FIXING THE ZAGG SLIMBOOK ULTRATHIN CASE (w/Keyboard) FOR IPAD PRO

ZAGG has a reputation for its innovative products. Sadly, however, one of them has a considerable design issue, and one that the company has (so far) refused to acknowledge, despite numerous customer complaints. Fortunately, however, I’ve developed an inexpensive repair for this oversight that I’ll provide in detail later on.

I’ve been very happy with the two ZAGG iPhone screen protectors I’ve owned, initially for the iPhone 6 Plus and then more recently the 6S Plus. They function as well as one could reasonably expect such a product to perform…in the case of the 6S Plus, the screen protector absorbed most of the impact when I accidentally dropped a can of Campbell’s Chunky Soup on my iPhone, surprisingly causing no display damage.

I’ve similarly been quite pleased with the ZAGG InvisibleShield Glass Screen protector for my 9.7″ iPad Pro. Considering that the easiest and most often used method to access a tablet device is through touchscreen input, a good screen protector is essential to preserving that touchscreen surface. This item does that, while also providing me with its assurance of quality that it will do its job well.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of its Slim Book Ultrathin Case, Hinged with Detachable Backlit Keyboard (referred to from now on as the Case). There exists a serious design flaw that cannot be ignored or, frankly, tolerated.

Some backstory: I purchased my iPad Pro 9.7″ unit with the aforementioned ZAGG InvisibleShield Glass Screen Protector and above-mentioned Case several months ago (August 2016). This was not a bundle–I did considerable research on all available options including both ZAGG products. I read whatever reviews I could find on all of the different choices, all of which factored into my buying decision. While the screen protector received rave reviews, not so much for the Case. More on that in a bit.

The Case consists of two parts: one piece fits around the iPad, providing what appears to be a secure enclosure. I haven’t dropped my iPad Pro, so I can’t speak to its protective qualities. But all the holes do line up perfectly with the various buttons and ports, and it is a heavier-duty plastic than what I saw with other products. Overall I’d say I’m very pleased with this part of the Case.

The other half is the Bluetooth keyboard with its enclosed battery. The iPad portion of the Case fits neatly into the hinge bracket found on this part, creating the classic “clamshell” design. Once installed, the tablet is secured with magnets embedded into the bracket. The magnets provide just enough “pull” to keep the iPad secure but not so much as to make it difficult to remove the tablet for solo use.

It’s a snap to pair the keyboard with the iPad. The included instruction manual provides a guide to setting up the backlighting, which is offered in a variety of colors. There are 14 keys found on the top row (like Function keys) that are tied in to matching features on the iPad…these work very well.

The Case is overall a fine unit. It appears to be well constructed, thought out and engineered. Its keyboard holds up to repeated use well and has a very nice “feel” to its keys. I’ve found that it pointedly does not offer “two year’s worth of battery life,” as ZAGG claims; I hardly qualify as a “power user” as I use my iPad for only several hours each day. Still, I have already had to recharge the battery several times.

So it sounds like a great product: an excellent way to have the best of both worlds, a tablet and a laptop. Well, that’s what I thought too, even after reading through dozens of reviews that were mostly negative. Despite this, I decided to spend the $130 on Amazon to purchase it. (It’s now as of this writing listed at $80.)

Why all the negative reviews? Well, to start with, you’d be correct if you’d be suspicious of just how well a hinge bracket made of plastic can be trusted to stand up to the repeated stress of opening and closing this unit. Most of the reviews I read were not good; many users found that after time–varying from just a few hours to (in my case) several months later–the plastic of the hinge bracket cracks in either or both ends, the result being that when you open the Case to access the tablet and attached keyboard, the iPad abruptly pulls loose entirely from the Case. As this is (at first) unexpected, depending on where and how you are opening the Case, there is a good chance that you’ll drop either or both parts, causing possible damage to at least the iPad. (At that point you’re probably more than a bit disappointed and not too concerned about the keyboard part.)

Obviously this doesn’t provide a very good user experience. Many have asked why ZAGG doesn’t manufacture that hinge from a stronger material, such as metal.

ZAGG’s response is, essentially, “you’re not doing it right”–you’re not opening the Case correctly and/or you’re not transporting it correctly. The company calls the plastic hinge bracket “durable” and recommends that the following procedure be used when opening the Case: put the spine of the Case on a flat surface and separate the left and right halves by pulling each apart and away from the other. Also, they recommend not carrying the Case around as one might a laptop by using its keyboard half (which weighs quite a bit). They claim this can damage the Case’s hinge.

Some of the reviewers claim to be “power users”, frequently pulling their iPad from a backpack or bag many times in the course of a day. Others suffered the hinge damage almost immediately.

(You can read more about this item HERE. Scroll down that page to read the reviews.)

Last week it happened to me as well. Despite carefully opening and closing the Case as described and despite carrying it as instructed, both ends of the allegedly-durable plastic hinge bracket cracked, essentially making the keyboard part of the Case a separate entity.

