The iPad Pro makes the best case yet for an iPad as a laptop substitute and power-user productivity tool, but you’ll get a lot more out of it with a real keyboard to type on. After testing every keyboard case we could get our hands on over the past year—for both iPad Pro sizes—we haven’t yet found a great one. (You might be better off with a separate Bluetooth keyboard.) But we think Apple’s own Smart Keyboard for 12.9-inch iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard for 9.7-inch iPad Pro are the best currently available, because each version offers a pretty good typing experience in a slim and relatively light package that’s easy to put on and take off.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is quite a bit bigger and heavier than Apple’s other tablets, and adding a bulky keyboard case can make it a bit awkward to hold. But if you want a keyboard case (say, for typing on your lap), rather than a separate keyboard, Apple’s own Smart Keyboard for 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the best yet available. It adds significantly less weight and bulk than other options but, just as important, it’s easy to put on and take off thanks to a Smart Cover-like magnetic hinge that—via the Pro’s new Smart Connector—also powers the keyboard and connects it directly to the iPad (no Bluetooth required). Its keys aren’t the best we’ve tested, and you’ll need to buy Apple’s Silicone Case for all-over protection, but it’s the keyboard case we keep reaching for … so far.
The smaller, 9.7-inch iPad Pro has its own version of the Smart Keyboard, and that Smart Keyboard for 9.7-inch iPad Pro is currently our pick for the tablet. (Keyboard cases for the recently discontinued iPad Air 2, while they’re still being manufactured, will fit the 9.7-inch Pro, but not without drawbacks; more on that topic below.) The 9.7-inch Smart Keyboard uses the same design and keys as the 12.9-inch version, but the keys are a little smaller and closer together. The 9.7-inch Smart Keyboard is appealing compared with other options because it weighs just 8 ounces, is only a few millimeters thick, and is easy to put on and take off. As with the larger version, you must separately buy Apple’s Silicone Case for all-over protection, but until more options are available, the Smart Keyboard is your best bet if you must have a keyboard case for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.
Logitech’s Create for 9.7-inch iPad Pro has the best keys of any 9.7-inch Pro keyboard case we’ve tested, as well as a dedicated row of iOS special-function keys, key backlighting, and a convenient sleeve inside the case to store Apple’s Pencil stylus. It uses the iPad Pro’s Smart Connector for power, and the case itself is sturdy and protective. However, it’s thick and heavy—an iPad Pro in the 9.7-inch Create weighs nearly 2 pounds—and unlike with the Smart Keyboard, removing the iPad Pro from the Create to use bare is a bit of a hassle, and getting the tablet back in the case when you’re done is a similar hassle. We think most people will prefer the convenience and versatility of the Smart Keyboard, but if you plan to keep your iPad in its keyboard case most of the time and don’t mind some extra bulk, the Create is a (relative) joy to type on.
Prior to overseeing Wirecutter’s iPad accessory coverage, I coordinated Macworld’s accessory reviews for more than a decade, including years of covering iPad accessories. I also wrote, and regularly updated, Macworld’s guide to the best iPad keyboards. Between that guide and Wirecutter guides, I’ve tested every iPad keyboard from most major brands, as well as dozens of models from minor brands and niche vendors—it’s a good bet that I’ve tested more iPad keyboards than anyone. I was also the keyboard reviewer at Macworld, so I’ve tested scores of desktop keyboards and I know what makes a good one good and a bad one terrible.
Personally, I’m a touch typist and a bit of a keyboard geek, so I have little patience for bad keys and non-standard layouts. I regularly use an iPad with a keyboard, both at home and on the road, so if I’m happy with a particular keyboard case, there’s a good chance you will be, too.
We also surveyed roughly 400 Wirecutter readers for their preferences for keyboard-case features and design.
If you’ve ever thought, “I don’t like typing on this iPad screen—I wish I had a real keyboard,” there’s a good chance you’ll benefit from a keyboard case. You can dramatically increase your iPad productivity with real, tactile keys that let you type as quickly, and with (almost) as few errors, as you can on your computer.1
But before you rush out and buy one, it’s important to consider their drawbacks and temper your expectations, because adding a keyboard case to your iPad is all about compromises. You’ll get the superior productivity and typing experience of a physical keyboard, but you’ll also be adding considerable bulk and weight—more and more of an issue as iPads get thinner and lighter. And many keyboard cases are designed to stay on your iPad, so you can’t easily leave the keyboard behind when you don’t need it.
