Once upon a time there was a Kickstarter to make the world’s most awesome keyboard / case … thing to “Turn your iPad® into a laptop”. As with most hardware projects on Kickstarter the expected delivery date came and went, and came and went again, but I feel the folks at Crux did a great job of keeping the backers informed, and the reasons it got set back almost always boiled down to them not being willing to accept half-assed Chinese manufacturing even if it would have gotten it into our hands sooner.
They really wanted to make the best product they could. They went so far with this that they actually lost money on each one that was made, and these are guys aren’t new to manufacturing hardware. They’ve had similar products built in China before. When it comes to something like this, I’m ok with having to wait a bit longer to get a better product.
So, did they deliver?
The first thing you notice is the weight. This is not a flimsy POS product. They promised a CNC milled block of aluminum with a quality level that was right on par with the Macbook, and they came pretty close. Is it as beautiful as a Macbook Air? No, but we knew that going in. This is essentially a really fancy picture frame for your iPad with an attached keyboard. They could have put a sheet of aluminum behind the iPad’s back, but it would have made the whole thing thicker and heavier. The reason I have to say “pretty close” is that Apple’s manufacturing standards are very, very high and the tolerances aren’t just good, they’re precise. So, for Crux, or anyone else, to get “pretty close”, is pretty damn good.
The case it comes with is actual leather, with a layer of padding and a fuzzy fake fur lining to keep your baby safe. Will I use it? Probably not. Is it nice? Yes.
Inserting the iPad was pretty simple. By default the little hinges that hold it in at the bottom are configured for an iPad 2 I suspect. The iPad 3 and 4 are a bit thicker, so I had to grab the included alan wrench and loosen them up (as instructed by the user manual) so that they would fit over my iPad 3. I also managed to put the iPad in backwards which obscured all the ports, but as soon as my foolishness was pointed out I just opened the hinges, flipped it around, and voillá the cutouts for the the ports and button lined up perfectly, but the space around the ports is only barely adequate. The headphone jack works fine with the Apple headphones, but anything with a thicker plastic portion won’t fit. The main 30 pin port is only enough for the power adapter. I have to press the iPad “into” the case and / or pull down on the edge of the case to make enough room for my connector cable to fit. The adapters for the Apple Camera Connection Kit don’t fit at all. I have to take the iPad out of the Crux Skunk to use them. Not a huge deal, as I don’t use them that often, but I suspect I’ll be using them much more frequently on the road and it’ll be annoying then. The HDMI adapter does fit either, so you cross this right off your list if you’re hoping to use it for presentations because even with pressing you can’t make it fit while in the case. I can’t comment on how accessible the Lightning port on the iPad 4 would be.
My first thought upon seeing my iPad in it’s new “laptop” incarnation? “It’s so wee!” Visually it’s pretty good. The keyboard comes up through an aluminum plate, which is fine, but I’m not thrilled with visuals the seam that follows around its edge meets up with the base. Apple chose put the flat plate on the bottom of the Macbook so that you’re not seeing it every time you use your laptop. I think this would have been a better choice for Crux, even if it did necessitate the use of screws, which Crux has managed to avoid. Also, the tolerances along that seam are good, but not Apple good. You can see it in the top right photo. I just can’t help but think “Oh look, there’s a metal plate that’s been snapped to the base”, every time I look down at it, and I don’t want to think that. I don’t want to be aware of that at any level. It should be hidden from me.
Pairing it was pretty straightforward, except that I pushed the “LED window” instead of the “Sync button” because the “LED window has the light that they were talking about seeing. Doing so felt wrong, but it still moved significantly as if it was a badly done button. But no, it’s a thing that looks like a button but really isn’t, and moves in a disconcerting way when pushed by someone who’s not paying close enough attention. Fortunately, I should never have to push the “Sync button” again, and it should be noted that if I’d read the instructions more carefully I wouldn’t have pushed it in the first place.
The keyboard itself feels… well it feels pretty good. The keys on a Macbook Pro have a softer feel at the terminus of your stroke. These have a little bit more of a “whack” at that point. Is it bad? No. It’s just different. You might start to feel it after an hour or more of typing. As for the layout, my fingers don’t feel even remotely cramped like they do on a typical netbook, but the key layout is smaller than that on the Apple Wireless Keyboard.
The CruxSKUNK comes with a variety of useful specialty keys: home, search, slideshow, languages, screen toggle, copy, paste, a lock button, plus music and volume controls. Some work, some don’t. I don’t know if this is a bug in Crux’s bluetooth software or just functionality that’s not supported by my older iPad 3. The ones that don’t work are: language, copy, and paste. I was really hoping those copy paste buttons worked. Alas, “comnd+c” and “comnd+v” (not a typo) do not copy / paste either. But, You can use shift+arrow keys to select text like with any other keyboard, and that’s a hell of a lot better than the touch based text selection tools.
I’ve typed about about 1,500 words on the thing so far, and I’m enjoying it. I’ve always been painfully slow typing on iOS devices. Now, I can touch-type full speed (~100 wpm) without issue. Geeks like me will be happy to know there’s a way to convince your iPad to use a Dvorak layout with bluetooth keyboards like this one. So all 4 of you can rejoice. Yay.
The lid / hinge
Closing and opening the lid sleeps and wakes the iPads screen respectively, as you’d hope. The hinge is designed such that you can keep opening until the back of the iPad is directly against the bottom of the case. They call this “Movie Mode.” I guess the idea is that you could flip it over into an A-frame and set it on something. Nifty. Will I use it? Possibly. Only time, and travel, will tell. I doubt I’d use it in day-to-day life.
Speaking of the hinge. There were a couple revisions in the hinge during production and I think they’ve absolutely paid off. It feels solid, and reassuring. The iPad’s weight is not going to gradually pull it open. On the downside, the hinge is so strong that you can’t actually close the “lid” all the way, or more accurately, you can close it all the way but the hinge opens it back up about an eighth of an inch as soon as you let go (see the photo above), which looks a bit crap if you ask me. It makes me wonder if that’s one of the reasons they included a case.
I recognize that, having just received it, and only typed a thousand or so words on it, it’s still pretty early to make any claims about it’s long term value, but I think that this is just the beginning of a radical transformation in how I interact with my iPad. Previously, typing on the thing was so frustrating that I wouldn’t even respond to tweets. I’d switch over to the laptop. Now, I’m typing 1,500 word articles on it.
But, it does what it claims and turns your iPad into a laptop, which is absolutely not what some people want. The iPad is a spectacular tablet, so you definitely sacrifice something when making it into a laptop, and while the wee hinges that hold in the iPad are easy to open or close, it’s not really the kind of thing that you’ll be wanting to pop your iPad in and out of constantly.
Is it better than just using an Apple Wireless Keyboard? That depends on who you ask. I think the Apple Wireless Keyboard is great, but using it with an iPad is crap unless you’re sitting at a table or desk. With the CruxSKUNK I can type on my iPad with it in my lap, at a desk, or anywhere else.
For those curious, yes, this post was created entirely on the iPad using Writing Kit, and Diptic, and typed on my CruxSKUNK. If you like Markdown, and you need to lookup information (and URLs) on the web whilst writing things, I highly recommend Writing Kit.