I have to say: the Smart Keyboard really didn’t impress me when it was announced alongside the iPad Pro in September. I saw it and immediately thought of it as a Type Cover rip-off (which it still is). It pairs with the iPad via a hardware connection, it has a keyboard embedded in the cover, and it’s usable on the lap — just like the Surface Pro’s keyboard. None of that is really news in the iPad keyboard world. We’ve already seen really impressive offerings from Logitech and Belkin, and Apple’s own keyboard struck me as a very obvious and bland accessory. Its asking price also seemed well above what I would ever want to pay for an iPad keyboard — at $230 CAD, it’s more than any gaming keyboard I’ve ever purchased, and gaming peripherals are known for being far too expensive.
What ended up changing my mind was the feel of the keys. I really like these keys. I love the feel of the grippy fabric under my fingers as I type, and I’m a fan of the shallow dome switches. In contrast to the squishy sound they make, the actual keystrokes are short, sharp, and even. It doesn’t really matter if you hit a key on the corner or right in the middle because it will feel identical.
I’d be lying if I said the keyboard hasn’t been a bit of learning curve though. I love typing on the keys 90% of the time, but I also notice that they can stick a little bit, every once in a while. I think this has to do with a vacuum effect that occurs internally. There are vents along the top of the keyboard to let air in and out of the keyboard to prevent keys from getting stuck in the down position, and my theory is that dust or humidity can affect how well these vents perform. If my iPad is on my desk overnight, I don’t have any issues. However, I can occasionally have some sticky keys for the first 30 minutes after I take the Smart Keyboard out of my bag.
I also find I need to slow my typing down a little bit on this keyboard, so I end up at around 99 WPM to maintain accuracy. Part of that has to do with the amount of force I feel is required to press a key. When I type on my Logitech K750 at my desk I tend to press keys by adding gradual pressure to them. I feel the keys give way as I press. The Smart Keyboard doesn’t really have that level of nuance because of its shallow key travel, and so typing on it is more akin to a series of quick hammering motions. The other thing that slows down my typing is the way that iOS treats the Smart Keyboard. I haven’t found solid proof of this, but it’s more of a feeling after using Bluetooth keyboards for years on iOS. I’m convinced that iOS treats the Smart Keyboard a little more like a software keyboard than it does with an equivalent Bluetooth keyboard (like Apple’s Magic Keyboard). What that means is that auto-correct is more aggressive, especially with unusual names, and so I need to slow down so that I can specify that I really mean to “Kylo Ren”, and not “Kyle Ren”.
Not Enough Shortcuts
One thing I definitely miss on the Smart Keyboard are iOS-specific shortcuts for brightness, music playback, and volume. Apple wants us to use Control Center for these things, but sometimes Control Center can take two swipes to summon (one to prompt, another to activate), and that’s just not as fast as hitting a physical key. If Apple were to add a few more global shortcuts to iOS for these features, I’d probably be fine.
No Low Viewing Angle
Another thing that the Smart Keyboard lacks is the low viewing angle of the Smart Cover. Having the top of the iPad Pro propped up a few inches off the table is a very comfortable to use it when you’re just browsing, and this angle is unavailable on the Smart Keyboard. However, I have found a small workaround. If you set the Smart Keyboard up as a keyboard and then detach the iPad Pro, you can wedge the bottom of the tablet between the bottom two rows of keys (between B and the space bar). It’s not a great angle for drawing, but it’s stable enough for web surfing.
The Only Shop In Town
I still think the Smart Keyboard is overpriced for what it is and the features that it provides, but I also think it’s currently the only Smart Connector-compatible keyboard worth purchasing right now. The competing Logitech Create Pro is cheaper and has shortcut keys and backlighting, but I think it’s too heavy to be a competitor. Not only do I really like Apple’s fabric keyboard design, but I also want to keep my iPad Pro setup as svelte as possible, and the Smart Keyboard is currently the only way to do that. That’s what makes it worth the purchase in my book.