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Apple’s iPad Pro is an
amazing piece of hardware that’s gated by its software. With a 120Hz display, powerful speakers, and support for the unparalleled Apple
Pencil stylus, it’s a gorgeous tablet for reading, writing, and creating art, and
its processor measures up to the ones in most laptops. The Magic Keyboard (starting at $299 for the 11-inch model) finally turns the iPad Pro into the gorgeous convertible laptop it’s been trying to become for years. Snapped into the keyboard like a cockpit, the iPad’s hardware is second to none. But it still doesn’t have the full productivity apps it needs to supplant similarly priced Mac laptops.

Gorgeous Hardware

Like Apple’s Smart Keyboard
(which doesn’t have a trackpad), the Magic Keyboard snaps onto your iPad magnetically. The tablet hangs off
at an adjustable angle, floating a bit in midair. It’s a useful and
gorgeous effect, once you get used to how sturdy it is.

The iPad almost floats above the keyboard, held up by magnets

The keyboard has 64 roomy, full-sized keys that use the
same mechanism as Apple’s new laptops: scissor switches with a satisfying bit
of throw that makes it easy to type quickly. The keys are subtly backlit without
noticeable light leaking out from under or between them; you can alter the
light level in settings. The trackpad is satisfyingly clicky, and supports
multi-touch.

The key layout is very basic. There are arrows, command,
control, and option keys, as well as a “globe” key (which I set to escape), but
no dedicated media keys or function keys. The cursor keys are half-height.

Keyboard layoutA basic keyboard layout has roomy keys

Since it uses the iPad’s Smart Connector, the keyboard is perfectly
responsive and accurate. I’ve had some issues with lag and double-typing on
Bluetooth keyboards, but I didn’t have that here.

In the
case, the iPad is firm and balanced, as easy to use and as stable on a lap
as a MacBook Pro, to the point that you can sort of forget it isn’t a laptop. That
isn’t true with kickstand-based solutions like the Microsoft Surface devices or
the Logitech Combo Pro case, which can wobble on your knees.

The case isn’t entirely protective; unlike with Logitech’s
Bluetooth cases
, there is no rubber bumper that goes around the edges of the
iPad, meaning if it’s dropped on the wrong edge, the impact may damage it. But
at least it folds together and protects the screen, with a rim around the camera
on the back, protecting the iPad’s two main glass elements.

USB-C portThe USB-C port is handy for charging

There’s a pass-through USB-C port on the keyboard’s sturdy
metal hinge, which can charge your tablet while leaving the main USB-C port
open for peripherals like headphones.

The Magic Keyboard appears to have a
negative impact on your iPad Pro’s battery. I lost about 50 percent of battery life in three hours
when using it nonstop with a 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Without the keyboard, the iPad lasts nearly eight hours on a full charge, so there’s definitely a bit of extra battery drain happening here.

Case closedThe case is somewhat protective, but not as much around the edges

Not Quite a Mac

Apple has been improving iPadOS by leaps and bounds
recently. Trackpad support means you can now ergonomically use your iPad as a laptop,
without the reaching-and-pointing that you used to have to do. Multi-window
support lets you take notes on a web page or webcast. There are a lot more ways
to exchange files between applications than there used to be.

But the flexibility for complex, multi-application
professional workloads still falls behind macOS. Take the two pillars of the Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft Office and apps. They’re both good on the
iPad, but neither has the full set of features in the macOS versions. Our
Photoshop for iPad review has a long list of features we’re waiting for, like effects, a history brush, a blur/smudge tool, and batch operations. 

iPadOS’s application sandboxing also just keeps getting in
the way. Taking notes on an Ericsson webcast, I found that it would pause every
time I threw it into the background to check something on a different web page. That doesn’t happen on a Mac. The Mail application doesn’t properly push my Gmail. And moving files from one application to another still involves
a do-si-do with the share panel or a cloud file storage service.

Two keyboardsThe Magic Keyboard (left) has more traditional keys than Apple’s Smart Keyboard (right)

This would all be fine if the iPad Pro/keyboard combo didn’t cost so much. A base model 11-inch iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard costs $1,198, while the 12.9-inch
iPad Pro with keyboard costs $1,348. Apple’s base 13-inch Macbook Air costs $999, while its base 13-inch Macbook Pro costs $1,299.

Are there things the iPad can do that the Mac can’t? Sure.
They’re mostly associated with the Apple Pencil (another $129) or with the
tablet’s rear camera. But looking at the devices as laptops, there’s so
much more a Mac can do simply because its software is still more capable.

Case without iPadHere’s the case without an iPad in it

Conclusions

Apple’s engineers should be celebrated for designing the best tablet keyboard cover I’ve ever used. Rarely have I had a tablet experience that’s quite so solid and stable when kicking back on the couch.

But if you have $1,200 or more to spend on an
Apple product, I still say get a Mac. If you’re looking to use an iPad as a laptop
replacement, the $499 iPad Air with the $149 Logitech Combo Touch Keyboard Case
With Trackpad totals $648 and brings you almost all of the capabilities we see
here.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably married to Apple’s platforms, but I’d like to point out that the pricing here is out of whack with
Windows competitors, as well. The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 costs $1,060 with an Intel Core i5, 128GB of storage, and a Type Cover With Trackpad. That’s about as powerful as the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard combination
hardware-wise, but like a Mac, the Surface Pro can run full desktop versions of popular business
software.

Apple Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro Specs

Number of Keys 64
Key Backlighting Single-Color
Media Controls None
Passthrough Ports USB
Palm Rest Integrated

Best Keyboard Picks

Further Reading

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