In addition, while the 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s larger footprint means that it can accommodate a nearly full-size keyboard, most models made for the 9.7-inch Pro use smaller-than-normal keys and cramped layouts that make typing inferior to the experience you’ll get with a full-size keyboard. Even worse, many 9.7-inch iPad keyboards put standard keys in nonstandard locations or overlay their functions on other keys (requiring you to press fn to access the overlays), which makes typing frustrating, especially for touch typists. Some models even eliminate particular keys altogether.
You should get an iPad keyboard case only if you need to use a physical keyboard regularly and you want one with you most of the time. Even then, you should at least consider a stand-alone Bluetooth keyboard instead. If you’ll be doing much of your typing on a desk, table, or other flat surface, a separate keyboard will give you a much better experience: The keyboard itself will be larger with better keys; you can create a much more ergonomic setup by elevating the iPad and putting the keyboard at the ideal typing position; when you don’t need the keyboard, you can leave it behind to travel light; you can continue to use your favorite case; and if you ever upgrade your iPad, you won’t have to buy a new keyboard case to fit it. (The biggest downside is that it’s tough to use a separate keyboard and an iPad stand on your lap.)
We have some great recommendations for stand-alone keyboards and iPad stands: Our top two iOS-compatible picks for a Bluetooth keyboard—Logitech’s K811 Easy-Switch and Logitech’s K380 Multi-Device—are both fantastic with the iPad and can also pair with your computer, while Logitech’s Keys-To-Go is rugged, small, and light. Each also weighs less than most iPad keyboard cases. To hold your iPad, Kanex’s Foldable iDevice Stand is sturdy, lightweight, and inexpensive.
If you really do want a keyboard case, read on.
Presumably because the iPad Pro models are relatively new, the selection of keyboard cases for them is thus quite thin, so we tested every promising option we could find. We skipped models that have terrible reviews, that we wouldn’t even consider because they don’t fulfill enough of our criteria (below), or that come from no-name companies that either don’t have an easy-to-contact support department or simply seem so sketchy that we wouldn’t spend our own money on their products. (Unfortunately, this process eliminates many of the budget-priced models—to some extent, you get what you pay for with iPad keyboards.)
Based on my experience covering iPad keyboards since the first iPad was released in 2010, as well as a survey of Wirecutter readers, the most important thing an iPad keyboard case must get right is the keyboard itself. It has to be enjoyable to type on, or at the very least not make you dislike typing on it or get frustrated while typing. After all, if the keyboard isn’t dramatically better than typing on the iPad’s screen, what’s the point?
This means that, for starters, the keyboard should use a standard key layout with all the expected keys, all in the correct locations. You may be able to get used to a non-standard layout, but you shouldn’t have to. (Not to mention that a non-standard layout means you’ll have a period of re-adjustment every time you switch between your iPad keyboard and any other device that uses a real keyboard.) Most keyboards for the 12.9-inch Pro satisfy this requirement, but many for the 9.7-inch model don’t. We also prefer (but don’t require) dedicated keys for iOS-specific functions like Spotlight (search), adjusting brightness, and Home, as opposed to overlaid keys that require you to press the fn key to access these functions.
Similarly, the keys need to be physically good: They shouldn’t be so small or so cramped that you regularly accidentally press adjacent keys; they should have a decent amount of travel (the distance you press the key to activate it); and they should have a good tactile feel. Backlit keys, while not necessary, are a nice bonus for usability.
Since most iPad keyboards require you to use the keyboard’s attached case, rather than a case of your choosing, a good keyboard case must also protect your iPad well—or at least, as with our picks, be compatible with a good case. Some keyboard cases offer little to no protection, while others prevent you from using a case with the keyboard at all.
Many people won’t need a physical keyboard all the time, so we also appreciate keyboard cases that make it easy to separate or remove your iPad for use on its own. This lets you leave the keyboard behind when you don’t need it, so you aren’t forced to carry extra bulk and weight.
It’s often easier to work on vertically oriented documents with an iPad in portrait orientation. Unfortunately, few iPad keyboard cases—and none so far for the iPad Pro models—allow you to position the tablet this way, so we couldn’t make a portrait-orientation option a requirement. We also appreciated models that give you multiple angles for propping up your iPad, so you have more flexibility in terms of ergonomics, comfort, and avoiding screen glare. And we preferred models that you can use on your lap—if you can’t, you’d be better off with a stand-alone Bluetooth keyboard and iPad stand.
