I’ve been carrying around my 2018 iPad Pro without a keyboard since I reviewed the Zagg Slim Book Go in October of last year, and every time I would pull it out of my backpack, I realized that I really missed having a keyboard. I refuse to use the Slim Book Go because of its bulky case that’s obnoxious and cumbersome to use. But instead of finding an alternative, I’ve been stuck in a ditch filled with what seems like an endless array of imperfect iPad keyboards all promising a slim and light form factor, a good keyboard, and an overall great experience.
Every keyboard for the iPad promises to be the iPad keyboard you should buy. However, despite all of them having some form of strengths and weaknesses, I’ve never been able to find the Goldilocks of keyboards, y’know? The one that feels just right.
Then Apple announced the new iPad Pro, complete with a new Magic Keyboard. I couldn’t care less about the new iPad since it’s barely a step up from mine, but that keyboard almost immediately peaked my interest. It offered way more travel than the Smart Keyboard Folio (hence the Magic Keyboard name), it looked like it made the iPad easy to access when you don’t want a keyboard, and it came with a trackpad that could only add convenience to your experience. Coincidentally, the amount of space at the bottom of the Slim Book Go’s keyboard felt to me that there should be a trackpad anyway, so the Magic Keyboard caught my eye right away.
There was one problem: it was $300. In fact, it’s $350 if you want the model that’ll fit the 12.9-inch model. But to be honest, I really didn’t care. The experience Apple was proposing in the marketing material for the keyboard intrigued me tremendously, so the moment orders opened, I placed one and waited a little over a week for it to arrive. I’ve been using it almost every day since I got it, and let me tell you, it’s changed my life.
Okay, that’s a little dramatic, but it’s true. Apple’s Magic Keyboard may cost $300 and may seem like total overkill (and it is in some ways which we’ll get to), but for the money you pay, you get an amazing experience that further blurs the line between traditional PCs and the iPad. It’s turned my iPad Pro into the most versatile computer I own, and I’m gonna tell you why.
As many reviewers will tell you, the Magic Keyboard for the iPad has a keyboard that’s undeniably great. I’ve only used the Smart Keyboard Folio at a display case in Walmart for a few minutes, but I can definitely tell the Magic Keyboard is light-years better. There’s a full one-millimeter of travel minus a fabric coating, making for a typing experience that’s familiar to anyone who’s used a laptop. Plus, it’s a Magic Keyboard, so it uses scissor-style switches instead of the crummy butterfly switches from past MacBooks.
In some ways, I prefer typing on my iPad with the Magic Keyboard. It feels like less work compared to the mechanical keyboards I have at both my desk at home and at work, and it’s comfortable enough for long typing sessions. It’s kinda perfect. Could it use a bit more travel? Maybe. But unless you’re a mechanical keyboard die-heart, you’ll more than likely be fine with what Apple gives you with the Magic Keyboard.
There is a pretty big downside to the Magic Keyboard, though, and it’s the lack of a Function key row. It’s not a deal breaker, but more often than not, I find myself reaching for a key to turn up my screen brightness or volume. I didn’t think this would be an issue when the first round of reviews pointed this out (basically every function in a typical Function row can be found in Control Center), but now that I’ve used the Magic Keyboard for a while, it’s starting to feel a little unnatural to not have a strip of keys I can hit to play/pause music or go home.
On the other hand, a Function row really doesn’t fit on the Magic Keyboard, and the reason why is due to the way the accessory is designed.
When your iPad is attached to the keyboard and you open it up, it “floats” above the base of the accessory. This is because the top two-thirds of the iPad’s back are connected magnetically while the bottom third isn’t. The hinge system of the keyboard causes the floating effect when you tilt the iPad back, pushing the screen closer to your eyes so that you can actually see what you’re doing. It’s about an 80-degree angle before pushing the iPad back and a 120-degree angle afterward.
When I’m typing on the Magic Keyboard, my fingers occasionally hit the bottom of my iPad, especially when I reach up for the numbers. Because of this, if there were a Function row, you’d have to reach beneath your iPad to hit the keys. This likely wouldn’t be that big a deal, but I can definitely understand Apple giving Functions the axe because the way you’d hit them wasn’t “elegant” enough. It makes perfect sense.
