Competition is a great thing. The first iPad keyboards that appeared on the market were clunky devices with horrible battery life, weird key layouts, and questionable provenance. Since those first attempts, we've seen increasingly more sophisticated and well-designed keyboard cases that keep adding features while improving on looks. Today I'm reviewing the Belkin QODE Ultimate Pro Keyboard Case for iPad Air 2 (US$149.99 MSRP, available for $121.99 at Amazon - affiliate link), a sharp-looking keyboard case that is impressive in its versatility.
The design of the QODE Ultimate Pro is similar to other keyboard cases that we’ve seen in that it provides complete protection of the iPad Air 2. There’s a plastic shell that the iPad snaps into, and the keyboard acts as a protective cover for the iPad. But that’s where the design similarities end…
First, the QODE Ultimate Pro can be separated easily from the iPad shell if you wish to use it with an Apple Smart Cover only. Powerful magnets in the back of the iPad shell lock onto a tab that props the iPad up in the open position, and the QODE Ultimate Pro can be placed into one of two open positions.
A magnetic switch turns the power off when the cover is closed, and also turns the keyboard on when the iPad is popped into one of the two upright positions. No more guessing if the iPad Air 2 has been turned off when you close this case — it will be shut off.
One of my complaints about several other iPad Air 2 keyboard cases has been addressed with the QODE Ultimate Pro — it has special channels that actually route sound from the iPad’s speakers forward toward the user, providing an excellent sound experience. I can also use the iPad Air 2 in this case with a Lightning to VGA Adapter. A couple of other keyboards had such a small opening for the Lightning cable that I had to remove the keyboard case when giving presentations. Not so with the QODE Ultimate Pro.
The keyboard uses a pretty standard key arrangement with a few deviations. For example, there’s a dedicated Siri button in the space bar row and the delete key also serves as a Bluetooth key when it is pressed along with the function “fn” key. Unlike almost any other iPad keyboard case, the QODE Ultimate Pro can be paired with a second device and switched easily between them. When the fn+Bluetooth 1 button is depressed and held, a blue LED flashes to indicate that the device is ready for pairing. When fn+Bluetooth 2 is pressed, the light flashes pink and a second device — my iPhone 6s Plus in this case — can be paired. One can easily use the QODE without an iPad as a spare Mac keyboard.
The keyboard has three levels of backlighting, also enabled through a function key combo. I found even the lowest level to be quite sufficient for dim lighting conditions; the high level really glows quite brightly.
There are also function keys for Spotlight searches, the "cover flow" view of recent apps, screenshots, bringing up the virtual keyboard, media playback controls, and volume control.
For recharging the QODE, Belkin provides a USB to micro-USB cable. The recharging port is located on the back of the keyboard, precisely in the middle of it. The port is covered by the flap connecting the keyboard and the iPad shell so that it's protected from dirt; when you need to charge the keyboard you'll want to remove the keyboard from the shell and plug it in.
The QODE Ultimate Keyboard has nice, strong feel to it. While some other keyboards have a somewhat sloppy or mushy feel to the keys, the keys on the QODE Ultimate are quite firm and have a snappy feedback. This may not be to the liking of everyone; you should see if you can get a chance to try the keyboard before buying it to see if the feel is acceptable to you.
Some of the side keys are a bit on the small size, although perfectly functional and usable. If you're used to a large tab, caps lock, or return key, then once again be sure that you try out the keyboard before buying to see if the size is going to be an issue to you. I found the smaller keys to be a total non-issue: they felt quite normal and my fingers found them in the correct locations.
I love the fact that the QODE has no power switch, as that's one more thing I don't have to consider shutting off. The magnetic switch works very well, unlike some other keyboard covers/cases I've reviewed recently. When you close the cover, you know that the keyboard is shutting off. When you open it, the iPad turns on immediately.
I was impressed with the level of detail given to every facet of the design of the QODE Ultimate Keyboard for iPad Air 2. The removable keyboard can be used with other devices and the twin-pairing capability makes it easy to do so. The snappy feel of the keys is unique and very suitable to fast touch typing. Little details are also evident -- the speaker channels and wide opening for the Lightning cable or video connectors are something a lot of people might overlook, but they really make a difference.
The Belkin QODE Ultimate Keyboard for iPad Air 2 may well be the ultimate keyboard for this tablet platform, which is why I'm giving it an Apple World Today Top Pick rating as the best iPad keyboard case of 2015.
Apple World Today Rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★★★
Buy a Belkin QODE Ultimate Keyboard for iPad Air 2 from Amazon and support Apple World Today at the same time (affiliate link).