The only gadget I actually bought when we were in Japan in October was the Smart Keyboard for my 9.7″ iPad Pro. If you don’t read the remainder of this post, in terms of a review, I can only express my regret for not having picked one up months ago!
But I thought Japan was expensive?
I bought it in Japan as, for some reason, it was over £40 cheaper in Tokyo’s Akihabara district than it was direct from Apple in the UK. This was despite the hammering Sterling has taken since the Brexit referendum debacle and the tendency for Apple products to be more expensive in Japan.
Whatever the reason, I grabbed one.
But only after testing out a display model for what must have seemed like eternity to the shop staff. We were the only people in this Apple reseller, which was probably the most expensive electronics store in the entire district. All around us, shops were selling everything from cameras to phones at various crazy (local) prices. So this particular Apple reseller wasn’t doing too well.
I had touched the smart keyboard in various Apple Stores previously, but never for more than a minute or so. I wasn’t impressed, but with hindsight, I hadn’t spent long enough using one to make a real judgement.
So, was it any good?
I opened up the Notes app and started typing. I’ll admit, it felt really weird at first, but in less than a couple of minutes, I was touch-typing.
Then, the weight test. I actually had my iPad Pro and a bluetooth keyboard in my bag with me (nerd!!), so I could compare the relative weights. I have to say, there wasn’t a lot in it, but the Smart Keyboard combo was lighter. And, added bonus, it was magnetically attached to the iPad, unlike the Logitech bluetooth keyboard. Points for convenience.
I still wasn’t overwhelmingly convinced and was trying to remind myself that this Japan trip had to be a light on shopping due to the exchange rate – so, no impulse purchases this time! This was actually difficult in Akihabara, where we were surrounded by shops selling interesting Asian phone models that I was bizarrely attracted to buying. It was Android envy all over again.
But I restrained myself, somehow.
Then it hit me: the Smart Keyboard draws its power directly from the iPad Pro. No need to carry around a separate charging cable for it or even remember to charge it up.
So there was the perfect gadget trifecta of price, portability and convenience. I was sold. Minutes later, I was walking out of the shop, thrilled with myself for remembering to get the tax-free discount available to visitors and with a bag no noticeably heavier.
And back in the real world?
We’ve all probably experienced post-purchase regret, when the gadget we’be bought hasn’t lived up to expectations once we get it home. But not this time. I actually used this new keyboard for the remainder of our visit to Tokyo and all the way home.
And since coming back to work, it hasn’t left my side. In fact, I’m using it more and more as a laptop replacement, on days when the Macbook isn’t absolutely necessary. And these days are more frequent than you might imagine. In fact, I’ve just come back from a two-day business trip to Barcelona where I only brought the iPad Pro and didn’t miss my Macbook once. Not once.
So what’s so good about it?
Okay, so I’ve already outlined the convenience of always having a keyboard attached to the iPad, without a discernible increase in weight. Plus, the fact that it doesn’t need charging or batteries. So there’s less to carry around with me.
It’s also very easy to type on, after a short period of adjustment. Really, it’s minutes. It’s definitely not full-sized, but it doesn’t feel like I’m typing on a toy keyboard either.
It’s been made to be splashproof too. The keys sit beneath a sort of fabric covering, so anything spilled on it can’t get behind keys and cause damage. Thankfully, I haven’t spilled anything on it, despite the best efforts of various cabin crew staff and their shaky pouring hands.
All of that aside, I’m simply using the iPad Pro more to write now. I’n working on an update to my professional website and have to edit a ton of copy, as well as prep quite a long pipe of new blog posts. The vast majority of this has been done on my iPad Pro. As has this particular blog post.
It’s not perfect – but what is?
For one thing, the viewing angle isn’t adjustable. But the angle it’s set at works for me. And while you can (apparently) set it up as a stand with the keyboard hidden, I just can’t make this work for me. It keeps falling over. So when I’m watching a film or video podcast on the iPad, I simply leave it in keyboard mode. No biggie.
I’ve also had some feedback that it sounds a little noisy. This is probably partly my typing style after using a Macbook keyboard all this time. I actually like the Macbook keyboard, but I know I’m probably in a minority there. As a result, I tend to type slightly harder and so make a little more noise.
It would be excellent if Apple had built in somewhere to safely store the Apple Pencil. I always have mine with me, but it would be nice not to have to remember to swap it from bag to bag (have I ever mentioned my obsessive bag-purchasing behaviour?). A nice elastic loop somewhere would be excellent. After all, the Apple Pencil is only useful if you have an iPad Pro, at least for now, so it’s only logical there should be an easy way to keep them together.
Finally, it’s not something you can use to balance on your knee. It’s not a laptop replacement in that sense, as the weight of the iPad Pro will make it really easy to fall over. I thought that would be an issue for me, but I’ve done all my writing on tables and desks, so it hasn’t been a problem. But if you’re a knee-writer (e.g. on a commuter train), then I’d look elsewhere.
You made it this far?
Who knew I’d have so much to say about a keyboard?!
Overall, I really like it. If I had to be super picky, I’d like Apple to sell them in other colours, just like the iPad Pro smart covers and cases. But using utilitarian grey is not going to kill me.
If you’re looking for a keyboard to go with your iPad Pro, I’d recommend getting to an Apple Store, pushing through the throng of tourists who use Apple Stores as some sort of free internet cafe to check their emails, and spend some time typing on one. Five minutes or more. I think you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to get used to.
As for me, the logitech keyboard was sold on eBay just as soon as we got back to London. No going back for me on this one. The convenience outweighs all other concerns.
And I look forward to more and more days where my Macbook gets left at home and my backpack is that little bit lighter.