Tablets that can also be used as notebook computers are a hot item, and that includes the 10.5-inch iPad Pro. That’s why the Apple Smart Keyboard was developed specifically to make this very capable device into a 2-in-1.
Priced at $159, this accessory can also function as a stand, but adds minimal bulk to the tablet.
Note: Those with the larger version of this model should read our Apple Smart Keyboard for 12.9-inch iPad Pro Review instead.
This peripheral is essentially a large, rigid sheet that clings to one edge of the iPad Pro with magnets. This sheet has creases allowing it to be folded into three shapes: one has the keyboard exposed and the tablet propped up, another has the keyboard hidden but the tablet propped up, the third shape is a cover for the display. The last option can also be flipped around behind the screen so it’s out of the way.
Unfortunately, there’s no slot to hold the Apple Pencil in any of these configurations.
When folded against the display, the Smart Keyboard essentially doubles the thickness of the tablet, and nearly doubles it weight. Nevertheless, it’s slimmer and lighter than most of its competitors. And Apple’s professional tablet is very slim and light to begin with, so the extra bulk isn’t onerous.
The 9.8 by 8.8 inch length and width of the accessory are determined by the 10.5-inch iPad Pro: it has to completely cover the front of the tablet and no more. This means that it’s only compatible with this size iPad, not the larger or smaller versions.
The exterior is plastic, and is available only in an unattractive grey. When this accessory folds up into the cover, the keyboard doesn’t touch the screen, as it’s facing away from the tablet. Instead, layer closest to the screen is soft cloth.
The Smart Keyboard is primarily intended for typing, and protection is definitely a secondary function. It covers just the screen, and is so flimsy will only guard against scratches and bumps. It will be almost no help if the iPad is dropped.
The magnets that hold Apple’s add-on to the tablet are strong enough for the purpose. The two never came uncoupled during our tasting period, but they can still be separated with a firm yank.
Apple chose an unusual design for all the Smart Keyboard versions. The entire keyboard area is covered by fabric that’s been laser abraded to form each key. This fabric is water-resistant, so there’s no need to be overly concerned if one spills a liquid on the keys, as there’s no way for water to get inside the keyboard.
The down side is that it’s only this fabric that causes keys to jump back into place when pressed; there are no springs underneath the keys. The result is a keyboard that lacks crispness. It’s not very mushy, and is definite usable, but it could be better.
The actual key area is 9.5 by 3.4 inches, which is just a bit smaller than a typical desktop keyboard, as these typically run about 11 inches wide. That said, most rival iPad keyboards are only 9 inches wide.
The U.S. version has the standard QWERTY layout. Each key is 0.6 by 0.6 in. with 0.2 in. key separation, so they actually rival PC keyboards in size.
Unlike virtually all of its rivals, the Smart Keyboard doesn’t include a set of function keys. Anyone who’s used a competing devices will know how convenient those extra keys are, so they are missed.
There’s also no backlight, which is bad news for those who expect to need their computer when lighting is bad. That said, this might not be an issue for really proficient touch typists.
We asked several people with a range of hand sizes to test this keyboard. Those with small and medium-sized hands had no issues touch typing on it. Results for those with larger hands were mixed: one person thought it was usable, but the other considered it too cramped.
When typing, the Apple Smart Keyboard needs to be able to prop up the iPad Pro so the user can see the screen. While it does this firmly, it offers only one viewing angle: about 130°. It is usable that way, but many rival keyboard cases offer a wide range.
And this accessory has another trick. As mentioned near the start of this review, it can be folded so that the keyboard is hidden but the screen is still propped up. The angle this time is 115°, more upright and thus better suited for its intended task: showing video.
Apple Smart Keyboard 10.5: Performance
The Smart Connector was added to the iPad Pro line specifically for this type of accessory, and the Apple Smart Keyboard makes full use of it.
This proprietary port on the left edge of the tablet means that Bluetooth isn’t necessary for the computer and keyboard to communicate. That’s a real bonus, as Bluetooth can be a hassle.
Obviously, support for this accessory is baked into iOS so there are no compatibility issues. It’s a fine example of “plug and play”: just attach the keyboard and start typing.
Just as importantly, use of the Smart Connector means there’s no need for a battery in the add-on. The keyboard gets all its power from the iPad.
According to Apple, the drain on the tablet’s battery is minimal. Our tests backed this up, as we couldn’t see a noticeable increase in the rate at which the battery level dropped while typing on this accessory.
Apple Smart Keyboard 10.5: Final Thoughts
The Apple Smart keyboard is the slimmest and lightest clip-on keyboard we know of for the 10.5-inch iPad Pro. And it’s one of just a handful with the Smart Connector, another real bonus. Plus, there’s just something reassuring about buying peripherals made by the same company as manufactured the computer.
On the down side, this accessory isn’t very flexible since typists have access to only a single viewing angle. And Apple really should accept that function keys are very useful, and so are backlights.
Apple’s price for this version of the Smart Keyboard is $159, which makes it the highest priced keyboard for the 10.5-inch iPad we know of. The Brydge 10.5 is another premium option, and it goes for $139.99. At just $119.99, the ZAGG Slim Book is a comparative bargain.
- Very slim and lightweight
- Uses Apple Smart Connector, not Bluetooth
- Only one viewing angle
- No function keys
- No backlight