Two days ago the Magic Keyboard for the 11-inch iPad Pro landed on my desk. I’ve been using it constantly since it first arrived, and although it’s not perfect, I absolutely love it.
It’s so good that I can easily say that this is the best iPad accessory in the 10-plus year history of the device, and that includes the Apple Pencil.
Watch our hands-on video as I walk through the top Magic Trackpad for iPad Pro features. I’ll talk about features I like, and things that I don’t like. If you want the details about the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro, then this is the video for you.
Although I take issue with the polyurethane that Apple continues to use on the exterior of its iPad keyboard accessories (more on that later), the overall build quality of the Magic Keyboard is solid.
The keyboard has a significant amount of confidence-instilling heft to it, particularly on the bottom portion. This is necessary due to how top-heavy the unit is when an iPad Pro is attached.
The Magic Keyboard is designed with a clever dual-hinge setup that allows the cover to open and lock into place, along with tilt functionality.
The primary hinge, which rests in the spine area of the keyboard cover, is comprised of metal. On each end of the primary hinge you’ll find rubber bump-stops to prevent your iPad Pro from coming into contact with the metal upon opening and closing the cover.
The secondary hinge, which allows for tilt adjustment, resides inside the top cover. It provides up to 130 degrees of tilt to allow you to easily adjust your iPad Pro display for the ideal viewing angle.
Both hinges are built with loads of resistance to increase stability. The hinges are so stiff that you can easily lift the Magic Keyboard by the keyboard portion and move it around without worrying about the iPad Pro possibly detaching as a result.
The great thing about the Magic Keyboard is that it employs the use of a series of magnets to easily allow you to attach and detach the iPad Pro at any moment. Ready to work? Simply hold your iPad Pro up against the back cover, and it snaps and auto-aligns into place. Ready to leave? Simply pull your iPad Pro away and you’re ready to go.
The magnets are the secret sauce that makes the Magic Keyboard the compelling product that it is. You never feel locked in to using it or not using it, because there’s no fidgety process involved for connecting or disconnecting your iPad Pro.
Works with 2018 and 2020 iPad Pro
Apple designed the Magic Keyboard to work with both the current-generation 2020 iPad Pro models, as well as the prior-generation iPad Pro releases from 2018. Externally each iPad model is exactly the same sans the rectangular camera module on the back of the 2020 iPad Pro.
This strategy makes a lot of sense given the fact that many more people own an iPad Pro model from 2018 when compared to the just-released 2020 revision.
Along with the magnets, the Smart Connector is the interface that makes such a design possible. It provides power to the Magic Keyboard directly from the iPad Pro, powering general functionality for the keys and the trackpad, along with keyboard’s backlight.
Most importantly, the Smart Connector allows users to simply attach their iPad Pro for instant pairing. There’s no arduous and/or unreliable Bluetooth pairing process, and no batteries to keep charged. You can instantly begin typing and clicking the trackpad as soon as the iPad Pro is attached to the keyboard.
Apple’s keyboard is less of a keyboard cover, like the Smart Keyboard Folio, and more like a keyboard stand that happens to function as a cover.
Using the two well-placed and ultra-stiff hinges, the Magic Keyboard allows users to enjoy a range of viewing angles up to 130 degrees.
The main hinge, which rests at the spine of the Magic Keyboard, bears the brunt of the work, lowering and raising the iPad Pro to and from a closed-book position.
The second hinge, which rests behind the iPad Pro, is used to facilitate viewing angle. The two hinges work together in a brilliant way to promote stability, and viewing angle versatility.
Unlike the Smart Keyboard Folio, which only has two hard-coded viewing angles, the hinge system on the Magic Keyboard allows you to comfortably type and angle your iPad’s display to operate within a much wider range of angles.
When it comes to sheer productivity, the best thing about the Magic Keyboard is the keyboard itself — it’s downright wonderful to type on.
Unlike the Smart Keyboard, which I found just passable for typing long-form content, I could easily see myself typing entire reviews and scripts with the Magic Keyboard.
In fact, I typed almost this entire review with Apple’s newly released keyboard, and didn’t have so much as a hint of finger or wrist fatigue that’s often associated with typing on the butterfly keyboards in some of Apple’s MacBook computers.
There are several things that make the Magic Keyboard so finger friendly. For starters, there is a relatively generous amount of key travel when pressing the keys. It’s not as much as you’ll find on a standalone Magic Keyboard, but it compares well with the keyboard in Apple’s just-released MacBook Air.
The second reason is spacing. There’s enough spacing between the keys to make it easy enough to touch type without worrying about your fingers interfering with each other. Space isn’t quite as generous as what you’ll find on a standalone Magic Keyboard, but decent enough for an 11-inch iPad Pro.
The inverted-t arrow keys, which recently made comebacks on both the 16-inch MacBook Pro and 13-inch MacBook Air, can be found on the Magic Keyboard as well. This style of arrow keys allows for better tactile recognition for touch typists.
Lastly, the keys are generously sized, at least compared to the Smart Keyboard Folio. And although Apple employs the use of scissor switches, the keys, when pressed off-axis, move straight down and resist wobble.
While we’re on the subject of the keyboard, it’s appropriate to address the backlighting underneath the keys. Thanks to to Smart Connector, the backlight is both powered and controlled by the iPad itself.
That means that there are no batteries to charge, and it also means that there’s usually no need to adjust the under-key lighting manually. Once you connect your iPad Pro to the Magic Keyboard, the backlighting will automatically engage based on ambient light in your location.
