Pi DockIt Pro Is Like Robo-Cop: Dated, Clunky, Still Sorta Cool [Review]

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When I opened the box that contained the Pi Dock-It Pro from Parle Innovations, my first thought was that it looked like an older model HP or IBM laptop. The dark gray plastic case, surrounded on all sides with a matte, silvery metal structure just scream “high tech,” albeit from a time in the recent past.

Pi Dock-It Pro by Parle Innovation
Category: iPad Cases
Works With: iPad 2, 3, 4
Price: $159, $30 off to start

The manufacturer wants you to use the Dock-It Pro to turn your iPad into a laptop while letting it remain useful as a tablet, and they’ve succeeded in doing just that, at least from a design standpoint. I found myself using the Dock-It Pro case as a flip-up laptop more often than as an tablet, though.

Does The Dock-It Pro truly transcend its clunky, quaint visual style and become something truly useful? The answer is–of course–somewhere in the middle.

The case comes in one Transformer-like unit, with a solidly functional keyboard on one side and an iPad-holding flip-around system on the top. To use it, you need to insert the iPad into what would be the cover bit on a laptop, clicking it in with a meaty plastic thunk. To remove the iPad, you simply press down on a little slide switch on the corner, which pulls the restraining clips back, releasing your iPad from its new home.

When the Dock-It Pro is closed, you need to press a button and slide the cover downwards, then lift it up into the laptop configuration. There’s a little bit of the Transformers here, as well, as it all feels kind of clunky and thick. That’s not to say it doesn’t feel solid, though, as this is one iPad-to-laptop change that really works well.

It really is a good keyboard.

It really is a good keyboard.

The keyboard on this case is fantastic, with Apple-style chiclet keys that feel good to use. They’re well-spaced, and there’s a panopoly of function keys tailored to the iPad along the top row, including a home key, a Safari button, one to toggle the on-screen keyboard on and off (which is super handy for those times where you need it), cut, copy and paste buttons, and a Lock button which reproduces the functionality of the Sleep/Wake hardware button. There’s also a couple of volume buttons, as well, and the whole thing is charged via an included micro-usb cable. My unit paired automatically and never seemed to need my intervention to make the keyboard work. You can also just turn the unit off with a little slide switch on the case itself.

Which is where things get tricky. To turn your iPad into an actual tablet but stay in the case, you’ll lift up the cover a bit and rotate the iPad around 180 degrees, dropping the cover back on top of the keyboard. The result is a big, thick, unwieldy tablet that looks more like one of those failed Windows touchscreen PCs from the late 90s than an iPad.

When the iPad is in tablet mode, the buttons are still inaccessible, and connecting a charging port is an exercise in dexterity. The headphone port and camera are accessible, but surrounded by thick plastic. It’s not super easy to use, especially if you want to turn down the volume or put the iPad to sleep.

Kickstand for that extra angle.

Kickstand for that extra angle.

It’s a cool idea, but the Dock-It Pro is just too massive to use for long periods of time as a tablet-only case. There’s a kickstand on the back, which brings the iPad into more of a typing position, but who needs that when there’s a fully functional keyboard just waiting for you with a couple of button presses and transformational spins?

Ultimately, if you’re looking for a good all-in-one tablet and laptop-style keyboard case, the Dock-It pro will meet your needs, but you’ll be hiding your iPad in a massively old-school case that is just too darn big and clunky to match the style of the iPad that’s in it. While there’s a ton of protection implied with a case this large, I’m not usually one to hide my iOS devices in a non-minimalist case, no matter the functionality.

I found myself using the Dock-It Pro case as a flip-up laptop more often than as an tablet, though.

The keyboard is fantastic to use, but it could probably use a backlight, considering that other unattached keyboards like the Logitech K811 we’ve reviewed (twice) on Cult of Mac.

When you get down to it, the Pi Dock-It Pro seems like a bit too much. It’s got extra weight, bulk, and a design straight out of a 1990s action sci-fi flick to really appeal to current trends in iOS accessories, and its best feature–the keyboard–is easily reproduced elsewhere. Even on sale for $129 ($30 off the regular price as an introductory offer), it asks too much of its users.

However, with that said, if you’re truly looking for a highly protective case that can double both as a solid and useful keyboard as well as a flip-around tablet case, this may be perfect for you. I can definitely see this thing at home in a hospital or military base, what with a need for multiple uses and a high degree of device protection. For home use? Not so much.

DSC05194Product Name: : Pi Dock-It Pro
The Good: This thing is a tank and should protect your iPad forever; the keyboard is solid with fantastic function keys.
The Bad: This thing is a tank and looks like an old HP laptop.
The Verdict Grab this if you need protection all the time and want a good keyboard along with it. Otherwise, look for more minimalist fare.
Buy from: Parle Innovation



Cult of Mac rating: Good

About the author

Rob LeFebvreAnchorage, Alaska-based freelance writer and editor Rob LeFebvre is Cult of Mac's Culture Editor. He has contributed to various tech, gaming and iOS sites, including 148Apps, VentureBeat, and Paste Magazine. Feel free to find Rob on Twitter @roblef

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