I was very unhappy and carefully considered my next course of action. I tried repairing the cracked parts using Super Glue, even though I knew that would likely void my warranty…and, while the repair worked for a couple of openings and closings, soon that also failed. I didn’t see any reason to contact ZAGG for a warranty replacement, as that part would eventually likely crack and fail as well on the new one.

What to do? Well, I already said that I really liked the Case, so I set about finding a way to repair it.

What I came up with is both simple and elegant. I’m going to provide the most basic step-by-step instructions, because frankly if you can’t figure out how to do it yourself you probably shouldn’t be attempting it in the first place.

Obviously this WILL void your warranty. So choose your plan of action carefully.

You’ll need the following things: slipjoint pliers, needle nose pliers, a fine point Sharpie, a good straightedge (that means a metal, not wood) millimeter ruler (if you use a t-square you’ll have the best tool for accurate straight lines). Also good sharp tin snips, a small piece of stainless steel sheet metal, a flat metal file, a can of flat black spray paint and some GOOP adhesive. You can find all these things at a hardware or home improvement store, such as Ace Hardware or Home Depot.

Simply put, the steps are as follows: you’ll be measuring the sheet metal with the straightedge, cutting it with the tin snips, using the file to smooth any sharp edges, measuring the crease lines with the straightedge/t-square and marking them with the Sharpie, and then folding/bending it into shape with both sets of pliers. Once you’ve got it so that it fits well (by test fitting it on the Case) paint JUST THE OUTSIDE and attach it to the hinge bracket, using a very small amount of GOOP to secure it into place.

The test-fitting requires patience, as it is a trial-and-error process, so plan on taking your time with this step.

What exactly will you be making? Metal “clips” that fit neatly over the ends of the hinge bracket, providing the necessary reinforcement for opening and closing the Case. You can still remove the iPad, of course, but the seriously flawed hinge bracket problem is solved.

What I don’t understand is why ZAGG didn’t do this in the first place. I’m just a do-it-yourselfer, maybe a little on the advanced side but with no specialized training nor degree, and I came up with this solution after just a little bit of thought and testing. I’m certainly no match for the R&D (research and development) department of a big company. It can’t be that hard to manufacture these parts and attach them to the Case during assembly, eliminating the problem and making it a 5 star product.

Here are some notes and drawings I made (using the Apple Pencil) that provide measurements and other information.

The first one above illustrates the problem using a simplified drawing of the hinge bracket.
The second drawing features the proposed repair clip:


What you are creating are 2 metal strips, 3.5 cm X 4.5 cm, which will become the reinforcing clips. These strips are shown in the third drawing, below. Using the Sharpie, CAREFULLY measure; and using the straightedge/t-square, draw the lines. Again–I cannot stress how important it is that you are accurate in this work, else not only will the finished product look bad but it probably won’t fit properly, and you’ll be spending a lot of time trying to fix that. Some extra effort spent in the pieces’ creation will pay off greatly later on.

Find a suitable straight edge on a countertop, table, desk, etc. Starting with the first strip, bend it CAREFULLY along the dotted line using the countertop straight edge, making sure the result is straight, then double it by bending the two halves together. This is necessary because the one layer of metal is not enough to secure the (cracked) ends of the hinge bracket, but both together will be. Use the slipjoint pliers to flatten the fold/bend point as much as you can. This is important because there has to be enough clearance so the clip will clear the space between the bottom surface of the keyboard and the hinge. You could carefully use a small hammer, but I found the pliers worked well. This first folded edge will be located on the bottom of the Case; the opposite edges will be on the top.

The rest is just bending the strip along the lines you’ve drawn (again, CAREFULLY), using the needle nose pliers. I’m sure there’s other ways that might work better, but again this worked well for me. Start on a side for one bend, then switch to the other side. In this way work on getting a good sharp fold in the metal. (You can hold the section with the needle nose pliers and tap on the other side with a small hammer to get a good crease.)

When that’s all done the next step is to make a slight fold across the center part of the repair clip. You’ll see by studying the spine of the Case that there’s a slight angle to the back of it; the repair bracket should mirror that angle so it will fit tightly against it. The result should be that the top and bottom surfaces are NOT parallel, there must be a narrower gap in the front edges than the back spine, similar to spring clips used for example to hold things like papers together and to keep bags of snack chips sealed tightly. This is so the clips have the same sort of spring action, which will not only keep them in place but also help support the hinge bracket in the opening and closing of the Case.

After you’re done making all the creases you’ll notice that one side of the piece is longer than the other. This is intentional, so you can cut off the excess when you’ve gotten the piece to fit properly. This edge should be on the top section of the clip. You’ll see in the pictures just below how I created my clips and how this bottom edge is a bit longer than the top one, because the bottom part of the hinge bracket is a bit thicker than the top. (Take a look at my finished clips below if you are having difficulty understanding my description.) DON’T TRIM THIS BOTTOM PART, where the fold is! The two pieces will come apart and won’t be as sturdy! While the bottommost part is longer, that’s okay. The TOP part–which is where the cut edges are–can be trimmed so that it doesn’t cause contact with the Case. TRIM CAREFULLY! The second clip I made I trimmed too short, and I wasn’t happy with how it looked. For maximum strength it should extend just to the edge of the black plastic of the Case.

