Turn your iPad into a laptop with a Solar Folio

Logitech's "Solar Keyboard Folio" is for Apple iPad users with more demanding typing needs.

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY My iPad has ruined me for laptops. While I once hardly minded lugging around a six-pound portable, these days I can't be bothered to carry anything but the Apple (AAPL) computer tablet for most of my on-the-go computing needs. After all, my iPad can do almost anything I would ordinarily rely on a laptop for, and it's almost weightless in comparison.

I should emphasize that it can do almost anything -- except type long documents, of course. The iPad's on-screen keyboard is useless for all but the shortest of emails, so the only way to get any real work done on an iPad is to use an external keyboard, like the wireless one sold by Apple.

If you're in the market for an iPad keyboard, Logitech's $129 Solar Keyboard Folio is for my money just about the best option around. And it's more than just a keyboard. It's a wireless Bluetooth keyboard integrated into a folio-style case that automatically turns the iPad on and off when you open and close the cover (via magnets, just like Apple's own Smart Cover). The iPad fits in the "top" of the folio, so when opened it sits in front of the keyboard at just the right angle for reading or typing.

The keyboard has a nice solid, clacky feel, very similar to Logitech's Solar Keyboard for desktops, which I also adore. There are function keys for common iPad modes and shortcuts, but the most interesting attraction is the folio's dual positions. The iPad nestles into notches atop the keyboard for routine typing, but you can also slip the iPad into notches just above the first row of keys, hiding most of the keyboard. That puts the folio in media mode, where the space bar acts like a play/pause control for music and video, and you can change tracks and volume with other keys. It's a nice accommodation, since you'll probably use the iPad for a lot of media consumption when you're not typing up TPS reports.

The keyboard is billed as solar, and it indeed has solar cells on one side of the folio. Logitech claims that when fully charged, the keyboard can be used for two years -- which almost begs the question why you need solar cells at all.

Still, this is an excellent iPad accessory. Rather than carrying a keyboard, it's fully integrated into a protective "smart" cover that stands the iPad up for viewing or working. It does make your iPad thicker and heavier (but at just 460 grams, or just over one pound, the keyboard still weighs far less than a laptop). In a design quirk, the solar cells are bizarrely on the bottom of the folio, which means it scrapes the tabletop when the iPad is in use. I worry that abrasions will reduce the charging effectiveness over time. It's also strange that when you leave the folio out to charge, it's upside down -- you have to flip it open to begin using the iPad.

Nonetheless, aside from the annoying arrangement of solar cells, I highly recommend this keyboard.