My Magic Keyboard arrived yesterday. I had caught the headlines from some other reviews but kept away from their content as I wanted to form my own opinions. And what better way to establish those opinions than to write this entire review from that keyboard?
What is the Magic Keyboard?
Before the arrival of the Magic Keyboard, I had been trying to work out what its primary function was. Was it a cover, an upgraded Smart Keyboard, or was it a docking station?
I eventually settled on it being a well-designed docking station. My thinking was that it would be heavier—so much so, that you’d have to detach the iPad to use it in bed. It would also be more functional—with a trackpad and a second USB-C port, to allow for other devices to be connected while the iPad charged.
Now that I have one, I’m happy—no, delighted—that I’d come to this conclusion. I think if I’d expected anything else, I would have been disappointed.
Design### On the Outside
On the top panel of the Magic Keyboard, there is a camera-shaped opening that supports both current generation and previous-generation iPad Pro camera configurations. Interestingly, the Apple logo on the top panel of the Magic Keyboard is horizontally oriented. It’s a small design choice, but it does cement the idea of the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement when attached to the Magic Keyboard.
There are two hinges on the Magic Keyboard. The first one—between the keyboard and top panel—houses the additional USB-C port and has two positions: open or closed. The second hinge—about five centimetres into the top panel—controls the viewing angle. The viewing angle supported by the second hinge is between 90º to 130º (according to Apple). I have no way to measure this definitively, however, moving from a Smart Keyboard with its two static viewing angles to the Magic Keyboard with a range of viewing angles, is fantastic.
The magnets used on the Magic Keyboard are strong. “Super strong”, as my son would say. This strength isn’t surprising, though. An iPad Pro—in either 11-inch on 12.9-inch sizes—is considerably more substantial than a laptop’s top case. Stronger magnets are, therefore, a requirement to keep it stable. And stable it is. While typing, I have noticed no movement of the screen. Even if I shake the coffee table that my iPad Pro is on as I type, the iPad Pro screen shakes less than the screen of my MacBook Pro.
This stability comes at the cost of ease-of-opening. Unlike the Smart Keyboard which you could open like a laptop with one hand, the Magic Keyboard requires a bit more oomph. It’s a two-handed affair, both to open and then to tilt into the correct viewing position. In my opinion, it’s a worthwhile compromise for the stability that it brings.
I am using the British keyboard layout and, to be honest, on the 11-inch iPad Pro it’s a little bit tight and takes some time to adapt. For example, the +, -, [,],', and \ keys are just over half-a-pinkie wide. Part of that is due to the British layout having a taller—and better—Return key. Once you get used to it, it’s okay.
Despite the tightness of the layout, there are significant improvements to usability elsewhere.
First, the Magic Keyboard heralds the return of the inverted-T layout of the arrow keys. The removal of the full-heigh arrow keys makes the keyboard that bit more usable.
Second, the keyboard is backlit. It’s a great feature when working in low-light conditions.
Third, this keyboard has just the right amount of click. It’s not too loud, and it’s not too soft, it’s just right.
On the 11-inch iPad Pro, the Magic Keyboard’s trackpad is very wide, but not that tall. The size and shape are appropriate, though. I’ve had no accidental touches or clicks while typing.
Another differentiator for the Magic Keyboard’s trackpad is that it’s not a haptic trackpad. This trackpad goes down when you click it.
Once I got over the minor quibbles with the keyboard layout, I was (and am) typing happily. Very happily. The sound, the tactility, the fact this an iPad keyboard and not a laptop keyboard, all adds up to make it astounding.
The stability provided by the magnets is also apparent when typing on your lap. There is no noticeably shake when tapping the keys.
The Magic Keyboard doesn’t feel magical; it feels essential. It’s a great keyboard.
The trackpad is as much a hardware feature as it is a software feature.
The way that UIKit (and SwiftUI) have adopted mouse support is incredible. For example, I can navigate around this document in Ulysses the same way I would if I had typed it up on a laptop. Multitouch trackpad gestures work as you would expect. The cursor makes the experience a little more interesting.
In normal circumstances, it’s a circle. When it hovers over a control, it disappears, and the control becomes highlighted and active. When hovering over a text document, it turns to a vertical bar. The changing state of the cursor is well-executed and appropriate for the platform.
I’m also delighted to report that you can configure Tap to Click. Enabling this feature is a matter of personal preference, but I prefer to tap than forcibly click on a trackpad.
- The position of the front-facing camera remains an issue with the Magic Keyboard. It’s downright strange that the camera is off-centre during video conferences.
- Functionality from custom software keyboards—for example, Grammarly—is not available when using the Magic Keyboard (or any other hardware keyboard). It’s a small annoyance with iOS and iPadOS.
- Battery life seems to be slightly reduced, which makes sense given the battery is powering the backlit keyboard.
- When out-and-about, the iPad is considerably less usable for photography. When the Magic Keyboard’s central hinge is fully open, the iPad is angled towards the keyboard. If you want to take a picture with the iPad when oriented in portrait, it’s akin to carrying around an open, heavy book. It’s better from a usability perspective to detach the iPad from the Magic Keyboard.
- Being able to charge the iPad from either side, similar to USB-C MacBooks, is a particularly nice touch.
- The two-stage step of closing the Magic Keyboard—first, to bring the iPad flush with the top case; and second, to close it fully—is really neat.
I wasn’t expecting to like the Magic Keyboard as much I do. Yes, it’s heavy. Yes, I have to detach the iPad from the Magic Keyboard before I use the iPad in bed or (rarely) for photography. But none of that matters—the whole product is so well designed that it results in a significant step forward for iPad productivity that is simply great to use.
In short, if you want to type on an iPad Pro with first-class trackpad support, this is the best way to do it.