Matthew Fitzsimmons

The iPad Pro Smart Keyboard

In my initial article about the new iPad Pro where I decided to switch from the 10.5" to the 12.9", I mentioned how I really liked the Smart Keyboard on the smaller one but not on the larger one. I ended up returning the larger Smart Keyboard mainly because of how floppy it was when in cover mode.

Well…

I ended up buying a Bluetooth keyboard that can easily switch between multiple devices so that my wife and I could both use it, since neither of us expected to be using it much. The problem is, this keyboard is bulky enough that I just never take it anywhere. There are single-device solutions that would be much less bulky, but even then I discovered that as someone who doesn't carry a bag on a daily basis, I'd probably never be likely to have it with me when I need it.

So I started looking at other options. It turns out there aren't a lot of options that use the Smart Connector on the iPad Pro, and I was not willing to use a Bluetooth solution if I was getting a keyboard cover. I've used those in the past with other iPads, and they're OK, but there's always a connection delay that you don't get with the Smart Connector.

Wirecutter says that the Apple Smart Keyboard is the best keyboard "case" for the iPad so far, and after looking at the options available, I decided to go ahead and get the Smart Keyboard again.

The Alternatives

It's no surprise that the only keyboard cases I found for the 12.9" iPad Pro that actually use the smart connector are from Logitech. I'll briefly cover these, so you have an idea of why I rejected them for my purposes. There are two options for the 12.9" iPad Pro: the Create, and the Slim Combo.

The Create

The Create is designed for someone who really wants to use the iPad as a laptop replacement and nothing else. The keyboard can be folded back behind the iPad, but it is not removable unless you completely remove the iPad from the case. As someone who uses a 12.9" iPad and a 2016 13" MacBook Pro, I don't want a case that makes my iPad bulkier than my laptop, and makes it harder to use it in non-keyboard ways. The keyboard itself seems quite nice, so if that is the kind of case you're looking for this might be the one for you.

The Slim Combo

The Slim Combo has some features that made me really want to like it:

  1. A kickstand flips out of the case itself, which could be handy in some circumstances. One example being that you can use that kickstand in portrait mode if you want to prop the iPad up for something like FaceTime.
  2. The keyboard is removable without having to remove the case itself.
  3. The keyboard has a row of shortcut keys that does not exist on the Apple Smart Keyboard. This allows you to perform common functions that otherwise require resorting to tapping the screen. When using the keyboard, it's optimal to be able to touch the screen as little as possible. Improvements in iOS 11 make such things less important, however.

The Slim Combo has one key downside, however: it's not slim.

The case portion of the Slim Combo has a very thick lip around it. I assume this is designed to keep the keyboard keys from marking up the screen, but there must be a better way to do it. This makes the case much thicker than is optimal for such a device. 1

Back to the point of this article

So for the 12.9" iPad Pro, I recommend the Apple Smart Keyboard with some reservations.

The Good

  1. The Smart Keyboard is super slim. It's not as slim as the Smart Cover, of course, but it's quite slim.
  2. It's easily removable. You can swap it with a different cover if you want to only have it with you in certain situations, or you can leave it on all the time and remove it at those times when you don't want it flopping around.
  3. It makes a more stable stand than the Smart Cover (although the kickstand on the Logitech Slim Combo is probably pretty good, too). There are times like when using the iPad to display a recipe that it's nice to fold the keyboard back to save counter space, and in those instances, the solid magnetic attachments on the Smart Keyboard make it very stable.
  4. The keyboard is quite good. I find it pretty easy to type quickly, although I haven't done an actual speed test compared to what I type on a real keyboard. I definitely don't feel slow and hobbled, though.

The Bad

  1. As mentioned before, it would be nice to have a row of keys for special functions. This isn't a dealbreaker, but it is a downside.
  2. The keyboard is too heavy for the magnets to be effective in keeping the cover in place either in the closed position or open and flipped around behind the iPad. In the closed position it works most of the time, but if you set your iPad down leaning against something with the "spine" of the cover on the floor (which apparently I do a lot), the weight of the keyboard will make the cover start to slip. When flipping the cover around behind the iPad, it really doesn't stay in place a all. In these situations, I've basically started just taking it off. 2

So…

The Apple Smart Keyboard is really the best option for a keyboard cover for the 12.9" iPad Pro that meets my requirements:

  1. Slim and light (enough so that I'll always have it with me, instead of having to consciously think of taking along another device).
  2. The keyboard must be easily removable
  3. Needs to support typing comfortably and quickly

  1. When I went shopping for the keyboard cover, the Slim Combo for the 12.9" was out of stock, so I had to rely on my experience playing with the 10.5" as well as the assurance from an Apple Store employee that the 12.9" version was designed the same. Maybe some day I'll get my hands on one myself, and I'll be able to know if it really is the same. For now, I'll trust that it's the same as the 10.5". 

  2. The 10.5" iPad Pro keyboard cover doesn't have this problem. I imagine it's partly just the fact that the dimensions (including weight) are smaller. But I also wonder if they noticed the issue with the 12.9", but didn't bother fixing it, and the issue got fixed on the 10.5" because it's a new size and therefore required a new size of cover. I have no idea how either of them compares to the older 9.7" iPad Pro keyboard cover.