The one accessory I was eagerly anticipating using was the new Smart Keyboard, and it was also the last of the accessories I received. Having said this, let’s look at it.
For the Smart Keyboard, Apple has taken the Smart Cover and added a keyboard on to the end of it, the keyboard can also fold away and create a noticeable bump in the cover — still it folds away in a relatively thin package. It requires no batteries, as it powers off the iPad itself using the new connector on the edge of the iPad Pro.
It is quite an excellent keyboard.
This keyboard is likely to be far less divisive than the MacBook keyboard — at least I really hope it is. It has more travel than the MacBook, but less than a Magic Keyboard. It is quieter than both, near silent in a room with any reasonable noise to it as each keystroke is muffled a bit from the fabric. It produces a more bass sound when stuck quickly, than anything high pitched.
I am far more accurate on the Smart Keyboard than I am on the MacBook — even though the keys feel a bit mushy and I’ve had a lot more time with the MacBook. The keys aren’t mush, but they don’t click in any way, so you bottom out the key instead of feeling a click, but with the longer throw to the keys it is more pleasant than the MacBook as the MacBook seems to bottom out well before most people expect it.
I can jump right on the Smart Keyboard from with the Magic Keybaord, or a mechanical keyboard and not be through for a loop. Jumping from the MacBook keyboard is always an eye opening experience.
So while I like the MacBook keyboard a lot, the Smart Keyboard is substantially better. The keys are laid out in a similar manner, but have larger spacing between them — this took me two full days to get used to. But the larger spacing helps you find your way at night, when you can’t see a thing on the keyboard. (Backlight please?)
The keys also have a greater radius on the corners, likely to match the icons on iOS, but that’s conjecture on my part. Either way the radius doesn’t change the feel of the keyboard in any way I noticed.
What I like most about the keyboard is the fabric covering on it. I can’t remember the first time I encountered a keyboard built in a similar manner, but I do recall hating it. I was worried I might find I hate this keyboard covering as well, but I don’t hate it at all. The fabric is stretched perfectly over the corners of the keys to give a nice sharp tactile response when feeling for an edge of a key. It also is far easier to keep clean, though the dark color does show specs of dirt more readily.
I don’t know, and can’t describe, what it is about the fabric covering I like so much, but I am a big fan of it as it offers a nice tactile response as you type.
When the keyboard is folded away and closed atop the iPad screen, it looks silly. It’s very thick, but there is a pronounced bump. If there was anything besides a keyboard cover hiding in there, I would laugh the case right out of my house. However, since it does house a full sized keyboard, it is a bit amazing to be honest.
It may not look great as a cover, but the utility of a keyboard fitting into a cover this small is astounding.
When deployed as a keyboard you have a tiny setup. Even a stand like the Compass with a magic keyboard will take up more room on a desk, than the Smart Keyboard Cover. That’s pretty amazing if you think about it. From the back, when the keyboard is in use, things look fine.
From the front it is a bit of a different story: I am not in love with the way this keyboard looks. The spacing between the keys, and the large radius on the corners looks unprofessional to me. Not in that it was not professionally designed, but in the sense the design doesn’t seem to fit the serious tool message the rest of the iPad Pro sends — instead it looks more fun.
I think this is bad overall for the ‘pro’ package. None of this is to say the looks are terrible, rather these are very minor nitpicks a on a very good keyboard. Luckily, the font is SF, which is just perfection.
It’s not ideal looking, like say the Magic Keyboard is, but good lord for what you get given the size — I really should not be allowed to complain about these minor issues with looks.
This is where things get interesting. Here we have a keyboard dedicated not just to iOS, but to the iPad Pro, and yet there is a distinct lack of iOS specific keys. The Magic Keyboard has more iOS features.
The only iOS specific key Apple gives you is the globe key in the lower left corner, which toggles between your keyboards and can bring up the Emoji keyboard while you have the Smart Keyboard attached. Clearly this is needed, but where is a play/pause, or volume, or home key?
These seem like oversights, but perhaps they were removed to get the keyboard as shallow as possible.
There are a plethora of new keyboard shortcuts which can mostly replace some of those dedicated keys, but I still cannot start and stop Music from the keyboard.
Still, the Smart Keyboard is functionally a lot better than a paired Magic Keyboard. I had a lot of issues with the Magic Keyboard no longer being able to use keyboard shortcuts and the Smart Keyboard has only had this happen once.
The new port for connecting the keyboard is flat out better. It is faster and easier than pairing and makes a whole hell of a lot more sense. This is a great keyboard. Functionally my only complaint is a lack of iOS specific buttons.
One question I had while waiting to get this keyboard was: can you use it resting in your lap like a laptop? The short answer to this is yes, but there is a much longer answer here as well.
The keyboard is less rigid than I had hoped, so while you can use it in your lap, I have noticed it will curve ever so slightly. This bugs me when I place it back on a flat surface as the curve persists for a bit. And to further make things problematic for lap typing, the rear triangular portion of the cover tends to apply a lot more pressure to the back edge, and over time that is really uncomfortable.
Overall, I do not like typing with this keyboard in my lap and after trying a dozen or so times, I’ve decided this is not a good setup for sitting the iPad Pro on your lap and typing with a keyboard. It’s perfect on a hard surface, but on a soft and uneven surface it concerns me far too much. It seems to work well on say a bed, but something like legs feels like pushing it. I have talked to a couple other people who have a Smart Keyboard, and they don’t seem to mind lap typing, so this might be me getting a little over anxious about the keyboard.
Folding It Up
In some of the first reviews of the iPad Pro, the reviewers mentioned the Smart Keyboard was a bit fiddly to get used to. I don’t think that is a fully unfair statement, but I will say I’ve found it to be a piece of cake to work. It’s not as easy as the Smart Cover, but it would be hard for it to be that easy.
No, in fact I find deploying the Smart Keyboard to be as easy as it could be. The hard part is putting the damn thing away. And that’s not even because it is difficult to fold — it’s because the magnets used to secure it in the deployed state are really strong.
If you lift just the iPad, you get the Smart Keyboard to come with it, and yet it stays exactly as it was, without the folded sections flopping down to the floor. That’s really great when you need to pick up the iPad and move it around on a desk or between rooms — but it is the pits when you want to quickly stow the iPad Pro away.
It takes actual force to undock the iPad Pro from the Smart Keyboard — more force than I think it should take. That’s a bit of a shame, as I otherwise would have no complaints about it because the most fiddle part for me is getting the magnets to release.
The Biggest Annoyance
I mentioned a bunch of small things which bug me, but there is one thing I really don’t like: the placement of the globe key. I tend to accidentally hit this key more than any other on the keyboard, and with it right below the shift key, it is something I am tapping near a lot.
Obviously this isn’t a deal breaker, but I would love to be allowed to completely disable the key as it doesn’t serve any function for me, and more than that it just gets in my way. There’s nothing like being on a tear when you are writing and then seeing the damn emoji keyboard pop up on screen because your finger — that left pinky — got a little wild with its typing.
It’s nice Apple tried to replicate the iOS keyboard, but the globe key is just in a bad position.
Make no mistake, despite the complaints I have about this keyboard, it is the best keyboard I have ever used with iOS. In fact it is only a small step below the CODE keyboard as far as keyboards I prefer to type on. A few minor tweaks and I could easily see preferring the Smart Keyboard over the CODE.
Given that it is massively smaller than the CODE, I am pretty damn happy to have this a part of my setup. The iPad Pro is a substantially better device with the Smart Keyboard, even if it is a bit pricey.
Not only does the Smart Keyboard complete the iPad Pro setup for me — it is also a fantastic keyboard all around.