After long last, I finally got a Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro. I have had most of this article in my head for about a week. But I couldn’t credibly write it until I actually got an official, Apple iPad Pro keyboard for myself. I have probably logged enough time on this thing in the Apple Store since the iPad Pro came out. But there are always a few things you learn about a product after living with it, that you don’t learn from spending time with a demo in a store.
Furthermore, this is not merely a Smart Keyboard review. This is about typing on the iPad Pro as a professional writer and competent touch typist. There are four options to consider. The official Apple external keyboard may not be the one for you. Here are my views on the four from which you have to choose:
Apple Smart Keyboard
The Smart Keyboard is a Smart Cover replacement. There is no good reason for you to have both. The keyboard cover is designed to be with your iPad Pro all the time. When not in keyboard mode, it is intended to hide inside of the cover. For the most part, it does a pretty good job of it. Casual observers will not realize that you are concealing a keyboard inside the cover. If carrying a concealed keyboard was a crime, you would be guilty, and sentenced to life on a Surface Pro.
That said, you will know the keyboard is there because it adds a little bit of extra bulk and weight. It’s not a lot, but enough to know that you are carrying something more than a traditional Smart Cover. When you decide to use the iPad Pro as a clipboard-style tablet, you can fold the keyboard behind the iPad and keep it attached. But my advice is to just rip it off and set it aside. It is easy to detach and reattach. So take advantage of that convenience.
The Typing Experience
Allow me to preface this by saying that I love the keyboard on the 12” MacBook Retina. It is my favorite keyboard. I love the low-profile, short-travel keys. For me, the less travel, the better. If you like that keyboard, you will very likely love this one. If you hate that keyboard, this one will likely not win you over.
While it this version of the keyboard is similar to the MacBook keyboard, there are some notable differences. The keys are covered with a fabric-like material. It is not a cold, plastic feel. It is pretty nice to the touch. There is also quite a bit of key separation. On the MacBook, there is no key separation to speak of.
Finally, there is the tiniest bit less snap to the keys than on the MacBook. Don’t mistake these keys for mushy. They are far from that. But they lack a certain snap. The trade off is that they are dead silent. At least, they are when compared to the MacBook. Silent may not be the right word. Rather, the sound they make is a lot more muted than the most recent Apple Keyboards. The snap and the sound may be subtle enough that you may not even notice. All in all, it is my third favorite keyboard of all time.
Whether you type 30 words a day or 3,000, you are not going to have any problem typing them on this keyboard. That will remain true even if you have to type some of them are type in a mobile situation with the iPad on your lap. I tested this while typing on a city bus: one of the old ones.
It bounced and clattered its way through the city. And the iPad Pro never felt like it was about to dislodge itself from the keyboard. I just kept right on typing as if on a laptop. I don’t see any situation where you could use a laptop, but not the iPad Pro attached to a Smart Keyboard.
On a modern computer, part of the typing experience is having the computer automatically correct your errors even before you see them. It automatically turns (i) into (I), and things like that. At the time of this writing, the iPad will not do that when external keyboards are attached. While that has not stopped people from using the iPad for typing, I find that behavior to be a real drawback.
The good news is that Apple seems to be changing that in the next iOS update. I am running the beta for iOS 9.2. There is support for external keyboards getting all the autocorrect goodness you have come to expect on a traditional computer. I would normally not talk about beta features. But in this case, the cat is already out of the bag. Others have reported on the feature, and inaccurately at that.
What you need to know for now is that by the time you get your hands on an iPad Pro and Apple keyboard, the Apple keyboard should have autocorrect support. That is a really big deal that makes a huge difference in the experience of using this device. But the Smart Keyboard is not the only option in town. Here are other options you might want to check out:
Logitech Create for iPad Pro
For the longest time, the Logitech Create for iPad Pro keyboard was the only keyboard you could buy for the device. Apple had a hand in the design. And as a result of the close partnership, had these keyboards available to sell in the Apple Stores on day one of iPad Pro sales.
After using it for less than a day, my first reaction was that it was too big and bulky, adding too much weight for a typing experience that was too mushy to be truly comfortable. Having lived with it for these few weeks, I can honestly say that I hate it even more.
The little things that you try to ignore at the beginning of a relationship can become grating after a while. That is what happened to me with the Logitech affair. That said, there are some people who prefer the Logitech keyboard over the Apple offering. Tastes vary. The Logitech has a bit more key travel. But for that, you get a mushy key feel which just ruins it for me.
The Create has some features that the Apple keyboard is strangely missing. While both use the Smart Connector and never need to be recharged, the Logitech has an extra row of function keys with useful features like backlights and music controls. Speaking of which, the Create has a backlit keyboard. If you need to look at the keys in dark situations, the backlight is a nice feature.
But for all that, you get a much thicker and heavier case. It makes the iPad so heavy, it is almost unpleasant to use. If you want to remove the iPad from the case, it is a bit of a production. You are always convinced that you are either going to damage the case, or the iPad itself. Putting it in the case is not any better. Using the Create case is a bit of a commitment.
Finally, the Create keyboard demonstrates some strange bugs in the latest beta. That is only worth mentioning because the Apple keyboard does not have any of those bugs. That means that Logitech is implementing the software in a way that is fundamentally different from the Apple keyboard. Whether it is their fault, or whether it will be fixed in the final release, I can’t say. I just know that it is useless with autocorrect right now, while Apple’s is working perfectly. If you are in the public beta program, this is something to consider.
Apple Magic Keyboard
While not designed for the iPad Pro, Apple’s Magic Keyboard for the desktop is my second-favorite of the options. It pairs via Bluetooth, and provides the best typing experience overall. I find it to be an outstanding keyboard. It is also worth mentioning that it does not suffer from the beta bug that plagues the Logitech Create. Like the Smart Keyboard, the Magic Keyboard works perfectly. It even has that extra row of function keys missing from the Smart Keyboard.
What the Magic Keyboard cannot magically do is be used in one’s lap. Until some third party comes up with a clever case incorporating the two devices, the iPad Pro with Magic keyboard will have to be used on a desk or table. Right now, I am typing this section on my lap while sitting in my comfy recliner in front of the TV. I do this a lot. So that combo would not work for me. But if you will always use the iPad Pro at a table, the Magic Keyboard may be your best option.
The Onscreen Keyboard
Typing on glass has never been by favorite thing to do. Truth be told, I hate it, even though I’m pretty good at it. I find the experience worse on the iPad Pro than on any other iPad. It is not that the keyboard is awful. It’s not. It is just that the iPad Pro software keyboard is not always what you get when you are ready to type.
As long as you are in an Apple app, you’re fine. But as soon as you start using other apps, you are subject to be using a software keyboard that was intended for a device that was half the size of the iPad Pro. The inconsistency is what makes it a terrible experience. My advice is to pick up one of the hardware options if you are planning to do a lot of typing.
I rate the keyboard options in this order:
- Apple Smart Keyboard: At least try it at the store before making any other purchasing decision.
- Apple Magic Keyboard: As long as you don’t plan to use it laptop-style, this ties for the best option. Just remember, you will need a regular Smart Cover to prop up your iPad.
- Logitech Create: My experience aside, many people seem to like this keyboard. But even the ones who like it have the same complaints about it as I do. It just comes down to key feel for a lot of touch typists.
- iPad Pro Onscreen Keyboard: If you are using this option, you are probably not a touch typist, and don’t actually need any of the advice in this article. But thanks for reading.
Hopefully, the next thing I write about the iPad Pro will be my final thoughts. Stay tuned…