Apple Smart Keyboard Review: an iPad Pro Necessity?

Can you replace your laptop with an iPad Pro and the Apple Smart Keyboard? That’s the focus of this review now that Apple unveiled their second version, a 9.7-inch iPad Pro, to go along with the first edition and its 12.9-inch screen.

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Apple released the first iPad Pro in 2015 with much fanfare and for round two, Apple shrunk the screen and limited the memory while adding some interesting new display features.

apple smart keyboard ipad pro

The new iPad Pro can’t replace the laptop the way Apple hopes unless buyers also opt for the Apple Smart Keyboard or something similar. Is the keyboard cover worth the high price? How well does it handle an iPad Pro user’s typing needs?

Apple Smart Keyboard Design

Apple Smart Keyboard

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People familiar with Apple’s Smart Cover will recognize the design language in the Smart Keyboard. It snaps into place thanks to magnets along left edge (in portrait mode) of the iPad Pro. The keyboard folds out from the inside cover  and the back of the Apple Smart Keyboard bends in the middle of the back part of the cover to form a triangle.

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The Smart Connector on the left edge of the iPad Pro snaps to the ridge that rests behind the number keys on the keyboard. This holds the iPad Pro at a comfortable viewing angle for typing and for enjoying multimedia content on the tablet. The connector also transmits data between the tablet and keyboard so the user doesn’t need to rely on a Bluetooth connection. This also powers the keyboard so we don’t need a cable to charge. Finally, it will update the keyboard’s firmware when Apple sends out an update.

Notice the three-pin connector on the edge of the iPad Pro.

Notice the three-pin connector on the edge of the iPad Pro.

Tap a text entry box in an app or in iOS 9 and a shortcut bar appears at the bottom of the screen to show things like text formatting and autocorrect suggestions. An arrow at the right end of the toolbar hides it if it’s in the way.

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ipad pro smart keyboard keyboard open

Apple designed the Smart Keyboard with a polyurethane textured outer layer. It’s a very dark gray, almost black color. The keys aren’t raised very high, which makes it thin enough to not get in the way while stowed away in the cover, which folds over the screen to protect it.

ipad pro apple smart keyboard in watch mode

Fold it the right way and the keyboard works like a stand only for what Apple calls “watch mode” (see above).

Users can’t get crumbs, dirt or debris under these keys since they’re integrated into the outer layer of the material on the keyboard cover.

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iFixit's Apple Smart Keyboard teardown shows the unique key technology.

iFixit’s Apple Smart Keyboard teardown shows the unique key technology.

The design looks dark and conservative, something most business professionals will prefer, but a lot of artistic types may want more flashy colors. I’d love a red Smart Keyboard even though I use it mostly for work.

The edges around the keyboard and cover feel a little sharp and some may not like that. Also, when it’s stowed inside the cover and folded onto the iPad Pro screen to protect it, half the cover raises slightly above the other half because of the keyboard’s integration. This looks bad and feels annoying, but that’s nit-picking.

ipad pro apple smart keyboard cover

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The magnetic attachment holds on tightly, but not enough to lift the iPad holding only the keyboard with the iPad dangling beneath it. You’ll drop your iPad Pro and likely break the screen or put a dent in one or more edges.

Apple Smart Keyboard Typing Experience

The looks of an iPad keyboard matter to some, but for those trying to replace their laptop with an iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard, the typing experience matters most.

Typing on the keyboard takes some getting used to. Since the keys are so low it’s easy to mis-hit keys. However, after about 10-20 minutes, I got used to the keyboard and could type almost as fast on it as I can on my 13-inch MacBook Pro. It’s as good or better than typing on the Microsoft Surface Pro 4’s Type Cover.

logitech create vs apple smart keyboard

There’s an earlier comparison review pitting the Apple Smart Cover against the Logitech Create iPad Pro keyboard. Watch the video review below:

Should Users Rely on the Apple Smart Keyboard?

Typing on Logitech’s keyboard feels better, but carrying it around more than doubles the thickness of the iPad Pro. A Bluetooth keyboard may give users a better typing experience, but it’s not as convenient as carrying around the Apple Smart Keyboard. That’s why it’s the best option for people replacing their laptop. I don’t have to hook up a Bluetooth keyboard or recharge it, and the Apple Smart Keyboard doesn’t add much weight or bulk. For those times when I want to use the iPad Pro as a tablet, I can quickly remove the Smart Cover and go without it.

I don’t like that the keyboard cover doesn’t protect the back and sides of the iPad Pro. For that, users will need to spend an extra $79 to get the Apple Silicone case for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro or $69 for the 9.7-inch version.  Apple charges way too much for these accessories. The Apple Smart Cover costs $169 for the 12.9-inch model. and $149 for the 9.7-inch version. In spite of these high prices, the Apple Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro gives users the best option because it easily beats the heavy and bulky Logitech Create iPad Pro keyboard, is more convenient than even the best Bluetooth keyboard and users will work more productively than typing on their iPad Pro screen using the software keyboard in iOS.