Convertible tablets are beginning to take over from laptops, as we wrote in our article ‘Why Windows 8 will kill the laptop’. However, while premium tabs like the Microsoft Surface and Asus Transformer offer keyboards to turn them into flexible all-rounders, Apple’s iPad does not and won’t for the foreseeable future. The solution: a third-party keyboard case. If you want to be productive or even type long emails on your iPad, the virtual keyboard just won’t cut it. Freedom thinks it has the answer with its i-Connex Combi, a folio with removable Bluetooth keyboard.
The i-Connex Combi isn’t just a keyboard either. It protects your iPad front and back (unlike a solution such as the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, wakes/sleeps your iPad, and acts as a stand. It’s also the only solution on the market that can integrate Apple’s official Smart Cover. Moreover, Freedom claims its Combi is “the smallest, slimmest and lightest folio” around.
The design of the Combi is unique, dramatically setting itself apart from the majority of keyboard covers/folios. It consists of three main components: a removable cover that’s very reminiscent of the one seen on the Pong iPad Case, a perforated hard plastic case that holds your tablet and the keyboard, and of course the keyboard itself.
Though the front cover is beautiful, overall the i-Connex isn’t the most attractive case around. This is thanks to the hard case making a rather bulky and plasticky impression. Build quality throughout is good.
The smart cover is a thing of beauty, and far more useful than Apple’s alternative. This is because, just like the Pong one, it has diagonal fold lines as well as the usual horizontal ones, which lets you fold it into a triangle to act as a very versatile stand.
It’s quite durable and feels lovely. The cover sports a smooth, soft-touch outer finish and a suede-effect inner lining. It attaches to the hard-case securely thanks to a Velcro strip. Our only minor complaint is that, just like the Pong, its magnets sometimes aren’t quite strong enough to hold it flush with the iPad’s screen. This also means that on occasion it will accidentally turn your iPad on/off.
If, for some reason, you wish to use Apple’s own Smart Cover instead, that’s an option with the i-Connex Combi. Simply detach the bundled cover and the hard base leaves room for the Smart Cover’s magnetic hinge.
The hard case completely surrounds your iPad, only leaving room for the ports and buttons. It slips on securely and can fit both the iPad 2 and new iPad AKA iPad 3 or newer new iPad AKA iPad 4 (bad Apple, bad). Though it’s constructed from hard plastic, there’s a soft foam inner lining to protect your tablet’s aluminium back from marks. It’s also fully perforated to ensure your tablet won’t overheat, a thoughtful feature.
Unfortunately, this part of the folio is where our issues with the i-Connex Combi begin. Its hard finish isn’t exactly pleasant in the hand, and there are some way-too-sharp edges at the charging connector and front cover hinge. More than anything though, it just comes across as very bulky - and at around 2cm thick for the entire contraption, that impression is not unwarranted.
Admittedly this is a complaint with many folio iPad cases and the i-Connex Combi is slimmer than most we have seen. This is a slight case of the one-eyed folio being king in the land of the blind though; just to put things into context, the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover with iPad attached is still thinner overall. Of course, it doesn’t protect your tablet.
The hard cover holds the keyboard securely. A strong magnet practically pulls it in, though you can only fit it in one way around. Once ‘docked’, the keyboard sits almost flush with the rear of the case and blends fairly well. There’s a small lip to pull it out, which may be a bit fiddly for those with broad fingers. Taking the keyboard out also leaves a very unattractive… hole which completely ruins the look. Still, function over form and all that.