The less you have to worry about your keyboard’s battery dying, the better. Luckily, this is rarely an issue with current iPad keyboards. Almost all Bluetooth models use a built-in lithium-based rechargeable battery; a single charge using a standard Micro-USB cable should last weeks or months, depending on how much you use the keyboard. And our top picks, Apple’s Smart Keyboards, connect to the new Smart Connector built into the latest iPad Pro models; the keyboard is powered directly by the iPad. Every model we considered either uses the Smart Connector or has a long enough battery life that we didn’t have to charge the keyboard during a month or more of testing.
Finally, we favored models from known brands that have a reputation for good customer support.
Testing keyboards requires extended use, because whenever you’ve been using one keyboard for more than a few days, switching to another one requires a period of adjustment—you want to be sure that a keyboard that doesn’t feel good is really a bad keyboard, and not just one that’s different from what you’re used to. Of the models that met our criteria, I tested each for a minimum of two weeks of regular use; I used each of the top contenders for much longer.
Despite being released in September 2015, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro still has few options for a keyboard case. As with other iPads, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro can be used with any stand-alone Bluetooth keyboard—and you might want to go that route, given that a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a keyboard case is heavier than some MacBooks. But if you must have a keyboard case for your gargantuan tablet, Apple’s Smart Keyboard for 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the best option so far, thanks to decent keys, a slim profile, relatively light weight, a durable design, and the use of the iPad Pro’s Smart Connector for connectivity and power. That said, if you can wait—say, by using a stand-alone Bluetooth keyboard—we expect to eventually see better options, or at least similarly good options at lower prices.
The best thing about the Smart Keyboard is that it’s thin and (relatively) light. It looks and feels a lot like Apple’s Smart Cover, but with two of the three panels thicker than the other—that’s where the keyboard tucks away when closed. Across that thicker area, the Smart Keyboard and 12.9-inch iPad Pro together are about twice the thickness of the iPad on its own, which is noticeably thinner than other models we’ve tested, including Logitech’s Create Backlit Keyboard Case and Zagg’s Slim Book Ultra-Slim Tablet Keyboard and Detachable Case. The Smart Keyboard also adds only 1.1 pound of weight, compared with more than 1.6 pound for Logitech’s Create and a whopping 2.3 pounds for Zagg’s Slim Book.
While those models and others require you to put the iPad inside a bulky case, the Smart Keyboard attaches magnetically to the Smart Connector on the edge of the iPad Pro—again, much like Apple’s Smart Cover. The Smart Connector powers the keyboard, so you never need to charge a keyboard battery; and it connects the keyboard to the iPad, so you don’t have to deal with Bluetooth pairing or wireless interference. The Smart Connector also makes it exceptionally easy to quickly attach and remove the keyboard, which in my experience is something many people will want to do frequently: The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is big and heavy enough on its own; when you’re not using a keyboard, you don’t want it to be even bigger and heavier.
To use the keyboard, you unfold its panel sections and position the Smart Connector edge in a groove just above the keyboard area, where the edge securely attaches using magnets; the case sections re-fold into a triangular stand. This design means that you get only a single prop-up angle, and you can’t position the iPad in portrait orientation—to be fair, none of the other current iPad Pro keyboards offer portrait orientation, either—but it’s easy to use and the keyboard works immediately, every time. When you aren’t using the keyboard, it folds flat and closes against the iPad’s screen to protect the front of the tablet. In part because of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s size, the setup doesn’t feel especially stable on your lap, but it’s not unstable enough that the tablet is likely to fall over.
