I’ve been writing about the Magic Keyboard for a full three weeks, covering the good, the bad and the battery life. After spending a few days with my second one (see here for my reason for getting a replacement), now it’s time to put a bow on things and wrap up my final thoughts on the device.
I had a somewhat bumpy start with the Magic Keyboard, but that ended up being mostly related to two things. First was my already well-covered problems with battery life. Those issues has been resolved, as far as I can tell, so I won’t bother rehashing any of that discussion here.
The second problem was the weight of my expectations of the product. I predicted a device like the Magic Keyboard would arrive this year back in January, but I had a different perspective on it. Then, when I heard the rumors that this new keyboard was real, I immediately thought it would be the ultimate accessory for all things iPad Pro. It would be exactly what I envisioned back earlier in the year and before.
Reality often has a way of not matching up to what we want. When the scope of the Magic Keyboard ended up being more limited than I hoped, I was naturally disappointed. However, a good product has a way of moving you past hangups with unrealistic expectations. The Magic Keyboard has succeeded at this in my case…sort of.
Of two minds
My experience with the Magic Keyboard varies, sometimes significantly, depending on where I use it. That’s because the way I use my iPad Pro changes quite a bit between home and work. Because of the Magic Keyboard design’s limitations, it suits one of my use cases a lot better than the other.
Along with my over-inflated expectations of what the Magic Keyboard would be, this had a negative impact on my early impressions of the device. However, things balanced out a bit once I got past the initial impressions and spent more time using it both at home and at work.
Home is where the heart is
Despite any reservations I may have about using the Magic Keyboard for aspects of my job, it is pretty much perfect for the way I use my iPad Pro at home. Most of my general home use is pretty typical- personal web surfing, media consumption and basic organization tasks. I use my Pro for most of the things people would associate with a home computer. My iPad Pro use at home also includes all of my writing for this site.
The Magic Keyboard’s limitations aren’t really an issue for me at home. The narrow range of angle adjustment isn’t a problem here, as I am either using my Pro in my lap or on a desk. The other big limitation of the Magic Keyboard is the fact that it’s pretty much useless when you are using the iPad Pro as a tablet. Most other reviewers counter this by talking about how easy it is to just pull the iPad Pro off the magnetic back of the case and leave the Magic Keyboard behind.
I’ll get to my issues with this at work in a moment, but this isn’t a problem at home. I don’t carry my Pro around a lot, and if I do, it will be enclosed in the Magic Keyboard or another case. If I’m sitting in one spot, pulling the iPad Pro off and leaving the Magic Keyboard behind for a bit isn’t a big problem. There just isn’t that much risk of a busted screen or a bent Pro using it in my house.
The strengths of the Magic Keyboard really shine when I am at home. The trackpad is perfect for helping me get around an article for editing without taking my hands away from the keyboard. It also makes text selection easier than using touch and is faster than using keyboard shortcuts. While the trackpad looks small, I haven’t had any issues with that so far. I’m still able to get around the entire screen without issue, scrolling pages or documents is smooth, and the system navigation gestures aren’t a problem.
While I’ve complained about angle adjustment limitations, the effect of the iPad Pro floating over the keyboard that the hinge design gives you has proven to be beneficial in my use at home. I am often typing while sitting or reclining in bed with the iPad Pro on my lap. Having the screen a little closer and up higher off the keyboard has made it easier to see and reach when needed. My eyesight isn’t what it used to be, so I appreciate this after a long day of staring at a multiple screens at work.
As for the keyboard, it really is quite good. I do prefer the Brydge Pro+’s keyboard by a nose because of the longer key travel and slightly better response, but that’s really just a personal preference thing and isn’t a knock on the Magic Keyboard at all. Even though it has a little less travel than I usually prefer, it still feels really good to type on and I haven’t had any issues with it.
