Tablet sales are booming — of Apple’s iPad line in particular, but there’s a healthy growth in Android tablets, and at the time of writing, a range of Windows 8 tablets appear to be imminent. Tablets are excellent for media consumption and gaming, but what if you want to turn your tablet into a productivity machine as well? There’s a reasonable slew of productivity tablet apps (and multitasking approaches can overcome many of the software limitations of tablets), but for certain tasks you need to look to a physical peripheral to cover the gap, making your tablet so much more than just a movies, music and games machine.
Laser shAIR Hub
Multitasking for your tablet.
Price: $99 | Web: www.laserco.net
Laser’s shAIR hub is a jack-of-all-trades device — a combined external battery, Ethernet sharing hub and Wi-Fi SD card reader for tablets. iPad users get a specific app, but it’ll work with any tablet that connects to its self-generated Wi-Fi network and plugs its IP address into any browser. From there you can browse any connected SD cards or USB drives, making it good for expanding your tablet’s storage, or taking more content on the road with you. One thing to be aware of with iPad use is that it doesn’t extend the format support of the iPad or work with other apps, so you need to have iPad-friendly content to work with it. In hotels it can share an Ethernet-based internet connection out to multiple devices, something that worked well across multiple tablets in our tests. The internal 1,200mAh battery is a little on the low side in terms of external chargers (for comparison, the latest iPad has a 7,000mAh battery), but if you’re desperate, it works for a small additional charge to your tablet. The shAIR Hub isn’t the prettiest gadget, but it’s very functional for a reasonable asking price.
Kensington Virtuoso Pro Stylus & Pointer
Two great products in one.
Price: $39.95 | Web: www.kensington.com
Most peripherals describe themselves in their titles and Kensington’s stylus is no exception. It’s a pen-style stylus — right down to the pocket clip on one end and a bright red laser pointer on the other. There’s no shortage of stylus options for the tablet market, but this one stands out on two grounds. Firstly, there’s the obvious draw of the laser pointer for presentation use: it’s nice and bright, and easy to tap on when needed, as well as being excellent for exercising cats. While the middle of the pen does unscrew, there’s no inbuilt pen function to speak of and it just unscrews to allow you to replace the tiny battery that powers the laser pointer end. The other aspect we love about the Virtuoso Pro is the weighting. Most styluses are very lightweight, which is great for carrying, but feels off in the hand. The Virtuoso Pro is weighted like a good-quality pen, making it excellent to annotate or draw with. There are cheaper stylus options, but if you’ve got need for a laser pointer to go along with your tablet work, the Virtuoso Pro Stylus is an excellent choice.
Wallee Hand Strap
Aussie innovation for a price.
Price: $19.95 | Web: www.studioproper.com
The Wallee system is an Aussie invention that started out as a simple wall mount for iPads, but now encompasses a range of peripherals that all use the same cross-mounted connector. The Hand Strap more or less defines itself; you’ll need the basic $39.95 Wallee case and the Hand Grip, which slips over the hand, where it becomes much easier to then hold your tablet for an extended period of time rather than simply resting it in your hand, as well as enabling you to easily share the tablet’s display with other people. As with other elements of the Wallee system, you’d need to be invested in the case and perhaps other peripherals for it to really make financial sense.
Griffin Survivor Case
Tougher than tough.
Price: $100 | Web: www.powermove.com.au
Like the smaller iPhone-compatible Survivor we reviewed a few months ago (see TechLife September, page 37), Griffin’s Survivor Case for iPad is rather like putting a bulletproof jacket on your iPad, although bullets are one of the few things it’s not rated to protect against. However, it’s drop-proof, sand/dust-proof, vibration-proof and wind/rainproof to US military standard STD-810F — or in other words, it’s very tough. It’s a bit tough to get into and out of as well, although the clasp on the side also neatly doubles as a stand, so anyone using an iPad in a perilous environment — think mining, building sites or schools — could protect their productivity nicely with this very hard case.
Belkin Tablet Stand with Smart Stylus
Excellent for hands-off use.
Price: $49 | Web: www.belkin.com/au
Most tablet stands are desk-focused, but Belkin’s Tablet Stand with Smart Stylus is pitched more towards kitchen (or other hands-off) tablet use — very few other stands have as a selling point that they’re ‘hand washable’, after all. Instead of a delicate pen-style stylus, you get a thick, chunky stylus that looks like it’d be more at home on a chopping board. It’s not great for very delicate work, but where you might want to be hands-off — flicking your way through a recipe app being the most obvious scenario — it works well and is very durable. The stand is quite solid and heavy, so you can tap quite hard with it sitting very still.
