iPad for Writers — Part 3: Keyboards

If you plan on doing any kind of longform writing on the iPad — you know, more than the occasional tweet or email — then it’s probably safe to say there’s a 100 percent chance you’re going to need an external keyboard. Before I got my iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard Folio, I tried a lot of third-party keyboards.

I’m going to discuss a few options out there that should hopefully help you find a sweet spot for your own needs, or at the very least, put you on a path to that one true keyboard you’ve been looking for.

Apple Wireless/Magic Keyboard

I bought the first generation iPad soon after its release in 2010 and at the time we didn’t have nearly as many keyboard options available as are available today. There was the keyboard dock, Apple’s own wireless keyboard used with its various desktop computers, and little else. We didn’t have Brydge, or Logitech, or Belkin providing all manner of keyboards at varying form factors and sizes.

Since it was cheaper than the dock at the time, I opted for the wireless keyboard and an Incase Origami workstation case to carry it in. The case unfolded into a kind of cradle where you could prop up your iPad as you worked. One advantage it had over the dock was that it allowed me to use the iPad in vertical or landscape orientation.

While the Origami isn’t really an option anymore given the Magic Keyboard’s redesign from the original Wireless Keyboard, there are similar products available that perform essentially the same function.

Studio Neat makes what appears to be the best solution and it comes the closest to what the original Origami offered. The Canopy is a $40 sleeve for your Magic Keyboard that kind of folds over on itself when closed, then unfolds into a tented stand for your iPad. the button strap keeps it closed during travel and holds the stand together when opened. I haven’t tried it myself, but Studio Neat is a very well-known and trusted company and at $40, it’s worth a look. One thing MacStories writer John Voorhees noted in his review of the Canopy:

Sliding the Canopy around on a table works well, but in my lap I’ve run into a couple minor issues. The added friction of sliding the Canopy in my lap sometimes causes the snap to come undone. In addition, when I use the Canopy in my lap, my iPad sits lower in it than it does on a table or in the Smart Keyboard Case, which can make it difficult to swipe up to activate Control Center.

Something to keep in mind if you’re looking into using your Mac’s keyboard as your iPad keyboard, too.

Brydge

One thing you’ll often hear from skeptics is "the iPad isn’t a laptop." On a fundamental level, they’re right — though that’s all changing with the upcoming iPadOS. However, there are ways to bring the laptop experience to your iPad and one way is by using a laptop-class keyboard. If you want your iPad to feel like a MacBook, look no further than Brydge’s own Bluetooth keyboard. When I still had my 9.7-inch model, I used a Brydge keyboard with it and I loved it.

Not only does it feel like typing on a MacBook Air, but the keys are backlit and there are dedicated function keys for things like the Home button, Siri, and volume and brightness adjustments — keys not found on Apple’s own Smart Keyboards. You just slide your tablet into the rubberized clips on each side, sync up the Bluetooth connection, and you’re ready to write. The screen is protected when closed over the top of the keyboard, just like a laptop.

The battery life on a Brydge keyboard is arguably the best of all Bluetooth keyboards, the company promising it will last 12-months per charge. I never let mine get that low, but even charging it once a week was more than okay considering I need to charge my iPad about once a day anyway.

The new Pro models for the 2018 iPad Pro allow for 180-degree viewing, meaning you can flip the iPad around and either prop it up to watch a movie, or close the back of it over the keyboard and use it as a chunky tablet. There’s even a magnetic cover for the back of the iPad as added protection. The 12.9-inch model comes in at $170 while the 11-inch version runs $150, about $30 cheaper than Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folios. Not bad, considering the Brydge options offer greater functionality and protection than Apple’s own keyboards.

For a deeper look, I suggest you check out Jason Snell’s Brydge keyboard review over at Six Colors.

But for many users, owning an iPad is all about portability. You might not want to lug another laptop around, no matter how good the keyboard is. You want something you don’t have to charge, that you can remove in a second without having to fiddle with bulky cases or rubber grips.

That’s when you turn to Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio.

Apple Smart Keyboard Folio

In a recent piece about keyboards on the Verge, Sam Byford threw a bit of shade at Apple’s offering, saying, "Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio is the best option if you value portability and don’t plan to use your iPad Pro as a primary writing machine."

While I agree on the portability aspect, I think it’s more than adequate as an option for people who plan to use their iPad Pro (or Air) for writing. I’ve been editing my latest novel on it and while I expected not to like typing on such rubbery keys, I got used to it pretty quickly. One thing I didn’t like about the Brydge keyboard was how bulky it made the iPad. The beauty of the iPad is in its form factor — thin, light, easy to carry. Not that my MacBook Air isn’t also light and thin, but sometimes I don’t need a keyboard and I don’t want to have to struggle with removing the iPad from the Brydge’s clips.

Since it’s attached using only magnets, the Smart Keyboard Folio comes right off and pops back on without a problem. Where I struggle with it is in its "lapability." The Smart Keyboard Folio offers two angles of working — a steep, almost vertical angle and a slightly more tipped-back inclination, which is where I usually keep it when I’m typing. I certainly can use it in my lap, but it’s not as stable as a laptop or when using the Brydge. Keep that in mind if you don’t often use a desk or table at Starbucks when typing.

Other Options

Logitech, Belkin and a host of other third party companies make all kinds of keyboard cases for the iPad. They’re designed to protect the device on all sides while providing a kind of laptop experience. I’m not a fan of these. They’re bulky and getting the tablet in and out of them can be difficult. Basically, once it’s locked into the case, that’s where it stays.

There are also folding keyboards from companies like iClever. I have one and it’s good in a pinch or if you have limited space in your bag, but the keys are cramped and I have difficulty typing on it with my big, fat fingers.

Final Thoughts

Just like with your choice in word processor, your choice in keyboard is entirely up to your personal preferences. I love the Smart Keyboard Folio and use it daily. It’s the most portable of all of them and I don’t mind typing on the thinner, rubberized keys.

To keep things simple, here’s a quick recap of possible needs and the keyboard that would best suit them:

Apple Bluetooth Keyboard + Stand

  • You often write at home
  • Don’t travel much
  • You demand the same typing experience on the iPad as you get on the desktop
  • You want to be able to type in any orientation (portrait or landscape)

Brydge Keyboard

  • You want a laptop-style typing experience for your iPad
  • You want dedicated iOS function keys
  • You want backlit keys
  • You often find yourself typing with the device sitting on your lap
  • You’re looking for a cheaper alternative to Apple’s Smart Keyboard covers

Smart Keyboard Folio

  • Size and portability are your biggest concerns
  • You don’t mind getting used to the feel of a new keyboard
  • You often type at a desk or table, rather than with the iPad on your lap

Keyboard Case

  • You want ultimate protection for your iPad
  • Looking for laptop-like experience
  • Price is an important factor for you

Good luck in your search for the perfect keyboard for your needs. Hopefully this piece saves you the heartache and walletache I’ve gone through in finding what works for me. And if you haven’t caught up on the other pieces in this series, I invite you to check them out below:

iPad for Writers — Part 1: Changing Behaviors

iPad for Writers — Part 2: Scrivener and Apple Pages