Still, I’d like a Function row, especially since so many third-party iPad keyboards have them.
During my testing, I also spotted an issue with the Magic Keyboard that might be a deal breaker for some people: space.
Almost every review I’ve seen on the Magic Keyboard has been based on experience using the 12.9-inch version. For my review, I bought the 11-inch model since I have an 11-inch iPad Pro. I knew right off the bat it would be smaller than what I may be expecting, and luckily my expectations were set pretty accurately. After typing on it for the past few weeks, I’ve accepted that the amount of space you have to spread your fingers out is a bit less than a majority of 13-inch laptops. I have no problem with it, but I can definitely tell some people will hate how cramped it feels. You’re pretty limited in terms of how far you can stretch your fingers to type.
Personally, I kind of like the smaller footprint. It’ll eat up less space on an airplane table (y’know, when the world reopens), it doesn’t crowd a shared space at Starbucks, and you can keep your arms together if you’re in a situation without a lot of elbow room. Still, there’s no getting around the fact that the 11-inch Magic Keyboard is smaller than what most people are used to typing on. If you’re concerned at all about feeling cramped, I’d recommend giving the keyboard a shot at an Apple store before buying. Seriously, because you’re only alternative would be buying a 12.9-inch keyboard with a 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
Another potential make-or-break aspect of the Magic Keyboard is its weight. The 11-inch keyboard with my iPad in it weighs 2.04 pounds, doubling the 1.02 pounds my iPad weighs on its own. It also gets way thicker, approaching MacBook Pro levels of girthiness. The 12.9-inch model takes things even further by weighing a whopping three pounds coupled with the tablet, more than doubling the 1.4 pounds of the 12.9-inch iPad by itself. If you plan on buying a Magic Keyboard, don’t go into it thinking you’re getting a thin and light accessory. This is a premium, heavy-duty keyboard compliment for your iPad Pro.
Speaking of which, for the money, the Magic Keyboard feels like a premium device. It’s weight coupled with the stiff hinges and inability to be bent make for an accessory that doesn’t feel cheap whatsoever. In fact, the only cheap part about the Magic Keyboard is the rubber coating which I feel like could’ve been swapped for something else. Regardless, the Magic Keyboard is extremely well-built and feels like it’s worth every penny you pay for it.
There is a case to be made to overlook the thickness and weight of the Magic Keyboard. If you don’t wanna carry it around, you can always leave it at home and use it as a dock for your iPad Pro. I know a lot of reviewers have said it’s pretty sweet being able to leave the keyboard at your desk, take the iPad off the magnets, and go over to the couch and watch some Netflix. I’m in the same boat. It’s awesome to be able to just take the iPad off the keyboard and use it like a traditional tablet.
While the keyboard sits on your desk, it’s a good idea to plug it in. Apple includes a USB-C port on the left side of the bottom hinge that offers pass-through charging using the company’s Smart Connector. It can only supply power, unfortunately, but at least it frees up the port on the iPad for things like flash drives and SD cards. I’m not sure what’s keeping Apple from providing data transfer over the keyboard’s port, but it probably has something to do with data speeds going over the Smart Connector. No one seems to have those specs, but I’ll let you know if I ever get my hands on them.
Speaking of charging, there have been numerous reports in the past few weeks regarding battery drain issues with the Magic Keyboard. I haven’t experienced any with my unit, but I know a lot of people are reporting much lower usage times than what they get out of the iPad itself. If I do have these problems down the line, I’ll update this review.
Now comes the fun part: the trackpad.
Below the keyboard, Apple built in a trackpad that enables the company’s new mouse cursor support in recent versions of iPadOS dating back to 13.4. They had to do a ton of work to not just make it a port of macOS’ cursor, and the iPad’s implementation is pretty stellar.
The cursor comes to life the moment you dock your iPad in the Magic Keyboard. It’s completely plug-and-play which is perhaps the greatest perk of using Apple’s Smart Connector. Instead of a traditional pointer, the cursor is a small round dot that takes on different shades of gray when you hover over lighter and darker colors. But that’s not all: it also takes the shape of different objects on your screen when you move over them.