Twelve South HoverBar
A solid holding bar for your tablet.
Price: $90 | Web: www.tryandbyte.com.au
Twelve South’s HoverBar looks like something that’s fallen off Spider-Man foe Doctor Octopus’s prototyping table. It’s a holding bar designed to clip to the side of an iMac and provide a floating space for your tablet to sit in, turning it into a second screen for additional computing activities. It’s a very solid bit of metal and quite a hard install, although once in place it’s very secure. While it’s designed for an iMac/iPad combo, the silicon-softened clamp that holds it in place could be wrapped around other monitors or tables — you’d just have to get the balance right, something that took us some doing at first.
Lunatik Touch Pen
A stylus that doubles as a pen.
Price: $30 | Web: www.tryandbyte.com.au
Many tablet stylus options are just styluses and nothing more, but the Lunatik Touch Pen is indeed a pen, and it’s not one that uses one end for stylus and the other for writing. Instead, the pen pops out from the middle of the stylus end when clicked, which is a little nerve-wracking when you’re using it in its stylus form. It’s available in a variety of very bright colours, meaning you’re unlikely to lose it all that easily. The Lunatik Touch Pen is also rather light. That’s a function of its entirely polycarbonate plastic construction and while that makes it low impact in a pocket, it also means it doesn’t have the same kind of reassuring heft as some other stylus options.
Logitech Speaker Stand
A stand with audio playback.
Price: $100 | Web: www.logitech.com
Logitech’s Speaker Stand is a very sturdy bit of kit with a heavy base, but that’s because the base is also where Logitech’s thrown the speakers, which sit just behind the iPad stand itself. It grips all models of iPad quite firmly and charges as it plays any audio source you throw through it, which is handy, although it’s AC tethered rather than having an internal battery. It’ll charge any iPad plugged into it, but we found inconsistency with its power button, which sometimes powered up and sometimes not. It seemed particularly stubborn with a 2012-model iPad, but it’s not clear whether it’s the iPad or the hardware of the stand itself.
A simple tool for the job.
Price: $19.95 | Web: www.padacs.com
Easily the least visually impressive peripheral we’ve reviewed in this roundup, the PADACS RapidCharge cable is… just a cable. But if you’ve ever tried to use a standard iPad charger cable with the USB port on your laptop, you may have found that it failed to actually charge. That’s where the small switch on this cable comes into play, amping up the current flowing so that it’ll charge an iPad or iPhone. From a tablet perspective it works, although it’s an either/or proposition: you can either charge an iPad or sync it, but not both, with the switch in just one position.
Small and unassuming.
Price: $30 | Web: www.belkin.com/au
Tablet stands can aid in productivity, but many of them assume you’ll want something to drop on your desk and always have with you, and that type of model isn’t well suited if your tablet is more mobile than that. That’s where Belkin’s FlipBlade is pitched: it’s a smaller tablet stand that comes in the form of a small folding stand with a clasp release. It’s small enough to simply leave in a laptop bag or similar and pop out when you need it. The stand is wide enough to support just about any tablet — we tested it with an iPad, Nexus 7, Xoom and PlayBook — and the non-slip surface keeps the tablet very steady.
Power and protection.
Price: $60 | Web: www.padacs.com
The Enduro’s contribution to your productivity comes in the dual form of protecting an iPad (third-generation or iPad 2) with a simple polyurethane/leather (PU Leather) cover, as well as having an inbuilt 6,800mAh battery inside the cover of the case. That’s a neat idea, but there are some fiddly aspects. Charging the battery is via a custom cable — microUSB would be preferable — and to charge the pad (or any other device), you’ve got to have its charging cable to hand as well. If you constantly run your tablet dry when you’re out and about and need a case, it’s a decent option, but many of the battery packs we reviewed offer a simpler charging method.
Kensington KeyFolio Expert
A keyboard with a stable base.
Price: $120 | Web: www.kensington.com
Kensington’s KeyFolio keyboard case combines a very light case cover that folds back in the same style as Apple’s own Smart Cover, but it doesn’t use a magnetic clasp; instead, the iPad (or any tablet that would fit) slots into a U-shaped groove that holds it in place. The keyboard itself is well manufactured and for a unit this light, not too noisy in active use. You’ll need a little space to lay it all out on a desk, but the flip side of this arrangement is that the longer nature of the folded-up KeyFolio Expert case also makes it highly suitable for lap-based work, as it forms a nice, long stable base.
Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover
Price: $100 | Web: www.logitech.com
The Ultrathin Keyboard Cover mimics the silver back of the 2012-model iPad, making it look rather like an over-thick smart cover. Instead, it hides a solidly constructed keyboard and a holding groove for the iPad. Unlike many cases where the keyboard folds out, the central groove of the Ultrathin Keyboard Cover is where you place the iPad after removing it as a cover. The rounded keys of the keyboard are reasonable and the holding groove works well once the iPad has clicked into place, with a firm grip. This means it’s suitable for both desk- and lap-based working tasks. Charging is via microUSB and like most Bluetooth keyboards, you’re not technically limited to using it with just an iPad, although that’s clearly what the styling and magnetic clip are designed for. One interesting quirk here is that it features specialised function keys, although they’re accessed like you would on a laptop, via a function key combination, instead of being their own row of keys. The solid construction of the Ultrathin does add some weight to the iPad, but it’s no worse than most other keyboards, and in a style and function that complements the iPad almost perfectly.
Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K760
A clever keyboard with its own power.
Price: $100 | Web: www.logitech.com
The K760 is quite a large keyboard and certainly not one that you’ll easily pair with a case for travelling purposes. This is a full keyboard with a large solar-power panel at the top and like Logitech’s similar Solar Keyboard Folio on page 33, once it’s charged it’s pretty easy to keep topped up without too much extra placement work. Where the K760 stands out as exceptionally clever is in how it manages up to three paired devices. Set function keys switch between pairing options, so it’s perfectly feasible to have it paired with, say, a desktop, an iPad and a smartphone of your choice, flicking between each at will, or just taking the wireless Bluetooth keyboard with you as you go.
Belkin YourType Folio + Keyboard
A keyboard and case combo.
Price: $130 | Web: www.belkin.com/au
Most keyboard cases are bulky little beasts, but Belkin’s approach to that problem is a little different: the keyboard itself is detachable, connecting only via rather stiff Velcro. As such you can travel using the Folio case as just a case or with the keyboard inside, giving it good flexibility, although the downside there is that the Folio case itself isn’t that spectacular. The keyboard has dedicated keys for iPad-specific functions (although you should be able to pair it with any Bluetooth device) and even a tiny wrist rest. Typing was quite good on the stiff keys, which have plenty of movement, making this a good keyboard case choice.
Logitech Tablet Keyboard
A battery-powered keyboard.
Price: $100 | Web: www.logitech.com
Logitech’s Keyboard for iPad/Android has a pleasant teardrop shape and an excellent chiclet-style keyboard. In terms of overall typing quality, it’s a very close race between this and the Solar Keyboard K760. There are differences, however: this keyboard runs on four AAA batteries, so there’s no recharge option, although AAA batteries are pretty easy to come by. It comes in a slipcase that reverses itself to form a very solid stand for your tablet, yet that very much makes it a desktop keyboard proposition rather than a lap one.
Logitech Fold-Up Keyboard
A full-size keyboard that folds up.
Price: $180 | Web: www.logitech.com
The Fold-Up Keyboard we tested works with the iPad 2 only in terms of its case, which clips on the back. You’d ideally want to pair it with a Smart Cover or something similar to protect the front of your tablet, too. Once attached, the press of a button allows the two-part keyboard to fold out and switch on. Unlike many, it’s a full-sized keyboard, making it very easy to type on, although it does mean you’ll need a larger lap — or preferably some desk space — to make the most productive use of it. The lighter fold-out keyboard can also get a bit noisy if you’re a quick touch typist.
PADACS Rubata 3 Bluetooth Keyboard Case
Bluetooth unit with a custom cable.
Price: $60 | Web: www.padacs.com
The Rubata 3 could well be the prototypical tablet keyboard case. It’s got a robust PU Leather outline, slip-in area for (in this case) the 2012 iPad, and simple power and pairing buttons above a chiclet-style keyboard. The keyboard isn’t the best, however, with very light keys that take a fair thump to respond. That’s something you can learn, but equally annoying is the same issue we had with the PADACS Enduro case: while charging is via USB, it’s not using a miniUSB or microUSB cable. Instead, the Rubata uses a custom cable, so if you lose it, the keyboard’s going to lose functionality rather quickly.
Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio
A keyboard that charges itself.
Price: $150 | Web: www.logitech.com
The keyboard on the Folio has good response, although it’s a little bit noisy in use. On the plus side, the whole thing is quite light for a keyboard case; while it doesn’t have the most stylish design, it’s at least relatively unobtrusive. There’s no way to charge the Solar Keyboard Folio except with light — the solar cells are on the back of the case and like many solar products, the charging process is a little slow, although once fully charged it lasts for a long time. It’s entirely feasible that if you’ve got the case in a bright area, you may never have to think about deliberately charging it at all.