Review: Apple Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro
While Apple's Smart Keyboard ($169) was first released alongside the iPad Pro, its stock was almost immediately depleted, and the Smart Connector keyboard became impossible to find pretty much from the get-go, with shipping dates being listed more than a month later. Currently, Smart Keyboard is somehow still showing a shipping date online of 2-3 weeks, but the accessory has recently become easier to find in brick-and-mortar Apple Stores. (A current survey of NYC-area Apple Store locations shows the Smart Keyboard is listed as available for pickup in about half of nearby stores.) While the delays have cause Smart Keyboard to be beaten to the punch in many respects by Logitech's Create iPad Pro Keyboard Case, many interested users have likely waited for Apple's own keyboard to fit its own device. But was it worth the wait?
Unlike Logitech’s bulky, backlit, all-encompassing keyboard case, Apple’s Smart Keyboard is a thinner, more minimalist affair, which isn’t a surprise. The keyboard itself is 3.2mm thin, and light, and the rest of the accessory acts as a viewing stand or a smart cover, with a microfiber lining and polyurethane top. We like the way the keyboard folds flat across part of the screen when used as a cover, adding almost no extra bulk. Smart Keyboard can also be used in conjunction with other cases, such as Apple’s own Silicone Case. The design is thoughtful while offering screen coverage, and it makes a lot of sense at first glance.
It’s easy to dock Smart Keyboard — it snaps right onto the Smart Connector — and after you’ve quickly figured out how to position the stand, you can start typing right away. The keyboard certainly looks nice, and the feel of the water-resistant, stain-resistant fabric certainly feels like a justification of the $169 price tag. Despite its thinness and lightness, you can actually balance Smart Keyboard on your lap pretty well, too. This was a pleasant surprise to us.
But the typing experience itself is the disappointment. To put it simply, we wouldn’t want to type on Smart Keyboard for any extended period of time, and that kind of defeats the purpose of buying a pricey add-on keyboard. The thin keys have very little bounce. So much of typing is about feel, so we realize this is subjective, but Smart Keyboard’s quiet, thin keys don’t do it for us. At best, it feels a bit unsatisfactory. At worst, it feels fatiguing. We wouldn’t want to use Smart Keyboard for more than a few minutes of typing — if that’s the case, it doesn’t much of an advantage over the onscreen keyboard. It’s also worth noting that Smart Keyboard lacks the row of shortcut keys found on Logitech’s Create, or a MacBook keyboard. Removing these keys — for brightness, playback, volume, etc. — saves space, but also loses some functionality.
When looking at Apple’s Smart Keyboard as a total package, it hits the mark in a number of ways: fit, stand/cover versatility, materials, and design are all top-rate. But if you don’t actually enjoy the experience of typing, these attributes seem decidedly minor. Not to mention that $169 is no small sum for such an accessory. When choosing between the only two Smart Connector keyboard options right now, Logitech’s Create is bulkier and less elegant, but it also offers a better typing experience — with bouncy, backlit keys — at a slightly lower price. One of our editors compared his brief experience with Smart Keyboard to the keys found in Apple’s 12” MacBook — if you don’t mind those MacBook keys, you’ll probably be OK with Smart Keyboard. Otherwise, we’d take a close look at Logitech’s option, or maybe even wait for other competing keyboards down the road. While Apple’s Pencil is a must-have for iPad Pro, the company’s Smart Keyboard only earns our limited recommendation.