Similarly to how it controls the display brightness, the ambient light sensor built in to the iPad Pro will automatically control the brightness level of the backlit keys. In situations where it determines that no backlighting is required, for example in bright sunlight, the backlighting will disengage altogether.
Users have the option of manually adjusting the keyboard backlight using a slider control via Settings → General → Keyboard → Hardware Keyboard.
In iPadOS 13.4, Apple introduced new advanced cursor support to allow users to control the iPad interface with a mouse or trackpad. Although it’s possible to pair a standalone Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad, having an all-in-one unit like the Magic Keyboard is the best option by far.
Trackpad support in iOS 13.4 is expansive, and out of the box, basic support is available for the entire iPadOS interface. App developers will need to update their apps to add advanced control beyond the most basic cursor interactions, and many have already done so.
The Magic Keyboard trackpad is much smaller than the trackpad you’ll find on a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, so it’ll take a little bit of time to adjust to such a tiny surface area. I highly recommend adjusting the tracking settings to the highest speed via Settings → General → Trackpad.
The trackpad is also fully mechanical, meaning that it physically moves when you click, unlike the solid state trackpad found in the standalone Magic Trackpad and the MacBook lineup. Due to this design, clicking is fairly loud, and it may take you a while to get used to the sound.
The good news is that Apple avoided using a “diving board” style trackpad, where only the lower portion of the surface is actually clickable. See my review of the Logitech Combo Touch for a hands-on example of why the diving board design isn’t very desirable.
iPadOS 13.4 supports all sorts of multitouch gestures that allow you to fully navigate the interface, invoke multitasking, control applications, and edit text with the trackpad. The bottom line is that the trackpad feels similar enough to trackpads found on Apple’s laptops, and has just enough space to be usable in traditional laptop style.
Keyboard cases that utilize kickstands are usually a mixed bag for lap usage as you negotiate the kickstand position with the position of your legs. With the Magic Keyboard, there is no such issue, because the bottom portion of the case is flat with a fair amount of surface area.
The hinge mechanisms allows you to adjust viewing angles with ease, and although I would have preferred a slightly wider angle for lap usage, it works well enough to be comfortable.
The weight of the iPad Pro is balanced in such a way that as long as your lap creates a flat surface for the Magic Keyboard to rest on, it’ll stay put. Due to how top heavy the setup is, though, it’s not as stable as a MacBook. You’ll need to ensure that your legs stay flat when not supporting the keyboard area with your hands.
A few things I don’t like about the Magic Keyboard
The price is high
The most obvious downside to the Magic Keyboard is something experienced before even taking it out of the box — the price. At $299, the Magic Keyboard is more than 1/3 the cost of the 11-inch iPad Pro, and the 12.9-inch version is $50 more. That’s a lot of money to pay for a keyboard, no matter how good it is.
It’s awkward to open
Because the iPad Pro/Magic Keyboard combination is so top heavy, and because there is no notch area for lifting the “lid,” it can be awkward to open the keyboard case in order to begin using the iPad Pro.
Doing so is a two-handed operation, and even then, it can be challenging to overcome the force of the hinge to raise the iPad Pro up. The best way, in my experience, is just to lift the iPad up from both sides — lifting the iPad on both sides with your two index fingers, and holding the keyboard down with your other fingers. It’s not hard, but it’s awkward, and not very Apple-like as far as usability is concerned.
Polyurethane material is bad
For $299/$349, it’s disappointing that the Magic Keyboard uses the same polyurethane material on the outside of the cover, and the inside area on each side of the trackpad. This soft-touch polyurethane doesn’t age well. Over time it may buckle, develop holes, wrinkles, etc. At the very least it will develop a nasty-looking glossy patina on the exterior.
The USB-C port is disappointing
Apple includes a USB-C passthrough on the left side of the Magic Keyboard’s spine. Because power is fed from the USB-C port to the iPad via an inductive connection to Smart Connector, this method allows you to charge your iPad Pro, albeit at a slower rate than if directly connected to the tablet.
Not only is charging slower, but this port is dedicated to charging and nothing more. Hence, you can’t connect USB-C drives to the Magic Keyboard, and even relatively simple accessories like the USB-C to 3.5mm headphone adapter won’t work.
No shortcut keys
Shortcut keys allow you to quickly adjust things like volume, invoke spotlight search, use media controls, etc. Much less expensive keyboards, like the aforementioned Logitech Combo Touch for the 7th-generation iPad, feature a row of handy shortcut keys.
The Logitech Combo Touch shortcut row
Apple’s Smart Keyboards have never had shortcut keys, so it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the Magic Keyboard omits them as well.
Even if Apple wanted to add shortcut keys, there’s simply no room left over for adding them above the number keys due to the way the unit is designed.
The bottom line is that the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro is the most important accessory in the history of the iPad. Coupled with iPadOS 13.4, it turns your iPad Pro into a real laptop-style device that can be used almost totally devoid of touch gestures.
Not only does such a setup provide more precision for certain tasks like writing and editing, but it opens up future possibilities for interacting with creative apps like video and photo editing apps.
But the really great thing about the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro, and perhaps its most important feature, is the immediate versatility that it provides. Thanks to the magnetic connection and clever dual-hinge design, it’s there when you need your iPad to be a laptop, and it’s easy to remove when you prefer to use your iPad like a tablet.
The Magic Keyboard truly provides the best of both worlds, and we’re only beginning to scratch the surface as far as software potential is concerned. It’ll be very interesting to see how iPadOS 14 builds on this excellent foundation.
I’ll be back with a more in-depth review of the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro in the future, but for now, please share your thoughts down below in the comments.
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