On the Apple Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro

April 26, 2020 | 1,853 words |



When Apple announced the new Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro, I decided to pre-order one and try it. Being a MacBook Pro 15” user, I tend to avoid travelling with the corporate laptop due to the size and weight. My iPad Pro 12.9” is fantastic (the best iPad I ever had, in fact) for travelling but when it comes down to writing long pieces or taking notes during meetings, the digital keyboard is too slow. There are a lot of 3rd party keyboards on the market but I dislike all of them as they wrap the iPad like a hardcover, preventing a quick removal, and, quite frankly, they look ugly to me.
The Magic Keyboard doesn’t enclose the iPad, allowing a quick attach/detach operation (in certain conditions) and not hiding the hardware design. Good enough reasons for me to try the product.

After mentioning on social media that I purchased the keyboard, I have received a few requests for a full review, so here we are.
By now, the tech press has published dozens of reviews about this new keyboard. If you haven’t read any, here are some good ones: DaringFireball, MacStories, and TechCrunch. Most of them are written by great journalists/bloggers who travel and write a lot. For the most part, I won’t repeat the things they already said about the keyboard.

At this point, I used the keyboard for one week, which is enough to share some first impressions, but I’ll edit this review if and when new aspects worth mentioning arise:

It’s a wonderful stand and a terrible cover

When I first saw the pictures of the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro online, I immediately thought that it was designed to be a permanent stand more than a portable cover. Something you would deploy, for example, on your shop counter to use the iPad as a cash register (a bit like Square does).

I can confirm that feeling after in-person use. In its fully open position, the keyboard is the sturdiest stand I ever used. You can move the iPad and keyboard around, just holding the latter, without any fear of detachment. You can place the duo on uneven or soft surfaces like a sofa and still have an exceptionally stable mobile computing station.

Even if you don’t use the keyboard to type, it is the best stand I have tried so far to use the iPad as a secondary monitor (via Apple Sidecar if you have macOS Catalina, Duet, or something else). The reason is that its unique design elevates the iPad at the same height of my MBP 15” screen, making it easier to keep the eyes focused on the top part of the screen as I usually do.

However, if the keyboard is closed around the iPad like a cover, and you want to barely open it just to extract the iPad, you are in for 10-40 seconds (depending on your level of clumsiness) of absolute frustration. The magnets of the keyboard are so powerful that, first, you have to open it with two hands and, second, you have to apply brute force to attempt to remove the iPad from the opening angle. An operation that would take a millisecond with an Apple Smart Cover is close to impossible with the Magic Keyboard. To the point that the fastest way to remove the iPad is to fully open the keyboard in its “stand position”, as I call it, and only then take the device out.

To make this even more explicit, here’s an example. Let’s say that you are at the airport waiting for boarding and you have your iPad with the Magic Keyboard under your arm. If you had the Smart Cover and wanted to check something very quickly, you’d simply flip open the Smart Cover and use the device. With the Magic Keyboard, this is impossible.

It makes me feel like it’s better to permanently leave the keyboard in its “stand position” where I normally work and attach/detach the iPad when I start/end my working activities.

It’s not as heavy as a rock

Regardless of the actual weight expressed in numbers, almost all reviews I read gave me the impression that the keyboard (or, better, the combination of the keyboard and the iPad) was as heavy as a rock. The duo is heavy but not outrageously so, and still a lighter (and more flexible) option than carrying around my MBP 15” (I realize that it’s not an apple-to-apple comparison). Also, as you’ll read in other reviews, the Magic Keyboard plus the iPad combination is just 50g heavier than other combinations with 3rd party keyboards.

The bottom line is that when you close the keyboard around the iPad, and you carry the duo around, it doesn’t feel like an unbearable burden. And it certainly doesn’t look clunkier than some other 3rd party keyboards I have seen.

Typing is superb but noisy

Typing on this keyboard is a great experience. Significantly better than typing on my MBP and its terrible butterfly keyboard. While the keyboard is spacious, it took 15 minutes to get adjusted to the slightly different space between the keys but, after that, typing was extremely fast, extremely reliable, and extremely satisfactory.

I read many negative comments about the lack of an F-keys row. I never use them, so I didn’t miss their presence. I have similar feelings for the lack of an ESC key (there’s a workaround for it anyway).