The biggest downside to the Smart Keyboard’s overall design is that it doesn’t protect the back of the iPad Pro. For all-over protection, you must separately purchase Apple’s Silicone Case for 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which fits seamlessly together with the Smart Keyboard. But this means that you’re paying nearly $250 (at MSRP) for the combination of keyboard and case. Considering the price of our recommended configuration of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, that’s proportionately about the same as buying a $120 keyboard case for a $500 iPad Air, but it’s still a lot of money—we think Apple should include the Silicone Case with the Smart Keyboard.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is so large that the Smart Keyboard’s keyboard is basically the same size as a laptop’s, with every standard laptop key (other than Esc) and everything in the right place. The keys are very similar to those on Apple’s current 12-inch MacBook and the company’s Magic Keyboard—according to Apple, they use the same key switch, but with different mechanisms for providing resistance. The shallow design means that the keys have very little travel, but I actually liked typing on the the Smart Keyboard more than on the MacBook or Magic Keyboard. That’s because instead of thin, flat, plastic keycaps, the Smart Keyboard’s keys have been, according to Apple, “laser ablated into a single sheet of durable custom-woven fabric.” This design gives the keys a slightly concave top and decent tactile feedback, resulting in an improvement over the MacBook and Magic Keyboard when it comes to the feel of typing. The keys aren’t as nice as those on Logitech’s Create and Zagg’s Slim Book for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but they’re good enough for us to prefer the Smart Keyboard because of its other advantages.
That “durable custom-woven fabric” also makes the keyboard and its keys water-, crumb-, and gunk-resistant, which I’ve found to be especially useful. You can safely use the Smart Keyboard on the kitchen counter, at a coffee shop, or anywhere else you might accidentally spill liquids or drop crumbs on it. Overall, the Smart Keyboard seems much more durable than the other models I’ve tested.
Oddly, the Smart Keyboard lacks iOS-specific functions other than a key to switch the selected OS language. (iOS 9 itself offers some keyboard shortcuts—for example, Command+H to return to the Home screen, and Command+Tab to bring up the multitasking screen—that work on any keyboard.) If you’ve never used another iPad keyboard, you may not miss these kinds of keys, but if you have, it seems bizarre that Apple’s own keyboard omits them. Even the Magic Keyboard (which works with both Macs and iOS devices) has a few, and the Logitech and Zagg keyboard cases include a nice row of dedicated special-function keys.
Taken as a whole, the Smart Cover has a good number of flaws, and it’s disappointingly expensive once you factor in the cost of a Smart Cover to keep the entire tablet protected. But of the limited options currently available, it’s the best overall package for most people when you consider its size, weight, flexibility, and durability.
While the 9.7-inch iPad Pro was released some time after its larger sibling, more keyboard cases are available for it than for the 12.9-inch model, likely because the smaller iPad Pro’s dimensions are identical to those of the now-discontinued iPad Air 2—manufacturers could use existing designs with minor tweaks.
In fact, you can use any keyboard case for the iPad Air 2 with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro while they’re still in production, but a few minor design differences make it a less-than-ideal match. Specifically, the iPad Pro has a flash next to its camera lens that’s blocked by most keyboard cases for the Air 2; and while the Air 2 has speakers on only one edge (near the Home button), the 9.7-inch Pro has a second pair of speakers at the opposite end that cases for the Air 2 end up blocking. If you’re okay with those restrictions, an iPad Air 2 case is a better keyboard case than anything else currently available for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.
Assuming that you’d like to use your iPad’s camera flash and hear all of its speakers clearly, we think Apple’s Smart Keyboard for 9.7-inch iPad Pro is the best option currently available for many of the same reasons we like the 12.9-inch version, above. The 9.7-inch Smart Keyboard looks and feels almost exactly like a smaller version of the larger model, and it functions identically. The major differences are key size (the alphanumeric keys are a little smaller on the 9.7-inch version, while the keys along the left and right edges—tab, capslock, shift, delete, backslash, and return—are quite a bit smaller) and weight (0.5 versus 1.2 pound). As with the 12.9-inch Smart Keyboard, the 9.7-inch Smart Keyboard’s keys aren’t quite as good as those on the best of the competition, but they’re good enough that we don’t hesitate to recommend the Smart Keyboard in light of the other advantages it offers.
Of course, the biggest differences between the 9.7-inch Smart Keyboard and its larger sibling are size and weight, and we found those differences to be more noticeable than we expected. Whereas the 12.9-inch Smart Keyboard makes its iPad feel heavy—just less so than the competition—the 9.7-inch version does not. Together, the 9.7-inch Pro and its Smart Keyboard weigh just under 1.5 pound, which is less than the weight of the 12.9-inch Pro by itself, and lighter than the 9.7-inch Pro with any other compatible model we’ve yet tested. With the 12.9-inch iPad, I wanted to leave the Smart Keyboard (or any other keyboard) behind whenever possible; with the 9.7-inch iPad, I took the Smart Keyboard with me everywhere so I’d always have a keyboard or stand available, removing it only when I wanted to hold just the iPad Pro in my hands as a tablet—and thanks to the magnetic attachment, removing the Smart Keyboard is quick and easy.
