A fortnight ago, I traded in my faltering iPad Air for an iPad Pro 10.5 – recklessly eschewing the new, cheaper iPad. To the detriment of my overdraft limit, I also talked myself into buying the Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro, having tested one out for ten minutes in the Apple Store. A fortnight on, do I regret that £159 decision? Here’s my verdict.
Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro review: the rationale
Why did I talk myself into buying the Smart Keyboard? Because I was off on holiday the following week and didn’t fancy lugging my laptop across Europe to answer the inevitable business emails and the small bit of work I’d have to do while abroad. I’ve never got on with Apple’s onscreen keyboard and with complex Excel spreadsheets to edit, I wanted something with greater precision.
The other ‘go on then’ factor was that the keyboard doubled as a case. Given that you’re looking at £49 for an official Apple case in the first place, the opportunity cost of the keyboard was effectively just another £110. Yes, I know… but when you’re in the mood to buy something, you’ll clutch for any small justification.
So, did I make the right decision?
Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro review: the keys
I’m a massive keyboard snob. I buy ThinkPads almost purely on the basis that they always have stonking keyboards with the little red nipple. After five minutes of pounding on the Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro in the Apple Store, I wasn’t exactly itching to get the credit card out of my wallet.
The keys on the 10.5in model are well spaced, but it’s by no means what I’d regard as a ‘full-size keyboard’. The left Shift key is half-sized, the Enter/Return key is slender and easily missable, and the decision to shrink the space bar to accommodate two CMD keys on either side seems absurd to me. Note that the layout of 12.9in version of the Smart Keyboard is very different – it has a full-sized left Shift, bigger Enter/Return key and feels roomier (as you can see below).
The travel on the keys is far from satisfactory. The keys don’t sink into the keyboard like they do on a decent laptop. They get halfway there and hit the buffers, making a muted clack in the process. It’s a mash-up between a rubber-keyed ZX Spectrum and a MacBook Air.
So far, so meh, but then you drag yourself back to the real world. This isn’t a laptop keyboard. It’s a case for an iPad that’s a fraction of the size and weight of one. And when you get going, you find that smashing out words on the Smart Keyboard isn’t that painful at all. After a fortnight, I’m still not quite at full typing speed, but I’m not a long way off, either. (I’m an advanced hunt-and-pecker, by the way, not a touch typist.)
There are a few annoyances. I often find myself accidentally striking the space bar and one of those command keys at the same time, which opens the iPad search screen.
The button on the bottom-left corner of the keyboard that does nothing more than let you choose which software keyboard to work with also seems an astonishing waste of space and plastic. How often are you going to use that?
However, the cursor keys in the bottom-right do make a massive difference in applications such as Excel, when you’re dancing between cells and can’t rely on the accuracy of a finger prod. The work and emails I had to complete while away was done in half the time it would have taken with the software keyboard, letting me rejoin my family on the ski slopes more quickly. That’s almost worth the hundred quid to me alone.
Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro review: the case
Finally, let’s talk about how the Smart Keyboard performs as a case. There’s no doubt it adds noticeable weight and bulk beyond a standard Smart Cover. In fact, it’s like a Smart Cover that’s six months pregnant.
When in keyboard mode, the screen can only be propped up in one fixed position, but that’s a comfortable typing position for my 6ft 3in frame. I’ve read reviews saying you can’t type with it on your lap, but that’s cobblers. It’s not super-comfortable, but it’s certainly possible.
The cover can also be flipped into tent mode, allowing you to watch a movie on the plane seat tray without the keyboard sticking out. This requires some advanced origami, and the fixed viewing position is too upright for my liking. In the end, I tended to watch with the device in laptop mode.
One last thing: the keyboard is entirely powered by the iPad – no need to charge it up or replace batteries. The drain is negligible, having no discernible impact on the iPad’s battery life that I can detect.
Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro review: verdict
It’s not perfect. You’re not going to fall asleep at night dreaming of tapping out your first novel on this thing. You’re not going to spend all day working on it. But to slam in a bag for trips abroad or for jaunts out of the office when you don’t want to be lugging around a laptop, it’s spot on.