Living with the Magic Keyboard and iPad Pro: Nothing is Perfect

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If you a regular reader, you may have already picked up on this, but I am not quite as enthusiastic about the Magic Keyboard as most of the Apple blogosphere. I’m not saying that I don’t like it, because I actually do in a lot of respects. It is very good at the things that Apple designed it for. But it is that narrowness of scope, along with a few other drawbacks, that I can’t completely shake off.

While there are still plenty of good things I have to say about the Magic Keyboard in the future, here is all of the bad news I’ve come across so far.

Testing the limits

If you’ve read about the Magic Keyboard elsewhere, then you are probably already aware of its unique design and how its hinges work. I will say that I do appreciate the sturdiness of the products and I understand that this design is going to be a great fit for a lot of people. If you want your iPad Pro to work more like a laptop most of the time, then it’s probably perfect for you.

However, it won’t be as good for everyone. Like the Smart Keyboard before it, the Magic Keyboard has a somewhat narrow scope. It is made for the iPad Pro to be used with a keyboard and trackpad and that’s really it. It isn’t designed to be particularly good at anything else. It’s perfectly fine for watching media and a few other things, but it not going to be an effective drawing surface for those who use an Apple Pencil often.

Magic Keyboard Drawing Mode

Yes, before you @ me, I have seen the iJustine review video and other posts that suggest using the Magic Keyboard basically upside down for drawing. All I can say is that I do not recommend that AT ALL. I tried it and the hinge gave out and collapsed flat all but one time. That last time the iPad Pro came completely loose from the magnets and slid forward halfway into my lap before I caught it. No thanks. The Magic Keyboard just wasn’t designed with using the Apple Pencil in mind.

Work vs Home

Then there is also the limitation with the range of adjustment. I have not come up against this issue using the Magic Keyboard at home, because most of my iPad Pro use there is with a keyboard either in my lap or on a lap desk. Maybe on a table some nights. The MK’s range of adjustment is just fine in these contexts. Another point for home use is that, if I need to use my iPad separately there, I don’t mind popping it off the MK and using it “naked” as long as I’m not moving around the house with it.

I cannot say the same for my usage at work, though. I have already come up against the lack of adjustment range in how I use it there and, unlike at home, there is no way I’m using an iPad Pro without a case on any job site.

While I agree with most Apple fans that the videos showing iPad Pros being bent in half are dramatized for clicks, this device still isn’t particularly strong or durable. As much as I love the Pro, this is just a fact. I have a 12.9″ 2016 iPad Pro that once looked like a parenthesis after one day in my son’s backpack to prove it.

2016 12.9” iPad Pro Bent

This model is regarded as being more stable and less prone to bending than the current design and it even had a lightweight case on it at the time. All it took was the wrong shift in the bag and a couple of hours and it looked a lot worse than the photo above. I was able to manhandle it back to what you see here with no help from any tools. Remember that the 2018 and 2020 models aren’t as stable as this model was either, so that’s a big no thanks on ever going without a case in a work environment. When anyone asks me about how to protect a Pro, I always strongly recommend using a case or cover that provides stability.

It’s not just the iPad Pro that is susceptible to bending or breaking, either. Any device this large that is also this thin and light will be prone to bending without a very heavy frame. The Pro just happens to be thinner and lighter than most of the competition. For now, this means carrying another case with me to work for times I use my Pro without the MK for Pencil drawing and notes or to refer to blueprints.

None of these issues are deal-killers, but they are legitimate limitations for how some of us iPad Pro owners use our devices.

Don’t forget the charger

I will be honest and say right up front that I haven’t done any formal battery life testing yet. I will eventually, but my job hasn’t stopped during the pandemic, not even the travel part. In fact, I am leaving town again tomorrow morning. That and I lost a chunk of last weekend to oral surgery and a few pain pills. Unfortunately, my work rarely seems to cooperate with Apple’s release schedule.

Up to now, my perception of battery usage has been purely anecdotal. However, I use my iPad Pro every day at both home and work, so I have a very good feel for how often I need to charge it based on how I am using it. So far, I can see a noticeable difference in how the battery drains with the Magic Keyboard attached as opposed to before it arrived.

That said, my battery life is not suddenly terrible, but it has definitely been impacted. I am currently charging a lot more often than is typical for me. I know some of that is due to additional usage as I have been testing the MK. Also bear in mind that I have gone from a Brydge Pro, which only maintains an active Bluetooth connection when you are typing, to the Magic Keyboard that is fed from the iPad’s battery and has a backlight. I expected to see a difference, but not this much based on what I read from others before mine arrived.

Personally, I think the backlight is the primary culprit so far, but I haven’t confirmed it yet. I plan on switching up between the Smart Keyboard Folio, which I have admittedly avoided like the plague for months, and the Brydge Pro, which I still very much enjoy using, and getting a feel for the differences. Stepping back, I am interested to see how the Brydge and Folio stack up head-to-head and then what the separation in battery usage is between them and the Magic Keyboard. That should shed some light on how much the backlight impacts a Smart Connector keyboard.

