It’s a question that’s been thrust at the iPad since day one: is it a proper computer? Certainly, one of the Apple tab’s biggest bugbears is that typing anything of length is akin to miming War & Peace: laborious. But can a keyboard, and a place to keep the iPad upright, change that? We’ve been using the iLuv Workstation to see if it can turn Apple’s pride and joy into a proper PC.
Build and design
Remember the Amstrad E-m@iler? It was, shall we say, a bit ahead of its time. The phone-come-computer tried to bridge the gap between the two, at a time when nobody was really ready for it. But that’s exactly what the iPad is, so when it’s housed in a device with a keyboard, it’s little surprise that the E-m@iler immediately springs to mind.
But let’s be kind: it’s not as ugly. If you’re designing a product that needs to hold an iPad, conceal a keyboard and face it predominantly with a speaker, your design options are going to be fairly limited.
The Workstation isn’t a centre piece for your room. It’s not a B&W speaker. It’s made of plastic. But it’s by no means hideous, and it’s reassuringly heavy. Add to that the fact that the grip holds an iPad snugly, and can by tilted back and forth, as well as between portrait and landscape, and overall it’s a nice bit of engineering. It’s neither astounding nor cheap, but you do get a remote control with it, which is a nice touch.
The speaker on the Workstation is pretty hefty, and has no problems filling a room. This is impressively over-achieving, given that the idea of the Workstation is to have you sit right in front of it. As it is, there’s ample bass and the sound doesn’t buzz when you turn it all the way up.
There are better sounding docks out there, but not by a huge margin at this price ($150, £129.99).
Let’s get to the meat: the keyboard is the only reason you’d buy the Workstation over any other dedicated speaker dock. Concealed and released by a satisfying spring-loaded mechanism at the Workstation’s foot, the keyboard’s designed to make life easier when you’re using an iPad at a desk. And does it?
Well, it certainly works without any qualms. The dock insists that it needs an app to work, but it actually doesn’t – just plug your iPad or iPhone in and type away. Wherever the onscreen keyboard would pop up, it now won’t. On top of that, there are some shortcuts for ‘home’ and volume, etc.
But it’s by no means perfect. The width of the dock dictates the width of the keyboard, which is unfortunately a wedge narrower than the keyboard found on the 11-inch MacBook Air – which would have been perfect here.
As such, the keyboard’s a little cramped. It’s got fine travel and, despite being plasticky, isn’t flimsy, but it is cramped. You can get used to any keyboard size and shape, but some quicker than others – this is just a little bit too small for our liking. Also, it’d be nice if the keyboard were wireless and could fully leave its housing, but that would undoubtedly drive the cost up.
So if the keyboard’s cramped, is it really worth the asking price? That very much depends on what you expect to be able to do on an iPad. If you want to write novels, we’d still say you’d be better off with a laptop. But if you want to have somewhere to station your iPad – as a secondary device – and fire off emails, this is one of the best options going.
Apple’s device is only really as limited as your tolerance or patience in this sense. Dreams of using the iPad as your primary computer can come true, but only if you really don’t expect to be doing much on a primary computer.
But, if you’re just looking for something that, say, makes it easier to comment on Facebook or to search for a song on Spotify, the iLuv Workstation dock is your best option. It’s appeal over other docks is very niche, but there is an appeal all the same.