ESR Ascend Keyboard Case Lite for iPad Pro 12.9
ESR Ascend Keyboard Case Lite Review: An Excellent iPad Keyboard Case that Makes the Case for an iPad Case System
This is a review of the ESR Ascend Keyboard Case Lite, which I like very much. But I need to start with an aside aimed at ESR, Zagg, Logitech and others who make keyboard cases for the iPad.
I think it is time for a system case that meets all the needs without swapping parts.
The ESR Ascend Keyboard Case Lite is a good starting point, but it could be better—not as a stand-alone solution but as part of ESR’s overall iPad case line.
At the basic level, the ESR Ascend Keyboard Case Lite includes a lightweight case for the iPad Pro that provides value independently of the keyboard. It is magnetic, so it can easily be removed from the keyboard case when a keyboard isn’t needed. ESR considered use cases, so cleverly placed magnets adequately support portrait and landscape modes when placed on the keyboard’s magnetic mounting panel.
But here’s the problem. ESR also sent me their Ascend Hybrid iPad case without a keyboard. In the ideal world, the Ascend Hybrid case would adhere to the Ascend Keyboard Case Lite’s magnetic inner cover. It doesn’t. The Ascend case magnets don’t align with those on Ascend Keyboard Case Lite’s case. One is trifold, the other only a bifold, but there should be an engineering solution for magnet placement that would make them work together as a system.
Keyboards, even the lightest keyboard, are heavier than a standard case. I like the protective inner case that allows the iPad to be used without a cover, increasing its lightness and access without jeopardizing its polished back panel. But, when I move into any situation that may cause me to drop or otherwise threaten my iPad, I want it bundled up—but that bundle need not always include a keyboard.
Thus, the ideal system would include an inner case, a cover, and a keyboard cover.
Let me take this one step further by including a magnetic stand. Most magnetic stands require a naked iPad. That means removing them from a case before mounting them on a stand. Wouldn’t it be better if a universal magnetic case also aligned with the magnet on the stand, creating an easy solution for moving from case to display without removing anything except the attraction between one set of magnets?
ESR Ascend Keyboard Case Lite Review
What we like
- Good protection from its dual-case system
- Solid battery life
- Acceptable typing experiences for this form factor
- Lighter than many competitor cases
The $89.99 ESR Ascend Keyboard Case Lite’s slick black case with the ESR logo etched on a chrome plate looks classy right out of the box. The hard polycarbonate back and flexible polymer sides protect the iPad (save the screen) even when not in the case. With the back attached magnetically to the case and the case closed, and its flap secured, the ESR Ascend Keyboard Case Lite offers formidable protection for the iPad Pro. For a bit of added protection, the Apple Pencil can be slipped into a sleeve in the flap so it won’t fly off even if the case opens up when dropped.
When deployed, the ESR Ascend Keyboard Case supports the iPad in landscape or portrait mode at viewing angles of 110 and 120 degrees.
Because this is a keyboard intended for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, key spacing proves roomy. Travel is good for keys mounted on a shallow platform.
A row of function keys supports multimedia and ipadOS features. The keyboard offers 3-levels of brightness and seven backlight colors. Light levels cycle via “Fn + Right Shift,” and the backlight colors are controlled by pressing “Fn + Enter.”
Battery life is good, with up to 2 weeks running with backlight on, and months with backlight off.
At 26.5 oz, the ESR Ascend Keyboard Case Lite is like all keyboard cases, a bit heavy; however, it’s lighter and more elegantly minimalist than many others. The weight comes primarily from the battery and magnets, which is to be expected.
I found that the ESR Ascend Keyboard Case Lite offered the best balance between portability and protection in the evaluated solutions. The Zagg Pro Keys for iPad Pro 12.9 is probably more protective, but it is also much heavier.
The case also comes in white in the U.S. The ESR Ascend Keyboard Case Lite case works with iPad Pros generation 3 through 6.
What could be improved
- Backlighting is more around than through the keys
- Only connects with one Bluetooth® device
- Too much non-recyclable plastic and foam in the packaging
As with most portable keyboards, the keyboard backlight is nowhere near as refined as good laptop keyboard backlighting. The LEDs, depending on the angle, tend to squint out from below the keys rather than through the keys. I think all backlighting should be judged by being seen through the keys, and by how little light flows around them.
The ability to connect to more than one Bluetooth® device would be welcomed, allowing this keyboard to serve an iPad and an iPhone, for instance.
I would also like to see ESR step up its environmental game. The largely cardboard packaging was unfortunately accompanied by an internal bag, tray and foam insert that were not labeled as recyclable.
ESR Ascend Keyboard Case Lite: The bottom line
ESR makes high-quality products. I have had no issues with them in day-to-day use, and I do use them every day, which is a strong endorsement not only of quality but functionality. The feedback for ESR comes not because their products need improvement, but from knowing ESR could change them with a few well-placed magnets that would transform a suite of good cases solutions into a system of great solutions.
While the engineering may be relatively easy, the go-to-market will likely create some debate about the market size for a set of case products. ESR already sells a number of bundles. Combining all the parts into a single package could be a way forward—of course, they would have to engineer them first.
ESR Ascend Hybrid Case for iPad Pro 12.9
The $42.99 Ascend Hybrid Case also comes with a removable back case, though not one as sturdy as the polycarbonate panel that accompanies the ESR Ascend Keyboard Case Lite. That case may be detached from the magnets on the tri-fold case to create an even lighter user experience.
When moving into more hazardous situations, the backplane quickly attaches to the trifold case for additional protection, including covering the Apple Pencil.
As with most trifold cases, the Ascent Hybrid Case works as a stand or as a support for typing-oriented input.
As much as I like the lightness of the ESR Rebound Magnetic Slim Case, I much prefer the added protection from the Ascend Hybrid Case.
ESR provided the ESR Ascend Keyboard Case Lite for review. Images courtesy of ESR unless otherwise noted.
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