Use the slipjoint pliers to make a very slight inward bend on the bottom edge. This helps the clip stay in place. (Again, study the pictures below–in the last one, this slight inward bend is clearly visible on the left side of both pieces.)

Recall I said before to paint only one side, which is the outer surface…this is because the GOOP won’t adhere as well to a painted surface. Be sure to clean the finished metal with soap and water before painting and then allow it to fully dry. Follow the instructions on the paint can exactly, apply several light coats (so the paint doesn’t run) and then LEAVE IT ALONE to dry completely (at the very least, overnight) before handling. The paint can’s directions might say that you can handle it after an hour or so. DON’T. Be patient! Nothing looks more amateurish than a paint job with runs and/or fingerprints on it.

After you’ve left it dry completely, use a bit of soap and water to clean the inner unpainted part of the clips and the corresponding locations on the Hinge Bracket spine. This is to help the GOOP stick better.

Here’s what mine looked like when they were ready to be installed:



The next step is to CAREFULLY apply the GOOP. Use JUST A LITTLE on both the inner center section of the repair clip and the spine of the Case… GOOP is stronger when applied to both surfaces. It would be a good idea to test fit and mark it so the GOOP doesn’t end up all over the place. After applying, install the clips. (I found that I had to use the needle nose pliers to gently pull out on the front edge of a clip to slide it into place and install it.) Don’t count on the stuff alone to hold the clip on. Both clips should fit tightly without it. The GOOP is there just to prevent the clips from sliding around on the spine of the Case.

I left about a one-eighth (1/8) inch space on the left outside and right outside edges of each clip, respectively, from the corresponding ends of the Hinge Bracket.

Here’s the finished product, installed on the Case:

There’s a good bit of shaping/reshaping, bending/re-bending and filing involved with this repair. Take your time and work CAREFULLY to get a finished product you can be proud of, and that will also last a long time.

While it’s only been several days since I created and installed the repair clips, I’ve had every indication that this will be a lasting and permanent repair.

It’s a real pity that ZAGG could not have engineered such a repair and made it available to its users; more distressing still is that this feature was not included in the design originally. This lack of product responsibility is enough of a big deal to me that I’d have to take a long look at ZAGG products in the future.

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Will there be an iPad Mini/Air?

Many predicted Apple would announce a smaller iPad, dubbed the iPad Mini (or iPad Air, as Daring Fireball‘s John Gruber calls it), on Wednesday September 12, when they debuted the iPhone 5. That didn’t happen, but speculation has shifted that it will be announced soon, likely next month.

Here’s my take on that…from another website I publish, The Mesa (AZ) iPad Examiner:

Below are some questions and answers regarding the iPad Mini:

• Didn’t Apple have a tablet device years ago? Apple marketed a tablet-style device, the Newton, from 1993 to 1998. It was considered the original Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), and became a casualty of Steve Jobs’ budget cuts after his return to Apple. The rumors started as early as 2001 that Apple was readying a new tablet, but somewhere along the way that project morphed into the first iPhone, which was announced in January 2007 and released in June of that year. The rumors of a tablet computer didn’t come to full fruition until January 2010, when Apple debuted the first-generation iPad.

• What will the iPad Mini look like? Most reports agree that it “would feature a display screenof less than eight inches” (CNBC), “the iPad 2’s 1,024×768-pixel resolution” (C-NET), and that it is, “effectively, an iPad 2: 512MB of RAM…[and without] a Retina display.” (MacRumors).

• Didn’t Steve Jobs dismiss the idea of a smaller iPad? Jobs famously said that anything smaller than the iPad’s 9.7 inch measurement would feature a touch display too difficult for one’s fingers to operate (he was known to disregard the stylus as a proper input tool). However, it’s since come to light that Apple Senior Vice President Eddy Cue as recently as January 2011mentioned the idea of a smaller iPad to Jobs, and he was “very receptive” to the idea.

• Why would Apple even consider producing a smaller iPad, when the existing one is so wildly successful? Since the introduction of the first iPad, many tablets from other companies have come and gone. None have even come close to approaching its position as the best selling tablet—for its size. Ah, and there’s the rub. A whole new market for tablet computers seven inches and under has developed between the smaller iPhone and iPad, with smaller price points to match. These range from Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD to Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 2 and Google’s Nexus 7, not to mention all the ones that are expected to be released soon that will run Microsoft’s new Windows 8. While Apple has historically not been a company that develops products based on the competition, it’s very possible the company believes this market could be another it might be able to compete in and perhaps dominate, as it has with its other iOS devices.

We won’t have much longer to wait. The original speculation was that Apple would announce the event that will in turn announce the iPad Mini/Air sometime in the first part of October. Given that it’s already almost the end of September, and Apple likes at least one week of advance timing for the event, word could come any time now.

If one even exists, that is.