iPad Journal: Zugu Case Review

As I mentioned in my recent post about my evolving iPad workflow and workspace, I’m currently trying out the iPad Pro in a Zugu Muse case with an external keyboard. This is a change from recent months using the iPad with no case and having it in a stand when typing or hand-held for browsing. Previous to that I usually had it in the Smart Keyboard Portfolio.

Briefly, the move to the Zugu case is not so much about protecting the iPad (though the case is designed to be very protective and in that regard it’s much better than Apple’s Portfolio) but more about having a variety of angles possible as well as ease of use in my lap or on the futon beside me.

The Zugu Muse is the specific case I have and the first selling point listed on the website is exactly why I’m giving it a go. It’s designed to allow for 8 angles which are securely set but easily changed with magnet-based slots. The many reviews echo the product demo video in saying that the case is very sturdy and stable when the iPad is in use. The metal stand I’ve been using is very stable and sturdy but only useable on a shelf, desk or other hard surface. Also, unfortunately, the angle on that stand is not easily adjustable.

I’ve had the Zugu for a couple weeks and can report that it is very sturdy and stable as promised. This is true for all 8 angles. At the moment I’m sitting/reclining on my beanbag chair and my legs stretched out straight in front of me. The iPad is fairly stable in the Zugu just above my knees and my keyboard is sitting in front of the iPad.

I can move my legs around a bit, stretch and so on with no fear that the case will flip. If I want or need to reposition my legs I can adjust the angle of the iPad/Zugu accordingly to get what I need. It’s not as easy as a laptop but it’s close enough.

I have only three critiques at this point.

First, when, changing the angle I do have to be careful to get both of the slots set. The magnets are very strong once the folding flaps are in place though.

Second, there is room for one more slot closest to the iPad/hinge that would result in an even more vertical position and still retain the stability of the other positions.

Third, I’m still not quite sure what the best way is to pick this up when I’m moving a short distance, say from my futon to the desk 10 feet away. It just seems a bit clumsy to move around. In that regard, the Smart Keyboard Portfolio seemed a bit more stable and sturdy when picked up in it’s typing position and moved. With the Zugu sometimes I’m not sure where to put my hands when picking up and as a result I’ve knocked the folding brace from the magnet slots a few times causing a moment of panic as the cover/bottom flops loose. Perhaps more practice?

So, to compare the set-up to Apple’s solution, the Smart Keyboard Portfolio. For the 12” iPad Pro the SKP is $200. I love the typing experience of the SKP and find it very stable in the lap. It does not flop around or seem unstable at all. The downsides: lack of backlit keyboard, no special function/media keys and only two angles to choose from.

Another downside with the SKP, as I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve already had to replace it once. From my experience with the current and previous version I expect that these cases won’t last for much more than a year given the amount of daily use they get. Now, I’ve got a replacement under warranty that should last another year. But, $200 for a keyboard that only lasts a year, so two keyboards in two years at $200. That’s not acceptable. These should be more durable. I expect to use this iPad for at least 2 if not 3 more years. A $200 case should last 3 to 4 years.

The Zugu with an external keyboard, usually my beloved Logitech K811, is still fairly mobile. The Zugu and Smart Keyboard Portfolio weigh about the same and are about the same thinness. But, of course, with the Zugu there is the added weight of a separate keyboard though it is a more functional keyboard. I’ve also got the very thin and light Logitech Keys-to-Go that I can take instead though it is less functional and not as nice to type on.

As mentioned above, the iPad in the Zugu is very stable and a pleasure to use at all 8 angles, on the desk or shelf or on my lap or on my chest when laying down. It does not easily tip. The separate keyboard can be a hassle at times but is a great benefit at other times.

Another difference between the two is that with Apple’s portfolio it’s possible to easily pop the iPad off entirely. With the Zugu it’s held in the case pretty snuggly, not something I’ll be taking off very often. So, it’s semi-permanent. But, it’s super easy to fold back the cover/bottom piece behind the iPad just as one might do with Apple’s portfolio. And, again, it weighs about the same so hand holding, should I want to do that, is comparable to the experience with Apple’s portfolio folded back.

My tentative conclusion in comparing the two is this. If Apple sold a more durable Smart Keyboard Folio with backlighting and the special function media keys that would be my choice. I’d be willing to forgo the 8 viewing angles. But, given what that product is today, I would go with the Zugu and an external keyboard. The 8 slots are very useful and having a backlit keyboard with media keys is something I really do like to have. And considering the cost, the Zugu and an external keyboard also make sense. The K811 and Zugu is less that $170 and other keyboards are even less. I don’t yet know how durable the Zugu will be but it is made very well so I’m hoping it will last at least 2 to 3 years.

A final note (for now) and a consideration. Apple’s product is 1 piece, the Zugu and an external keyboard, 2 pieces. There are times when a 1 piece, laptop like experience is better. There are times when separate is better. In my scenario I think I’d choose the 2 piece because of where I usually sit to work.