I also like that the backlight is strong enough to be seen in low light without being too distracting. When paired with the Magic Keyboard’s trackpad, it’s a pretty tough combo to beat. The only real drawback with the keyboard is the lack of function keys, but hopefully Apple will offset that with custom keyboard shortcut capability in iPadOS 14. It would be nice if I could manage the backlight with a shortcut, rather than having to dig through Settings. Turning it of when it isn’t needed is a great way to save a little battery life.
The Magic Keyboard is simple, solid and versatile enough that it’s pretty much the perfect accessory for me at home. I keep my iPad Pro in a keyboard case almost all the time here, so it’s design limitations don’t hold me back. I haven’t had to change or adjust the way I use my iPad Pro while testing the Magic Keyboard over the last three weeks. This has been a perfectly natural transition and it quickly become my keyboard accessory of choice when writing.
Not working out
While the Magic Keyboard has been smooth as silk at home, work is another story. I use my Pad Pro very differently there and I end up bumping into the limitations of the Magic Keyboard much more often because of that.
When I’m sitting at a desk and the iPad Pro is docked, the Magic Keyboard is fine. I usually leave it in a case there because I often use my Pro as a second or third screen. I usually keep my laptop focused on engineering and programming tasks and handle email, browsing or some project management with my iPad. The keyboard is useful for a lot of these tasks, and even if I don’t use it, the case makes for a good dock/stand. If this was all I did with the Pro at work, I wouldn’t have any complaints.
Unfortunately, that’s only part of how I use my iPad Pro at work. I do bump into the angle adjustment limitations when I am working while standing. I will often have my laptop and/or Pro on a cart in these cases, which puts it much lower than you would typically have it at a desk. When you are looking down on the iPad Pro, the adjustment range of the Magic Keyboard comes up a bit short. The shallow angle makes it harder to see, especially in harsh lighting. It’s more of an inconvenience than a major issue, but this isn’t a problem for any laptop, or some competing products such as Brydge’s keyboards.
The bigger issue for me is the fact that I really can’t use the Magic Keyboard at all with the iPad Pro as a tablet. Again, many reviewers dismiss this, but I can’t at work. I work for a contracting firm and carrying an iPad Pro around a job site without a case is not a good idea. It’s the perfect computing device for many things that I do, but it isn’t built for demanding environments. With the Brydge Pro, I felt like I had just enough protection. Logitech’s Slim Combo case for the previous gen Pro design was even more ideal, as you could remove the keyboard and still have the rest of the case attached to the iPad Pro. Unfortunately, the Magic Keyboard gives me nothing here.
To counter this while testing the Magic Keyboard at work, I’ve been bringing an extra case along. Whenever I remove my iPad Pro from the Magic Keyboard to carry it around, I get the other case out and use that. If I am just sitting at a desk, I don’t bother, but if I am walking around the building taking job notes, taking pictures and notes for a quote, or marking up blueprints, I insist on having some kind of case. There are too just many hard floors, sharp edges, pipes, water leaks, slippery spots, etc to walk around without nothing on my tablet.
There’s another issue with the Magic Keyboard’s modular design that many who always work off of a desk don’t take account of. For those of us who work in jobs that have us on our feet, working in different facilities and environments, you often don’t have the luxury of leaving things behind. For example, one of my best customers is a major healthcare manufacturing plant. Their facility is well over 1 million square feet. There is an office on one end of the plant that I can set up and leave things in, but my work takes me all over the plant. I cannot leave a $350 case sitting around out in the open in the facility while I undock my iPad Pro to go look at something else.
Another example is when I quote work for new customers. The iPad Pro is by far and away the best tool I’ve ever used for quoting a job. The iPhone is good, but the addition of the Pencil and the bigger screen put the Pro in a different weight class. I can take pictures of equipment, equipment labels and job documents and draw and annotate directly on them. Using Notability, I can also merge this with audio recordings of conversations about a facility or particular area. It’s the perfect tool for the job.