Things like icons, the navigation bar, Control Center, and buttons in Safari are just a few of the places you’ll see the cursor morph into the exact shape of whatever element you’re hovering over. I think this is really smart. It doesn’t just feel like a regular pointer. It feels like a pointer designed with a touch-first interface kept in mind. If Apple just went and added the same mouse support as in macOS, there’s no way it would be as good as what they’ve done here. The best part? It’s available on basically every modern iPad, which is awesome.
The Magic Keyboard is the device you’ll find advertising trackpad/mouse support in all of Apple’s commercials, and for good reason. Not only is it Apple’s flagship accessory for the iPad, but it’s also the one with a killer trackpad. You can click anywhere on the trackpad and it registers. It doesn’t use a diving board mechanism or anything, either. Apple literally built a custom trackpad that emulates its Force Touch trackpad on MacBooks.
As it should, the trackpad supports multi-finger gestures which are easy to learn and memorize. The three-finger swipe up to go home is one I absolutely love, and a three-finger swipe up and hold to go to multitasking is convenient and natural. There are some weird ones, though, like swiping down with one finger twice to trigger the dock and swiping up twice to access notifications. This also applies to other areas of iPadOS where a one-finger swipe would trigger something like Slide Over or Control Center. Once you get the hang of it it’s not that bad, but the gestures will definitely make you scratch your head the first time you use them.
By adding a trackpad to the Magic Keyboard, Apple further blurs the line between what constitutes a PC and what constitutes a tablet. If they went full-on macOS mouse and trackpad support, the iPad would feel like a PC wannabe. But because Apple recognized that the primary way of interacting with an iPad is through touch, adding cursor support had to become secondary and adapt to the way you use your fingers on the screen.
If you don’t think having a trackpad paired to your iPad would be beneficial, I’d say think again. It’s almost reinvented the way I use my iPad Pro. I now feel like I can get actual work done on it. I do a ton of typing on a daily basis, and having the trackpad for a much more precise selection of text is worth the $300 I paid alone. I’m being dead serious, too. It’s that important to me.
Plus, when you’re typing, you don’t really wanna reach up to your screen to scroll. Being able to reach down and scroll with two fingers through a document is incredibly handy, and it makes the iPad feel much more like a laptop replacement.
Despite all the praise I give the feature, however, it’s not perfect. There are some aspects of iPadOS where cursor support doesn’t feel finalized, and most third-party apps have yet to add support. Some apps just work since clicks are registered as touches with your finger, but there are some instances where you have to reach up and touch the screen. Microsoft Office apps are specifically riddled with these inconsistencies.
Over time, trackpad support will get better. Right now, it’s pretty good, but it’s far from perfect.
I know a lot of people are worried about whether spending $300 or $350 on this keyboard is too much. To me, I don’t think it is. It enhances the experience of using your iPad Pro so much that it feels like a no-brainer. If you’re buying an iPad Pro, you should buy a Magic Keyboard. You get a great typing experience, a smooth and reliable trackpad, and a convenient desktop dock that frees your iPad for when all you wanna do is curl up on the couch and watch some TV.
The Magic Keyboard has transformed the way I use my iPad Pro. I’ve gone from using it on occasion to using it every day, whether it’s to type articles or just check email. It’s turned the iPad into a fun computer that I don’t have to think about using, and yet it keeps the iPad grounded in its original positioning as a product: somewhere between an iPhone and a Mac.
Can the Magic Keyboard help you replace your laptop with an iPad? Nope. Until a proper file system and desktop-class applications are available, the iPad will not replace almost anyone’s laptop in the near future. But it definitely turns your iPad into a killer laptop alternative that’s way more fun to use. You just have to be willing to cut the check.
Apple Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro$299.99 - $349.99
- Fantastic keyboard with backlight
- Trackpad is smooth and convenient
- Easy to detach when you want to use the iPad like an iPad
- The iPad feels more like a computer than ever before
- It adds a lot of weight to the iPad
- The case isn't all that slim
- Lack of Function keys
- 11-inch size might feel cramped
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