Review: 9.7-inch iPad Pro Smart Keyboard Cover

Apple’s NZ$280 Smart Keyboard Cover doesn’t turn the 9.7-inch iPad Pro into a laptop. It does something more useful.

At the launch Apple said its 9.7-inch iPad Pro is a PC replacement.. That’s debatable. People spend a lot of time typing on PCs so that claim doesn’t start to stack up until you add a keyboard.

There are good third-party keyboards. Yet most iPad Pro users expect to be able to buy an Apple-branded keyboard to go with their tablet. Apple’s official iPad Pro keyboard has a few benefits not found elsewhere.

Smart Connector

Apple’s keyboard uses the iPad Pro’s Smart Connector. This is a row of three metal dots along the side of the tablet.

When you attach the Smart Keyboard Cover to an iPad Pro the connectors snap into place along the dots. A magnet pulls the two parts together and keeps them connected.

The dots carry power and data between the keyboard and the tablet. This means there’s no need for Bluetooth pairing which can sometimes be tricky with other keyboards. It means you are up and running straight away.

Because the Smart Connector also acts as a power link, there is no need for a power cable or charger.

Not so smart orientation

On a down note, the keyboard only allows one screen viewing position. If you don’t like it, too bad. Microsoft nails this with the Surface Pro kickstand. It gives near infinite screen tilt options.

The good news is the stand arrangement is solid and stable. An iPad Pro and keyboard won’t collapse.

Size gives and takes

Apple’s Smart Keyboard Cover for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is a scaled-down version of the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro keyboard.

And that’s something of a problem.

At 308 mm, the larger Smart Keyboard Cover is as wide as a conventional laptop keyboard. It is even a fraction wider than the 280mm built-in keyboard on the Apple Macbook.

With bigger keyboards you get a full-size layout, full-size keys and room to breathe with space between the keys.

Squeezing a similar design into something that is 240mm wide means compromises. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro Smart Keyboard Cover also lacks depth. It is about 95mm from front to back compared with 110mm on the 12.9-inch version. [1]

Cramped typing

Apple squashed the keys and reduced the space between them to make everything fit.

This may not matter to you if you’re a part-time typist who hunts and pecks around the keyboard. For a long-time touch-typist whose fingers have a keyboard memory, it’s a struggle.

Let’s put it this way. Where possible and appropriate I use the tools in questions to write a product review. That wasn’t easy in this case.

It’s not that the keyboard doesn’t work; it does. But it doesn’t work well with my finger memory. I can rattle through words at a fast rate on a normal keyboard. I checked my speed using an online typing test. I type at 190 characters per minute.

Fast enough

At first my score on with the smaller Smart Keyboard Cover was less half that speed. Worse, the error rate was horrific.

Let’s not get too hung up on speed [2]. The effect is fleeting. After a two of days I had adjusted and my speed improved almost to normal.

During that time I used the keyboard with the iPad at home and away from home. The advantage is portability. It travels easier than the larger iPad Pro or a MacBook. Although none of these three is a burden.

Unlike normal laptop keyboards, Apple made the Smart Keyboard Cover from nylon fabric. This makes it lightweight. It also means it needs less finger pressure than other keyboards.

The keyboard cover does a fine job of protecting the iPad Pro when you’re on the move. As an added bonus, it clears smudge marks off the screen as you open and close. Like other Apple iPad covers, it turns the iPad on and off.

Pricey alternative

At NZ$280 the Smart Keyboard Cover is expensive. You can buy a cheap tablet for the same money. Add the price to the cost of an 9.7-inch iPad Pro — prices start at NZ$1050 — and you could buy a decent laptop.

But that’s missing the point here. So is Apple’s claim that the iPad Pro is a PC replacement. If you use an iPad, any iPad as a PC replacement you’re not getting all the benefit of the device.

Tablets like the iPad can go places laptops can’t. They excel at tasks that aren’t practical with conventional laptops. It isn’t easy to pull out a laptop while waiting in a queue and deal with work documents. That is a breeze on an iPad.

Add a keyboard to the iPad Pro and you have portability, mobility and laptop-like features when you need them. It’s a powerful combination.

Pluses:
Slim, light, fits the 9.7-inch iPad Pro like a glove. Doesn’t need cable, charger or Bluetooth. Easy to attach or detatch.

Negatives:
Expensive by any standard. Cramped keyboard may be difficult for touch typists. No backlighting. Only one tilt orientation.

Conclusion
Stylish, reliable, well-made keyboard for a 9.7-inch iPad Pro. You may find third-parties offer better alternatives.


  1. My apologies for switching between metric and imperial measurements. Go and complain to the Americans about imposing archaic nonsense on us.  ↩
  2. Compared with most people I’m fussy about keyboards. Remember this is how I spend my working day. I type for many hours every day.  ↩

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