An iPad keyboard for $350 – has Apple gone nuts? My Magic Keyboard review of the Magic Keyboard with an iPad Pro 12.9 (2020) shows if and for whom this particular accessory with a “floating” tablet mount complete with trackpad and keyboard capabilities is worth checking out.
Who the iPad Magic Keyboard is for?
Apple’s keyboard case is known as the Magic Keyboard, and it is now available for iPad Pro users who are rocking to the 11- and 12.9-inch models. The rear camera section has been specially shaped so that the accessories will be able to accommodate both the current and previous generation of Apple’s Pro tablets. The small version costs $299, while the larger one is going for a whopping $349. That is a little less than a third of the cheapest current iPad Pro that fits in each case.
You will have to decide whether you would want to fork out so much money for this iPad Pro accessory, depending on whether you are willing to spend so much money in the first place for an Apple tablet that is capable of performing tasks that a regular MacBook can do. If you happen to use the iPad Pro occasionally or if the original accessories are too expensive, then perhaps you might want to consider an affordable alternative from the likes of Logitech or Brydge, although that comes at a price: sacrificing certain advantages of Apple’s Magic Keyboard.
What I like about the iPad Magic Keyboard in the test
A key feature of the iPad Magic Keyboard is the case cover. It will ensure that up to 75 percent of the tablet’s back remains in place with the lower part uncovered when opened. This ends up with the iPad Pro looking as though it is floating while in use.
Through the clever implementation of a second hinge in the lid itself, the viewing angle of the iPad display can be adjusted anywhere from 90 to 130 degrees. Due to the floating suspension “trick”, the case in the base doesn’t need a guide rail at all from which the tablet would have to be removed as well as snapped back in place.
In my practical review, the magnets are capable of hold an iPad Pro 12.9 from 2018 as well as the newest 2020 model in the selected position.
Neither the lid nor the entire construction end up wobbly, which is a good thing. In fact, it is securely set in place that even when I tap the display with the Apple Pencil 2 or attach it to the magnetic front of the iPad Pro for charging, there is no wobbling that occurs.
To remove the Apple tablet, all that I need to do is to simply pull it in my direction with minimal effort, which is far more convenient than fiddling with all four sides of a rubberized guide on the Logitech sleeve alternative. When I press the iPad against the padded inside of the lid, it will automatically return to its position and hooks up to the Smart Connector precisely without any second-guessing. The tablet will receive signals from the trackpad and keyboard via a three-pin contact. Therefore, the iPad Magic Keyboard does not require a separate battery and Bluetooth reception for it to work.
As a computer user, I am used to operating devices with a cursor since the 1990s. Ever since iPadOS 13.4 was introduced, this also became a possibility on Apple tablets, which works great with the trackpad of the Magic Keyboard. The 10 cm wide and 4.5 cm high input surface reacts to clicks and finger movements directly just as expected without any lag whatsoever. If you want to make adjustments to the trackpad based on various working configurations, you can change the pointer speed or scroll direction in the iPadOS settings. You can also decide whether you would like a click to register by typing or using the two-finger secondary click.
Multi-touch gestures are also compatible with the trackpad, so I don’t have to reach out to the display for that. If I swipe upwards with three fingers, I can return to the home screen. If I were to swipe left and right, I can toggle through the existing open apps.
The keyboard of the iPad Magic Keyboard delivers a pleasant typing feel throughout my review, making it more than just fun to write longer messages. Instead of the highly divisive butterfly keys, the keys are equipped with a scissor mechanism. Their pressure points can be felt immediately with a comfortable travel distance of just one millimeter. The backlighting of the keys ensures that you do not have to type blindly even in dim light or in complete darkness. However, the brightness level will only adhere to the strict specifications of a sensor, and cannot be manually adjusted.
Separate USB-C port
The Magic Keyboard is powered by the iPad Pro itself, and therefore does not need a charging connection. Nevertheless, it has a USB-C slot in the main hinge that makes it suitable for charging purposes. This sends power from the Smart Connector to the paired tablet, which in turn leaves the tablet’s interface free for another usage. In theory, the iPad Pro can then be connected to a camera or monitor via its own USB-C port while simultaneously recharging through the Magic Keyboard. Talk about practicality!
What I like less on the iPad Magic Keyboard in the test
Steep viewing angle
Although the viewing angle can be changed by up to 40 degrees, the mount does not offer enough room that caters for all purposes.
The case does bring an iPad Pro into an ideal position when I work with an eye relief of at least 40 centimeters in front of it. However, if I want to get closer to the tablet in order to check out the smaller letters, the viewing angle is too steep for that. Furthermore, the holder does not offer the possibility to place the tablet in a slightly angled reading position on the table. Therefore I have to take it out and hold it in my hand. To be able to tilt the lid further back would also be desirable because I might bump my fingers against the lower edge of the display when I touch the row of numbers.
No function keys
Are you are looking for the escape key or want to change the brightness and control media on the keyboard? No way! Apple does not use the function found in its Mac ecosystem, so only the available shortcuts stored in iPadOS are all that you have to work with. Does Apple want to save space and weight through this design language? Alternatives from Logitech and Brydge provide you with function toolbars and those do not add any significant weight or size to the accessory.
Even without the saved function key bar, the iPad Magic Keyboard is still quite a sizeable accessory. The large version tips the scales at 700 grams together with an iPad Pro 12.9 (640 grams), which makes it as much as a Macbook Air with a 13-inch display (1.3 kilograms). The smaller version (600 grams) also surpasses the kilogram mark in combination with the 11-inch iPad Pro (470 grams). Overall, this reduces the mobile advantage of the tablet, as long as you always leave the keyboard case on.
The iPad Magic Keyboard makes Apple’s professional tablets far more versatile than it already is. Tapping, clicking, and looking at them while having a free hand without requiring to strain your neck becomes a far more comfortable experience with the Magic Keyboard on the iPad Pro. Sure, with the weight on this thing, you could also use a MacBook, but you can’t just use that without a keyboard. The Magic Keyboard’s trackpad and keyboard offer a typing feel that is comparable to a laptop and is well adapted to iPadOS – save for the missing function key bar.
Nothing is perfect, but it’s annoying that Apple, despite the price, happens to be stingy with a trivial feature such as special keys. I would also like to see them being more flexible in the number of selectable viewing angles. But the ingenious magnetic mount makes up for those shortcomings. The iPad Pro can also be attached and removed so easily with the Brydge Pro+, but that alternative has to be charged separately and does not automatically draw power from the iPad Pro. The original accessory with its magnetic holder and Smart Connector simply works best with Apple’s tablet and offers the most comfortable overall package. At the very least, the high entry price is justifiable not only for this iPad holder, but also for the fact that it costs more than the other market alternatives and hence, should deliver more.