Another thing to consider here is that I am using a 2018 iPad Pro, not the latest version. My battery does have two years of wear on it and I do use my Pro a lot. However, plenty of reviewers with two year old iPads have had less to say about battery life, so I’m not sure if age or wear are the culprits. They haven’t felt like issues leading up to getting the Magic Keyboard, so I’m skeptical of giving the accessory a pass here. Unfortunately, the iPad Pro does not have the same Battery Health check that was added to the iOS and the iPhone in the wake of Batterygate, so have no way to verify if battery wear is impacting my experience.

I guess the best I can say right now is that, if you use your iPad Pro extensively with a Magic Keyboard, you will see a difference in battery life. How much seems to vary, but mine has been on the high side. That difference will likely be greater if you’ve been using no keyboard or a Bluetooth keyboard leading up to getting a Magic Keyboard. Just be aware that you will need to charge more often.

The issue here, in my opinion, is that Apple hasn’t given us an easy way to turn off the backlight when it isn’t needed to preserve battery yet. I’m betting it will come in iOS 14, if not sooner, but it was a miss on Apple’s part not having a keyboard shortcut or Control Center widget ready day one.

Better wash those hands

Honestly, while the most minor, this is probably the worst issue with the Magic Keyboard because it was so easily preventable. Unfortunately, Apple stuck with the same exterior material as the Smart Keyboard Folio and that was a mistake in my opinion. I’m not the only one saying it, either. I don’t dislike the feel of it, as it’s actually very easy to grip. However, it looks terrible after even light use and it doesn’t hold up all that well over time.

In other words, this premium priced product has a fairly premium feel, but not a premium look. Despite my comments above, there is a case that can be made for most of Apple’s other design decisions. There is nothing that can justify this one. As much as the Magic Keyboard sells for, they could have done better than a material that shows every speck of dirt and grime that ever comes in contact with it. This is a small thing, but small things matter, especially when the price is so high.

At the end of the day….

Again, none of these issues is a deal-breaker. Alone, each item I listed above is a minor annoyance for all but a few people and some won’t care at all. I’m not convinced the Magic Keyboard will be a good fit for me at work, at least not without being supplemented in one way or another, but it’s great for what I do at home and that’s enough for me to hang onto it. So this post isn’t a hit-piece or meant to be click-bait, but simply putting all of the things I find to be limitations or flaws with the MK in one place. Despite them, I do genuinely like the Magic Keyboard and enjoy using it.

That said, I’m not just playing devil’s advocate here, either. I think it is perfectly fair to call the price of this accessory into question based on its limitations. The Magic Keyboard set me back $373.43 and in my opinion as someone who has tested most of the best keyboard cases for Apple tablets since the iPad 2, I do not feel like I am getting that amount of value out of this accessory. I know that many disagree with me on this, but frankly, I think far too many Apple fans give the company a pass for overcharging on accessories just because they can. I guess maybe we’re used to it, but that doesn’t excuse it. It just enables Apple to keep doing it.

I have never thought the Smart Keyboard Folio was worth what Apple charges for it, either, so this is nothing new for me. However, I honestly believe the Magic Keyboard is priced a full $50 to $100 over what it should cost. As much as I like using it, if I didn’t write about Apple products and was spending 100% of my own money on it, my opinion on keeping it might be different, at least until its possible to get one for a lower price.

So that’s it for the bad news. I figured I would get it all out of my system at once and get back to what I like about the Magic Keyboard and how I’m using it. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog. I would love to hear from you.


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2 thoughts on “Living with the Magic Keyboard and iPad Pro: Nothing is Perfect”

  1. I think this is a very fair review. I also thought that for those who want the iPad to be mostly a laptop, this is perfect for them. The problem with this case is that it is nearly impossible to use the iPad as a tablet while it is in this case. The explanation seems to be that, well that is why Apple made it so easy to remove from the case. However, this argument is only valid if you are taking the iPad off of the case when it is already open and on a desk.

    I take my iPad Pro with me everywhere at work. If I bump into someone in the hall and need to show them something, I will frequently flip open my Smart Keyboard case and display it on my iPad. Though I’m stuck at home right now, I see this being infinitely more difficult with the Magic Keyboard. First you would have to awkwardly open the the iPad case partway, remove the iPad from the case itself (probably setting down everything else you had in your hands to do so), take the iPad out, snap the case shut again, and then try to figure out what you are going to do with the now useless case as you try to demo your app or display your spreadsheet.

    I also take a lot of handwritten notes at work using GoodNotes. With the Smart Keyboard case I will frequently flip the iPad in between flat note taking mode and “laptop” mode several times during a meeting depending on whether I am taking notes, or writing an email in Outlook. I see this scenario being much more awkward now as well.

    That said, I really like this keyboard and the trackpad. It is a great typing experience. And like you I don’t see this being much of an issue at home, but much more so if I was working at the office. I will be keeping the Magic Keyboard; however, I don’t think I will be selling my old Smart Keyboard as I had originally planned, but will instead keep it to see if I need it for some occasions.

    1. While it sounds like we work in very different fields, our workflows have a lot of similarities. I’m in the same boat as I walk through job sites where we don’t have a permanent presence or places where I’m visiting to work on a quote for a job. I don’t need to be fumbling around while trying to work and I can’t remove my iPad and leave my Magic Keyboard behind in these situations. The iPad Pro is the best tool I’ve ever used for mobile quote and project management tasks, but the MK just isn’t the right tool for this part of my job. Not without some help, at least.

      Thank you for reading and for your feedback.

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