Review: Apple iPad Smart Keyboard for 9.7 inch iPad Pro

One feature on the iPad Pro can only be used with style of accessory: the dock connector, and it can only talk to keyboard cases. Right now, Apple’s Smart Keyboard is the only keyboard case to fill that void, but is it a void worth filling?

Features and performance

iPad owners have more choice than any other tablet when it comes to picking a keyboard for their tablet, but iPad Pro owners will get a different kind of choice.

One of the features the tablet arrives with is a magnetic dock on the edge, and just like its larger 12.9 inch sibling, this magnetic dock can link up with a keyboard. Specifically, it can connect to an Apple keyboard.

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Apple’s Smart Keyboard for the 9.7 inch iPad Pro is the official name, and it is pretty much what the name suggests: a keyboard made into a Smart Cover case with silicone backing and a hint of fabric along the inside, basically making it an origami-esque Smart Cover except with a power keyboard built into the design.

This is specifically for the iPad Pro, also, and that’s because of that magnetic dock, with the edge lining up with a row made for the 9.7 inch iPad Pro and only the 9.7 inch iPad Pro.

Your older iPad models won’t know how to connect with this and neither will the 12.9 inch iPad Pro which his just too big and would look rather silly.

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When connected to the right sized iPad Pro (right sized for this 9.7 inch model, that is), the tablet fits seamlessly and even folds the back into place for you, providing a triangular backing to lean the iPad Pro against which is comfortable and easy to type against.

The keys still sound a little strange — like typing on thick bubble wrap — but it’s something you can get used to. But as compact as Apple has managed to get the button-less keyboard, it also may also be a touch too compact for some hands.

Strangely, it’s not the 9.7 inch size that makes it too compact, and the sheer number of excellent keyboard cases for the previous 9.7 inch iPad models demonstrates just how little that factors into the situation.

No, it’s more the fact that when crafting the keys for the Smart Keyboard case, Apple has just made them really small, with some of the largest gutters and margins you’ll ever see on such a small keyboard.

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We get why: the fabric-based keyboard doesn’t use buttons, relying more on a membrane sort of design allowing you to press a flat icon down and achieve some semblance of tactile feedback as the key pushes into place. That makes it similar to those flat roll-up keyboards you’ve been able to find for yonks, but far better engineered.

Still, this design means the keys have to be smaller, or they do right now anyway until Apple finds a way to map that design so that you don’t need as much space around the keys.

Unfortunately, right now that gutter could end up being an issue, and so while the Smart Keyboard for the 9.7 inch iPad Pro is something you can grow to using,it may not initially feel right, and one you’ll have to grow into.

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You can get used to it, but it doesn’t quite nail it for us, especially on the right side of the keyboard, which just feels too cramped and pushes us back to glancing down at what key we’re targeting, especially when dealing with punctuation. When you’re a fast typist, nothing frustrates you more.

The language key on the keyboard is a little confusing too, and we’re not really sure why it’s there. In the bottom left corner, you’re never really going to think about it, so it’s not as if Apple is harming anyone by leaving it there nor does it throw off the alignment, but it’s still a bit of a surprise.

Options we would have liked to have seen would have included colours and a stronger magnetic edge for that Pencil stylus.

Addressing that first issue, grey is your only choice when it comes to purchasing the iPad Pro 9.7 inch Smart Keyboard Cover, which is interesting given how many choices for colours Apple has provided for every other accessory. You can now customise the iPad Pro casing with silicone casings and smart covers, now separate for the first time in what will undoubtedly make Apple a lot more money, and this arrive in so many colours.

Just. So. Many. Colours.

Apple’s Smart Keyboard Cover, however, has just one: grey.

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If you have the silicone case in grey like we did, it’ll match. If you opted for the yellow, it’ll turn that lovely bright-as-a-sunny-day iPad into dark clouds of rain, but hey, you’ll have keys.

What you won’t have is a super strong magnet for that Apple Pencil you considered buying, and we still find this a little odd. Forking out over $200 for a case should provide some semblance of storage for the accessory that needs to be carried on the side, and yet it doesn’t.

It wouldn’t be hard, either. Apple’s Pencil has metal inside and it naturally tries to clip to the edge where the magnet is inside the iPad, but it won’t stick there. It’s just not strong enough.

If Apple had put in a magnet in the Smart Cover Keyboard case — even a thin one — the Pencil would probably feel a little more at home and stay put, especially with that ridge in the fold. But no, it just rolls off, like everything else.

It is quite expensive, though, so just be aware of that $229 price before you buy.

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Conclusion

While the magnet could be stronger and the colours could be brighter — or at the very least more varied — Apple’s Smart Keyboard is one of those “must have” accessories for the 9.7 inch iPad Pro, specifically because the typing position is comfortable, the keyboard usable, and there’s no Bluetooth needed making it ideal for flying.

And yes, you will have to grow into the keyboard as it’s not quite what you’ll be used to, but that’s a compromise we can live with, even if it is a little on the exy side.

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