Hunting for the best iPad Pro keyboard: The heavy, the pricey, and the disconnected
Finally I found the keyboard that works the best… for nowrn
By Swapnil Bhartiya, CIO
As a tech enthusiast and journalist, I try to get my hands on new devices as soon as I can, especially if they bring something new to the table … which is how I found myself in possession of the iPad Pro.
As much as I loved the iPad Pro (software aside), one of the things that kept it from becoming more than a Netflix consumption device was the keyboard, a component that’s critical to those who want to use it for work.
Usually when Apple launches a new product the market is flooded with accessories for that device. iPad Pro seems to be an exception. It has been more than three months since Apple started shipping the iPad Pro and there is a dearth of good keyboards for the device. At the moment there are only two worth considering: Logitech Logi Create and Apple Smart Keyboard.
I tried both.
The Logitech keyboard made my iPad Pro bulkier than the MacBook Pro. As long as I had the Logitech keyboard, my iPad Pro never left my office desk.
I returned the Logitech keyboard and bought the Apple Smart Keyboard as soon as Apple started shipping them.
I have been using the Smart Keyboard for more than 2 weeks now. At 1.4 pounds, it’s half the weight of the Logi Create. Its slim profile makes the entire package — iPad Pro, keyboard and iPad case — reasonably portable.
But the Smart Keyboard was no bargain. Apple is selling the keyboard for $170 and, unlike Logitech, instead of integrating a case for the iPad Pro, it’s selling a case separately for around $80. So the combo of the case and keyboard makes a $250 hole in your pocket.
$250 is too much for a keyboard, plus case. But the first rule of joining the Apple Club is: You Never Talk About the Money.
Not willing to shell out $80 for an Apple case, I bought an inexpensive, yet durable case from a 3rd party for under $15 and it’s working great. I could have used the iPad Pro without a case, but since I bought the iPad Pro under T-Mobile’s jump on demand program I wanted to keep it in pristine condition so I can swap it for the next Pad.
The $15 case and $170 keyboard combo kind of worked for me for a few days. It was a refreshing change from the super heavy Logitech experience. But the excitement ended soon.
I really have nothing nice to say about the keyboard. This is the most un-Apple design I have ever seen.
I struggled, and still do, just to figure out how to fold the thing so I can use it. Apple knew it was a hard nut to crack so they sent illustrated instructions for folding it.
The magnets on the ‘smart connector,’ which connects the Smart Keyboard to the iPad, weren’t strong enough to hold the thing together so once in awhile the whole keyboard would fall off. In fact, the connector is just a 3-pin connector like we have seen in many Android devices for docking. Nothing smart about it.
Thanks to this design, Apple locked the angle of the screen. Unlike Pixel C, you can’t change the angle of the screen. This means that you can’t comfortably use the device on your lap, on an airplane or on a table. It won’t bend to your needs.
On top of all this, then the keyboard misses all the buttons that could have taken advantage of iOS 9. There are no buttons for volume, screen brightness or media playback. Since iOS doesn’t support mouse or trackpad, you fiddle between the keyboard, the screen and the physical buttons on the iPad.
Key travel time is extremely shallow. Although the keyboard is almost as ‘deep’ as the one seen on the new MacBook Air, the keys are way too firm for comfortable typing. It takes extra effort to hit the space key. It’s not meant for heavy typers like me; it’s OK for writing short messages. $170 for sending out SMS! Well, the first rule of Apple club is…
And despite the ‘smart connector,’ the keyboard will lose connection once in awhile.
When I looked back at my usage I realized that thanks to the lighter weight I was actually carrying around the iPad Pro more. But I found that I still preferred doing work on the MacBook.
So I sent it back.
But still I needed a keyboard. So I decided to give up on connected keyboards and go wireless.
I ordered the Apple Magic Keyboard and fell in love with it.
The Magic Keyboard has built-in batteries I don’t have to worry about carrying heavy AA batteries. That gave it a slimmer profile. It comes with a Lightning port for charging and connectivity. So you can plug it into a Mac or PC and use it as a wired keyboard; quite useful if you require playing with BIOS settings.
I used it with my Linux systems, Chromebook, Nvidia Shield Android TV, Nexus C, Nexus Phones and iPhone 6S Plus. It paired and worked flawlessly.
But that’s not what I bought this keyboard for. I bought it for the iPad Pro.
Pairing with the device was very easy. And now I have a complete keyboard with dedicated buttons for screen brightness, volume and whatnot. The key travel excellent.
At 231 grams, the weight of the Magic Keyboard is less than half of the weight of the Apple Smart Keyboard. So the whole package is still something around 300 grams lighter than the Smart Keyboard. And I can adjust the angle of the iPad, as the two devices are not attached through a ‘not so smart’ connector. On top of that, for $99 I get a keyboard that works across all my devices and not just the iPad Pro.
I am heading to SCaLE today and finally I will be bringing my iPad Pro to take notes during presentations. If I hadn’t found this keyboard, the iPad Pro would be sitting behind in my office, shivering in the East Coast winter instead of enjoying the Californian sun.
So if you are planning to get a keyboard for your iPad Pro, get the one with magic in its name.