When Apple first released the Magic Keyboard…I thought they had lost their minds. $299 for a keyboard for the iPad Air and Pro? That seemed like a lot of money for a case/keyboard especially when there are cheaper options out there.
When I bought my iPad Air 4th generation, I went ahead and bit the bullet to see if it was actually that much better. After several months of use, lets get into how the Magic Keyboard performed and whether I think it was worth the steep Apple tax. My previous iPad Pro had the Logitech Keyboard and my wife is currently using the Apple Smart Keyboard with her iPad Pro for comparison during this review process.
Apple Magic Keyboard Specs
- Compatible with iPad Air 4th gen, iPad Pro 12.9 3rd and 4th gen and iPad Pro 11 1st and 2nd gen
- Full-size backlit keys and scissor mechanism with 1mm travel
- Multi touch gesture track pad
- Floating cantilever design
- Front and back protection
- USB-C pass through charge port in hinge
- Magnetic attachment
Apple Magic Keyboard – The Good
First let’s get into what I really liked about this keyboard. As with most things Apple, there was a lot of thought that went into the user experience and design…so let’s take a look
The Typing Experience
The absolute best feature of the Magic Keyboard is the typing experience. The 1mm travel keys are an absolute joy to use. They are actually better than many of the laptops I own which made it so that I found myself using my iPad for anything that I needed to type for long periods of time (including this review). The keys are quiet and offer great feedback making for a great overall experience. In comparison to the other iPad keyboards I have used, it was really no comparison. The other keyboards were not even close. Apple did a fantastic job of creating a top level typing experience which can be surprising given Apple’s keyboard history. I actually still own one of the butterfly switch MacBook Pro’s and that typing experience is horrible.
The fact that they are backlit is a nice touch as well but I found that I rarely used the lighting to save on any battery life. The keyboard is powered by your iPad when it is not plugged in so why waste battery power on something that doesn’t add a lot to the user experience.
Keyboard Stability and Overall Use
At first I had some reservation on how this keyboard would function in different use cases…especially considering the iPad is a device that you use in situations where you wouldn’t want a laptop.
The keyboard as a stand is very stable and easy to use. For the past couple of weeks, I have been stuck on a couch thanks to surgery and I have found that the iPad is easier to use as a laptop than my actual laptops are. The size is easy for lap use and the texture of the outside of the keyboard make it stay put in your lap much easier. The adjustment of the angle of the iPad is enough to get a straight on view and the iPad is very secure without any worry of it falling off. The magnets are really strong and the hinge provides plenty of resistance so it doesn’t move or sag during use.
The Build Quality and Floating Design
Probably the first thing you notice when you unpack the keyboard is that build quality and that shows in normal use. The floating design is also nice because it brings the screen of the iPad above your hands while typing. That is a feature that you don’t really realize how much you like until you go back to another keyboard where the iPad rests on the base. Visually…it just looks cool too.
USB-C Pass Through
The USB-C pass through charging is a nice add on when you are using it on a desk and want it to be plugged in. The trackpad functions exactly like you would expect it to if you have used any Apple laptop in recent memory and it adds a lot of function to the iPad making it very close to a laptop type experience.
Apple Magic Keyboard – The Bad
Obviously there is a lot to like about the Magic Keyboard but let’s get into a couple of things that I didn’t like about it.
The USB-C Pass Through Port
I think Apple really missed an opportunity with the USB-C port. The only function it has is charging. It would have been nice if you could use the keyboard as more of a laptop type base with the USB-C port actually having full functionality. As it sits right now, you can not plug external hard drives or other accessories into this port at all. This makes it so that your accessories have to be floating in the air or have a long cable attached to the side of the iPad when using it on a desk. As much as Apple looks into those types of visual design elements…that was rather surprising.
Keyboard Weight and the Apple Pencil
The keyboard is heavy. To make the hinge design as robust as it is…it added a lot of weight to the keyboard and that takes away from some of the iPad user experience as it is supposed to be the super light alternative to carrying around heavy laptops.
It would have also been nice to have some sort of Apple Pencil storage built in. While it is nice to have the magnetic charging over the previous generation Lightning Port (that was a horrible user experience), the magnetic mount is not good for transporting the iPad as it falls off easily. If there was some sort of Pencil storage integration…that would have been a nice feature. Maybe integrate it into the hinge somehow?
Typing on the Keyboard
I know…I said the typing experience was the best feature of the keyboard…and it is. Unfortunately, it is also a cramped typing experience. When I am using the keyboard on my lap, there are several times where my palms would hit the track pad and it stopped my typing to bring up the curser. This can get kind of annoying at times and it isn’t something I ever experience on a laptop while typing.
Also, to keep to the width restrictions, the keys on the sides of the keyboard are very thin. I don’t see any way Apple can get around that so it is just part of the ‘pay to play’ when it comes to the form factor of the keyboard itself.
Viewing Angles of the iPad
The adjustability of the viewing angles for the iPad are perfect for lap and desk use. If you are in the kitchen looking at cooking recipes or any other situation where the iPad is low below your viewing angle, the iPad does not rotate enough. There is also no way to make it flip around or lay flat if you are just wanting to use your iPad to read like you can with other iPad keyboards.
This makes the Magic Keyboard really relighting to lap and desk use as there is no “storage mode” for the keyboard itself. You have to remove the iPad and store the keyboard somewhere else when you are wanting to use it as an iPad was originally intended.
The last one is obvious. This is the most expensive keyboard available for the iPad. At $300…it was almost have the cost of my iPad Air itself which just seems ridiculous on its face. Apple is known to have expensive accessories but they really swung for the fence on this one.
I feel like Apple could have sold a lot more of these if they would have brought it down to $249. It still would hav been a premium item that carried the Apple name and quality but at a more digestible price point.
Overall Thoughts on the Apple Magic Keyboard
Honestly…I’m torn. The Apple Magic Keyboard is about $50 and a couple of design features away from being absolutely perfect. The real issue is that even given the shortcomings, what makes the Magic Keyboard great is so much better than the the other options that it actually makes the keyboard worth it for me.
If the other keyboards had similar functions like the floating screen or as good of a typing experience, that would change the overall review. Unfortunately, they don’t so that makes this overpriced option still the best option if you are really looking to use your iPad as a laptop replacement or you intend on using your iPad to do a lot of typing.
If you use your iPad as primarily a reading, multimedia device or for artwork/design with the Pencil, the Magic Keyboard is probably not worth it and you are better off getting a cheaper option for the rarer times that you want to do things that would make a keyboard beneficial. With a couple of tweaks that I laid out in the review above…the Magic Keyboard might just be the best accessory for the iPad ever.