That said, the keyboard is noisy. And I am not talking about the noise that a heavy typer makes while he/she channels anger or energy during a conference call where he/she is supposed to be on mute. This keyboard is noisy even if you type softly.
The noise is very satisfying but can be very distracting for somebody that is near you while you type. I can’t imagine what would happen in a face to face meeting where ten people are all typing at the same table.

The trackpad is fast, smooth, accurate, and really noisy

The trackpad is significantly smaller than the gigantic surface offered by my MBP 15”. Yet, it is very fast (so fast that I had to reduce its default speed in the settings), absolutely accurate, and produces a scrolling that is as smooth as the built-in trackpads. Not for a second, you realize that the iPad and the trackpad (or the keyboard) are not part of a single system.

All gestures you normally use to navigate the iPad work fine with the trackpad, and the response time is instantaneous. For some reason, the gesture-based navigation on the Magic Keyboard seems even more seamless and natural than on the MacBook.
I couldn’t find a way to reproduce the single finger sideswipe in certain apps (like in RSS newsreaders) through the trackpad, so for that task, I still touch the screen.

But boy, this trackpad is noisy. Way noisier than the keyboard itself. I can’t imagine anybody in a meeting room not hearing when you click on this trackpad. Maybe I got so used to fixed trackpads on the MacBook Pro that I forgot how noisy a regular trackpad is. Whatever the reason, it’s impossible not to notice the noise generated by this keyboard. I am concerned that the sound of both keyboard and trackpad would be highly distracting during a conference call (thankfully, a growing number of online meeting solutions are starting to adopt artificial intelligence to filter out unnecessary sounds like clicks and background noises. Krisp, Discord, Microsoft, Google are the first that come to mind).

You can mitigate the problem by enabling both “Tap to click” and “Two-finger Secondary Click” in the Setting, under General > Trackpad. That’s the way I set up my MBP, but for some reason, it’s less natural to do the same on the Magic Keyboard.

App support is inconsistent

While you use the trackpad to navigate the iPad OS interface, moving across icons or UI elements in native Apple apps, everything works fine. The pointer changes shape depending on the UI element it lands on, and the whole experience is delightful.

However, try to use the Google Docs for iOS app, as I am doing to write this review, and the experience becomes way more frustrating. The pointer doesn’t change shape any more, it’s not even visible until you double click on the page to start writing and, most importantly, selecting and copying (or hyperlinking) a portion of the text is a very frustrating experience that requires multiple attempts.

The solution is to delete the app and use the web version of Google Docs from inside Safari. It offers much better pointer support, the double and triple click correctly selects words and entire sentences, and everything is high fidelity just like in macOS.

In another situation, switching from Facebook Messenger for iOS to another app and back caused the keyboard to stop working inside Messenger. I had to kill Messenger and relaunch it to have the keyboard work again.

Hopefully, this is a temporary problem. Should this keyboard become as popular among iPad professional users as I expect it to be, Google and other players will have all incentives to improve their native app support quickly.

Unrelated to the pointer behaviour but pertaining 3rd party app support in general, the Magic Keyboard design forces the iPad in landscape mode. While this is fine in most situations, in some rare circumstances, you might find yourself using iPhone-only apps (like Instagram). Those apps, while scaling up as usual to leverage the iPad display screen estate, will not rotate to match the portrait orientation.

It can drain the battery quickly

The keyboard seems to drain the iPad battery very fast. I will leave the scientific tests to people way more competent than me. What I know is that writing this article took me 2.5 hours, during which my battery went from 60% to 35%.

Maybe a 3rd party keyboard would have drained the battery as much, but for sure the iPad digital keyboard wouldn’t have. It’s also possible that the problem is related to the native Google Docs app for iOS I used, rather than the web version through Safari.

Speaking of battery consumption, using the iPad with the Magic Keyboard as a secondary monitor via Sidecar for 8 hours consumes a 100% charged battery only to 50%.

Yet, it’s a must-buy

The iPad has been around for a decade. In these ten years, I didn’t see or try a single keyboard that doesn’t look and feel a compromise in terms of design and experience. While the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro not perfect (it’s the first iteration, after all), I consider it a must-have purchase if you plan to use the iPad for work. I particularly recommend it if you travel much and want the freedom and flexibility to switch from reading/watching to heavy-duty writing.