Due to the 9.7-inch iPad’s smaller size, we also found that it’s a bit more stable on the lap when using the Smart Keyboard than the 12.9-inch setup is. You still get only a single angle, and it’s not the best angle for viewing the iPad on your lap, but it doesn’t feel like it’s going to tip backward.
Unfortunately, as with the 12.9-inch version, if you want to fully protect your iPad Pro, you must purchase Apple’s $70 Silicone Case for 9.7-inch iPad Pro to cover the back of the iPad. (The Silicone Case adds just under 3 ounces of weight.) Again, the combined cost of the Smart Keyboard and Silicone Case is a lot to pay for a full-protection keyboard case, and we think Apple should include the Silicone Case with the Smart Keyboard.
Like the larger Smart Keyboard, the 9.7-inch model is far from perfect, but overall it’s more enjoyable to use—and, thanks to its easy attachment/removal mechanism, easier to not use—than the current competition.
We’ve used the Smart Keyboard for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro on a regular basis for over a year, while continuing to test new models, and we’re still confident that the Smart Keyboard is the best iPad Pro keyboard case for most people because of its size, weight, and easy-on/-off design.
Logitech’s Create for 9.7-inch iPad Pro offers the best keyboard for extended typing sessions, along with built-in storage for Apple’s Pencil stylus. But the case is bulky and designed to stay on your iPad all the time. This is the one to get mainly if the typing experience is more important to you than the size, weight, and versatility of a case.
As with all keyboard cases for 9.7-inch iPads, the Create’s keyboard is a little cramped. However, you get the full complement of keys, each in the correct location, and the keys themselves are great: They’re comfortable to type on, they have more travel than you might expect from such a low-profile keyboard, they provide good tactile feedback, and they offer two levels of backlighting. You also get a dedicated row of iOS special-function keys. After several months of use, the Create became our favorite 9.7-inch keyboard case for extended typing sessions.
Like our top pick, the Create uses the iPad Pro’s Smart Connector for power and connectivity, so you don’t have to deal with Bluetooth hassles or charge the keyboard. That magnetic connector also keeps the iPad firmly connected to the base when you prop it up for typing. The single prop-up angle is pretty good for typing on a desk or your lap, and the Create’s large, flat bottom keeps the setup noticeably more stable than an iPad with the Smart Keyboard.
Unlike the 12.9-inch Create, the 9.7-inch model includes a handy sleeve (on the inside of the case, hidden behind the screen when the tablet is propped up for typing) for Apple’s Pencil stylus. A fold in the middle of the back case lets you fold the iPad Pro down on top of the keyboard to use the iPad as a tablet. This is a better arrangement than having to flip the keyboard behind the tablet, as many keyboard cases require, where your fingers press the keys while you hold the tablet in your hands; it also positions the iPad at a nice angle for drawing.
The Create’s case is attractive, sturdy, and protective, with fantastic press-through covers for the volume buttons and Sleep/Wake button. Our only complaint with the case’s design is that it leaves half of each end of the iPad exposed, though the areas are at least recessed from the edges of the case. We accidentally dropped our review unit onto a hard floor, and the iPad came through unscathed; a small piece of plastic on the right edge of the Create case cracked, though the Create continued to work fine.
The biggest downside to the Create is that it’s thick and heavy: With an iPad Pro inside, the 9.7-inch Create weighs nearly 2 pounds, double the weight of the iPad on its own, and it measures 0.85 inch thick. And unlike with the Smart Keyboard, which detaches with a gentle pull, removing the iPad Pro from the Create if you want to use the tablet bare is a bit of a hassle; getting the tablet securely back in the case when you’re done is a similar hassle. In other words, this isn’t a case you’ll want to take off and put on regularly, so you have to be willing to accept that it’s bulky and heavy.
While we cover some of the good competition below, if you need something that keeps your iPad extra safe, Zagg’s Rugged Book—available in versions for the iPad Air 2, iPad Air, 9.7-inch iPad Pro, iPad mini 4, and the three previous iPad mini models—is a favorite around the Wirecutter offices. It offers great protection and a good keyboard in a versatile package. (All of the models use a similar design.)
