Magic Keyboard: Review

Apple’s iPad line has started to really come into it’s own in the last several years. The iPad Pro has pushed the envelope in terms of hardware while the introduction of iPadOS has allowed Apple to start to address the software limitations of the platform. When the new 2020 iPad Pro was announced, I found it particularly amusing that the keyboard accessory announced alongside it, actually stole the show. So lets dig in.

Features

The Magic Keyboard is a new accessory designed to take full advantage of new software features built into iPadOS and is available for both the 11 inch and 12.9 inch iPad Pro.

The full size keyboard and trackpad of the Magic Keyboard. Image courtesy of Apple.

For starters, iPadOS 13.4 introduced true cursor support and the Magic Keyboard fully benefits from this with a large glass trackpad. The trackpad is akin to those found on the MacBook range. Unlike those trackpads however, the Magic Keyboard trackpad is a physical, clicking button. It doesn’t simulate the feel of a click using haptic feedback like on a Mac, I suspect for power conservation. Instead Apple has done a great job of ensuring you can click anywhere on the trackpad with an even and satisfying response. You can also enable tap to click in the iPad system settings.

The Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro brings over the new Magic Keyboard from the 16 inch MacBook Pro and new MacBook Air. The keyboard trades the fabric covered keys from the old iPad keyboard folio for hard plastic key caps. Each key cap is backlit with an individual ultra low power led. Sadly manual adjustment of the keyboard back lighting is buried in the settings app. The backlight is controlled by the iPads own ambient light sensor. Thankfully it does a pretty good job of offering the right amount of backlighting for the environment you’re working in. The keys have decent travel thanks to the tried and true scissor switches. The keys still feel firm and stable. You won’t be disappointed with the typing experience. One notable omission is a lack of a row of function keys. To be fair to Apple, the space they have to work with is limited, particularly on the 11 inch version of this product. Given the choice between function keys and a trackpad, I’d chose a trackpad any day.

The iPad Pro connects to the Magic Keyboard using powerful magnets and the rear Smart Connector. The benefits of this are several. First of all no fiddly pairing process is required unlike traditional Bluetooth keyboards. The moment you connect the iPad, the keyboard and trackpad are recognised instantly and ready to go. The other big benefit for 2020 is that this new keyboard benefits from a pass through USB type C connector. That means you can connect a power adaptor to the USB C port on the case and it charges the iPad via the smart connector. No other accessory can do this and is one of the reasons why Apple has placed a premium on this product in terms of pricing.

Other things to note

The USB type C port on the Magic Keyboard is convenient albeit limited in the sense that it won’t work with none charging accessories like a thumb drive or a data hub. It isn’t the end of the world as the built in USB C port on the iPad is free for this purpose.

The Magic Keyboard uses a cantilevered hinge that creates the impression that the iPad is floating above the keyboard. Thanks to the powerful magnets, technically it is as there isn’t a physical tether per say beyond magnetic attraction. The product looks futuristic and is simply classic Apple. Look back on historic products such as the beloved ‘sun flower’ iMac and it’s clear that Apple has given a subtle nod to the past whilst building the products of its future.

The cantilevered hinge of the Magic Keyboard. Image courtesy of Apple.

It is important to note that this accessory adds significant weight to the iPad Pro. When you add this accessory, together with the 12.9 inch iPad they weigh more than MacBook Air. This is necessary however because if the product wasn’t well weighted, it would have been too top heavy when the iPad was attached and would simply fall over. Clearly the iPad doesn’t have to be attached to the keyboard all the time but if weight and portability are a big concern, it’s worth keeping in mind.

Summary

Some might argue that this product is too expensive and at £299/£349 depending on size, it isn’t cheap. My view is that when you consider that no other product can offer the feature set of the Magic Keyboard, then whilst expensive it does offer value if you need the features. How much is instant pairing, a built in trackpad, a pass through USB C charging connector, a best in class backlit keyboard worth to you? Apple is willing to bet you’ll want these features enough to splash your cash.

Does this accessory suddenly mean an iPad is a Mac? No. I also don’t think that that’s the point of this product. This accessory is about providing options. Some people do use an iPad Pro as productivity machine. Some people like the flexibility of grabbing the device and using it as a tablet and then docking it with a true keyboard and trackpad when they need it. The iPad offers versatility and does things from a hardware stand point that the Mac can’t do. The Mac can do things from a software standpoint that the iPad can’t do. That problem goes away over time however. Eventually as pro apps such as Final Cut, Logic, Xcode and the adobe suite migrate to the iPad, I think more and more people will want to make an iPad their main device. After all…..what’s a computer these days?

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