Unfortunately, the Magic Keyboard is an expensive anchor in this scenario. In my first example, a site where I have a long history, I have a “home base” of sorts where I can leave tools and accessories in a safe and secure place. When I walk into a new building, I have to keep whatever I’m taking in with me at all times. If I’m using my iPad Pro, then the Magic Keyboard has to stay in the truck, because it isn’t useful at all for this task. At best it gets in the way. At worst, I leave it sitting somewhere in an unfamiliar building and it gets lost or stolen. No thanks.
The thing about my job is that it can be unpredictable from day-to-day, and sometimes hour-to-hour. The flexibility of the iPad Pro really suits my work, but the Magic Keyboard doesn’t match that. It isn’t designed for use while moving and it really isn’t versatile, at all. I’ve accepted that fact, but I can’t deny that it’s harder to stomach such a high price tag when I can’t use it for several tasks that I perform on a regular basis.
If anyone who isn’t a regular reader feels like chiming in at this point and recommending the Smart Keyboard Folio for my needs at work, please save both of us some time and don’t do that. I do not like the Smart Keyboard Folio at all and the limitations of the Magic Keyboard haven’t changed that. I feel like an Apple Exec would probably make the same recommendation based on how I use the iPad Pro, but it wouldn’t make any difference. If Apple updated the Folio to include the Magic Keyboard’s trackpad and backlit keyboard, then we can talk. Until that terrible, cloth covered butterfly keyboard is abandoned- no thanks.
I understand that Apple made the Magic Keyboard for a very particular use case. I am not a fan of the fact that they made it as limited as they did, but I do understand it. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t designed for me, or at least the me that works for 8-12 hours a day before going home.
As for my recommendations for others, if you are at a desk or in a controlled environment with your iPad Pro, much of what I’m saying won’t apply to you. Also, if you keep your iPad in a keyboard case all the time, then you won’t have any issues. However, if like me, you are also mobile worker who needs a keyboard case that is a bit more flexible and you prefer to keep your Pro protected in a case at all times, then the Magic Keyboard probably isn’t for you. Even if you love it when you can use it, the value proposition is a sticking point when you can’t use it all the time.
That has been my biggest issue with the Magic Keyboard. It works so well for the things it was designed to do. However, if the way you use your iPad Pro doesn’t line up pretty exactly with that use case, then you may find yourself disappointed. The $350 price tag is a lot tougher to swallow if you have to leave the Magic Keyboard behind as often as I do at work.
Like, not Love
All that said, I don’t dislike the Magic Keyboard. Not at all. It is good enough at what it does that I can’t help but like it. As I said earlier, it’s the perfect keyboard case for me at home. I really enjoy using it to type up my articles and I rarely have a reason to remove my iPad Pro from it when I’m not writing. Now that I’m not having any battery life problems, I use it anytime I’m not testing something else while at home.
However, there is enough that I can’t do with the Magic Keyboard at work to keep me from loving it. As much as I enjoy using it at home, it frustrates me enough having to leave it behind or work around it at work that some of that luster is lost. The strange thing to me is how segmented my experience is. I wasn’t kidding when I said I am of two minds about the Magic Keyboard, because that really is the case. There is virtually no overlap. My experience at home is overwhelmingly positive, while my use at work is sometimes good, but often irritating.
So here’s the real question. If I weren’t a writer who covers Apple, would I keep the Magic Keyboard based on my mixed experience? Honestly, I probably wouldn’t. I am enough of a gadget nerd that I wouldn’t want to return it, but I likely would because of how much it costs. I know I keep harping on value, but $350 for an accessory sets a very high bar.
But that is all hypothetical. Apple’s Magic Keyboard is enough of a value to me as a writer here to keep it, even if I just use it at home. However, that could change in the future if some real competition emerges. Unfortunately, with Logitech seemingly unwilling to compete with Apple on iPad Pro accessories and with the Brydge Pro+’s trackpad limitations and issues, there isn’t any yet. Hopefully one of the above will get their act together, or maybe Apple will update the Smart Keyboard Folio with a trackpad and real keyboard. Until then, I’ll stick with the Magic Keyboard, even if only for half of my day.