Let’s get this out of the way up front: Regardless of which model you get, the Rugged Book is thick and heavy. For example, the models for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and iPad Air are just under an inch thick when closed for travel and weigh about 2.6 pounds with an iPad inside. If you’re looking for slim and light, the Rugged Book isn’t for you.
That said, if you’re willing to put up with this weight and bulk, you get an exceptionally durable and protective keyboard case that’s great for families with kids, for classroom use, or for working in rough environments.
The base and top sections of the Rugged Book are roughly the same size and thickness, with each made of tough plastic with firm rubber around the edges. Because of the weight of the extra-protective top case, the hinge wobbles a bit when you tap the screen, but not excessively so. The hinge between them feels similarly tough, but instead of being permanently attached to both sides, the hinge has a magnetic, U-shaped groove that holds the top case in place. When you don’t need the keyboard, a firm tug disconnects it from the encased iPad. Alternatively, you can flip the iPad around and insert it into the hinge; this lets you use the Rugged Book as a stand with the keyboard hidden behind the iPad, or close the iPad against the keyboard to use the entire package as a thick tablet.
Unlike with our favorite keyboard case for the iPad Air 2, Belkin’s Qode Ultimate Pro, the Rugged Book’s iPad case doesn’t accommodate a Smart Cover for screen protection, but the removable design lets you use your iPad as just a tablet when you want to—especially useful given the Rugged Book’s weight.
The Rugged Book’s iPad case covers the 9.7-inch iPad Pro’s Smart Connector. This might not be a dealbreaker right now, when the only non-keyboard accessory we’ve seen that uses the connector is Logitech’s Base charging stand, but it might be an issue as more Smart Connector accessories are released.
The Rugged Book uses a keyboard common to most of Zagg’s iPad keyboard cases, and it’s a pretty good one. On the iPad Pro version, you get the full complement of laptop keys except Esc, with everything in the correct place. The keys feel a bit flimsy, and tapping them is a bit loud thanks to a hollow-sounding keyboard body, but they provide good tactile feedback and they’re easy to type on. They’re also backlit, which is nice, though when you’re looking at the keyboard from an angle, you can see the lights in the gap between each key and the keyboard body.
Several Wirecutter staffers have used other versions of the Rugged Book as their primary iPad case and keyboard for a year or more; I’ve tested versions of it for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, the iPad Air 2, the iPad Air, and the iPad mini 3 and older, and I’ve liked every one.
We have a dedicated guide to the best keyboard cases for Apple’s line of iPads.
There are no great keyboard cases for the iPad mini, given that all the drawbacks of most keyboard cases—cramped keys, odd key layouts, additional bulk, and the like—are even worse on Apple’s smallest tablet. Unless you absolutely need an all-in-one solution (and you have a lot of patience for typos), you’re much better off using a stand-alone Bluetooth keyboard and either an iPad stand or a case with a built-in stand, and leaving those accessories behind when you’re on the go so you can truly appreciate the mini’s smaller size and lighter weight. That said, enough readers have asked us for recommendations for iPad mini keyboard cases that we’re currently working on a guide with recommendations.
For the 12.9-inch iPad Pro
Logitech’s Create for 12.9-inch iPad Pro is for the most part a larger version of our runner-up pick for the smaller iPad Pro (though without the 9.7-inch version’s nifty Apple Pencil holder). As with the 9.7-inch version, the 12.9-inch Create’s keys are very good, but the 12.9-inch Pro’s size means that on this version, the keyboard is the size of a standard laptop keyboard, giving you an even better typing experience. However, the propped-up angle feels steeper on this version, and with an iPad inside, the package weighs well over 3 pounds and is about three-quarters of an inch thick—that’s heavier and larger than many laptops. This bulk, combined with the hassle of removing the iPad Pro and putting it back in, left us regularly reaching for our top pick instead. (The 9.7-inch version of the Create has similar flaws, but—as with the comparison between the 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch Smart Keyboards—these drawbacks feel exaggerated on the larger iPad Pro.) If, however, you plan to use your iPad Pro as a laptop substitute, and you care more about the typing experience than you do about the bulk, the weight, or the ability to use the iPad on its own, the 12.9-inch Create is worth considering. (Some customer reviews claim that the 12.9-inch Create’s palm rest can rub against the iPad’s screen when the case is closed, leaving permanent markings. We didn’t experience this issue in our testing.)
