Closed, it's hard to tell an iPad is within (well, unless you're looking at the very top or bottom of the case where the iPad edge is visible), but opened up, the folio lies flat on any table or other flat surface (such as those cushioned netbook 'tables' you can prop onto your knees that are on sale in Officeworks for less than $15).
Available from iPhone and iPad accessory company PADACS, and being distributed in Australia by PC Range, the Toccata has a built in is a rubberised, sealed keyboard that's reminiscent of those rubber keyboards you see in fishtanks at computer shows, and while the keys are smaller than standard keyboard size and more in line with some netbook keyboards, there are reasons why sealed rubber keys were chosen.
To start with, the keys can end up touching the screen if pressure is applied to the front of a closed case, so to prevent any screen damage the keys are made from soft rubber.
Keeping the keys sealed also keeps out dust, crumbs and anything else that might otherwise get in between the keys of a regular keyboard, and it also helps to keep the keys a little smaller to fit into the iPad case dimensions.
A side effect of having rubber keys that I hadn't anticipated was an extremely quiet typing experience, something that's especially useful if you're taking notes in meetings, classes, conferences, seminars, lectures or anywhere where you don't want the clickety-clack of regular keys.
Sure, you could type directly onto the iPad's glass screen virtual keyboard and achieve the same effect (well, as long as you don't have long fingernails) but then you miss out on the additional accuracy that a physical keyboard brings, and even though the keys are smaller than true keyboard keys, two and a half days at a conference taking notes bore out the increased accuracy - at least for me, and I happen to be very proficient at the on-screen keyboard anyway, so this was a welcome and unexpected benefit.
The people on the tables around me at the conference were surprised to see a keyboard case for the iPad, and were even more surprised when they couldn't hear me typing, despite my fingers screaming across the keys at a very fast pace.
What's clear is that some will not like the rubber keyboard, wishing for a regular keyboard instead, while others will love the fact that an iPad case now exists with a very quiet Bluetooth keyboard that I, at least, found very easy to transition to for iPad typing.
Indeed, given the iPad's 10 hour battery life, I was able to use my iPad and the Toccata to take notes non-stop all day. Of course there were mid morning, lunch and afternoon breaks, but with a claimed 45 hours per charge and 100 days of standby time, I had plenty of battery for both the iPad and in the keyboard for more than an entire business working day, something very impressive after years of notebooks that lasted 2-3 hours max, even though notebooks and netbooks do exist with much longer battery life today.
Even so, notebooks and netbooks take longer to start up, have much louder keys and just aren't as cool as an iPad, but the PADACS case still has more going for it, like a great price - please read on to page 2!
So, what about the price of the PADACS Toccata case?
I've also seen what appear to be the exact same case as the PADACS Toccata but with different brands selling for as much as US $129 online, putting the Toccata at AUD $89.95 at the most competitive price point I've seen for this case yet - and without expensive US to Australia shipping fees to boot.
Pairing the device with the iPad is easy - go to Settings on the iPad, then Bluetooth and then turn on your Toccata. The iPad will search for new devices and will find the keyboard, after which it will ask you to type in a randomly created 6-digit number listed on screen, and then press the ENTER key to complete the pairing process.
Once done, the pairing is complete, and the Toccata ready to use. If you don't use it for 10 minutes the Bluetooth in the case goes into sleep mode, but pressing a key normally wakes the keyboard up again, with the iPad (or iPhone/iPod Touch with iOS 4.x loaded) flashing its white Bluetooth symbol next to the battery to indicate a connection.
I did note that using Audionote, which records all audio as you type and syncs it to your typing did, if I didn't type for more than 10 minutes, sometimes not re-connect properly, forcing me to go back to the settings to manually pair the Toccata that way, but I had no such issues using Pages.
The Toccata also has dedicated iPad/iPhone keys to change the volume, stop, play, pause, rewind and fast forward digital media and among other keys even a key that takes you back to the iOS home screen. It's also a Bluetooth keyboard that works with other devices - I had it happily connected and working with a Samsung Galaxy Tab the other day at Samsung's launch.
It was surprising to discover that Apple has restricted iOS in annoying ways. For example, if you're surfing the web in Safari or another iPad browser, you can't use the arrow keys to scroll down a page - you're forced to touch the screen to scroll down instead.
Yes, the iPad isn't supposed to be a notebook computer, but how hard would it have been for Apple to allow the page to scroll down one line at a time using the keys on the keyboard??
Presumably this capability is coming somewhere down the line, as will the addition of Bluetooth mouse support to make text editing easier when and if you choose to use a keyboard (and a mouse), although naturally, when it comes to Apple, it's hard to know for sure.
But these issues apply to all Bluetooth keyboards used with an iPad, and until Apple change it, there's little that accessory makers can do about it.
So, is the PADACS Toccata worth AUD $89.95, a price that's already cheaper than the handful of seemingly identical models from other brands, and certainly cheaper than a separate iPad case and separate Bluetooth keyboard? Please read on to page three for the conclusion!
So, is the Toccata both good value and a good Bluetooth keyboard case for the iPad?
As noted earlier, some will simply prefer a regular Bluetooth keyboard.
Heck, there's even the option of using a standard USB keyboard through the optional iPad USB attachment, supposedly only designed for USB memory sticks with photos but previously reported as working with wired keyboards and USB headsets, although whether Apple will still allow those devices to have those unofficial capabilities once iOS 4.2 officially arrives is anyone's guess.
But for those who have replaced their netbooks with an iPad for even more portability, for those who want an elegant case and keyboard iPad combo, and for those who want a physical iPad keyboard that is ultra-quiet to type on, the PADACS Toccata keyboard case is definitely worthy of consideration, especially now that it's officially shipping in Australia.
Personally, I've greatly enjoyed using the PADACS Toccata, and my fingertip typing memory has quickly re-aligned itself for Toccata use, although if you're more the hunt and peck type of typist any potential touch typing issues are, well, much less of an issue.
Many who've seen it want to know where to get one and have been pleased to see it is competitively priced, so if you're in the market for what is currently the most portable Bluetooth keyboard and iPad case combo, and especially if like me you appreciate the ultra quiet rubber keyboard, the pitter patter of your fingertips on a Toccata could very well be in your future.