I’ve used a few third-party keyboards with the iPad Pro in the past, but for some strange reason I’ve never opted to give Apple’s very-own Smart Keyboard a fair shake. In hindsight, that was a huge miscalculation on my part, as I’m quickly learning since I received the 10.5-inch iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard in tow.
It’s now my opinion that you should strongly consider pairing the 10.5-inch iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard, because it fundamentally changes the device for the better. It’s not perfect, but the amount of convenience that it brings to the table makes it highly worth considering. Have a look at our video commentary for 15 reasons why I think the Smart Keyboard is a must-have iPad Pro accessory.
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It’s extremely portable and easy to put away
The 10.5-inch iPad Pro packs in a lot of screen real estate in a small package. Its physical dimensions aren’t much larger than the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, thanks to a reworking of the device’s bezels. With a small device like this, the last thing you want is a big and bulky keyboard, which is exactly what the Smart Keyboard isn’t.
The Smart Keyboard makes a living by being thin, unassuming, and easy to tuck away when it’s not in use. It’s basically a Smart Cover with a little bit of extra thickness that allows it to double as a keyboard.
The Smart Keyboard is basically a super-charged Smart Cover. Therefore, it can protect your iPad’s screen thanks to the microfiber material lining the inside of the keyboard.
It works on a table or in your lap
Of course, the Smart Keyboard works well on a table top, but one of the things that makes it stand out is the fact that it works well in the lap. The Smart Keyboard essentially turns your iPad Pro into a functional quasi-laptop of sorts.
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While sitting next to the outgoing 9.7-inch Smart Keyboard, it’s easy to see that the 10.5-inch model has slightly larger keys. It may seem like a small change, but I’ve compared both keyboards side-by-side, and typing felt more accurate on the 10.5-inch model.
The keyboard feels surprisingly good to type on
As someone who regularly wrote long-form content on the 2016 12-inch MacBook, I guess you can say that I have a high tolerance for subpar keyboards. However, the new Smart Keyboard for the 10.5-inch iPad Pro is surprisingly good.
Not only do the keys provide a tactile texture, but the key travel is better than you might assume given its thinness. The tactile response has been slightly modified compared to the 9.7-inch model, which results in improved feedback from the keys. Of course, you’ll never confuse this keyboard with a proper mechanical keyboard, or even a MacBook Pro keyboard, but it’s not bad considering its thinness and portability.
The Smart Keyboard doubles as a stand
Because of its origami-style folding mechanism, the Smart Keyboard, like its well-established cousin — the Smart Cover — can double as an iPad Pro stand in two different ways.
No charging or pairing needed
One of the best reasons to opt for a Smart Keyboard is that it features an integrated Smart Connector allowing for an instant connection that draws power from the iPad Pro. That means that there’s no awkward pairing song and dance, and there are no batteries to ever worry about charging.
Hardware keyboards afford more on-screen real estate
Because iOS doesn’t have to display a software keyboard while using the Smart Keyboard (or any compatible hardware keyboard for that matter), you’ll find much more on-screen real estate when typing than ever before. With the smaller 10.5-inch iPad Pro in particular, this is a huge bonus.
Hardware keyboards like the Smart Keyboard feature arrow keys, something that the software keyboard in iOS lacks. Certain apps will allow you to utilize these arrow keys for navigating around the interface.
Keyboard shortcuts galore
Many of your favorite iPad apps feature built-in support for keyboard shortcuts. Almost all of Apple’s apps do, as do many third-party apps. One of my favorite apps, Ulysses, features tons of keyboard shortcuts for quickly adding Markdown links and headings, along with shortcuts for quickly navigating throughout the interface. Simply hold the ⌘ button for a pop-up display that shows all of the contextual keyboard shortcuts.
Switching quickly between apps
Like you can on a Mac, you can ⌘+tab to quickly switch back and forth between two apps. You can also hold ⌘ and repeatedly press tab to cycle through a list of the seven most recently-used apps.
Going back Home
Instead of reaching for the Home button, or using a four-finger pinch gesture, simply press ⌘+H to quickly venture back to the iOS Home screen.
Show and hide the Dock
If you’re running iOS 11, you can quickly show and hide the Dock while in an app by pressing ⌘+⌥+D.
Using Spotlight as a launcher
One of my favorite things about using hardware keyboards is that they let you quickly invoke Spotlight for use as a simple launcher. With Spotlight, which can be invoked anywhere within iOS by pressing ⌘+Space, you can search for apps and files on your local machine, and/or search the web, App Store or Maps app using a specific query. What’s even better is that you can navigate throughout the search results using the keyboard’s arrow keys, pressing Return to launch a desired selection.
We already went over the enhanced iOS 11 screenshot features in-depth on a previous video, but having a hardware keyboard lends access to two handy keyboard shortcuts for taking screenshots. ⌘+⇧+3 will take a screenshot, and ⌘+⇧+4, a brand new shortcut for iOS 11, takes a screenshot and invokes markup mode.
It’s not perfect
The only flaw that I’ve noticed with the Smart Keyboard seems to be more of a production issue than an inherent flaw with the device itself. As I showcased in our hands-on video review of the iPad Pro, some Smart Keyboards have problems sitting flush with the resting surface. I found that this issue was mostly alleviated after a break in period, but in my opinion the Smart Keyboard shouldn’t need to be broken in at all. It should rest the way it’s supposed to rest on a desk from the minute you attach the iPad Pro. That said, this issue had no discernible negative impact on my typing ability, and mostly went away after a break-in period.
As it turns out, I made the incorrect assumption that the Smart Keyboard would result in a less than ideal typing experience, and that it would get in the way more than it actually helped. I couldn’t have been more wrong with those assumptions, and I’m happy that I was wrong given how utterly useful this accessory is. At $159 for the 10.5-inch model, it’s not cheap, but I have no regrets, and consider it money well spent.
Unlike the Apple Pencil, which could be counted as optional for those who need stylus input, the Smart Keyboard is a must-have accessory in my opinion. It greatly complements touch input, while increasing the overall usefulness of the device.
What are your thoughts on Apple’s Smart Keyboard? Did you purchase one with your iPad Pro?