Like the Rugged Book, above, Zagg’s Slim Book Ultra-Slim Tablet Keyboard and Detachable Case has a U-shaped, magnetic hinge that holds a plastic iPad case—just a much thinner, flimsier one—so you can leave the keyboard behind when you don’t need it, or just set it aside when you want to use the iPad Pro as a tablet. You get a wide range of angles for your iPad while you’re typing—as far back as 45 degrees (though still only landscape orientation). The Slim Book doesn’t use the iPad Pro’s Smart Connector, so the keyboard has a rechargeable battery and connects to your iPad using Bluetooth. (The case also blocks the Smart Connector.) The Slim Book’s keyboard is similar in size and features to the Create’s keyboard, though the keys aren’t as nice as the Create’s—the Slim Book essentially has a larger version of the keyboard on the Rugged Book. With an iPad Pro inside, the Slim Book weighs nearly 4 pounds and, largely because of this weight, just feels big and bulky. This heavy base and multi-position hinge make the Slim Book the best case—in terms of stability and screen visibility—for typing on your lap, but in our testing it wasn’t the best for anything else, and it’s fairly expensive at around $140.
Zagg also sells the Messenger Universal 12-inch Mobile Keyboard & Stand, which costs about half as much as the Slim Book. However, it’s a stand-alone keyboard rather than a keyboard case: Zagg essentially took the Slim Book’s keyboard (sans key backlighting) and attached it to a multi-panel cover/stand that wraps around the keyboard and secures magnetically to protect it for travel. The stand is fairly sturdy with the 12.9-inch Pro in landscape orientation, but wobbly with the tablet in portrait orientation. The keyboard is also quite deep—about 11.5 inches, front to back, with the cover rolled up as a stand—so it’s not great for typing on your lap. Still, while the Messenger Universal is a little heavier and larger than our favorite stand-alone Bluetooth keyboard and travel stand together, its built-in cover/stand makes it convenient for an infrequent typist to toss in your bag when you need a keyboard.
New Trent’s Airbender Apex Keyboard Case is appealingly inexpensive (around $50) compared with other models and weighs just 20 ounces despite providing full-body iPad protection. The Apex uses a similar style as Zagg’s Slim Book, but instead of a magnetic hinge, you separate the iPad case from the keyboard base by sliding a tiny release switch on the hinge. It’s easy enough to remove the case, but a bit fiddly to reconnect it, and the switch doesn’t feel like it will hold up well over hundreds of uses. The keyboard has all the expected keys, in the right places, as well as a dedicated row of iOS-feature keys; the keys feel pretty good to type on, but the keyboard as a whole feels a bit flimsy and sounds hollow when you type. The farthest you can tilt the iPad back is just past vertical, which is probably a good thing: If the iPad tilted back much farther, the Apex’s light weight likely wouldn’t keep the setup from tipping over in your lap.
Razer’s Mechanical Keyboard Case for iPad Pro has backlit, mechanical keys that are really enjoyable to type on. The iPad case separates from the keyboard when you don’t need it, and a sturdy, fold-out stand on the back of the case offers a wide range of angles. But the bulky package adds over 2 pounds of weight yet still leaves the top and bottom edges of the iPad exposed, and the position of the keyboard in the middle of the base means your hands feel scrunched against your body when you’re typing on your lap—a setup that already feels less than stable due to the design of the case and stand. We also found the placement, next to the arrow keys, of the special key to bring up the on-screen keyboard frustrating: We often hit it when trying to move the cursor. If key quality is the most important thing to you, and you’ll mostly use your iPad keyboard on a desk or table, the Razer case is worth considering, but it’s very expensive and saddled with quite a few drawbacks in comparison with our picks.
Similar to the Brydge 9.7, below, the Brydge 12.9 has a nice design that looks great, doesn’t add a lot of weight (roughly 1.7 pounds here), and makes quickly attaching and detaching your iPad easy. However, like the smaller version, the Brydge 12.9 doesn’t protect the back of your iPad; more frustrating, we found that the weight of the large iPad Pro sometimes overwhelmed the hinge, so the iPad tilted back unexpectedly when the hinge was open at wider angles.
The Snugg Ultra Slim 360 is appealing mainly for its bright colors and its price: At $50 to $60 on Amazon, it’s less than half the cost of our top pick. The case offers good protection, and the base has a nifty slot for storing an Apple Pencil. The keyboard has the full complement of keys in the right places, along with a row of iOS special-function keys. We like that the main hinge also rotates left-right (so you can turn the iPad around and use the base as a stand, or fold the iPad flat against the keyboard for a bulky tablet mode), but the hinge is too loose—in our testing, the iPad often fell back during use. That’s a dealbreaker, along with keys that frequently wouldn’t register when we pressed them, and a 2.7-pound weight.
