At first glance, Apple's new Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro looks exactly as so many have wished for: a well-crafted keyboard case with a trackpad that allows you to finally use the iPad as a kind of laptop.
After testing it over the weekend, I'll tell you that it does just that admirably. It's a well-made, beautiful keyboard case that is easy to type on and that makes working on iPad a lot more convenient – or at least familiar. It's also expensive, starting at $ 299 for the 11-inch version and $ 349 for the 12.9-inch version. (An entry-level iPad – yes, a full iPad – costs $ 329 before discounts.)
With the Magic keyboard, you can use your iPad Pro like a conventional clamshell laptop. It does exactly what it was designed for, and it does it very well. I'm just not sure if it's the right design at all.
- Great typing experience
- Excellent trackpad
- Heavy and thick
- Very expensive
- No function line
The Magic Keyboard has comfortable, backlit keys and a trackpad that supports all gestures in iPadOS.
The most important part of any keyboard case is the keyboard, and I'm happy to let you know that it's good. Apple calls this the Magic Keyboard, which is intended to inform you in part that it uses the same scissor switch mechanism that you find on its other Magic keyboards for the iMac and 16-inch MacBook Pro. This is neither the dreaded butterfly switch keyboard of older MacBook Pros nor the fabric-covered keyboard that is still in the Smart Keyboard Folio for the iPad Pro.
There are good key moves and a relatively satisfactory thunk. I even think that Apple specifically decided to abandon the thinness cult for this product to improve the keyboard feel.
However, this is not the same as the new Magic keyboard on the 16-inch MacBook Pro. The keys only wobble a little, but not enough to cause concern. I only find it here if you thought that branding means it fits the MacBook Pro exactly.
The feel of the keyboard is great, but it lacks a feature line
In the first of several "finally" for the iPad, the buttons are also illuminated. They automatically adapt to the ambient light conditions and had the right brightness most of the time. However, if you only want to turn them off when you are watching a movie in the dark or something, you have problems.
To fix this, you have to go to the "Settings" app of the iPad, then "General" and then "Hardware keyboard". Only then can you adjust the brightness using a slider. While you're there, you may also want to map one of your Esc keys (I'm using the Caps Lock key) because there's no Esc key here.
Both problems could have been solved immediately and immediately if Apple had simply placed a function sequence above the series of numbers. There are many system-wide buttons that would be useful there! Music control, volume, screen and keyboard brightness, home, multitasking, search: all things for which it would be practical to have dedicated keys.
After giving in and providing a clamshell design and trackpad, it seems persistent to omit both the Esc key and a function line. You can still reach (or swipe) the Control Center to manage important functions at any time.
The trackpad on the Magic Keyboard is small by Apple standards, but works very well.
The trackpad is good. This is really the TL; DR of it. It's quite small, of course, and if you're used to MacBooks' spacious trackpads, it's likely to feel absolutely tiny. The 12.9-inch device I'm reviewing is almost the same size as the trackpad on my Surface Pro – so at least it seemed familiar to me.
However, the Magic Keyboard's trackpad is better than that of the surface, because it allows you to click anywhere on the trackpad, not just in the middle or bottom. It's also fluid, accurate, and there's no lag on iPadOS.
Incidentally, the trackpad support on iPadOS is great. The cursor is a small dot most of the time, but quickly changes to a conventional text cursor if necessary. It is also expanded to match the size of UI elements such as buttons or symbols that snap into place when closed. That sounds annoying (and you can turn it off), but I quickly loved it.
In addition to clicking, scrolling, and highlighting text, you can use the trackpad to navigate the system. You swipe home with three fingers and multitask – or left and right to switch between the latest apps.
Trackpad support in iPadOS is excellent, but there is still a long way to go in third-party apps
The only place where it feels a little uncomfortable is when you drag the cursor to the edge of the screen. You drag this edge "over" to insert various things like the dock, the notification center, the control center or your slide-over apps. You get used to it, but it's the only time that the image on the screen moves in the opposite direction of your fingers.
Trackpad support on iPadOS and Apple's apps is great, but trackpad support on a number of third-party apps is absolutely not. Any app that doesn't use Apple's standard APIs to create buttons or text views will feel inappropriate with the trackpad. Things you can wipe with your finger can't be wiped with the trackpad, the text selection can be a fiasco, and the cursor doesn't always do its neat tricks of resizing. Google's apps are particularly guilty here, but they're far from the only ones.
When the iPad Pro is connected to the Magic keyboard, it hovers over the keys and brings the screen closer to your face and fingers.
Construction quality and design
The Magic Keyboard is built like a tank. However, this is both a blessing and a curse. The keyboard deck has almost no bend. The whole thing is stable on the lap and very balanced. It's not tippy at all.
This balance is probably partly due to the most unique design element of the Magic Keyboard: the floating screen. The iPad is not tilted up from the back of the keyboard deck like your laptop. it swims a little. It is pretty pretty.
It also has the added benefit of moving the screen much closer to your face and fingers when you're working when you want to use the touchscreen. I wouldn't have told you I wanted it either, but it turns out I really did.
