagonal measure is slightly less than 10 inches. Typing is largely a breeze, thanks to the fold-down keyboard. And battery life is superb, I’m estimating the better part of 10 hours.

This isn’t a souped-up notebook or an energy-friendly “netbook.” It’s my trusty old Apple Inc. iPad 2, tucked into a hard-shell case that includes a Bluetooth keyboard. Charge both devices, and you well might be able to do your thing all the way from Slovenia to Washington Dulles International Airport, stopping in Frankfurt, Germany, no less.

The case I’m using is one of three items that have crossed my desk in recent weeks. New iPad-keyboard combos are popping up all the time, and on this trip, I chose one from a relatively new Los Angeles-based firm, ClamCase (www.clamcase.com). For just $149, you get a very sturdy case, the built-in Bluetooth keyboard and obligatory charging cable. I also could have brought along Logitech’s $99.99 snap-on keyboard and iPad stand or a portfolio-style duo from Belkin, sold at the same price. I’ll explain my reasons for bringing the ClamCase in a moment.

Part of it had to do with the trip itself. A 14-day itinerary would take me to Israel, then to Slovenia and back home, twice passing through the international airport in Frankfurt. The Belkin product was a little difficult to figure out in terms of making the iPad stand up for viewing or typing; the Logitech keyboard, which the firm relabels from ZAGG, didn’t protect the iPad’s back.

So, it was on the road with the ClamCase. My test unit was in Star Wars white, the maker said, and was dubbed the Trooper edition under license. Among its many accomplishments is that it offers superb protection for the iPad. While I haven’t tried dropping it from a table, I did feel comfortable toting it around in my bare hands. The plastic cover has enough places and ways to grip it securely.

The ClamCase keyboard is a “full-travel” keyboard, by which I mean one can type normally. The smaller confines of the iPad form, however, mean slightly closer spacing of the keys, so mistyping can occur, especially if you’re a ham-handed typist, as I am. Patience and care pay off here, but not always uniformly.

The cover has cutouts for the iPad’s headphone jack, camera, switches, docking cable and speaker, and once inserted, the iPad is very secure. So secure, in fact, that I was hard-pressed to snap the iPad out when I wanted to use it separately. That’s a little less than optimal.

One pre-engineered work-around is for the top cover to fold back, revealing a side grip that should let you hold the iPad easily. The problem? Every time I did this, the iPad would go to sleep, requiring re-entry of my passcode, only to go to sleep again when moved. This is likely a consequence of the cover’s “smart” technology, which, when folded normally, shuts down the iPad to save battery life. A fix may be possible, but for now, this is a serious issue.

Another negative, particularly in situations where one might want to type quietly, is the noticeable noise of the keyboard’s keys when typing. The sound of the old Radio Shack Model 100 was endearing, but that device was popular 28 years ago. Something must have changed since then.

What to do? I’m torn, because the ClamCase has many good features. But I’m going to take another look at the Belkin product. Its keyboard is made differently, and it makes almost no noise. If I can figure out how to make the iPad visible while typing, that may be the way to go.

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