Apple’s Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro: The closest the iPad comes to a Mac replacement – CNET


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The Magic Keyboard case on the 12.9-inch 2020 iPad Pro.

Scott Stein/CNET

It’s taken forever for this keyboard to arrive. Like, about eight years.

Ever since I wished that the iPad would become the full-fledged modular computer I thought it could be, I’ve been talking about its need for not only a keyboard, but also a trackpad. That was back in 2012. Eight years ago.

So, when the new iPadOS software update really, truly supported trackpads, I was excited. I was even more intrigued by Apple making its own specially-designed trackpad-enabled keyboard. The Magic Keyboard might as well be called The Scott Stein Accessory. It starts at $299 (or $349 for the 12.9-inch version I’m testing) with UK and Australian prices starting at £299 and AU$499.

How is it? I’ve been using Apple’s new keyboard case (including writing this story on it) after testing two alternatives: the Brydge Pro Plus (for the iPad Pro) and the Logitech Combo Touch (for the 10.2-inch iPad and 10.5-inch iPad Pro/iPad Air). 

The Magic Keyboard is better than anything else I’ve tried. But it also has some weird drawbacks I didn’t expect. And it only works with the newest 2020 iPad Pro models, or the 2018 iPad Pros before that. I’m going to dive right in and give you my review-in-progress as I unbox it and use it.

I will say that, even after just an hour or so using it, it started winning me over as a great writing tool. I Iike the way my fingers nestle under the floating display when typing. It almost feels like using an iMac in miniature. 

It also seems like a lap-friendly case. The most open angle fits me just right in a normal sitting position, but I would have liked it to be able to open just a bit more.

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The keyboard is excellent

The crisp backlit scissor keys remind me of the MacBook — the new MacBook, not the too-thin-butterfly-key MacBook. Key travel and feel is like the best of both worlds: It’s crisp like recent MacBooks, but has better travel and punchiness like the older MacBooks, although not as mushy. I like it a lot. The keyboard lacks a row of extra function buttons such as volume, brightness and a home button that both Logitech and Brydge’s iPad keyboard have. Those extra keys are helpful, but I still flew when writing on this thing. On my lap, it was also OK, but the design feels optimized for being on a desk.

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The trackpad is simple and responsive

The trackpad is smaller than the one on any MacBook — it’s more like a Netbook or a tiny Chromebook trackpad. But it works, and it’s zippy for scrolling, two- or three-finger gestures or anything else Apple’s enabled. It’s as responsive as the Logitech Combo Touch trackpad (and similarly sized), and Apple’s standalone Magic Trackpad. It’s clickable, or you can set up tap-to-click in settings.

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The case is smaller than I expected

When I saw the cantilevered design and metal hinge, I had the idea that this thing would be a thick tank of a case. It’s really not much thicker than the older Smart Keyboard, with a similar soft-touch surface. It’s great that the keyboard and everything else nestles inside.

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There’s a bonus USB-C port

A pass-through charge port on the side of the case can charge the iPad Pro. But the regular USB-C port on the iPad is also available, which you could use for whatever (a monitor, for example, or dongles). A USB-C splitter dongle can handle this, too, but it’s nice to have the convenience.

It’s heavy

While the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard attached has a small profile, this is a dense package. It feels like the gravitational pull of this computer is heavier than anything else. I can carry it one-handed, but it feels like a laptop. So far it doesn’t feel top-heavy or precarious or anything. I’m curious how well the magnets on the back will keep holding the iPad.

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If the case is on, normal tablet mode is off

The similarly minimal Smart Keyboard magnetically snaps on and can be a cover that stays on, even when bending the keyboard part around and using the iPad for browsing. But the Magic Keyboard only opens up to a certain angle, and then part of the top cover bends back further. That cantilevered design angles the iPad to a variety of comfy viewing angles, but won’t do anything more than that. To use the iPad for drawing, for example, you’ll need to pull the iPad off.

That side camera will mess up your Zoom chats

Some iPad cases don’t tilt upright enough to accommodate for certain situations when video conferencing. This one’s pretty decent. I could stand it on some books or a riser and it would be even better. On my lap, however, it didn’t feel like it angled back far enough. Of course, the iPad Pro in landscape mode has its camera on the side, which means you’ll also have to remember to look at it, or accept your weird, off-angle glances in a chat with friends or colleagues.

It’s expensive 

$299 (or $349 for the 12.9-inch version I’m testing) is just about double the cost of any other similar keyboard accessory. How much does a great keyboard option matter for you? It’s a super-splurge that most people can’t afford, especially right now. It’s the cost of a basic iPad, just for an iPad keyboard. Or, very nearly the cost of an iPhone SE.

Leave it on your desk

The easy way the iPad pops off with magnets means that maybe I’d leave this as a desk tool. And maybe have another case for other situations like travel. I don’t know. Is that crazy? It works on my lap, but the limited angles the case allows don’t feel ideal. And it’s a tiny bit top-heavy, so I’m hesitant to balance it too far back on my crossed legs.

You’ll only go as far as iPadOS takes you

Apple has supported some gestures in iOS 13.4 that work with the trackpad, but not all apps have been optimized. Google’s office apps don’t allow for things like dragging to select copy yet. And the iPad’s more limited app and window layout means it’s not always as easy to get to something else as on a Mac with a trackpad. Or, I need to learn shortcuts.

These are early thoughts. So far, I think I kind of love it, although the total cost of this iPad luxury experience is crazy-high, and that’s impossible to remove from the equation. I’ll weigh in with a full review soon, but I hope this helps your decision-making in the meantime. 

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