The entire action of opening and fishing in its floating position is a gentle movement. You definitely need two hands to do it – but a one-finger lift was probably never on the cards. You can pull the iPad off the Magic keyboard with one hand when it's open. So you can easily use the versatility of an iPad compared to a laptop.
You can tilt the screen from 90 to 130 degrees, which sounds good on paper. In practice, however, 130 degrees is not enough. It can feel tight, especially if you're used to pushing back a laptop's screen when it's on your lap.
The Magic keyboard can only be tilted back 130 degrees, which is fine on a table but tight on your lap.
There is a USB-C port on the side of the hinge, but this only allows pass-through charging and not data transfer. So if you plan to use an external display or USB hub with the iPad, the adapters will stick to the side of the tablet. However, it doesn't seem to be charging much slower than just connecting directly to the USB-C port on the iPad itself, and – more importantly – it's much nicer to have a cable back and out of the way if you only charge.
But back to this tank analogy: I'm not making it lightly (excuse the pun). The Magic Keyboard is heavy – so heavy that when I asked Apple for the official weight for both sizes, the company didn't want to share.
According to my kitchen scale, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with the Magic keyboard weighs just under three pounds, making it about 25 percent heavier than the iPad Pro with the older Smart Keyboard. Three pounds is the same weight as the 13-inch MacBook Pro and heavier than the new MacBook Air.
As I mentioned above, the Magic keyboard is also quite thick. This is great for the typing experience. It's not for my bag. The entire kit is thicker when closed than my 13-inch MacBook Pro. Of course, if I just want to sit back on the couch and watch YouTube, neither the MacBook Pro nor the MacBook Air can shrink to half their thickness or weight, but the iPad Pro can just get rid of the magic keyboard and be an iPad.
The USB-C connector on the case allows pass-through charging of the iPad, but does not transfer videos or data.
I'm just going to make a comparison here that I know will annoy a lot of people, but I think it's instructive. I have Microsoft's Surface Pro X, which has a 13-inch (LTE) screen and runs Windows on ARM. Depending on your configurations, the price of the Surface Pro X and its keyboard is roughly comparable to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a magic keyboard. There are 5,000 words I could write to compare the differences between the software ecosystems, but let's just talk about hardware here.
The screens are about the same size. The trackpads are also roughly the same size. The Surface keyboard has a function line that you can use to tilt it up a bit. But it's a little bit uncomfortable on your lap. With the surface, however, you can tilt the screen to almost any angle, even almost completely flat. You can also use the interface to flip the keyboard underneath to support the tablet to watch movies. When closing with the keyboard connected, the surface is thinner. The Surface with its keyboard is lighter than the iPad with its keyboard. The surface webcam is in the top center of the screen and not to the side.
I point out not to say that the Surface Pro X is better. (It's more of a software and ecosystem issue.) Surface hardware is better for a variety of laptop and tablet tasks, but its software works best as a laptop. The iPad software is great for a variety of tablet and laptop tasks, but the Magic Keyboard hardware works best as a laptop.
I am trying to say that hardware design is not inevitable. Apple made decisions with the iPad Pro. It was selected where the Smart Connector should be placed. It was selected where the webcam should be placed. It was decided not to put a stand on it. The Magic Keyboard was designed the way it was.
All of these are rational decisions, but they have real ergonomic consequences. The Magic keyboard turns the iPad into a great laptop, but it's a bit heavier and thicker than expected. For me, the whole point about the iPad is that it's not a laptop.
In recent years there has been a lot of controversy over whether the iPad is a computer – at least what kind of computer it should be. It is therefore natural to ask whether the magic keyboard makes the iPad a better computer. That is the wrong question.
The right question is whether the magic keyboard makes the iPad a better iPad.
The iPad Pro is by far the most versatile screen I have. It is incredibly portable. I use it like a laptop when I'm sitting at my desk or lounging on a chair. I watch films on it. I read books. I use it as a second monitor for my MacBook via Sidecar. I only use it as a second computer for small things when my MacBook is overloaded. And while I'm not a heavy pen user, another thing a MacBook can't do is support the iPad at a flat angle for drawing. Hell – now that Trackpad is supported, you can connect it to an external monitor and use it as a literal desktop machine, like a Mac mini, but running iPadOS.
The Magic keyboard only improves the iPad experience in a few ways
The Magic keyboard only improves a handful of these situations. It's an incredibly good, albeit expensive, and hard way to use your iPad Pro like a laptop. If you wish, this is a big upgrade from what was previously available and you will love it. But what makes the iPad so great is that it's more than a laptop.
With all the other things I want to do with my iPad, the ergonomics of the Magic keyboard are noticeably worse. That's why it's nice that it's so easy to remove the iPad and use it without a case. The absence of it makes the iPad a better iPad.
Despite all the mistakes, the Microsoft Surface seems to be designed for a removable keyboard from the start. Not the iPad – and not even the very good Magic Keyboard can change that.
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