For the 9.7-inch iPad Pro
Currently, most third-party keyboard cases for the 9.7-inch Pro use Bluetooth to connect (instead of the Smart Connector) and have a rechargeable internal battery for power. Most of these models also block the iPad Pro’s Smart Connector, which might be an issue as more Smart Connector accessories are released.
(As mentioned above, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is identical in size and shape to the iPad Air 2, so you might consider the Belkin Qode Ultimate Pro or the Logitech Type+ Protective Case with Integrated Keyboard, which have better keyboards and designs than the current options—including our top pick—specifically made for the 9.7-inch Pro. However, cases for the iPad Air 2 block the iPad Pro’s camera flash, as well as its two speakers opposite the Home button.)
The Brydge 9.7 isn’t really a keyboard case so much as a very good keyboard in a laptop-like aluminum body; two small, silicone-lined hinges hold your iPad and position it like a laptop screen. It’s a nifty, sturdy design that makes it easy to use the iPad on its own, and the same Brydge model works with both the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the iPad Air. Aesthetically, it’s also among the nicest keyboard cases we’ve tested—with the “screen” closed, the setup looks almost as if the iPad and keyboard came in a package together. However, the Brydge doesn’t protect the back of your iPad (the company offers $40 clear, protective iPad shells); and while you can tilt the iPad back pretty far without making the setup unstable, the Brydge weighs 2.1 pounds with an iPad attached. The design also makes it difficult to access the iOS Control Center feature, and the Brydge didn’t put our 9.7-inch iPad Pro to sleep when we closed the “screen.”
Zagg offers three other keyboard cases for the 9.7-inch Pro that use essentially the same keyboard as the Rugged Book we covered above. Any of these models offers a good typing experience; it’s the rest of the package that differs. The Slim Book Ultra-Slim Tablet Keyboard and Detachable Case uses a design similar to that of the Rugged Book, but the Slim Book is much thinner and lighter (18 ounces). However, whereas the Rugged Book’s hinge and iPad case feel exceptionally sturdy, the Slim Book’s iPad case is very thin—almost flimsy—and doesn’t fit as snugly in the hinge as the Rugged Book’s version.
Zagg’s Folio Backlit Tablet Keyboard Case for iPad Air 2 is similar to the Slim Book, except that its iPad case doesn’t detach from the keyboard, and it’s a bit of a hassle to remove the iPad from the case. On the other hand, the iPad case section is a bit thicker and doesn’t feel as flimsy, and the hinge similarly feels more secure; though when using the Folio on my lap, the iPad frequently tipped backward. The Folio is better than the Slim Book, but I’d still opt for the Rugged Book, despite its bulk.
Zagg’s Messenger Folio Case with Keyboard for the Apple iPad Air/Air 2 uses a design more like a traditional folio-style case, but has a pop-out stand in the back similar to the one on Microsoft’s Surface Pro. This stand design makes the Messenger Folio difficult to use on your lap, and the Messenger is bulkier than the Slim Book and Folio without feeling more stable.
Belkin’s Qode Ultimate Lite Keyboard Case is unfortunately not as good as the company’s Qode Ultimate Pro for iPad Air 2. Compared with the Qode Pro, the Lite version has a flimsier, non-removable iPad case that lacks portrait orientation; lacks the Pro’s backlit keys; has shorter (though still good) battery life; pairs with only a single device; and uses a different keyboard that has fewer narrow keys but moves a number of characters to non-standard, fn-key-activated overlays, while omitting others completely.
The iOrange-E Apple iPad Pro 9.7 Case with Bluetooth Keyboard is only around $30 on Amazon, and I like that you can remove the keyboard from the folio-style case to place the iPad and keyboard at different heights. (In fact, you can’t keep the iPad in its stored position when typing—you must slide the keyboard toward your body to make room for the iPad-case section of the folio to sit on the base at an angle. This means the setup requires more lap space than other models.) However, while the keyboard case is fairly light, it’s bulky, and though the keys are fine, iOrange-E has moved a number of standard keys into non-standard locations, making the keyboard frustrating to type on.
Originally published: August 4, 2016